Upcycling a Reading Chair

Patinaed wooden chair with gold patterned turquoise cushions.

Allow me to set the scene: Your belly is pleasantly full of diner eggs and toast. You’ve consumed just the right level of your morning drink of choice (I’m on team tea!) and have made a productive home depot run. While driving home, you remark to your partner/fiancé/friend/husband/wife/sibling/parent/child that you should take the long way so that you can enjoy a short hike before the weather warms up. Stopping at the thrift store just before the trailhead wasn’t really part of that plan, but the parking lot’s almost never so empty and you can’t help it. After wandering around for about five minutes, you find a solid wood chair with gross cushions on it. The price is right. There’s room in the boot (trunk). It would be perfect in the family room and you’re semi confident that you can make new cushions. Would you go for it? We did, went for our hike and then threw the cushions out as soon as we got home.

The chair in question has caused a lot of inspiration and discussion in our household. Do we sand and re-stain it? What about throwing on some chalk paint? How on earth does one sew a cushion? What kind of fabric should I use and how much do I need? Joann’s down the hill sells large amounts of foam… right?

We ended up purchasing 4 yards of denim fabric from Spoonflower and 2 yards of 5 inch foam from Joann’s. Then came the google searching, has anyone done this before? In case you’re curious, the answer is yes! There are a lot of tutorials out there, but when it comes to drafting a pattern for your custom cushion Online Fabric Store had the most straightforward tutorial. Another pro tip we discovered is that a bread knife will work just as good as one of those expensive electric cutters!

Both cushions were sewn up in an evening, the hardest part was the little bit of Frankensteining that I did in order to create the bottom cushion’s t-shape (both sides have a hand sewing piece in order to make the curve). Honestly, it would have looked smoother if I had used matching thread, but you can’t really see it anyway. This is one of the few projects I’ve sewn where the “fit” of the final object would make or break it. Sure, I’ve made dresses before, but you can sort of fix those after the fact.

I’m super proud of the way the two cushions came out, even if the only piece of the original chair that remains is the frame. To the original cushion’s credit, the plan had started out as keeping them and putting new covers on. Even with fabric and foam cost taken into account, we could not have gotten a better chair for our space within that price range. My partner has already fallen asleep in it twice, I think it’s safe to say that this one is not style of substance.

Knit-Along FAQs

Top view of small pothos plant and philodendron rootings. Below the plants there is a green half done stockinette gauge swatch on circular needles. The swatch's yarn is still connected to a yarn cake.
Gauge swatch knit in Skyland Comet

We’re officially into the second month of the Calgary Capelet knit along (KAL)! I’ll admit to being someone who didn’t cast on April 19 due to the suggested needle size being used in pursuit of a Retreat Cowl that I thought I’d finish in two days (not sure why on Earth I thought that was a reasonable timeline). After knitting and wet blocking a rather large swatch, I cast on with a size 6 and am enthusiastically knitting along. There is still time to join us, we’re having a lot of fun chatting on Ravelry and knitting together.

Some of the participants in the KAL have never participated in one before, and I’ve done a few posts now on the KAL I usually participate in over the summer, so I thought it might be worth taking the time to discuss why you might consider participating (besides the potential to win prizes).

First things’s first: What exactly is a KAL?

A knit-along (KAL) is a group of crafters working on a project together over a set amount of time. I saw crafters here because you can also participate in crochet-alongs, sew-alongs, spin-alongs, and I’m sure there are also embroidery alongs if you know where to look. The ultimate goal of the -along is to build community around a common project and find inspiration in your fellow crafters. Sometimes this inspiration takes the form of observing modifications or color choices that you didn’t think of and other times the conversation leads you to projects that you hadn’t even considered starting!

Freshly joined ribbing on circular knitting needles. The green project has a black and white photo of a woman wearing a capelet with a cable down the front center.

Where are KALs typically organized?

All over the place! You can participate in KALs at your local yarn store, your favorite designer may be hosting a KAL, yarn companies sometimes offer them, podcasts or blogs may opt to host one – sometimes it’s even just a matter of searching “knit along” or “KAL” in the ravelry forms to see if there’s one being hosted!

What’s the difference between a KAL and a MKAL?

The M in MKAL stands for “mystery”. This means that a group of people are working on a project together and no one has an idea of what the finished knit is going to be. Clues, or portions of the pattern, are released over a specific amount of time (usually weekly) and you have between clues to knit that section. Some designers give really good information before the MKAL starts to help you pick yarn and to give you an idea of what the final garment/accessory is going to be, others provide more limited information. When it comes to MKALs, I have a few pieces of advice:

  1. Take a look at the other designs by the designer who is hosting the MKAL. If you like their work, the odds are you’ll also like the mystery item that you’re working on.
  2. See what other participants are thinking about in terms of yarn type or color combinations. You may find yourself inspired!
  3. Ask the designer if you aren’t sure about a color combination or fiber content. A lot of times they’re hosting a MKAL because they want to engage in the community as well.
  4. It’s ok if you don’t like the final piece. I’ve done a couple of MKAL where this has turned out to be the case, but the fun I had waiting for clues to be released and guessing what the final knit would look like. Spoilers are a lot of fun if you’re willing to peek ahead to speed knitters and you can always bail out at any point.

Do I need to complete KALs or MKALs within the specified time period?

No! Take a long as you want knitting your projects and feel free to continue to post in the forms. As the KAL or MKAL comes to a close, the only thing that you really need to be aware of is the folks monitoring the forms may not continue to participate as often. Also, it means that you may need to avoid looking at the project pages or Instagram to avoid MAL spoilers.

Remind me again about Blue Sky Fibers (BSF) current KAL?

Check out my previous blog post, or keep reading for BSF’s Ravelry post. BSF’s post has a pattern discount code and information about a prize for participating:

Spring is here, and so is our new yarn Skyland! Join along as we knit this luxurious accessory piece perfect for wearing all year round.

Join us April 19 through June 30 as we host our first KAL in our brand new yarn, the Calgary Capelet in Skyland. Made from a blend of 40% Fine Highland Wool, 30% Baby Alpaca and 30% Silk, Skyland is the perfect yarn for this soft and cabled capelet. In this KAL, which is great for intermediate knitters, participants will learn to follow a 12-row cable pattern that repeats on both the front and back.

The Calgary Capelet is available in four sizing options to fit bust size 30-58”. This beautiful capelet has excellent stitch definition and stunning cables. Skyland is available in eleven classic and sophisticated colors.

Download the pattern for 50% off with code “SKYCAPELETKAL” through Ravelry or the Blue Sky Fibers website.

Interested in joining the KAL? Find your local yarn store that carries Blue Sky on our stockist page and ask if they’re participating. Gather your knitting friends and make it a virtual group project!

This page will be our home base. Please post comments, questions, and progress pictures here. Post an image of your final piece to any of our social channels to be entered into our grand prize drawing – just make sure to tag us so we see it. Once the KAL is over, we will randomly select one lucky winner to win our grand prize – a year (1 per month) supply of patterns, that’s 12 digital patterns of their choice!

Happy knitting!

Geranium Dress(s?)

I still remember the first time that I sat down at a sew machine (7th grade home economics if anyone is curious) and have made a couple of things over the last couple of years (a dice dress, a dog bed, some catnip toys, a pillow, a gnome bag and a chili peppers dress to name a few), but the last couple of months I’ve been revisiting sewing as a way to learn new things and hone existing skills. Some of this may be because I finally caved and bought my own sewing machine after working on a vintage one and a hand-me-down for so long. It’s fun to sew on a machine with settings and features that you’ve purposely selected for yourself.

During our winter break, I found myself taking a break from knitting to make an everyday bag out of some purposefully selected gnome fabric. Working with leather and rivets for the first time, I realized that sewing has the ability to provide me with something that knitting doesn’t anymore: feeling like a beginner.

It’s fun to be a beginner at something because you get the thrill of completing something while also needing to patiently work through mistakes and mishaps. You get to smile at your imperfection as opposed to thinking: I’ve been doing this so long it should be better. I’m more patient with myself as a beginner, something that feels good as we reach the final stretch of this pandemic.

When my coworker mentioned a local fabric store was offering virtual classes, the timing felt right. It was time to learn the whys around things and maybe be pushed into trying a few skills I didn’t think I was ready for. So I signed up for “Sewing for Baby” and ordered fabric to make a bib, burp cloth and a little dress.

Let me just start by saying, I think baby clothes are the perfect way to learn new skills if I haven’t said that on this blog before. The projects are small enough that you’re finished quickly, while being complex enough that you can learn some new skills. The burp cloth and bib force me to practice smooth (and tight!) round edges, while also diving into the land of hammer in snaps (which I’m still not 100% sure I’ve secured properly). I’m currently waiting on 3 fat quarters to make 3 more of each because practice practice practice. These simple projects have helped me get to know my machine and have shown me that slow is all well and good, but some speed can actually give you more control.

The baby dress, however, has been so fun to make that I want to make like eight more. Geranium, by Made By Rae, is considered an intermediate sewing pattern and is the cutest little dress. This pattern is so beginner friendly, while also having different options so that you’re not making the same thing over and over. Between the detailed instructions and Mary Margaret from Notion’s videos, I learned so many things while making my niece a little dress for her birthday. Sleeve ruffles, finishing seams, making button holes with my machine, sewing on buttons with my machine, correctly gathering a skirt — so many new skills leading to so many new what about this questions.

Isn’t that the best part about learning a new skill though? Discovering what you can do and learning all the things you didn’t know you didn’t know? I’ve signed up for a dress making class via notion that starts later this month and am looking forward to learning more about what I don’t know. I’m also already plotting my next Geranium dress, it’s safe to say that this “sewing thing” is going to start competing with my “knitting thing”!

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Hawaii Retreat Cowl

I know that people have been taking advantage of working from home to travel. It’s all over my Instagram (no Facebook for this girl!) – the new trails that are being explored, the beaches that are being enjoyed, the different foods that are being tried – but I can’t bring myself to travel just yet. Part of this is due to our Spain trip imploding, we’ve already been burned by a lock down and I don’t want to relive that type of “action mode” again just yet. Some of it is a desire to not get sick/not get anyone else sick. Honestly, the biggest part is that I don’t want to travel if it means things are closed. The freedom to stop and enjoy a random restaurant, shop or museum is a privilege about traveling that I truly appreciate.

That aside, the longer we don’t travel the worse my wanderlust seems to get. I find myself daydreaming of hiking the Scotland Highlands or wandering the hills of Ireland. My partner is from New Zealand and I still haven’t explored the places he grew up. We used to be able to hop over to Canada with relative ease and there’s no end in site for the boarder closure. Needless to say, Simply Sock Yarn Company has been allowing me to travel vicariously through their gorgeous National Park Series. The first three month club focused on the Grand Canyon, Cub Lake, and the Black Hills National Forest and have each been knit up into gorgeous projects: House Slippers, Nelia Shawl, and Age of Brass and Steam. March’s colorway was inspired by Haleakala and it took me forever to pick a pattern that would suit it.

To the yarn’s credit, I felt very limited by the fact that I only had one skein. I thought about knitting a Spring Sorrel and several other DK weight sweaters before accepting the fact that I wasn’t going to get my hands on more skeins. So when I say that I settled on Joji’s Retreat Cowl, I need you to understand that there was still a lot of excitement around this pattern. In fact, the Retreat Cowl provided me with a nice break from a lace shawl that I’m passively working on.

The Retreat Cowl is worked flat after being started with a provisional cast on. After reaching the specified length, the provisional cast on is removed and stitches are picked up so that the lace edging can be worked. Simple, yet interesting. Plus it allows the yarn’s colors to bounce around and do most of the talking. I would knit this again, although probably in a tonal so that the lace edge stands out a little more.

Real talk about the lace edge: my row gauge was off and I was only able to pick up ~70 stitches. A quick search through the projects on Ravelry shows that this is a relatively common problem and results in a snug fitting cowl, even if you go up a needle size for the lace pattern. Thinking I was smart, I picked up two stiches for every stitch and worked 140 stitches (two extra lace repeats). The final result is a cowl that billows a bit at the bottom and is, stylistically speaking: a) not what I was going for and b) not really my style (or anyone else’s that I know of). That aside, it’s so frickin’ practical. The cowl will now sit slightly under the collar of a coat, as opposed to on top of it, and seal in warmth better. It’s a winter hiker’s dream! TBD if it ends up being gifted for Mother’s Day…

Close up of a multi colored ribbed cowl with lace edging being worn on a woman's neck.
Retreat Cowl, Knit by Iswimlikeafish

BSF Skyland and KAL Preview

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to pick up a skein of Blue Sky Fibers’ (BSF) newest line addition Skyland, it’s a squishy 4-ply DK with a beautiful sheen. The highland wool/baby alpaca/silk blend promises a drapey garment that will keep you warm on cool nights and I cannot wait to start knitting with it. Enter the Calgary Capelet with it’s gorgeous cabled front and combine that with the fact that I’ve been reading Outlander, it’s safe to say that I’ve spend the last couple of weeks eagerly counting down to helping host this knit-along (KAL).

Step one: Does your local yarn store (LYS) carry Skyland?

Mind does! I have a serious knit crush on the Women of Scratch Supply Co from their project choices to the yarn they carry in the store. In fact it’s been made worse by the fact that their podcast makes it feel like they’re hanging out in my family room.

Use BSF’s stock list finder to locate a LYS that carries Skyland near you.

Step two: Pick a color and buy enough yarn for your size.

My friends would be quick to tell you, I have a hard time committing to a color pallet for most of my projects. For starters, I try to push myself to use colors that are outside of my go-to section (blue, green, pink — think watermelon at the beach and you’ve got my color preferences nailed). Add that with I love most colors and hopefully my problem is seen as a desire to be inclusive and not a problem with committing.

As I mentioned above, a friend and I have been reading Outlander together and I’ve been daydreaming about someday traveling the Highlands. With this in mind, I’ve opted to use Comet, a dark green that is within my typical color pallet. Skyland is a yarn I want to wear all the time, so I refuse to feel bad about choosing a color I know matches everything I own as opposed to one I will occasionally wear as a fun pop of color.

Step three: Swatch swatch swatch.

I’ve been burned by swatching before and can probably guess what needle size I need in order to hit gauge (22 stitches and 27 rows = 4 inches in Stockinette), but at the end of the day swatching is informative. For starters, it will ensure that the garment will look the way that Mary Pranica (the designer) intended. More importantly, a swatch will give you a preview of how the yarn is going to knit up (think fabric drape). Personally, I want to make sure that I’m taking advantage of the way Alpaca drapes and that’s enough for me to knit a square before getting started.

Step four: Cast on and show off your progress!

The KAL starts April 19th 2021, aka this coming Monday! That gives you just enough time to grab your yarn (and swatch!) before we cast on together. Not ready to cast on day one? That’s ok, the KAL will run until June 2021. Grab some yarn and join us when you can.

There is going to be more information posted about this KAl on Monday, so join BSF on Ravelry and hangout with us: https://www.ravelry.com/groups/friends-of-blue-sky-fibers

Use #bsfskyland #CalgaryCapelet #CalgaryCapeletKAL on social media so that we can see your work!

I’m off to start swatching so I’m ready for Monday.

Stay tuned for weekly progress updates and possible grumblings that I can’t wear the caplet yet. It’s been so long since I’ve been a part of a KAL outside of Camp Loopy (it’s also been a long time since August 2020 when camp ended!), I’m looking forward to watching everyone’s Capelets work up and seeing how we add our own twist to the same pattern.