Friday, September 11, 2015

The quest for thread

Yarn substitution can be a tricky process. If you are lucky, you will not find yourself substituting yarn for a project that calls out discontinued yarn. the more time passes, the higher the likelihood of this being the case. Fashions change, as well as resources, so what may have been considered a common yarn 20, 30, or even 80 years ago may not be as common now. It may be so uncommon that serious research is involved just to find out what it really is. (More on Victorian knitting later!)
The Daffodil Doilie project I have been crocheting calls for discontinued yarn. Specifically, either J. & P. Coats or Clark's O.N.T. Best Six Cord Mercerized Crochet, Size 30.
I consider myself fortunate that these brands at least ring a bell. J. & P. Coats and Clark's is now more commonly known under the name Coat's and Clark's. According to their website (which has  fairly entertaining timeline about their history, if thread history interests you) O.N.T  ("Our New Thread") is a special six cord, soft finished thread for sewing machines first marketed in 1860.
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm fairly certain this pattern from 1949 is not asking me to crochet this doilie out of sewing machine thread. I gather that O.N.T. has become a trademark, having made a big splash back in Victorian times. A straight Google of O.N.T. Best Six Cord Mercerized Crochet, Size 30 gets me more in the realm of what is typically thought of when we say "crochet thread" - that is, this discontinued thread. 1949 really wasn't very long ago, and if I was die-hard about it, I could probably set up an alert on eBay to purchase the exact thread this pattern calls for in vintage yarn.
I opted for something manufactured within the past decade instead, and for several reasons. I didn't really want to wait to find the thread and wait for it to be shipped. Who knows when it would turn up? Waiting during shipping is hard enough. But impatience aside, I've learned the hard way that cotton just doesn't hold up as well over the years as wool or other fibers. I've had many a strand of vintage embroidery or crocheting thread disintegrate on me as I worked it, but have never had it happen with wool. 
There are several big players in the modern market of crochet thread. Aunt Lydia by Red Heart (which is owned by Coat's and Clark's) and DMC come foremost to mind. However, in size 30 both brands come in a limited range of colors. (Think "50 Shades of White.") In the end, I went to a brand I'd never heard of, Omega Hilo Crochet in Pistachio and Bright Yellow. I still don't know much about them, but I do know something essential: they have Size 30 crochet thread in OVER 60 COLORS. And it's accessible. (More on my heart wrenching quest to get Brown Sheep Nature Spun Fingering balls in specific colors later.)

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Every now and then, such as when spring arrives, I get the overwhelming urge to make something crazy challenging. This spring, it's a doilie.
I've been spending a considerable amount of time researching vintage and antique patterns this past year. One of the fruits of my labor is a newfound appreciation of mid-century handicrafts. Handicrafts, like fine arts, sometimes require a person to become familiar with the genre they belong to before they can be understood, if not liked. In a fit of spring fever, I decided I liked floral doilies, such as the one featured below in "Floral Doilies, Book No. 258" (1949) from The Spool Cotton Company.
The pattern is also available here.
One of the first things I noticed about this pattern (aside from it using Size 30 yarn, which is not available at the corner drug store, let me tell you!) is that it uses a shade of green called "Nile Green," which is very similar to sage green. "Nile Green" was very popular during this era. I see it over and over again in household crochet patterns, and I'm very curious as to its origin and if it crossed over into knitting as well.  

Ignore the dirty nails!
Size 30 crochet thread is, admittedly, a tad wee. There were times when I thought I might go blind, or at least experience debilitating eye strain. I can't recommend a good task light highly enough, especially since I don't have one and had to rely on leaning toward the sunlight at a window like a desperate houseplant.
Daffodils deconstructed
The actual design is rather simple. You make the trumpet shape for the center, then make a loop with the petals that then gets sewn onto the trumpet. Easy, right?
The center of the doilie - the "Nile Green" portion - I got done in about 4 hours.
One daffodil took me all of a Saturday.
The first daffodil triumphantly adhered!
Strangely enough, there are supposed to be 11 daffodils. At one daffodil a weekend, I'll basically be done with this sometime this winter. This is about where I am now:

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Yellow-Haired Doll

I have been a busy bee, although that does not mean I have finished my beehive sweater (the influx of tepid as opposed to freezing weather nipped the sweater embellishment bug in the butt). Instead, I'm working on the dolls. (And trying very hard not to think about Argyle socks, especially of the knee-high variety. Let's not even say the name of the project.)

I just finished this 18 inch doll this week. I very creatively call her The Yellow-Haired Doll.

I keep the expression kind of neutral. My daughter, V., has a doll bed and it's frankly creepy when dolls stare up at you with bright-eyed, bushy-tailed expressions. No wonder they figure into horror movies. I find the slitted-eye look could be interpreted as closed eyes. And that's supposed to be the point of this kind of handmade doll, anyway: the child emotes whatever feelings they desire on the doll's expression. It's about open creativity, not spoon-fed feelings.

Does she look a little self-satisfied?

The Yellow-Haired Doll is hidden button jointed. That means the buttons that allow her arms and legs to move freely are inside the limbs, rather than outside. This took a bit of fussing; I find I prefer my button-joints with pillows, so that the button stays in the center of the limb, not against the covering fabric.
She was originally going to have a purple dress but it ended up all FUBAR (that darn learning curve!) so in the end, she got this outfit, which I am actually darn pleased with. I reflected the red flowers on her dress and bloomers in her shoes by making them red. The shoes took me TWO DAYS. They were also a part of the vicious learning curve, but I am older and wiser now and used some cheap felt for the first four drafts before making these final versions out of real wool felt. They are soft, and I adore them.
Of course, despite how it whiled away the hours, I didn't do this for my own amusement. This doll is for sale. It can be found at my etsy shop, The Concept Cat.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Remind me to never again make pseudo-Argyle stockings.I don't know if my housemate just is big-boned or what, but I had him try on the stockings again and her couldn't get it all the way past his heel. I should have frogged it back to almost the start of the calf shaping. I'm not even sure what to say about this, except, doesn't V. look peaceful and carefree?
She has no knitting conundrums, or bills, or laundry to do. OK, she does have laundry to do, lots of it, because she is four years old, but being four years old also seems to exempt her from having to do it herself. By proxy it becomes my laundry. If any of you have a solution to this, aside from nudism, (did I mention it's still cold?) I'd be glad to hear it. In the meantime, much like with sweeping and doing dishes, I am having her apprentice to me daily in the hope that one day she will be able to practice independently.

Friday, February 07, 2014


I've addressed my moth problem somewhat before, and how it caused me to do some drastic repairs to a handknit sweater. Those pernicious moths also attacked my collection of well-worn lightweight store-bought sweaters. I have quite a few of these. They are close to literally being a dime a dozen, since they are partially shrunken, mass-market brand sweaters in neutral, inconspicuous colors, and I easily mistake one of them for the other. So I don't blame anyone who thinks I don't change my sweater from day to day. But now they will not be indistinguishable: they will have names even. Today, I introduce the Butterfly Sweater.

It began sadly enough. Witness below.
I gave up on the hoop after a while.
Moths took a few bites out of this heathery brown sweater at just about my left shoulder blade. I happen to have wool felt so I got the grand idea of appliqueing something over the holes after I mended them. (Not Godzilla. He needs to be on the front of a sweater.) I decided on butterflies. I have really no idea why. I tried to improvise the first couple butterflies that went over the holes, and then I submitted to the potato chip principle: you can never have just one. Or two. Aw, shucks, let's have a swarm!
I looked up images of butterflies on my smartphone for better verisimilitude, did some quick sketches, then made templates to guide me in cutting the felt. Took me about ten minutes, if that. I think I spent most of the time trying to find a working pen. (Four year olds are not known for their felt pen conservation skills.)
Took me a while to find the pencil sharpener, too.
I grabbed some gaudy fingering weight wool yarn and set to it. I didn't bother with a pretense of making it look professional. I like the homey look.

Left shoulder blade
The light blue and lilac butterflies in the above photo are on the moth hole damaged area of the sweater. All the others are just for company. My skill at making butterflies really improved by the time I had a dozen done; the copper and yellow one on the top of the photo was one of the last stitched, as was the yellow butterfly.

Back of sweater
I was intending to put all the butterflies only on the left side of the sweater, but the lilac one on the right got away.

Front of sweater
Some of the butterflies are dramatically different than others. I like the whimsical effect they lend an otherwise eminently practical and blah sweater.
Front shoulder
When I made the templates I traced them from these quickie ink drawings I made. If this project looks like a fun idea to you, and you need some butterflies for your moth holes, too, feel free to print the ink drawing below and cut it up and resize it and whatnot for your own templates. Go crazy!
Click on photo to enlarge.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Vintage Thursday: Argh-yle Stockings

I have been struggling all week with the Men's Argyle Stockings. I'm learning the hard way that it is very, very important to not have too much tension on the yarn you are carrying on the back of a colorwork piece. I already sort of knew this, but I didn't know it in such shocking technicolor as I do now.
The puckering is my tension problem. Which causes a tension problem. In my temples.
This pattern conspired against me. The colorwork goes all the way around the stocking, and when I got to this point I had my housemate try it on because of some kind of subconscious fear I was having. And as it turns out, my fear was justified. It didn't fit. It didn't fit spectacularly. He could only get his foot half way down the stocking, if even that far. The colorwork area just didn't stretch much, and the pattern has one reduce to about 76 sts just before the ankle. That's not exactly giving one a lot of room on US #1 needles to begin with. My entire stocking (well, OK, 2/3 of it) was FUBAR. And that wasn't even addressing my issues with the foot.
He fit it until about here.
I did have the foresight to work the heel with the additional thread that Jawoll sock yarn has in its skeins just for that purpose. I was feeling pretty good about myself at that point, but then I looked at the directions for the colorwork on the foot.

I was expected to simply carry the red on the back of the black all the way across the sole.
All my loose ends.
And I did. I tried. It lasted about two inches, and then I noticed my tension problem. So I cut the red yarn and knotted it at the end of every row. Not a pretty solution but it seemed workable at the time. Another inch or two in and I had the housemate try the thing on. And as I have already mentioned, I had problems. I had to backtrack a considerable distance.

Of course, all that cutting and knotting on the foot means that unraveling becomes complicated. I took a breath and just chopped the foot off.  

This was Tuesday. Or Wednesday. It all just kind of blurred together in my head, as these kind of things do. I may have a kind of knitting trauma, since I have practically knit this stocking twice already. Plus, it is just so darned cold. I don't fare well in these East Coast winters and reknitting a hundred or so rows on US #1 dpns didn't exactly warm my hands any. Somehow, I carried on.

I started unraveling the foot and using the yarn from it to knit the rest of the stocking leg again. I kept changing my mind about what kind of join to use, but at this point, does it really matter? It will probably block just fine. Or else.
I began at around where you see the safety pin, which coincidentally marks Row 100 of the colorwork. I am not decreasing from this point on, and I'm being much more careful about my tension. Right now, I'm at about Row 145 of the colorwork, and have about 20 more rows to go before beginning the heel flap all over again. Contemplating that ridiculous carrying business (Part of why Argyles are worked flat, dagnabbit!) has me cunningly considering other approaches, such as a sole worked separately, or modifying the pattern to work it flat. I'm on the fence about it. All I'm really certain of is that I am certainly not doing it the way they say to do it in the pattern.

Friday, January 31, 2014


Off and on this week I have been plugging away at the Men's Argyle Stockings, and I have only needed to rip it out an inch or two every now and then. Not so much as to be going backwards; the progress is forward, overall. Especially now that I've gotten past the tricky bits of the calf shaping. (The instructions basically told me to wing it the first couple rows! The gall of some of these old patterns!) I'm now in a rather happy place with these stockings, somewhere around Row 80 of the color work portion.
Safety pin marking Row 70.
Since I have vintage things on the brain lately, I've been digging about in my collection a bit. A while back I happened to come into possession of Susan Bates Presents 101 Ways to Improve Your Knitting (1968). I've had this little book before, back when I was learning to knit. I can't recommend it highly enough for beginners, because while it wasn't actually the book that taught me to knit, it certainly reinforced me in times ahead. Generally I recommend Knitting Without Tears to beginners, but it doesn't have ton of hand-holding pictures to help the novice along in moments of insecurity, and you really have to read through it to find what you are looking for. 101 Ways augments it perfectly, because it has a lot of pictures and (most importantly) has a very clear table of contents. It won't give you clever ideas or a knitting philosophy, or address advanced topics, but it will get you out of a jamb and clear your head.

I'm thinking about 101 Ways at the moment because in the back it has a pattern for Plain Socks and a pattern for Argyle Socks. The stockings I'm knitting are Argyle-ish, and not true Argyles. This pattern in 101 Ways is true Argyle. There is even a chart for making the diamonds.

Now, I have never actually made a pair of Argyle socks. I've wanted to for years, but just never got around to it. I'd probably be happiest making a pair from a pattern around the 1940's, when it seems hand knitting them was en vogue among college girls and just about anyone else with a pair of knitting needles to rub together, but this might do. So perhaps there will be Argyles in my future soon.

Among other things I found during my rummaging was this pattern, which came to me wedged between some vintage sewing patterns from my grandmother's.
1960's? 1970's? I don't know.
It's a pattern for a knitted vest, on a large sheet of paper that folds out like a map.

I've seen this kind of thing before in mail-order patterns, etc., but I couldn't say what exact decade this pattern is from, except to say that it doesn't reflect vanity sizing. As you can see below, a 34 bust is a Size 12 in this pattern.

The illustration gives one a reasonably vivid idea of how this knit would look. It's pragmatic, and not overly flattering. Nevertheless, I'm tempted to make it. But perhaps if I'm going to make a pattern at random, out of sheer curiosity, it should be one of the hand written mystery patterns I have. You know the kind; they're in your grandmother's or great aunt's sewing room, stuffed between the pages of a book or in an envelope somewhere. Someone, at some point, wrote down a pattern that someone else told them about. It might have been passed around the neighborhood, or passed around the family. Sometimes it's origins are very clear because it's titled "Aunt Violet's Cardigan" or some such. Well, I have a quantity of them, just as I have a quantity of hand written recipes that I've found in thrift store cookbooks. And maybe I'll make one of them. Right after the Argyles.