Of Rats and Jen

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

How to Occupy A Hyperactive Rat for (Almost) Four Minutes

Filed under: How To,Rats!,Ravelry — folkcat at 1:39 pm on Monday, August 6, 2007

Hello, everyone! I got my Ravelry invitation this morning, so I’m going to be exploring that site today. I’m still a little unsure what parts I’ll use, so I need to think this over some.

For instance, I have a flickr account, but I don’t really use it because I have more than sufficient capacity for uploaded photos at the server that hosts my blog. Connecting photos to my information at Ravelry will require a duplication of effort on my part – upload photo to blog, then also upload it to flickr so I can link it at Ravelry.

And no, I’m not going to start just uploading to flickr and putting the photos into my blog posts from there. I actually don’t like the way flickr photos present themselves in blog posts. If I want to click through to see the image larger, flickr loads way too slow for my taste.

Plus, there’s a good chance that, given the limitations on a free flickr account, I’ll have to upgrade to the pro level account ($24.95/year) if I do Ravelry right, too. I know that may not seem like a lot to many of you, but there are no savings to pull it from, and cash flow could keep it from happening for a long time.

So I’ve got some thinking to do, with regards to how I want to use Ravelry. Meanwhile, you can find me there as CraftingJen.

Being so occupied myself for now, let me distract you from the lack of other crafting content with a quick tutorial!

How to Occupy a Hyperactive Rat for (Almost) Four Minutes

The following took place between 8:48 p.m. and 8:51 p.m.

1. Allow rat to crawl into empty tissue box through opening on top.

Tissue Box with Rat Inside

2. Place tissue box on table, with opening on bottom.

Lola Escaping Box 1

3. Watch as rat escapes through an opening of their own creation.

Lola Escaping Box 2
Okay, a little off this edge down here…

Lola Escaping Box 3
Gonna have to clean up this top edge a bit…

Lola Escaping Box 4
Still a little too tight…

Lola Escaping Box 5
Ah! There we go!

How To Embroider a Rock

Filed under: How To,Stitchery — folkcat at 1:10 pm on Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I promised I’d give, not exactly a step-by-step how-to for the freeform embroidery I did to cover a rock, but at least some guidelines to help you get started.

Embroidered Rock - Side One

Materials

The things you’ll need are:

  • a small rock – I recommend something that fits easily in the palm of your hand. And believe it or not, an irregular shape is actually better than a very regular one – the curves and edges of the rock will help your stitching to stay in place in the early stages.
  • your choice of yarn, perle cotton, or embroidery floss. This doesn’t take much yarn – scraps will do the job! I suggest something with a smooth finish – that seems to stitch more easily – and with variegated colors to lend the maximum interest in the finished stitchery. Larger yarns will cover the rock more quickly, but may be harder to add beads to; smaller yarns will give a finer detail and allow more subdividing of the surface, but may fray more quickly and will take longer to cover.
  • a tapestry needle of appropriate size for the thread or yarn. Don’t use your best quality needles – they will get scratched as you work against the rock’s surface.
  • (optional) beads that will fit over the threaded tapestry needle. If you really want to use beads, test this out before finalizing what thread and needle you’ll use.

The technique is blindingly simple. Everything you see here is stitched using the blanket stitch. (I used to think I was using buttonhole stitch until I went looking for that link and learned the difference!) I use variegated threads and yarns to highlight the changes in direction of my stitching.

Getting Started

Take a length of about 2 yards of your chosen thread. This will be getting dragged regularly against the rock, and will wear and fray, so you don’t want to use a piece any longer than this. In fact, as you work you might find you want a shorter thread to avoid breakage of your yarn.

Click any picture for a bigger image if you want to see the details better. Also, please note the rock being stitched on is not the same one in the finished pictures, so the shape is quite different.

Embroidered Rock - Starting Line
The Starting Line

Find some point around which you can securely tie the beginning of your yarn or thread. Tie the yarn with a square knot. Leave one tail about 2 to 3 inches long. You want this starting line to be tight, but not so tight you can’t get your needle under it.

Embroidered Rock - First Stitch
Your First Stitch

Thread an appropriately sized tapestry needle on the long tail of your working yarn, and begin making blanket stitches to cover the line around the rock. Snug this first stitch up against the right hand side of your square knot.

Embroidered Rock - Several Stitches Done
Several Stitches Along

Continue working stitches down your starting line. Don’t snug them up tight against each other! Eventually, you’ll be stitching a row of blanket stitches along the other side of this line, and you need a little space between the stitches you’re making now to be able to fit those new stitches in. See the picture above; you want to leave about a yarn’s width of space between the upright legs of your blanket stitches.

Embroidered Rock - Covering the Tail
Begin Covering The Tail Yarn

About an inch before you get back around to your square knot, begin working your stitches over both the starting line and the short tail. Once you feel the tail is sufficiently anchored, cut off the excess close to your stitching.

Embroidered Rock - The Second Round
First Stitches of Second Round

When you’ve come back to the square knot, work your last stitch or two right over it. Then, simply continue around, only now you’re working each blanket stitch into a blanket stitch from the previous round. Your needle will pass under the horizontal, upper thread of the stitch, just as it passed under the starting line for your first round.

My camera batteries died at this point, so unfortunately I don’t have images of any subsequent steps.

Go Wild!

Once you’ve stabilized the starting line with a row or two of stitches, you can start to work intuitively. I frequently start to throw bridge lines across other parts of the rock. These bridge the openings in your stitch work, making a connection from one side of the gap to the other. Wherever you want to put a bridge, just carry your working thread over the gap to the stitches on the other side, and anchor it by working blanket stitches into the existing stitches there.

You can increase (work two stitches into one) and decrease (skip a stitch) as needed to conform to the shape of your rock. Most of the pattern in my rock is created by a combination of the variegated yarn, and by further subdividing the unstitched areas of the rock with bridges.

Most areas are filled by simply working around and around until there’s no more room. Some small sections might be filled by working back and forth (simply reverse the direction of your stitching). Sometimes I’ll do that to change the shape of a large opening, sometimes just to fill a very small one.

Embroidered Rock - Window Showing Detail of Stone
A Window

With an interesting rock like this piece of granite, you might not want to completely cover the stone. Openings can be left wherever you like – I try to find odd bits of patterning in the rock that I want to feature.

Embroidered Rock - Side Two
Ruffled, Beaded Frames

Add Dimension

The body of this rock is covered with a DK weight baby yarn. The beaded ruffles around some of the openings are also blanket stitch, but worked up from the rock’s surface. I stitched them with variegated DMC embroidery floss, in colors to complement the baby yarn.

I went with floss (and a smaller tapestry needle) partly for the visual contrast with the baby yarn (though the yarn is glossy, the floss is glossier), and partly because the size 8 beads I was using needed a thinner thread and needle.

The first round is stitched one blanket stitch into each stitch around the window. For subsequent rounds, I caused a ruffling effect by stitching two blanket stitches into each stitch of the previous round. After about two rounds, I started adding beads.

Bead It

The beads are added as you go – before inserting the needle into the stitch below to begin your new blanket stitch, simply thread a bead and slide it down to the work. I added beads in two ways – either I slid them down and left them laying on the top, horizontal thread in the stitch, or I passed the needle through them again in the opposite direction from the first pass, leaving them positioned vertically on a pair of threads to form the leg of the stitch. I always did at least one round of thread only stitches after a round of beads, to help frame the beads themselves and make them stand out a little better.

Adding Thread

When you need to add in new thread, first lay the starting tail of the new thread along the top of the stitches you’re working into, then stitch over it along with your base stitches for about half an inch. Then, thread your needle onto the new yarn, and draw it through your last made stitch from the back. Now, begin working over the end tail of your old yarn as you begin working with the new. After several stitches, you can clip the loose ends short.

Sometimes you’ll need to end a thread without adding a new one. In that case, I run my needle under the already stitched areas, coming up a half inch or so from where I went down. I then go down again exactly where I came up, and change directions before coming up again. I’ll do this about two or three times before trimming the yarn as close to the surface as I can.

If I want to add a new thread without also ending an old one, I’ll start the thread the same – by running under the work a little before coming up where I want to stitch.

Where From Here?

Claudia was delighted with her little rock – she said she has a pile of papers she keeps from blowing away by putting a watering can on them, and this will be so much better. As for me, I picked up a second rock in the parking lot on the way back to the car at the end of the Festival, and I’ll make myself one that coordinates with Claudia’s for my own souvenir of our meeting!

I’m also starting to get ideas for other objects to cover – a nicely dried tree branch with the bark stripped, for instance, or found objects from a flea market or yard sale. I find the process very satisfying, and the results are beautiful.

I hope this little guide inspires you to try the technique for yourself. It’s not that hard, requires very little in materials, and has no pattern to follow. Pick up a rock at the beach on vacation, or a piece of driftwood, or anything, and craft a nice memory piece to treasure!

How To: Cast On Stitches in the Middle of a Knitting Project

Filed under: How To,Knitting — folkcat at 4:20 pm on Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A reader recently sent me this question by e-mail:

I’m in the middle of making baby slippers…a pattern I got off of Lionbrand’s website. It requires you to cast on 10 stitches at the end of a knit row. For some reason I’m drawing a blank. Any advice would help!

Several of my pet knitting projects – Fingerless Mitts, Barefoot Diva Socks – have design features that are basically modified buttonholes. These require binding off a certain number of stitches on one round, and then at a later point (next round on the mitts, several rows later on the socks), casting stitches back on.

Because these projects are worked in the round, they’re not quite the same as casting on extra stitches at the end of a row. But the approach I use may be helpful for either situation.

Most often the advice I see for casting on additional stitches in the middle of a project, or at the end of a row, will recommend using the Backwards E Cast On (video demo found here). I find this is okay if you’re just adding a stitch or two. If you’re casting on a longer section, however, it’s my experience (your mileage may vary) that the Backwards E tends to be tight to knit into, and has an issue of additional slack building up between the stitches – leaving excess loops at your new edge.

What I prefer to use instead is the Cabled Cast On. This gives an elastic edge, with stable stitches to work into on the next round, and can be worked from your current working yarn on your knitting project (without adding in any additional yarn).

There are lots of pictures with this tutorial, so I’m going to put them after the jump. If you want to learn how I cast on in the middle of a row/round, then read on!

(Read on …)

From Childhood Toy to Fiber Art Ploy

Filed under: How To,Knitting — folkcat at 1:09 pm on Friday, January 26, 2007

As an avid knitter, and a new and aspiring spinner, I’ve been slowly acquiring the tools of my trade: yarn ball winder, niddy noddy, spinning wheel.

One essential item that had eluded my budget so far, however, was a swift. I have a friend with one that I can borrow whenever I need to, but that requires waiting until we can get together at a time and place that works for both of us. My eBay skills have proven lacking so far, too – I keep getting outbid at the last second.

Now, there are ways to work around this. There’s the classic, “Honey, would you hold this yarn for me so I can wind it?” move. That works until your husband starts remembering how sore his arms will get by the time you’re done. There’s holding the skein yourself over your knees, or your feet. Great until you need to answer the door or go to the bathroom! Then there’s the back of a chair – assuming you can find a chair that will somehow fit your skein.

I had an idea for a solution yesterday that seemed to come out of left field. Maybe I’ve been running a fever with the cold I’ve had all week. Maybe I was belatedly inspired by the Motorized Lego Yarn Winder I’d seen around blogland over a year ago. Whatever the reason, however, there was this notion, this answer bouncing around my head, to my swift-less existence. I even had the materials in the house to try it out Thursday.

The Tinkertoy Swift
The Tinkertoy Swift

Yup. Tinkertoys. Let’s not even get into why a childless couple has Tinkertoys in the house. (Okay, I’ll tell you – we may be childless, but Gryphon and I both personally appreciate toys, and have a specific fondness for building toys.)

Made from a Classic Jumbo Builder Set, the swift was quick and easy to put together. I don’t know how the size of the rods differs between the Jumbo Builder Set and the other Tinkertoy sets. I felt that the diameter of the rods in the Jumbo set worked well for the swift, though – they were sturdy enough to support the yarn without bending.

Here’s how I put mine together. I don’t know what all the parts are called, but it’s easy to look at my pictures and match them to what you have in your set.

Base Parts

I wanted a good, stable base, something that would prevent tipping, yet support a reasonable axle for the swift to turn on. I used four blue rods with end caps coming out of the edge of the connector, with a yellow rod sticking out of the center.

The three larger parts in that picture are pulleys and a spool, I think. Their point is to provide the spinning action, as well as to raise the height of the working arms up off the table. Tinkertoys don’t have ball bearings, and these parts were all designed to spin on a rod that’s inserted through their center hole.

Base Assembled

I stacked the three on the yellow rod, and finished the top with an end cap. I made sure that a piece with four holes around the edge was at the top – this is where the arms of my swift will attach.

Arm Assembly for Tinkertoy Swift

This is my arm assembly. The red rod is the upright peg that will hold the skein. The yellow rod with a connector on the end at the right will support the skein from beneath. The green rod on the left will fit into the top piece on the axle. If you look again at the picture of the fully assembled swift at the top of this post, you’ll see where that goes.

It’s really that simple, folks. And it gets even better – by varying the length of rods used on the arms, I can accommodate different sizes of skeins. I took measurements with the various colors in place – here were my findings, from shortest rod color to longest:

Yellow Rods: 26″ skein length
Blue Rods: 35″ skein length
Red Rods: 40″ skein length
Green Rods: 48″ skein length
Orange Rods: 68″ skein length

These are all based on placing the rod color specified where the green rod is shown in my photo of the arm assembly. Additional lengths can be made by combining two shorter rods together with yet another connector, and using them in place of a single color. For instance, by combining a blue and a yellow rod, I came up with a 57″ skein length. A little experimentation, and possibly even using two arms of one size, two of another, and the size possibilities are extensive.

Edited 3-7-07 to add: Telmah of Skyline Chilly reports that she wound a skein of Socks That Rock yarn with her Tinkertoy Swift. She combined three orange rods and one green one, and got a circumference of 63.5″, which was just perfect for the yarn. To keep the swift balance, she added an extra connector on the end of the green rod. If you want to see how it worked out, you can visit her post about it here. Thanks for the data, Telmah!

All well and good, you say. But does it work?

Tinkertoy Swift with Yarn

It held my 8 oz. skein of Cherry Tree Hill Merino Lace yarn (colorway “Martha’s Vineyard”, btw) quite well, with the green rods in place to hold a 48″ circumference.

The three spinning parts on the axle turned smoothly. If I use this regularly, I may consider lubricating them with a little graphite or something to reduce wear.

In very short order, that skein of yarn had been turned into this yummy yarn cake.

Lace Yarn Cake, Thanks to Tinkertoys!

Best of all, storing this swift – as well as carrying it to knitting groups if I want – is going to be ridiculously easy. The whole thing breaks down into small parts that I can fit in a gallon-size zipper bag! Show me an umbrella swift that can do that!

Another great thing about using Tinkertoys, too – these are wooden parts that are intended for children to play with. As such, they are extremely smooth and well finished. Not a chance in the world that your yarn will catch on a rough spot!

Obviously, this wouldn’t be the right answer for someone who’s doing any large amount of yarn handling. But for the fiber artist who only occasionally needs the use of a swift, or who is on a budget, this could be a great solution. Especially if you already have them in the house for the kids, or can find them at a yard sale!

If you decide to give the Tinkertoy swift a try yourself, please post about it to your blog (if you have one), and leave me a comment or drop me an e-mail. I’d love to see how this works for others!