Someone very near and dear to me struggles with severe anxiety. This post is not about that, though we should all speak up more for mental illness. This post is about a blanket I made to help my loved one transition away from pharmaceuticals. (This transition away from medication was guided by a physician and not something I would advocate without first talking with a medical professional/therapist before attempting. It was the right move for us, it is not the right move for everyone.)
When the decision was made that a natural approach was going to be attempted to battle somewhat severe, sometimes debilitating anxiety, we knew that it was going to be a difficult journey. However, tackling it together and finding different means to ease panic and anxiety has made all the difference. One of the things we discovered were weighted blankets. These blankets were originally conceived, I believe, to help children with autism. The weight of the blanket, which is significantly heavier than a normal blanket, helps your body release natural, calming chemicals...sort of like a hug...and assists a person who is feeling a large amount of stress and anxiety find their way back. Well, if that is what it does, it makes sense that even more people have found aid in a weighted blanket than just those with autism.
My sons and I decided to call our weighted blanket the "Feel Good Blanket." Seemed better than "Weighted Blanket." These blankets can help people with anxiety and depression as well as help people who have trouble sleeping at night. Really, something like a hug could probably help a whole lot of people with a whole lot of stuff. They are available commercially, but can be a little pricey when you get to the larger sizes. Because I was looking for a feel better blanket for an adult male, I was looking at upward of $100. With a little internet research, I figured I'd just make one myself.
This type of blanket should weigh 10% of the body weight of the person using it. (I believe it is 5% for small children.) That meant I needed to create a blanket that weighed 20 lbs. I wasn't kidding when I said it was heavier than a normal blanket. I might go so far as to say significantly heavier than a normal blanket. It is also narrower than a normal blanket, as it needs to fit just over the person. If it hangs down, it will likely keep slipping off because of the weight. Also, you want 20% of their weight on them, not swallowing them up all around them on a bed. I decided to add batting to my blanket, as well, just to help with the noise the beads filling the blanket make. Then, like the scattered, silly person I am, I sandwiched it together like a quilt when sewing the edge borders, meaning I could not simply flip the blanket like a pillow case and sew the channels, which is how most of these blankets are constructed. However, there were a lot of stitches that would have needed to be picked out, so I decided to trudge forward and just keep making it like a quilt. The only really significant difference was that I had a raw edge that I had to add a binding to after I finished the blanket. (This was harder than it might at first sound...try sewing on a 20lb blanket. It's intense.)
I used the recommended poly-beads, which were the most expensive part of the blanket, but I think worth it. I chose two fabric colors, a dark blue and a grey, one on the topside color the other for the under-side color. I wanted to keep it masculine looking, a little sleek, and still calming. There are a number of YouTube videos available that show how to construct the blanket- sewing the channels, filling, and seaming each column shut as you move up the blanket. I used a kitchen balance so that I had exactly the right amount of fill in each of my squares in the blanket's grid, though I have seen some people use a pre-measured mark on a cup. I will not go too much into the details of construction here, this post is already long enough, but I will say those little beads get everywhere- I recommend a funnel and patient hands.
The blanket was easy to construct, but did take a bit of time. (Some of the time came from my error in construction. In the end, I really liked the binding, though.) It has been a helpful tool in our arsenal of coping with anxiety.
*We do not let our children use this blanket. It is very heavy and not intended for little people. Every feel good blanket should be tailored to the individual who needs it.*
I am currently 38 weeks pregnant and feeling...well, 38 weeks pregnant. I am really excited I got these receiving blankets finished, though! They were my own design- and by "design" I mean the were more or less an experiment in waffle weave on my rigid heddle loom. I used a 60/40 cotton/hemp blend in 8/2. Turns out 8/2 is pretty darn fine, so I held it double and used my 12-dent reed on my 32" Ashford for 24 epi (sort of) but warped as a 12 epi project. This was all good and well except I had to measure out 400 ends for this warp! I don't know about you, but I usually do not think of rigid heddle projects as having 400 warp ends. Obviously they can and do.
I also held the weft double to keep everything matchy matchy. This created 12 picks per inch as I wove. I'm glad I held the weft double, I really like the way the burp cloths feel, they washed very well with a lot of texture and are very soft. Hemp is supposed to get even softer with use, so I think these are going to be really baby friendly. I cloth diaper, as well, and know a lot of the cloth diaper inserts also use hemp for its long, comfy ware and its natural antibacterial properties. But enough about hemp, let's talk about the patterns that emerged.
I had sampled on my 15" Cricket before I started these blankets. Even though I did not have a strict pattern in mind, 400 ends are a lot of ends that I did not want to waste. I discovered there was about a 15-20% shrinkage in all finished fabrics of both my single waffle weave and my double waffle weave. This was to be expected, though, with take-up and the fiber choice. I wove a two-inch header that was hemmed under when the towels were finished.
My first blanket incorporated a 2x2 waffle weave framing a 1x2 waffle weave to create a square within a square. (When I say "2x2" I mean I used my pick up stick to pick up every other 2 warp threads in the down shaft position and then two repeats of the waffle weave sequence. For a 1x2, I picked up every other warp thread in the down shed and did two repeats of the waffle weave sequence.) The 1x2 waffle weave really stands out more than I expected with this monochromatic palette. This is the blanket shown on the far left. Then, I tried a larger waffle and did a 3x3. I really like how it puffed and crinkled for a ton of texture when it was washed, but I feel as though the warp and weft floats are just shy of being too long. I think the more the cloth is washed, the less this will be an issue, but it wasn't my favorite result for something where baby fingers could get snagged. Bottom line, I liked the look but maybe the 3x3 wasn't practical for this particular purpose. (With a little color play, it could make a really nice spa cloth or pillow.) The last burp cloth was a combination of plain weave and a 1x1 waffle. I really liked how this turned out, too. The only hiccup with this pattern is that there is significantly more draw-in with the waffle weave than the plain weave, which is to be expected. But this leads to some undulation along the side of the cloth that looks a little less clean than I typically like. However, if you keep the stripes small (mine were four inches), the flux along the side is minimized and I do not think it detracted too much from the finished product.
Summary: This was a really fun exploration in waffle weave and I love the resulting cloth it made. To think, with one pick-up stick you can make such varied textures! It also is not a time-consuming technique but makes a cloth that looks a lot more complicated than what people expect from a rigid heddle. My biggest tips for creating a waffle weave is to make sure to consider the different draw-in a waffle weave can create and also to be mindful of how long a float can get, since waffle weave is nothing more than combining warp and weft floats in a pretty pattern. Also, speaking of floats, keep in mind that a weft float on the front is a warp float on the back of your cloth. Don't forget to consider the back, which can be full of surprises when you pull your project from the loom!
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I had my crazy pants on one day and decided to try a NEW fiber craft. Why in the world would I want to when I have twenty million projects currently going and no time to really sit and do any of them? You know, I don't think there is an answer to the question. Not a sane one, anyway. I blame Craftsy. I saw this pattern on a video link and thought to myself; "How pretty, I want to make that." Damn. They got me. But really, I must say, I am glad they did. I loved this hand stitching. Who knew embroidery could be so fun? Okay, perhaps many people knew...but I didn't. Now my mind is a blur of possibilities. The colors! The pictures! The hours of fun! I think my crazy pants might still be on...I blame the pregnancy.
This particular embroidery project was stitched for my sister. Her birthday was last week and her anniversary of her marriage is next month, so I thought it was a lovely way to make something that could celebrate both. I saw it as a pretty sort of anniversary wreath that she could hang (or not hang) in her house somewhere. I think every house needs a little needlework in it somewhere. I have yet to see prettier wreath designs, either, than Namaste Embroidery's Jessica Long's designs. Particularly the two hoop, center cut-out designs. Stunning. You should check them out.
And as I mentioned, this was all sparked by browsing Craftsy, which should immediately let you know that Jessica Long has a class that teaches you all about hand embroidery! Bonus! So, if you are new to embroidery, like me, this is a great place to start. For a number of reasons I am not able to get out to take classes on crafting ventures that interest me, not at this point in my life, so I really love platforms like Craftsy that allow me to continue to grow and explore.
For this particular design, I deviated from the pattern only slightly. I changed two of the thread colors, chose a dark blue fabric for the background, and scripted a letter "A" to go in the center of the wreath (for my sister's last name). As far as stitch varieties, there were woven roses, chain stitches, stem stitches, long and short stitching (which was actually a lot more fun than I expected) and the beautiful herringbone stitch. I made sure to start with plenty of time so I never felt rushed, but it's always the last little bit that seems like it takes an eternity. I trimmed it down and framed it in a bamboo, 7" hoop and backed it with paper- I was silly and didn't take a picture of the finished product. Luckily, I did finish it AND mailed it before my sister's birthday. Go me!
Confession: I already have another piece of cloth in the hoop and am starting another project even though I have two sweaters on needles, a dress in the works and a quilt that needs finishing before October.
What a sweet little sweater! I say little, but the wonderful thing (there are actually quite a few wonderful things) about Tin Can Knits is that their patterns are written for SO MANY DIFFERENT SIZES! It is wonderful. This simple sweater is written from sizes 0-6 months to adult 4XL. It is a seamless, top down sweater that is part of their Simple Collection. This collection is a series of free patterns that walk you through all the basic skills you need to be a proficient knitter. While it is technically a "beginner" series, the patterns are really well written and great, quicker projects for more experienced knitters. With my little one on the way, I was looking for a nice project I could knit up between some of my other, more monstrous projects. I love that it is seamless; in my experience, babies do not like seams.
I have another of Tin Can Knits sweaters on needles and have my eyes on one of their new patterns. (A sweater that buttons in the back! How fun!) If you know how to do a basic knit and purl stitch, this pattern would teach you anything else you would need to complete this project. Like I said earlier, it is a really great beginner pattern, but it is such a great and well-written sweater that any knitter could enjoy knitting this.
It makes sense that one of the earliest things I am tackling in the quest for peaceful simplicity is my wardrobe. I am a maker. If you are reading this blog, chances are you make things, too. I took stock of my closet and was appalled that, for being a maker, I had very few quality, handmade items. What I had was a collection of clothing I'd been dragging along with me since high school. (I am in my thirties now.) While my closet was fairly full, there really were only a handful of items I wore with any kind of regularity. And nothing in my closet demonstrated my love of handcrafting or brought to mind any journey that hand made items often document through their stitches. Like I said, I was appalled. I give away almost everything I make, and while I love making things for other people, maybe it is time I take a moment and make something for myself and share some of the love and value with myself.
I emptied my closet and only put back items that had extreme sentimental value or that I wore more than once in the past year. The rest of it went to Good Will. That is the start. The next step is the to begin my slow fashion wardrobe, created by me, one stitch at a time. A very important part of the journey for me is to use materials that are ethically sourced and sustainable. I have already selected some patterns and materials and have begun. I am both knitting and hand sewing items for my wardrobe and have this crazy notion I might even weave some cloth to make clothes with.
Another benefit to this slow fashion mission is that making brings me peace. In more ways than one, every article of clothing I make for my wardrobe is part of me that contains both joy and sadness. Each item, as with every item I make, is a meditation on my life. It is important to me at this juncture that I keep some of that mediation with me. It is important to me, as well, to show my children that we can make high quality, beautiful things that last and that we don't need to jump into the race of needing and wanting more and more with each passing trend.
Long story short, I thought this would be a wonderful place to document my slow fashion journey. As I begin my wardrobe and start to complete some pieces, I want to share them here. Maybe you can join in. I think we can all use a little self-love, so let's make a few beautiful things for ourselves that have meaning. (I say this, and I am starting this process, but of course I have three or four projects in progress that are still going to other people...I can't help myself. But that's okay, too. I just need to make sure I include myself.)
The blanket was woven using weft floats (which look like warp floats on the reverse of the fabric). Weft floats are when your weft thread passes over top of more than one of the warp threads at one time. As a general rule regarding floats, if you are creating something that is worn or handled a lot (like a towel or blanket) it is a good idea to keep your floats to something like an inch in size or smaller. Larger floats can get caught on things and can quickly become an annoyance if a fabric is handled frequently. I created a fabric with two stacked weft floats combined in an offset, all over pattern. I really like the affect it had on the fabric, these little oval shapes were created from the draw-in that I found to be very pleasing. The weft floats themselves were created using two pick-up sticks in the back of the loom to create faux shafts on the rigid heddle. (I actually used one pick-up stick and loops on a stick to create a string heddle as my second set of pick-ups. This was just so I did not have to keep removing a stick when weaving. It is a cool trick that I will do a tutorial on soon.)
It is a little hard to see, but there are subtle, thick, vertical striped in the blanket created by alternating between the ivory and maize colors in the warp. I used only the maize color for the weft. You can see these colors in the fringe of the blanket. It was purposeful that it would only be a subtle striping in the blanket itself, as the colors themselves were very close in hue. The photographs below show the blanket before it was finished with washing and a close up of the final texture after finishing.
This is a stroller blanket, measuring 25x40" (with the fringe). It was woven in acrylic, so there was really no shrinkage after washing, though there was a 10% draw-in from the weaving. I have two, well, maybe three comments about the yarn choice. First, as mentioned above, I raided my mom's yarn stash and was grateful for whatever yarn she was willing to part with. I feel I got lucky, these colors turned out great together and I am very pleased with the look and feel of the blanket. That leads me to the second comment about the yarn. I do not generally use acrylic yarn for my projects. However, for baby blankets I know will get a lot of use and abuse, acrylic is a great choice. It washes and dries well, it is easy to clean, and it is very strong. I do not like the feel of some acrylic yarns, they are sometimes stiff and almost plastic feeling, but these two yarns my mom had were very soft. Very soft. And it was great, after I washed and dried this blanket...they were even softer. That leads me to my last comment about the yarn. Acrylic yarns do not "bloom" when you finish them, but these yarns did feel even softer after I washed them. The blanket also seemed to fill in a little, mostly because the yarn was allowed to relax and re-distribute itself after I took it off the loom and put it through the wash. (And I literally threw it in the wash with a bunch of other clothes and dried it on medium heat in the dryer. Like I said, I show acrylic yarns no mercy.)
I love it when something looks a little more complicated than it actually is. I had some leftover yarn from a Christmas gift I had knit and I really liked the yarn too much to leave it in my bin of discards. (Who doesn't love Malabrigo, really? Can't leave that laying around.) Even though I have been warned against weaving with single-ply for warp, I decided I'd risk it and try out a houndstooth cowl idea I had bouncing around my brain. Rigid heddles are more forgiving of single-ply and handspun yarns than their shaft counterparts (though it's not impossible to use either on a shaft-loom...if it were, there would have been centuries of naked people in history). Rigid heddle looms put yarn under less tension and often, because of the plastic heddle, are a little less abrasive to the fiber.
I warped my 15" Cricket using the full width of the heddle. I warped a 2x2 color scheme, meaning I had two teal feather warp threads then two natural warp threads all the way down the heddle. Then, with the same two colors for the weft, I had a 2x2 scheme weaving, as well. Two picks teal than two picks natural. Because there was a color change ever two picks, it was not practical to cut the thread each time, so I carried the colors. (Sometimes, if you have more than a few picks, a carry can look messy or cause a loop that can get caught on things. I found that with the 2 picks, the float carried up the side for each color change was minimal.) Tip: Choose one color on your bobbin or shuttle stick to place "in front." For me, my natural color was always the shuttle closest to my fell line. When it was not in use, I rested it either in my lap or on my woven fabric. When I was done with the teal shuttle stick I always placed it behind the natural shuttle stick before picking up and weaving with the natural color. This created a consistent look with my floats along the side of my woven fabric because the carries always overlapped each other in the same way.
I am an advocate of hemstitching fabric. Even if I plan on doing a folded hem or seam later, a hemstitch at the beginning and end of your fabric really helps hold things together when you take it off the loom. For this cowl, I ended up sewing a zigzag stitch along the hemstitch and then completely removing any fringe before folding the ends under and sewing a hem with my sewing machine. Then, with both ends neatly hemmed, I used a tapestry needle and some extra Malabrigo to seam the two hemmed ends together mattress stitch style.
I am pleased with the results. I think it was a great use of extra yarn and I had no problems with the single-ply warp.
The hank featured at the top of the image was created from an art batt created by Purple Lamb. I had two "Anduril" art batts of approximately 2 oz each. It was my first attempt at spinning a mixture of fibers and decided to do a short forward draft from the fold. I spun two bobbins, one batt for each, and then plied them together. The result was a beautiful fingering weight yarn with a nice glossy finish and a lovely drape. I gifted all three of these yarns to my mom as stocking stuffers for Christmas.
Next up is my dive into some art yarn. With another art batt from Purple Lamb called "Rainy Day," I spun a rather careless single (intentionally...I wanted thickish parts and thin parts without a lot of organization.) I then took some commercially spun wool and make a super coil yarn by holding my "Rainy" single perpendicular to the wool running through the orifice. I allowed the "Rainy" to wrap around the wool and then pushed the resulting wrap up, making the coils tight and close together. I think this will look interesting in a weaving project I have in mind. I will say it is a little labor intensive for a very low yield of finished yarn, but it is very funky and fun. I do not have a picture here, but I also spun a true thick and thin art yarn with my thick bits being spaced at regular intervals.
Last up for today's post is my subtle gradient yarn, which finished at about a sport weight. I did a short forward draft on a 4 oz Malabrigo roving (merino) called "Glitter." (The name is a little deceiving, there is no glitter in the traditional sense to be seen in this colorway, but it does have nice metallic hues without the shine.) Before I began, I divided the wool up into color groups. The dye on the roving was such that there were no big sections of any particular shade (light, medium or dark) but I sort of went for averages. This meant there were some dark bits that got in the light, and vice versa. I liked it, though, it made for a dynamic and very subtle color shift. Once I completed the single I did a chain ply to create a very nice pseudo 3-ply yarn. In this way, I was able to maintain my color groupings without having to worry if separate bobbins of singles would line up properly. Even with the chain ply I was able to get 200 yards of yarn.
So...that's what has been coming off my wheel lately. Next up, I think, will be some beehives. Woohoo. I'm learning lots while having fun, and that's pretty awesome. I'd love to hear about what you're making!
All projects I knit are knit with love, but sometimes a project comes along that is extra special and seems to stitch in a little more of me than expected. Sometime last winter, I want to say February-ish, I started a sweater for my husband. I was so happy because he actually asked me to knit it- I wasn't inflicting my weird obsession with fiber on him, he really wanted a sweater and he really wanted me to make it. I am happy to report I finished it...before the new year, even. (Yes, yes, I appreciate it, but you can stop cheering for me now.) I am even happier to report that we survived the sweater curse. Apparently it's a thing- you knit a sweater for your partner and your relationship falls to pieces before it's done. But I will say, I think knitting something for someone so close to me is what made this project so special. My husband and I have had a difficult year; not in our relationship but more just life things coming up and slapping us in the face. And through it all I worked on the sweater. I look at the finished work and I see in the cables each of the trials we faced this year. Every section has some memories that are very specific to, let's say, just the left sleeve or the collar. With it all said and done, this 2017 sweater project makes me feel proud. Proud because all of those intertwined cables that represent our challenges have made us stronger and that despite some of the upsets we faced, we are together and we are strong. (Also, there is some personal pride because it was probably one of the more technically difficult knits I've tackled.) I love my husband and his sweater is filled with that love.
As for the pattern itself, it is lovely. I really like the cable work that Ms. Anikeeva includes in her designs. She does a beautiful job, too, of making lovely men's knitwear that is also masculine. While there are delicate components and a lot of pattern and interest, the overall appearance of this sweater is very "man." It is balanced, the cable work is not overdone. (I have seen some sweaters where the cable work is absolutely stunning, but there is so much of it crammed together that it makes me a little dizzy. This cardigan did not have that problem.)
I chose to use KnitPicks Wool of the Andes Tweed in "Flagstone Heather." It was a nice yarn to work with, but the main reason I chose it is because a sweater, especially a men's sweater, needs A LOT of yarn. I was trying not to make the first sweater I knit for my husband cost almost $300 in supplies, and the KnitPicks yarn was a nice option that was also economical. I am sure one day I will knit a $300 sweater, but this was not that day. I really loved the pattern in tweed, though. (I'm a sucker for sweaters in tweed.)
Summary: This cardigan has great cable work. It has a balanced appearance and the pattern is well written and clear. I even got to try some new techniques, like a tubular cast-on. The collar is also great, it is bulky and warm, worked in short rows to build height around the neck. I would recommend this project for someone who is comfortable with cables, patient, and has some experience with garment knitting. The difficulty rating on this pattern is "intermediate" and I think that's pretty accurate.
I LOVE (yes, all capital L-O-V-E) Melanie Berg's shawls. They are really beautiful. How she plays with textures and colors is really remarkable and the finished product is a sophisticated, modern wrap/shawl that is really easy to dress up or down. They are fresh and fun yet elegant and mature. Just as the colors often present surprising juxtapositions, so do her designs. LOVE them.
With that said...this shawl took me an absolute age to finish. I thought it was going to be one of those quick knits that take a casual month of knitting- I was wrong. I do not mean to scare away any tepid knitters out there, it is not a complicated pattern, nor would it take an exorbitant amount of time to complete if you were not working on twelve other things at the same time. It is actually what I would call a zen pattern- once you get the gist of what you are doing, you do not have to think about it too much; you can just enjoy the experience of knitting. However, it is knit in a fingering/sport weight yarn and it a full-sized shawl. Those two things made it take longer than I expected, but I just did not pay close enough attention and should have known better.
The construction of the shawl is really fun. With the stripes all being the same 18 rows but growing in length and the addition of the eyelet wedges, the shape is asymmetric and funky but the drape is very nice on the body. It has a natural curl to it that lends itself to wrapping around your neck and staying in place. The wedges are created with short rows, but they are the least fussy short rows I have ever seen. You simply knit to the indicated spot and then turn your work and knit the other way- no wrapping, no picking up stitches on your next pass. See, no fuss. Working a short row in this way would typically create a little hole or gap in your knitting, but since this is an eyelet wedge, the little hole created fits right in to the texture of the knit. Very convenient. Ms. Berg, you sly fox, you.
I made this particular shawl for my mother as a Christmas present, which is why I chose the green color palette with a splash of wintery white. I used the Brown Sheep Company Lambs' Pride Superwash Sport, which I reviewed some time ago, which can be seen here. I really like the finished feel of the shawl, it maintains the flow of the design but has a sort of durable feel to it that suggests it will last through many wears and keep my mom's neck nice and warm. (Bonus: It can be washed.) It might be a little scratchy for some people's taste, but it really softens after blocking. And when I say scratchy, I do not want to suggest it feels like someone's five o'clock shadow rubbing against your neck- it's just not as soft as, let's say, merino.
Summary: I really love this shawl. It was an easy and straightforward pattern with a great result. It is very appropriate for a knitter who has the basics under their belt and wants a new challenge. However, it is not boring for a seasoned knitter to tackle, either. I guess that's part of the wonder and miracle of Ms. Berg's designs. Do not make the mistake I made and think it is a quick knit, though!