Diving into knit fabrics with the Isla Dress

Several years ago, I took a refresher class at Gather Here where I made a box bag. Although living in a studio apartment with another person and paying my way through graduate school meant that I didn’t have the funds to buy a sewing machine (or collect fabric as well as yarn and fiber) nor the place to work, the class was a fun way to work on skills that I hadn’t used since I was 14.

A few months after finishing school and leaving the city behind, I found a vintage machine for $20 and found myself dipping my toes into the water. Friends graciously accepted felt catnip toys, no one commented on my asymmetrical pleating as I wore my first handmade dress or the pointy corset of my second one and our dog enthusiastically curled up on a fleece dog bed. During the time, I took advantage of my large kitchen table and the fact that I lived alone, which is a nice way of saying that, in addition to yarn, fabric and thread were left everywhere.

I don’t blame my husband (then boyfriend) moving in for changing the pace at which my exploration into sewing occurred, I blame the pandemic and the need to suddenly work from home full time. Overnight, I went from having space to spread out (and a patient partner who doesn’t mind creative chaos) to needing a table and desk for us to work. It was more practical to take on additional knitting projects, I didn’t have to break down a work from home set ups in order to be creative.

Then we bought a fixer-upper and the focus shifted again, this time causing both of our creative minds to pivot towards turning our house into a home. Months of peeling a hundred years worth of wallpaper (literally), plastering and painting later, my husband turned to me and asked if he could build me a craft table now that the first floor was mostly complete. Two days later, he was encouraging me to do my research on a new sewing machine so that we could by a new one on black Friday.

A few more virtual classes later, via Notion Fabric and Craft and Creativebug, and I found myself taking on sewing my wedding dress and buying fabric to attempt to make a button down. My niece received a sewn dress for her birthday and I upcycled a thrifted chair. Despite all this newfound enthusiasm and confidence, I couldn’t help but continue to limit myself to woven fabrics because they were predictable (more or less) and didn’t require me to do anything special to work with them.

An impulse buy of a blue knit fabric with strawberries from Notion forced me out of my comfort zone and into the world of stretch fabrics. Armed with the Isla and Jade patterns from Made by Rae, I worked through the directions and managed to sew an Isla dress with long sleeves (the sleeves came from Jade). The neckline does not lay straight because I didn’t realize I needed to pull the neck binding while attaching it, but the sleeves turned out ok because I learned from that mistake. In the end, I created a cozy dress that fits great and, by working with a knit fabric, I forced myself to realize that my understanding of how sewing works has come a long way.

Not only will I make this dress again, I’ve already purchased fabric to do so! Assuming I find the time to iron and cut fabric, I’ll be sporting a handmade ghost Isla dress with Jade sleeves while handing out candy on Halloween this year!

A young woman taking a photo of herself in a floor length mirror wearing a blue handmade three quarter sleeve dress with a strawberry print.

Trying Something New: Making Donuts

Eight jars of blueberry jam cooling on a kitchen towl.

To set the stage, I should mention that this whole thing started because we went blueberry picking this year and walked away with 8 lbs of blueberries. Most of this went directly into jars as jam, some of it was baked into bread and some of it stared at me begging to be put to good use. That’s when it hit me, blueberry donuts.

Making donuts without a fryer isn’t too difficult, in fact you “just” need a donut pan and a good cake donut recipe. If I had focused on making the blueberry donuts that I had set out to, they would have come out delicious. Instead, I found myself taking on the monstrous task of attempting to make jelly filled donuts without a mixer (I mean, come one I had so many jars of blueberry jam!).

To the book’s credit, the recipe itself was easy to follow. If I’m being honest with myself, I know exactly where things went wrong. For starters, we don’t have a microwave. This means that microwaving ingredients for 15 seconds (or whatever it was) needs to be done on the stove, which would have been easier if a temperature had been given. Next, there’s no way that I mixed the dough enough. My hands got tired and I didn’t have someone else around to delegate the task to. On top of that, I opted to double the recipe so that there would be enough to share with the local fire station, which means that I was attempting to hand mix more dough than a standard batch. When you combine those things together, there’s no way that the first prove was successful.

Pale and flat donuts or failed jelly donuts.

And yet, I diligently completed the next steps of rolling and cutting the dough before allowing it to prove for a second time. In reality, I knew when I put them in the oven that I would not have airy donuts in the end… but I still put them in the oven.

The final product? Weird tasting biscuits scone things. Weird as in you could taste the yeast, but they were almost ok if dunked in some blueberry jam (I at least lacked the pride required to fill the failed donuts with jelly). We threw them out, unsure if even the animals in the woods behind our home would want them. These would not do well on Great British Bake Off, I’d probably get an under proved and over done comment.

Will I make jelly donuts again? Yes, but I will probably borrow someone’s mixer first!

October Book Club: The Giver of Stars

Cover art for the Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Confession time: Sometimes I avoid books because their plot revolves around my profession. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my work as a librarian, it’s just that I tend to read books that allow me a certain level of escapism. When The Giver of Stars first came across my radar, I was tempted to dismiss it in favor of something that had at least a little bit more of a fantasy element. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m glad that I didn’t.

That being said, do I feel as though I’ve gotten a good picture of what it was like to participate in a packhorse library? In some ways yes, it was interesting to read about how the library built a sense of community and how long and tiring the hours where. In other ways, perhaps not. While this book is based on a true story, I was left wondering how much liberties were taken in romanticizing the packhorse librarian experience.

Regardless of this romantic perspective, Moyes gave us an interesting group of characters to watch grow throughout the story. Though the story focuses on impulsive Alice, Margery, Izzy, Sophia and Beth find themselves changed by the library as well. Though they started with nothing in common besides the library, it was easy to relate to how something so intense could bring a group together.

Though wrapped up almost too perfectly, one thing I appreciated how one wealthy man could manipulate the town’s mindset in order to best suit his needs. One woman is making sure that his town can’t expand so he’s got to take town that one woman, starting with her library. It almost worked too, showing us the dark side of what money has the power to do.

As always, I have mixed feelings about Alice finding true love and remarrying. On the one hand, she’s a character I wanted to be happy. On the other hand, she was getting ready to go back to England despite all the growth that she had gained during her time as a packhorse librarian. I couldn’t decide if those were really her only choices during that time period (I suppose they were) or if there may have been a third path (realistically there probably wasn’t). Still, one can’t help appreciating that the reason she’s able to leave her neglectful husband is because he never consummated the marriage.

Speaking of Bennet, what a strange character. It’s obvious that his father abused him, but I wonder if there’s more to the story there. Did he want to be married to a woman? If not, why go back after Peggy and fail to consummate that marriage as well? Bennet seemed like one of life’s sleepwalkers. He wasn’t really a bad guy, he just also wasn’t a very good one.

The Giver of Stars is often recommended to be read in junction with the Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, so I picked it up and read a few chapters. These three chapters cued me into the idea that The Giver of Stars may be more of a romantic story (you know, besides the fact that it was a romantic story), but I ended up abandoning the book due to seemingly consistent violence. While I don’t typically abandon a book for having a rape scene in it, I also don’t want to be greeted by one in the first few chapters. There’s so much happening in the world right now, I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading as Bluet faced abuse after abuse.

Cover art for A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

I’ve decided to give into social media a little bit for November’s book club and have us read a Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Having read a lot of Holly Black growing up, this book looks like it uses that traditional style: fairies cannot be trusted, don’t eat the food, don’t drink the wine, don’t make any deals combined with a main character who systematically breaks each rule.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

My exploration into fitted sheets

Five pieces of nursery patterned flannel folded neatly and stacked in a pile.

I love sewing clothes, whether for my husband, myself or the numerous little people in my life. In fact, I believe I have fabric for six or seven garments at this very moment: little person dresses/rompers, a button down for my husband and a couple things for myself (I love knitting clothes too, but that’s not what we’re here to chat about today!). Despite the growing number of projects on my docket, I couldn’t help but look through the flannel nursery fabric that was part of Joann’s labor day door busters. At the very least, perhaps I could put together some combinations to make a couple flannel outfits.

Typically, I tend to sew garments and have home sewing projects sprinkled in for variety. In fact, the only recent projects that weren’t clothing have been upcycling some cushions and a pair of throw pillows. This is to say that the idea to attempt crib sheets (fitted sheets for baby mattresses) came out of no where as did the desire to make more than one. Within five minutes of hopping onto Pinterest I found a free tutorial on I Can Sew This and felt less guilty about placing my order. While I don’t have a little one of my own to benefit from these sheets right away, I get the sense that you can’t really have too many crib sheets.

In the end, I spent maybe an hour cranking out five different flannel crib sheets that will be perfect for New England’s colder winters. Honestly, the most time consuming part was threading the elastic (I don’t have a good reason for why I really bothered, but I did also take the time to iron the flannel after washing). I recommend using either a safety pin or an elastic threader to help with this process.

They’re so cute! I can’t really speak to fit due to lack of a mattress to test them on, but I can absolutely see myself making these instead of knitting baby sweaters when on a time crunch.

The Comfort Zone in BSF Techno

A young woman standing with her arms crossed wearing a plum handknit poncho.

Everyone reaches for different projects – or crafts – for different reasons. While working on my Masters in Library Science, I knit almost exclusively socks, in fact I was cranking out almost a pair per week due to the train commute and the long lectures. In the dead of winter, I find myself reaching for colors that I don’t find often in the winter wonderland outside my door. For whatever reason, summer often has me reaching for thicker wools and larger projects. Despite the hot June that summer brought, the cooler July weather had me dreaming of being wrapped in something warm and fuzzy. Add that to procrastinating a lace shawl I’ve been slowly working on for months (more on that soon, I promise!), and the Comfort Zone poncho by Espace Tricot found its way off my queue and onto my needles. Especially as we transition back to working from our cool (yes even in winter) offices.

Confession time: I’ve never actually knit with Blue Sky Fibers’ Techno before. There isn’t really a good reason for this outside of “I don’t work with bulky or single ply yarns frequently”. That being said, when deciding to cast on the Comfort Zone, I found myself thinking about how warm and snuggly the fabric Techno would create. Plus, being a Blue Sky Maker for a little bit longer means that it’s the perfect time to try new yarn.

Actually knitting with Techno is so much fun, possibly because of the ease in which new strands spit slice together and possibly because it feels like you’re knitting from a cloud. Though fuzzy in nature, Techno does not tickle my nose the way some alpaca yarns do and I don’t feel the need to reach for a lint roller after knitting on my lunch break.

A young woman standing sideways to the camera holding the bottom edge of her plum poncho away from her body.

The Comfort Zone knit up both faster and slower than I thought it would, whether that’s because I anticipate thicker yarns knitting up quicker or not is a toss up. In order to make something that provides a little more movement in the arms, I modified the sizing of the pattern a little bit. Knowing that alpaca and alpaca blends tend to create a heavy drapey fabric, I cast on for size 1 and knit until the ribbing was 4 inches (instead of 6). Then, I increased up to the size 2 stitch count (104 to be exact), which is 4 rows longer than the plan rows following the increases call for. Knowing that the final ribbing would add 5 inches, I measured my poncho with a goal of having around 12 inches and discovering that I had 14. I started the bottom ribbing without knitting any extra rows.

Now that the Comfort Zone is off my needles, I find myself wondering what else I can add to my wardrobe in Techno (Tamarack Blanket Scarf perhaps? Or a sweatshirt style sweater in Club Grey?). The bloom induced by wet blocking has created this feeling of wool armor that’s designed to keep me safe from the cold. Though I’m not one to rush the summer months away, I do find myself looking longingly at the Comfort Zone each time I enter my closet. Is it my fault that I’m happy with the fabric and the fit?