Saturday, December 6, 2014

Playing Favorites

My sock drawer looks pretty darn full of awesomeness, if I do say so myself. I made all of these socks, except for the fourth pair down from the top on the left. Those were a gift from a wonderful friend. Thank you, Kathleen.

The first pair of socks I made for myself (second from the top on the left) were actually my fourth pair ever knit. I used 100% wool yarn given to me by another wonderful friend. Thank you Ellen. Ellen sent me the yarn in the hopes of encouraging me to try sock knitting. It took a few years, but eventually I did. And the reason I tried, and succeeded, is because I had help and encouragement from yet another friend, the wonderful Judy Sumner, who sadly is no longer with is. But I think of her every time I knit a pair of socks.

Of course every pair of socks in the drawer has a story behind it, and many of those stories have already been told here at Bag of Chocolates. I knit my first pair of socks in 2006 and have loved every one of them. I have given many pairs of socks away to a lot of very special people - family members and dear friends. I have donated handknit socks to organizations that help others. I have made socks in all sizes, from footies to crew length to over the knee socks, for baby feet all the way up to size 18 basketball player feet. After years of being afraid to try knitting socks, once I got started I couldn't - and still don't want to - stop. 

Usually I knit my socks cuff down on double pointed needles. There are many other ways to knit socks, but this is the way that makes me happy. I have tried knitting from the toe up. The knee socks I mentioned were knit that way. I have tried several different kinds of heels, but the classic heel flap and turned heel is my favorite. I have tried lace socks and colorwork socks, socks with cables and ribbed socks. My favorite is still the plain stockinette sock, which some people call a plain vanilla sock.

Some people say they have trouble forcing themselves to knit the mate to the first sock. After making the first one, they want to move on to different yarn, or a different pattern. This is called Second Sock Syndrome. Of all the pairs of socks I have made since 2006 (and unfortunately I don't remember how many that is. More than 50 pairs, certainly) I have only neglected to knit a second sock once. I decided to try knitting from the toe up to see if I could manage it, so I made a toe up baby sock. It worked out fine, so I immediately started that pair of knee socks for my niece. I never did go back and make the second baby sock.

Not only do I have a favorite method and pattern for knitting socks, I have come to realize I have favorites when it comes to sock yarn, not necessarily for knitting but for wearing and washing. Some socks I wear again as soon as they are clean. Others spend most of their time looking pretty in the sock drawer. 

There is so much gorgeous sock yarn out there to choose from. And more and more, you'll find independent yarn dyers who sell absolutely beautiful sock yarn on their Etsy sites. The system seems to be that the dyer makes up a bunch of colorways, then schedules a "release". If you manage to grab some in time before it sells out, you're one of the lucky ones. Given the fact that my clock is 7 hours head of Eastern time, you can probably guess how good my chances are of that. This used to frustrate me and I would feel sorry for myself.

But you know what? I stopped and thought about it, and thought about which pairs of socks make it out of the drawer and onto my feet most often, and which don't. And I realized that the pairs I wear the most, and which still look almost the same as the first time I wore them, are the socks knit from established companies, like Opal, Regia, and Zitron (Trekking). Even though the other yarns are gorgeous, they don't hold up well, and often bleed color when they are washed (by hand, they can't handle machine washing like the three companies I mentioned). Not only that, many times the knitted fabric starts to felt, even if it is a "superwash" yarn base. Then the socks become thick and stiff, and don't have any stretch to them. Those factors, plus the fact that handwashing socks is a pain, means those socks are mostly decorative rather than useful. Now, I'm sure there are many very capable dyers - and not just indies but other companies - out there who do their best to prevent these things, especially color bleeding out of the yarn. But it can be a risk.

Right now, the socks I wear the most are the first six pairs on the bottom, starting on the left. And now that I've finally realized what I truly love in a pair of socks, I don't feel too badly about missing out on all the cool hand-dyed sock yarns. I have seen how poorly they hold up, and I would rather stick with yarns I know will keep on looking good after years of use.

And speaking of socks, I am currently working on a pair for Liat and that pretty gray cabled sock for a friend. Time to get knitting!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Socked In

SOCKED IN: Closed in by bad weather, often said of an airport; fogbound; snowbound. This expression originally found in the context of flying, has its roots in the use of a windsock at airports to provide wind direction. The windsock, a large, open-ended, cone-shaped sleeve attached to a post by a pivot, at one time provided pilots with wind direction. When the weather deteriorated (fog or snow) to the point that the sock couldn’t be seen, the field was said to be ‘socked in’ and takeoffs and landings would be difficult to impossible. The expression is said to date from the 1940s. 

I found that explanation of the term on Not sure it's accurate, but it certainly sounds reasonable.

Anyway... I am usually a one sock at a time kind of knitter. I have been known to work on two socks during the same period of time (each on its own set of double pointed needles). But today I have three socks going. The gray one with only about 16 rounds is the Amyrlin pattern (found on Ravelry). It is a beautiful design full of twisted stitches and cables, and it takes forever to complete just one round. I have finally gotten the hang of the design, though, and I think I may just be moving from a geriatric snail's pace to a middle aged snail's pace. Yay me. Yarn is Cascade Heritage, a lovely and soft yarn that is reasonably priced. Good thing the gal I am making these for is worth it!

The sock in the middle (working on the foot now) is the Broken Seed pattern also found on Ravelry. I am using leftover Cascade Heritage in black and Mini Mochi in Intense Rainbow. The pattern is super easy to memorize so the only hassle with these socks is juggling two balls of yarn. At first I didn't like the way the sock looked and I hate the Mini Mochi, which feels very fragile. But I am happier with it now that I have made more progress. I doubt I will ever buy MM yarn again, however. These are for me.

The third sock, just started today, is my go-to 2 x 2 ribbed sock in Fortissima Socka. Hoping to get a pair done for Meital in time for Chanukah, which starts on December 16.  I could practically knit this pattern with my eyes closed, so it moves quickly, but it will be a stealth knitting project, obviously. 

Good thing I love making socks! So if you don't see me around much, it's because I'm socked in.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?

Back in the days when I first started blogging (anyone out there remember Yahoo 360?), most of the people you encountered in the blog world were people like me: wfie/mother/working at a noncrafting job/hobbyist. It was still socially acceptable to use a dollar store glue stick in your paper crafting, and you folded your cardstock and creased the edge with your thumbnail (today, those in the know use something called a teflon bone folder, which for a mere $22 will ensure that you do not "leave a sheen to your paper when folding it." Well gosh, how on earth have I survived without that?!)

These days, so many of the bloggers I discover online are anything but hobbyists. They love papercracting, to be sure. And each and every one seems like a truly friendly, lovely person. Talented, without a doubt. But their blogs are crammed with ads,  not only in the sidebars, but within the posts. That's because they are, in essence, employed by a variety of companies to promote their products or online stores. These wonderful people are not like me. They are professional bloggers. Proggers, if you will.

I'm just jealous, you say? You'd be right. But only to a point. 

I appreciate the proggers, truly I do. They do beautiful work and I get lots of ideas and inspiration from their blog posts (and their Instagram feeds, and their YouTube videos). But everything has become so commercialized. At the end of every post is an equally long section with links to each and every product used to make the card, often links to not one but two shops where these products are available. Naturally, they use quite a number of different items to make just one card design.

A friend recently admired a card she saw on a progger's blog. Just for the heck of it, she added up the cost of every item listed. Ready for some sticker shock? $200!! Now, those of us who paper craft probably already have the basics, like adhesive and a paper trimmer. But still!

The videos are especially insidious. You hear the progger's voice (am I the only one in love with Jule Ebersole's chuckle? I think not), sometimes you see their faces, too. You get to watch them create something wonderful, and learn tips and tricks you might not have thought of yourself. Of course, the video descriptions are also jam-packed with links to buy the products used. It's all made so easy! And if this lovely, talented, creative gal - this friend (!) of mine - tells me she can't do without her $25 gadget to round the corners on her cardstock, wow then I'd better click on over and get one! Some of the videos are straight up product reviews, little or no no crafting involved. It's like willingly watching a 20 minute commercial! 

Okay, I know this is a long rant. Luckily I don't do them often. But the truth is, I miss the real bloggers, amateurs like me who just like to make things and share them with others, with no financial gain involved. If you've followed me for a while, you know that most of the time I am using products so old they haven't been available for more than 5 years. If I include the name of the company that makes something I've used, it's because if I were reading the post I might want to know how I could find the same thing. But no one pays me to do it, or gives me free product in exchange.

So where have all the regular bloggers gone?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pillow Talk

Another way the retail world in Israel is not like America. Outside of IKEA, you cannot find plain, inexpensive pillow forms. And the ones at IKEA are extremely mushy and seem to be filled with feathers. Yuck (in my opinion, anyway). I combined my need for cheap pillow forms with my love for upcycling and recycling and used an old pillow to make a new one. 

A few years ago I read an article about why it is a good idea to wash or replace the pillow you sleep on regularly. I do wash our pillows, but the filling gets matted and lumpy. But if I cut open the pillow, I can rip apart the matted filling and use it. 

Here is a freshly washed and machine dried pillow (plenty of heat to kill whatever might be lurking in there). My first instinct was to open the pillow with a seam ripper. I quickly realized that would take forever and  likely end in bloodshed (I don't do too well with sharp objects). So I just trimmed away the seam. See how the matted filling holds its shape?

First, of course, I removed the sutffing and set it aside. I wanted  a square pillow, so I folded up the small side as you see above, and cut off the excess fabric. It was a simple matter to sew up the seams. I turned the fabric right side out so the seams would be inside the pillow, then tucked it inside the cover I bought at IKEA (okay, so they do have lots of good stuff there. Just not cheapo pillow forms). It was a lot easier to carefully stuff the pillow with it already inside the cover. That way I knew when it was as plump as I wanted it to be. Last, I handsewed the opening closed. 

It needed some shaping (and punching, lol) which were actually done after this picture was taken, but eventually it took on the shape Liat and I wanted. Now she has two extra pillows to sit up against on her bed.

Something happened to my keyboard! This post was typed with the keyboard mostly missing, ye gods. Hope it comes back, this is kinda awkward!! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vacation Haul

I'm sure that most of you (if not all) are not surprised to learn that this is the vast majority of what I bought during my nearly three week vacation in California. I did buy some pants and shoes, but my trip would not have been a success in my eyes if I had not brought back a bunch of crafting goodies. Along with all of the tape refills, I picked up 8 Distress Ink pads (mostly the newer colors), four sets of clear stamps, three embossing folders and one die, a new seam ripper, beeswax (for waxing sewing thread to strengthen it and prevent tangles when doing hand sewing), some fat quarters of fun fabric, a rotary fabric cutter (with replacement blades), blank cards and envelopes, lots of fun cardstock, including two 8.5" x 11" red sheets with a fuzzy nap and some brightly colored glossy cardstock with cool designs (you'll see those up close and personal when they are used in projects). I also got lots of fun stickers, some more Glossy Accents, some Prismacolor pencils, and a Wink of Stella pen that I can't wait to use; it's for adding sparkle to previously colored images. I love the bright sock yarn I got, too. What you see above are the results of visits to my dear friends Michael and Joann, as well as the Piedmont Yarn and Apparel shop (I drop in every year). I also bought a bunch of stuff from a perfectly (watch out, here comes the rant) horrible store called Scrapbook Territory in Berkeley. Not only was the store poorly lit and patrolled by two large dogs with filthy snouts, but the woman there mocked me to my face (for not knowing certain products were discontinued) and laughed at me when informing me that a new product I wanted was out of stock. I should have abandoned my cart and walked out, but I had managed to find a number of things I wanted that I hadn't found at Michaels, so I was weak. But you can be sure I won't ever go back. End of rant, and please forgive me for descending into negativity. Hopefully, it is all out of my system now.

Liat and I went wild at Wal*Mart, picking out colors for a throw she wants for her new apartment in Jerusalem. This will be for the living room sofa. She picked out a pattern with a daisy in the center of each granny square. Should be fun to make, and squares are doable even in this nasty heat and humidity. I already miss northern California weather...

Time to get serious about moving my crafts room upstairs into a room with a ceiling fan and air conditioning. I have a lot of crafting to do!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mad Libs

Have you ever played Mad Libs? Player 1 asks the other players for a list of words (adjective, animal, noun, and so on) without giving any context. Player 1 then plugs those words into a story and reads out the result, which is often hilarious! I wanted to make some interactive cards, or at least cards with an activity, for my next batch to be sent to Cards for Hospitalized Kids. So I came up with the idea of Mad Libs, and found a website that has them. Instead of generating the story online, I copied out the list and the story into Microsoft Word, and printed them out. You can see the list and story on the far right of the picture.

For the fronts of the cards, I used stamped images of a little dragon reading that a lovely friend sent to me long ago. I'm still working on using up the things I've been hoarding... I typed up the sentiment and printed it out onto pale green cardstock. 

I had a bunch of library card pockets from back in the days when I used to loan kids I was tutoring or friends of the girls' books to read in English. Yes, I am that anal, I made up library cards for my books! Only for the ones I loaned to kids, though, not the books I read myself...

I sponged the pocket with some Distress Inks to make it look less boring. I may yet add some stickers, too. I'm thinking maybe stars... Anyway, the list and story are tucked inside the pocket.

I have a dragon stamp by the same artist who made the reading dragon, so I stamped the liner where my message will go, just to make things more fun.

Of course a project like this is very involved and takes quite a bit of time. But somehow it seems like all the little details really make a project fun, not only for the recipient, but also for the crafter.

The12 Mad Libs cards will join the 20 or so other cards I have already made. In the photo above you can see those cards, most of which also use up stamped images friends have sent to me. At the bottom left you can see that I had just gotten started with my Mad Libs cards, coloring in the reading dragon. And now I'm already pondering ideas for the next batch!

Happy Birthday

I can't believe Meital is seventeen! Just amazing. All of the gifts I gave her this year were handmade. Instead of my usual slapdash wrapping, I was inspired by the Older and Wisor blog to attempt something better. I put each gift into a box (cookies, ice cream bars and dishwasher tablets) and wrapped them with scrapbooking paper. My bow didn't come out exactly right, but not bad for a first time. The little tag has a Suzy's Zoo sticker on it. For the card, I used papers from a 6 x 6" pad by My Minds' Eye that I bought last year.

Since I had just finished this pair of socks, I stuck them in a box as gift #1. Yeah, it's kinda cheating, since she saw me working on them, but who doesn't love to unwrap gifts, even if you know what's inside?

I saw this Happy Chemistry embroidery pattern on Shiny Happy World (LOVE that website!!) and knew I had to get it for my budding chemist. But what to embroider on? In the end I made this very wonky Kindle cover (no pattern, I just made it up as I went along. Hence the wonkiness). 

The Kindle fits inside, but getting the cover snapped closed is a challenge. I am trying desperately not to let the off-center stitching and crooked pocket bother me....

Gift #3 was a little stuffed cat. Meital had asked for a cat like the one I made for Hopeful Threads (and later, for Liat) but our original plan was for her to make it. We hadn't gotten around to it, so I went ahead and made it for her.

So strange to realize that next year, her birthday will fall a few short months before she starts her IDF service!