Tuesday, 30 August 2016

An Olympic brolly

In honour of the 2016 Olympic games, M and I have been experimenting with making patterns from interlinked circles. We started out on paper and then moved onto painting another umbrella, taken from what feels like my endless stash of plain umbrellas which are just waiting for some decoration.

The umbrella was a lot smaller this time and only intended for personal use, rather than a huge golf umbrella. Being smaller, it took a lot less time to paint! I mixed up a 50/50 acrylic paint to fabric medium in suitable Olympic colours, i.e. blue, red, yellow, green and black.

For the circles, I cut a dense cardboard tube into smaller pieces. The tube was the kind you find in the middle of aluminium foil or cling film. These are strong and unlikely to disintegrate after being repeatedly dunked in paint.
Paint (acrylic with fabric medium) and cut down cardboard tube.
All set, we retired to the garden with out paints, cardboard tubes and an umbrella.

An hour or so later, we had this umbrella set aside to dry.
The finished Olympic inspired umbrella set aside to dry.
Unfortunately, at this point the wind decided to pick up the umbrella and blow it around the garden. This caused some consternation, not only because of smudges to our newly painted umbrella, but because the laundry was drying on the line!

The umbrella was retrieved, I picked off the worst of the vegetation before standing it to dry in the kitchen for the rest of the day.

Once it was touch dry we signed the umbrella in sharpie, before transferring it to the shed to continue drying for another three days. At that point, I examined it carefully and peeled off any remaining bits of garden before covering each panel in turn with a pressing cloth, then ironing on high to set the colour. Ironing is a mummy only activity.

After ironing, I re-sewed the parasol to the umbrella frame. I'm not sure if it was poor workmanship, or the tumble the brolly took around the garden, but several of the stitches had popped so it needed a bit of repair.

M's favourite part of painting umbrellas is the quality control test at the end, namely testing the umbrella's waterproof properties with a watering can. Personally, I feel that any umbrella which cannot be taken out into the rain for fear of it getting wet, is not much of an umbrella.
Waterproof and the colours don't run.
Thankfully, the Olympic inspired umbrella passed the final test with flying colours.
The finished umbrella.
And the view from the underside.
The artwork on this umbrella was shared equally by myself and M. We both just stamped circles in whatever way we felt like doing, having lots of fun in the process. Again, I think it turned out well and we were both happy with the result.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Phoebe in blue

It's been a busy couple of weeks here as Olympic fever has taken hold of my six year old. This means I've learnt more about the history of the Olympics and watched more sports over the past two weeks than I've probably done in my entire life! Finding time to update a blog between hosting our own toy Olympics has been tough.

I finished a cardigan for M a few weeks back and thought I'd better write it up while I still have access to the computer. It will undoubtedly be co-opted for something sport related in a short while.

The simple Sirdir cardigan which has been my go-to pattern for M over the past couple of years, only runs to age 6-7. I'm considering whether to resize it, but in the meantime I need to branch out and try other patterns. The only thing is, there don't seem to be a huge selection of sweater patterns for little girls. And of those that are available, the field becomes even narrower when considering the child in question's personal taste. Honestly, there is no point spending time knitting a cardigan for a small person if she doesn't like the end result.

After some thought, I eventually settled on Phoebe (Ravelry Link) from Sublime Yarns. This is a simple, close fitting cardigan, with a 'V' neck and contrasting band around the collar, front, hem and cuffs. I decided to knit as close to the pattern as I could, rather than fiddling around and modifying it as I usually do. I was hoping this would make my life easier.

Until of course, I tried to get gauge.

The short version of this story is I couldn't.

I like the Drops yarns from Garnstudio, and having used a dark blue Muskat for M's last cardigan, I'd decided to use the light blue for this one. For contrast I had to choose between turquoise and the left over dark blue from the previous cardigan.
Swatch to consider contrast colours.
After swatching, the dark blue won. It wasn't that I didn't like the turquoise, but it just didn't pop in the same way the darker blue did.

Matching tension proved to be something of a problem.

The pattern for Phoebe requires 10cm = 22 stitches x 28 rows.

The Drops Muskat is a calendered cotton with a high sheen, very pretty and with good stitch definition. It also has an expected gauge of 10cm = 21 stitches x 28 rows.

I'd not been able to match the required tension for the last time I used Muskat, but it hadn't worried me too much. I deliberately loosened the tension, going for a swing type cardigan and making the finished garment bigger. The downside was I went through a lot more yarn than I expected and had to order more to be able to finish the project.

With Phoebe, I wanted to knit as close to gauge as I could and end up with a finished garment sized as described in the pattern.

This proved a problem for me as I could not get the Muskat to knit to the required tension. I had to settle for the expected gauge for the yarn, i.e. 21 stitches, rather than 22 stitches.

My working needle was 3.75mm and 3.25mm where the pattern asked for a smaller needle.

That difference of 1 stitch over every 10cm adds up and in this case would have resulted in an increase of 1.5cm around the chest. Thinking about this retrospectively, that doesn't sound too bad and is certainly able to be absorbed into ease but would have resulted in an inevitable looser fit. After my previous experience with this yarn, I was also worried that I'd knit a lot more yarn than expected and run out, which would raise the issue of matching dye lots.

Some deliberation later, I decided to adjust the cast on numbers for the pattern to match the new expected tension of 10cm = 21 stitches x 28 rows.


I made the second size, intended to fit a chest of 61cm, so my cast on stitches became:

Back - Cast on 70 st (instead of 72)
Fronts - Cast on 34 st (instead of 35)
Sleeves - Cast on 42 st (instead of 44)

Naturally this meant adjusting all expected stitch counts throughout.

Other than that, I knitted as directed, matching lengths to pattern directions.
Phoebe in blue.
I deliberately knitted one size up, resulting in a cardigan which is a little too large on the shoulders, but not so big as to look silly.
Sitting reasonably well on the shoulders and across the chest.
For future cardigans I need to remember that M is tall for her age, or at least compared to the children the pattern designer has sized for. Even though I added 1cm to the sleeves and 2cm to the length of the body, as you can see from the photographs, the length is actually spot on for M right now.
The back view, showing the hem at exactly the right length.
I'm a bit disappointed with this. I was hoping to get two years wear out of the cardigan, but now expect it will be too short for her by September next year. Lesson learnt, add a lot more for length on future garments.

It is worth mentioning that I'm not an experienced cardigan knitter. Apart from a baby cardi I made while I was pregnant, I've only knitted one child cardigan pattern before, albeit making it up three times.

In this case, the cardigan was a straight forward knit. There were differences in approach to handling the decreases to my previous experience, but nothing terribly difficult to understand. The fun came when I tried to make the collar.

I've never tried to pick up stitches for a collar before and the results were messy. Very messy. In fact, it was so bad that I ripped the whole thing out and started again. Normally I'd have reached for a crochet hook, adding my own collar and front, but resisted the temptation and instead dug out my copy of Montse Stanley's Knitting Handbook.

This hefty tome is one I think every knitter should have on their shelf. It is a reference work of so many different techniques, with advice on everything, including how to handle picking up stitches for a collar. Following the advice in the book, I picked up the stitches in the main knit colour, which acts as a foundation and masks any irregularity in the stitching. Once the stitches were on the needle, I switched to the required contrast colour to work the rest of the front.
The rolled collar - look carefully and you can see the foundation row in the main colour.
The other area to give me problems was the button holes. I couldn't understand the instructions in the pattern. By now, I was truly fed up with the collar and front, so I did my own thing. I had a quick hunt on YouTube for examples of button holes, which I followed instead of the pattern.
Buttons as chosen by M.
The end result looked OK, were the expected size and in the right place, but were not made in the way directed by the pattern.

Yarn quantities used:

6 x Garnstudio DROPS Muskat 50g - Light Blue.
1 x Garnstudio DROPS Muskat 50g - Blue.

M was pleased with the result and other than it not being as long as I wanted, I think the cardigan came out OK, so overall I'm happy with this.

Useful Links:

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Coventry SkyRide

Today was the event we've been preparing for over the past month, The Coventry SkyRide.

Dave cycles on a daily basis, but while I used to cycle to work a few times a week, I haven't done so in a LONG time. M has never ridden a bike, or rather she hadn't done so until last month.

With it having been such a log time since I've been in the saddle, M's complete lack of experience and adding in a new bike plus a tag-along to the mix, it seemed only sensible to practice a little before the big event. This is why we've been heading to the park with the tag-along a few times a week for the past month.

I am so glad we did, as I think we gave a good showing today, completing one full lap and then going around Coventry's Ring Road a second time. We cycled to the event (and home again), so we've spent a long time on the bikes today. I had M behind me on the tag-along, while Dave was cycling his own bike on his own.

We've had a good day. The weather was good with clear skies and a bit of wind, almost ideal really.
Here we are, just before setting off on the SkyRide.
We arrived in good time but hung back at the start as I knew we'd be amongst the slower cyclists.

The tag-along doesn't lend itself to fast cycling. M is also still a bit uncoordinated at pushing off and prone to wobbling at inconvenient moments. The main problem for me today was the tag-along having a huge turning circle, which proved tricky on the first part of the route where we were all crammed in together with too many cyclists in narrow streets with sharp bends. This is nothing like cycling endless loops around the park, where we have paths mostly to ourselves and the option to move onto the grass to avoid other park users.

There was a near miss just before we headed onto the Ring Road, as we were turning a sharp bend, going uphill and into a fierce crosswind I lost control, nearly falling into another cyclist in the crush. I only saved us by jumping off the pedals, forcibly preventing the bike from tipping but twisting my ankle in the process. Fortunately, M was OK and I don't think she realised how close we came to crashing.
M discovers a cycle powered bubble machine.
That aside, after a brief moment to recover we hopped on the bike and made it around the Ring Road with no issues. M was a champ, cycling without complaint and concentrating hard to wobble as little as she could. We didn't crash into anyone. We didn't fall off. We didn't need to stop or walk. We were happy.
M has a go at powering a racing track with pedal power.
We stopped for lunch (and first aid for my poor ankle), then as cycling didn't hurt in the way that walking did, we decided to try the ring road again before it was opened to normal traffic. It was much easier the second time as there were fewer cyclists and we enjoyed ourselves. I even managed to get some relative speed out of the tag-along.

Event complete, a bit weary but happy with our performance, we locked the bikes up so we could pose for the official photograph.
Our official snap at the end of the ride. We all have our eyes closed.
We stopped for a tea/coffee and a biscuit before riding home, via the same park we've been cycling around for the past month. Naturally, we broke the journey so M could have a run around, then pushed on home where ice cream was waiting. How else could we have ended such a brilliant day?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

An autumnal umbrella

Following on from the Daddy Umbrella, I found myself with extra umbrellas just waiting for someone to decorate them. In the meantime, M and I are doing a project on trees so I thought we should attempt a craft involving leaves.

Painting by taking prints from leaves or bits of plants is something we've done before and it can be very effective. I found myself wondering if I could print onto an umbrella using leaves.

Lessons learned from the Daddy Umbrella told me that acrylic paint mixed with fabric medium becomes transparent. Multiple layers help, but the umbrella fabric colour is still visible through the paint. This is fine with pale fabric, but a strong colour like black (as on the umbrella I had available to take paint) would mean most colours are likely to be muted and difficult to see. Personally, if I'm going to put in the effort to hand paint an umbrella, I want it to have a bit of visual punch and to stand out from a distance.

One way to overcome this is to lay down a base colour, a foundation onto which you then paint the rest of your masterpiece.

I had my plan. I decided we'd try taking prints in white paint, then fill in the resulting shape to give a white silhouette. Once this was dry, we could paint over the top in autumnal colours to hopefully give the effect of an umbrella covered in fallen leaves.

I explained the plan to M who may have been doubtful, but loves me and so went along with the idea. Last weekend, we collected a few leaves while out on our cycle around the park, then got to work.

M loved painting the leaves white, even if she didn't like having white fingers and kept running off to wash her hands. Together we applied leaf prints, taking a few prints before stopping to paint over the top. I went around the edges, neatening the leaves up and making them more 'leaf shaped' where either the print or M's painting ability had failed a little.

After a couple of hours work, we had this:
Leaf prints, painted over to give white silhouettes.
It was actually very striking and M was so excited, she ran around the garden a few times whooping. When you're a six year old artist, you get to do that sort of thing. I just oohed and ahhed, and was quietly impressed.

The umbrella went into the shed to dry for two days, then we started on the next stage. We added colour.

We worked with a limited palette of green, orange, yellow and red. The brief was to think autumn leaves as they fall from trees, but to only paint over the white. M finds paint difficult to work with, or rather she finds it harder to achieve the results she wants with paint, so this was a bit of a challenge. We talked about holding the brush as she would a pencil, not overloading with paint and steadying the umbrella with your spare hand. I was also ready with a clean finger to remove any excess paint before it had a chance to set into the fabric.

As it was, M painted a whole panel herself plus a few leaves scattered around the umbrella. I painted the rest. It took probably another two hours.

M signed the umbrella using a bronze Sharpie and I dated it, then it went back into the shed to dry.

Three days later, I ironed it using a hot iron and pressing cloth, before revealing the final result to M.
An autumnal umbrella.
We were both impressed. I think the brushwork could do with a bit of practice in terms of technique, but the colours are beautiful.

A water proof test followed, with both of us using a watering can to simulate rain. The umbrella was of course very good at repelling water, but what we were interested in was is the paint going to run. Fortunately, the paint stayed where it was so all our hard work was not in vain.

Dave got in on the act, holding the umbrella while I tried to get a better angle as well as showing off the view from underneath.
The view from the underside.
Looking closely, the original print of each leaf is still visible on the underside, giving a new dimension to the piece.
The veins of the original leaf prints are still visible from under the umbrella.
Suffice it to say, I think this was a successful experiment. The resulting umbrella is eye catching, autumnal and colourful. Considering one of the artists was six, I think we did a good job.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

A phone cosy

A few weeks ago, after nearly four years of loyal service my mobile phone died. It was particularly annoying because as far as I could tell, the problem was a software one to do with the Android OS rather than anything hardware related. In the end, I had to remove a key piece of Android software and because it would silently reinstall every time the phone connected to the internet, it became useful for voice calls and text only.

Reluctantly I bought a new phone, which naturally needed a new case to protect it while in my bag.

Rather than buy a cheap plastic case, I decided to make one and chose some left over Peaches & Creme cotton to do so.

After looking through my stitch dictionaries and crocheting a few swatches, I decided I'd try alternate 'shallow crochet'.

Shallow crochet stitches are spiked double crochet, i.e. worked into the top of the stitch on the row below the current working row. I wanted to work tightly, but a swatch of pure shallow stitches was too stiff and very hard on the hands. I elected for the alternate stitches instead which produces a firm fabric with vertical stripes of 'V's which look a bit like knitted stitches.

To keep my phone safe from the many things I carry around, I wanted this to be fairly tightly as a piece so decided to work with a 3.5mm hook. I highly recommend a pointy tip, as the shallow stitch is firm, making it difficult to get the hook into.

I worked 30 dc in the round, starting with 15 foundation-dc, then turning and working 15 stitches into the base of the 15 fdc I'd just made.
Alternating shallow crochet stitches.
When I had 30 stitches, I joined with a slip stitch, 2ch, then worked a row of dc, finishing with another slip stitch to join.

After that, I started working alternate shallow dc stitches with normal dc in the round to give the ribbed effect.

It is a bit tricky picking up the loops of the previous row, but following the the strands of the base of the dc you'd normally be working into helps. The shallow stitch will result in a 'V'; in subsequent rows, aim your hook just above the point where the 'V' makes a point. If you look at the back of the work, you should see the hook come out just below the back loop two rows down.

Keep working in the round until the phone is just covered, then finish with a row of dc and then a row of crab stitch (reverse dc). I added a loop fdc half way around one side of the final crab stitch edging.

All finished, with a button added.
After that it was just a case of sewing on a suitable button.
All finished.
Final dimensions for my case were 10cm x 16cm.
Ready to keep my phone safe.

(As always, I am using British crochet terms.)