Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sewing vs knitting

Despite what it looks like after my post on making sewing kits, I haven't been doing much sewing. In fact there seems to be a downward trend.

15 items sewn in 2004
14 items sewn in 2005
8 items sewn in 2006

I guess 2006 wasn't a very good sewing year. I have 5 or 6 sewing UFOs right now and can't seem to get motivated to work on them.

However, my knitting projects have increased:

5 knitted items completed in 2004
3 knitted items completed in 2005
8 knitted items completed in 2006

I currently have 3 knitting UFOs and 1 project I'm actively working on.

Knitting seems to be easier to do. I knit in the car during my morning commute while my husband drives. I knit on the airplane (which I'll be doing next week). I knit while we watch TV in the evening. Two nights a month I join fellow knitters for 2-3 hours of knitting. I knit this morning while I was on a conference call. Sewing requires me to be in my sewing room and I have to focus on the sewing, although I do listen to music on my iPod. I suppose I could watch less TV, but it's an activity I do with my husband.

I'd like to get more motivated to sew. I really do want to finish the projects I started and I have many, many more projects I want to work on. The huge stash of fabric is not going to get any smaller if I don't use it. All those beautiful fabrics are hidden away in boxes where no one gets to see them. Speaking of fabric, resistance was futile. I gave in and ordered fabric from I was having a bad day and I needed a lift.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


These pincushion sewing kits are based on ones my mother made for a craft fair a long time ago.


I used one my mother made me as a guide to make a few as gifts for Christmas. The plaid one in this picture is my kit, along with some supplies to make new ones.


They’re quite easy to make and a good use for the novelty fat quarter fabrics you bought because you couldn’t resist the cute patterns or fun colors! I found the hardest part was choosing which fabrics to use because I have quite a nice little stash.


The pincushion is reversible so you can choose two compatible fabrics and switch between having one as the outside and one as the pincushion. The original pincushion my mom made had safety pins between each of the spools of thread, which are strung on elastic. This is fine, but if you reverse the pincushion the safety pins will all be on the outside. It’s tedious, but I chose to stitch each of the thread pockets in place, leaving a gap for the elastic.

Materials needed:

  • Compass or one 10” and one 7” diameter plate or bowl to trace. Slightly smaller is ok, but to hold 12 small thread spools, the diameter should be no less than 9½” and the small plate should be 3” smaller in diameter than the large one.

  • Cardboard to make a template (optional, but recommended if you're making more than one)

  • 2 fat quarters or enough fabric to cut 4 10” circles

  • 1 yard of ¼ inch double fold bias or ½ inch single fold, pressed in half

  • 25 inches of ¼ inch or narrower flat elastic or thick elastic cord

  • 12 small spools of thread. I found mine packaged as a set at Joanns. The spools used for this project are smaller than the small Coats and Clark thread, for example. I suppose you could alter the pattern to fit larger spools or the long spools of Mettler or Gutermann. The thread in the packaged set isn't the greatest but it works for mending.
  • Cotton or wool stuffing or 50 grams of 100% wool yarn. Polyester stuffing dulls pins and needles. Yes, yarn works! I just stuffed a bunch of it inside and it worked just fine.

  • 12 safety pins unless you’re sewing the pockets

  • Tapestry needle if you’re sewing the pockets

Since I was making a few of these, I made a template out of card stock (actually, I recycled the cover from a booklet that was being thrown out). There are several marks to be made, so a template is a good idea.

To make the template, use the compass or trace the plate or bowl to draw the outer circle. Draw or trace the smaller circle inside the larger one. Now divide the circle into 12 sections. Tip: if you have a quilting ruler, it might be marked with a 30 or 60 degree line which you can use. Using a utility knife or scissors, cut slots on each of the 12 spokes. Cut the inner circle like a stencil so that the whole template doesn’t become distorted.


Use the template to cut 4 circles, 2 in each fabric if you are using contrasting fabrics. On one of the circles, mark the inner circle and each of the 12 spokes in chalk.

Match wrong sides together of the like fabrics and sew on the binding. I like to use my edge binding foot to sew on binding. I set the right edge of the binding against the metal edge of the foot and move the needle over to where I want to stitch. This works really well for skinny binding.


Now place both fabric circles together and stitch most of the way around the inner circle, leaving about a 2-2½” opening. Tip: start at one spoke and stitch around the circle to the 11th spoke. This will leave a gap and one spoke to sew after you’ve stuffed the center. If you plan to use safety pins between the threads, skip the next step and move on to the stuffing, otherwise, stitch the pockets. Stitch from the outer edge to the inner circle, but leave a gap for the elastic. You’ll have to do this in two steps, stitching one side of the gap and then the other.. Do not sew the 12th spoke opposite the opening.

Stuff the center with cotton fill or wool yarn. With a zipper foot, stitch the circle closed. Stitch the 12th spoke unless you’re using safety pins.

Now you’re ready to insert the thread spools.


If you are using safety pins, thread the spools onto the elastic and use the safety pins to make the pockets, being careful to pin around the elastic and not into it. The elastic needs to be able to pull through all of the spools so you can snug them up. If you’ve stitched the pockets, attach a safety pin to the end of the elastic and thread through one of the pockets, then load the thread spools. When you get to the last one, pull the elastic to snug up the spools. Use the safety pin to attach the ends of the elastic and then trim the excess elastic. Tip: Make the black spool the first one you insert and the white spool the last one so they’re near the ends of the elastic and can be replaced if needed.


Monday, January 22, 2007

London travel log

I posted some of the pictures we took in London over on Flickr. Click here to view the set.

We visited London at the beginning and end of our trip and spent only two full days there but we pretty much accomplished what we wanted to visit. We've both been to London before so we weren't pressed to see everything. The main things on our agenda were the Victoria and Albert museum, Millennium Bridge, and to see the holiday lights of the main shopping areas.

After our long flight from the states, we circled Heathrow for an hour due to fog. Little did we know just how foggy it was and what a mess it would create for so many people. We were fortunate to have planned a stay-over in London. Many people arrived at Heathrow to find their connecting flights canceled and they spent the next few days and nights sleeping on plastic chairs in a heated tent outside the airport. We didn't realize how lucky we were as we collected our bags and caught the London express into the city. We checked into our hotel and then set out to explore and find some dinner. It was so cold outside! I was glad to have my newly knitted Malbrigo hat and scarf with me. It was quite foggy in London too and made for some eerie scenery in the park we walked through. I wish I'd brought the camera with us (we did bring it but just not with us that evening) but in retrospect the low-light and foggy shot probably wouldn't have photographed well because we didn't have a proper tripod with us on the trip. I'll have to remember it in my head.

As expected, Oxford street was jammed with people doing their Christmas shopping as there were only 4 shopping days left. We walked for a good bit and eventually settled on dinner at Garfunkels in Oxford Circus. It's a chain-type restaurant that we would pass up but it was a) warm inside, b) had food and c) wasn't an American fast-food restaurant. We were cold, hungry, and jet-lagged and not interested in finding the "perfect" London eatery. The food was fine though. It was hot and filling and just what we needed.

The next day we set out for the Victoria and Albert museum. It was still freezing cold out so spending the day in a museum was perfect. There was a special exhibit on Leonardo di Vinci, which was excellent. I nearly lost my purse though! Apparently it slipped off my shoulder as I was monkeying with my coat and the headset for listening to commentary about the exhibit. I didn't notice my purse was gone until we had finished seeing the exhibit. Fortunately a staff member had picked up my purse and although they paged me I no doubt didn't hear the announcement because I was engrossed with the exhibit. Relieved to have my purse back we decided it was a good time to take a break for lunch in the museum cafeteria.

Now we fully expected the museum cafeteria prices to be high, but yikes, the exchange rate was killing us. We split a £9 ($18) sandwich. I spied some cookies and brownies but then realized that £2 each meant a $4 cookie. I didn't need one that badly! The sandwich was tasty and 1/2 was plenty filling.

After lunch we headed to the fashion exhibits, one of the main reasons we wanted to visit the V&A. The current exhibit was on clothing from the 60's (that link may only be around until late Feb when the exhibit closes). I took some pictures of some of my favorites, like this Worth dress:

Worth dress

But most of my photos didn't come out very well, with or without flash, because of reflections from the glass. I manipulated the above photo on Photoshop to get rid of some of the reflection. There are some pictures of the clothes on the V&A link that are much better of course.

From the rest of the exhibits, this coat from the 30's caught my eye because I love the collar on it:

Charles James

The V&A museum has a large holding of textiles that you can look at. I must say that it was completely overwhelming and we didn't stay long. They have the textiles mounted behind glass in wooden frames that you pull out from a case. They are indexed and I'm sure if you're looking for something in particular, you can find it. We just randomly pulled frames out to see what treasures they held. In many cases the textiles were fragments of elaborate embroideries and weavings from centuries ago.

After the V&A we ventured over to the Natural History museum for a quick look before they closed. The museum deserves a full day and it's even free. We just skimmed the surface and checked out the rooms containing mammals and skeletons.

It was still bitterly cold outside. After visiting the museums we went back to our hotel room near Victoria Station to warm up. We set out for dinner but since it was so cold we decided to eat at a Thai restaurant just down the street. It was delicious and perfect and there was no need to walk any further.

The next day we set out for Heathrow. Since we'd arrived the news reports and newspaper stands all told of the canceled flights and ruined plans for thousands and thousands of people due to the fog. British Airways canceled all of their domestic flights and there was limited service to other European cities. The weather report was not promising and there was a possibility we'd be spending a longer time in London and perhaps would be there for Christmas too. Not that I dislike London, but I knew that they pretty much shut down on the 25th and 26th and it was cold. I really wanted to get to Rome. Since we did not have internet service in the room (or rather we didn't want to pay $12/hour for the luxury), we had the concierge check our flight status the night before we left and twice the next morning. The flight supposedly was not canceled so we set out for the airport. I did slip my toothbrush into my carry on bag in case we had to spend the night at Heathrow. I had a paritally finished sock with me so if worse came to worse I figured I get a lot of knitting done and maybe have an extra pair of socks to wear.

We arrived at Heathrow and met with unhappy news. Our flight to Rome was canceled. We were told to go to line "L" and speak to customer service. We tugged our bags past lines A, B, C, etc. and joined the chaotic mess. It wasn't too bad actually - just four or five people in each line leading up to the counters. But there seemed to be a lot of people standing around, looking lost. I stood in one line and my husband got in another to spread out our chances of avoiding the line with someone who might have extraordinary circumstances requiring a lot of the agent's time. Eventually an agent took our info and informed us that she might be able to get us on an earlier flight to Rome that was scheduled to go. Yippee! Great news. We eventually got boarding cards and our bags were taken from us. We didn't see them for another day and a half but at least we did end up getting them!

The second half of our London trip came with another set of minor issues but nothing very bad. The fog was gone (yay!) and it was a bit warmer (yay!) but it was still gray and rain was forecast. We flew from Rome to Gatwick and were hoping to catch the train to Victoria Station. We were staying in the same hotel nearby so this setup was ideal. Well, it was partially ideal. The trains weren't running due to construction on the tracks so we were bused to Victoria. But it turned out ok. Even though it took us almost 3 times longer (1 1/2 hours instead of 1/2 hour), it was interesting to see the areas outside of London and watch it change from suburbia to ethnic neighborhoods to city. I spied a few fabric stores I wish I could have come back to visit!

Dinner that night was in a small London pub eatery with a silly name I don't recall. I had fish and chips, which was another item on my "to-do" list for London. The night was nice and we walked around for a while.

The next day was looking rather rainy so we bought day passes for the Underground and acted like moles. We'd take the train to a station, pop up above ground, look around, and then go back down and take the train somewhere else. We visited the Thames a few times to see the river as well as various bridges: Hungerford (an interesting pedestrian bridge), Tower Bridge, and the Millenium Bridge. We visited Covent Gardens, walked past Tower of London and the new Tate Museum, and saw the outside of the newly recreated Globe Theater. On our next trip we'd like to see the museum and the Globe. Fortunately we've both seen Tower of London. It seems a bit commercial and pricey these days.

As the evening wore on made our way back to Oxford Street and Regent Street. Another item on my "to-do" list was to find pattern magazines. I managed to find a few in Italy but my expectations of finding more in London did not pan out. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places. I only found Burda and La Mia Boutique in WH Smith. I already get a subscription to Burda so I only bought La Mia Boutique. Still it was fun to have the goal of finding the magazines. The streets were absolutely packed with people. I think more crowded than before Christmas. The sales looked fantastic but I really wasn't interested in shopping because of the awful exchange rate.

We found a great Mediterranean style restaurant for dinner and had a lovely meal. Afterwards we hoped to get some pictures of Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey lit up at night but the weather did not to cooperate. The high winds nearly knocked us over and the rain, although not a deluge, was horizontal. We retreated to the hotel for our last night in London and the last night of our trip.

Next up...Rome travel log. That one will be a long post and I may not get to it for a while. I took a lot of pictures and haven't gone through them yet!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Must resist!

I haven't bought fabric in a long time. Well, a long time for me. I bought some fun cotton prints at the Quilt Expo in October and the last time I bought fashion fabric was September when my sister was in town and we went to Britex. That's not to say I've come close in the last few months. Oh, I've filled plenty of virtual shopping carts and but fortunately I paused to remember the bins and bins of fabric I have and closed the browser window. Right now I have a few items in a shopping cart. It's nothing I need but of course I can't help but envision what I could make with the fabric. I'm trying to shift my thoughts to what I can make with all the fabric I already own. I closed the browser window so maybe the cart is wiped out.

I also engaged in some dangerous internet window browsing and went looking at some other favorite online fabric stores: emmaonesock, Denver Fabrics, Fashion Fabrics Club, Fabric Mart. Dangerous. Very dangerous. I don't really know why I felt the need to do that, but I emerged with the credit card intact. I looked but did not buy. However I did buy some sewing and knitting related books over at Amazon. I bought Kenneth King's Designer Bead Embroidery and Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee who is better known among the knitting blog world as the Yarn Harlot. The beading book is not because I want to start a new hobby but because I want to add beads to a rayon top I made to hide where I ruined it with steam. I though I was ok steaming it instead of ironing it and I never anticipated that the hot steam would have a damaging effect. It did. Lesson learned the hard way.

Tomorrow my sewing guild neighborhood group is going fabric shopping. Fortunately I have a hair appointment scheduled tomorrow and won't be joining them. I also willed myself away from going to a 40% off sale on Stretch and Sew knits. I've also not set foot in Joanns or Hancocks since buying supplies for some Christmas presents in December. Such will power I tell you!

I really do need to get back to my sewing. I find that I am most tempted to buy fabric and patterns when I'm not sewing. I think it's because when I'm not sewing I still think about sewing and I think about what I want to sew next.

Aarrgh. Must resist the temptation of online shopping and I must get back into the sewing room!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Janet tagged me with the "6 weird things about." Actually I was tagged with this before by Tini and I let it slip and didn't play. I'll play this time.

1. I can put my arms on backwards. Well not really but it looks that way. I'm quite flexible and can put my hands on my hips and rotate my elbows out in front of me until my arms look like they're on backwards.

2. For an entire year I was obsessed with doing the LA Times crossword puzzle everyday. So much so that if I didn't do it during the day I would do it before I went to bed. I was obsessed I tell you! I even caught a day where they re-used a puzzle they'd already run.

3. I have coughing fits for no apparent reason. This, like the flexible joints, is an odd trait I share with my mother and sisters. The coughing will just happen, sometimes while eating and sometimes not. People think I'm choking but I'm really ok, just coughing.

4. I can write backwards really easily. In 8th grade my best friend and I used to exchange notes to each other all written backwards. It's probably because we're both left handed. Leonardo di Vinci also wrote backwards and he was left handed.

5. I must drink chocolate milk with my breakfast. I mix one teaspoon of Nestles Quik and one teaspoon of Ovaltine in a tall glass of skim milk. I've even gotten my husband hooked on this one except he generally only indulges on the weekends.

6. I "see" words spelled out in letters when I hear them. This is probably why I'm lousy at listening and interpreting speeches, lectures, or even when people speak to me. I'm busy reading the words and not really interpreting them. I'm also having a tough time learning foreign languages. I don't know if it's possible to train myself to not do this but I wish I could.

I'm not going to tag anyone with this. If you want to play, please do! But I know many of the blogs I read have already done the "6 weird things."

Monday, January 08, 2007

The never-ending cold

I seem to have lost a week somewhere. I remember coming home from our trip but then it's been a haze of tissues, stuffed sinuses, coughing, and feeling just yucky while still managing to work (from home), get the laundry done, take the cat to the vet, cook some meals, and keep on top of the dishes (thank goodness for dishwashers!). My husband has caught the cold too so there's no one but the cats to take care of us and they only seem interested in their own food bowls getting filled. We are better but I seem to be suffering a relapse or else I've caught another cold. Bleh.

When I'm healthy I sometimes hope for a sick day to do a bit of knitting or whittle away at the stack of magazines I haven't read yet. But the reality is that when you're sick you feel like doing nothing at all. I watched a lot of TV but did manage to read a magazine. I also finished the mate to the socks I was knitting. This pair came out a bit bigger than the first pair - same yarn but different sock patterns - but I still like them. Unfortunately I couldn't spend my days knitting or reading magazines. My vacation and sick days come from the same pool of time off so if we hope to take more trips this year I can't use up my days being sick. Last week I took one day off from work and then worked from home for two days and went into the office on Friday when I felt well enough and figured I was not contagious anymore. I suppose I could have given up 3 more days of vacation but I'd rather have those 3 days to spend touring museums, visiting historical sites, or relaxing at a sidewalk cafe.

And speaking of vacations, I had good intentions of posting some pictures from the trip but we only yesterday viewed them ourselves. Our DVD player also accepts memory cards so we just popped the 2Gb card in and sat back with a box of tissues, numerous blankets and a cat or two and watched the slide show of our trip on our TV. Digital cameras are a wondrous invention. No more film to deal with. No more rationing of photo opportunities. No more lead bags at airport security. No more developing costs. No more blurry pictures you hesitate to throw away because you paid to have them developed and printed. The downside to digital is that you can take so many photos. It took a few hours just to view our pictures so I know it's not going to be a quick job to select ones to post. And of course I'll want to do a bit of touching up. I don't do much. Sometimes I do a bit of cropping or see what Photoshop Elements recommends to enhance the color or lighting. Often I like the original photo and stick with it.

Now that my socks are done I can turn my attention to new projects. I cast on and began knitting socks for my husband but after four inches it became clear that they were going to be much, much too big in diameter. The sock was looking more like a sleeve. I wanted to just do a simple stockinette stitch sock with a short row heel and thought I'd just use the pattern in the Sensation Knitted Socks book for the Fair Isle socks. This did not work. The gauge was correct but perhaps the Fair Isle sock pattern takes into account the double thickness of working in Fair Isle because it just was not compatible with the Regia yarn in stockinette. I'm still learning! I picked a different pattern from the book but this one is "toe up", which I've never done before and it's slow-going. I gave up on their directions for the short-row toe. I couldn't wrap my sinus-headachey-head around it right now and decided to use their "easy toe" method instead. We'll see how it goes.

I also want to start a second knitting project but there are many possibilities. Will it be a Clapotis? How about something out of my ArtFibers yarn (I have enough for 3 sweaters)? Or perhaps I will make a sweater as a gift for someone. Decisions, decisions.

And of course there's still the Burda jacket sitting on my dress form.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Roman Holiday

We're back from European Trip #2 of 2006. Such jet-setters we are! We spent the week of Christmas in Rome with stop overs in London on either end. I've been nursing a cold for the last few days so I haven't felt up to sifting through the 1000 or so photos we took (digital, of course). But I'll give you a good/bad summary of random thoughts until I do.

The good
  • The late afternoon sun on the Colosseum
  • Roman streets carved with grooves from horse-drawn carts
  • The vastness of treasures in the Vatican museum
  • The Sistine Chapel
  • Joining thousands of people in St Peter's square to hear and see the Pope deliver his Christmas message
  • Italian pizza
  • The Christmas lights on Oxford and Regent Streets in London
  • Fish and chips in a London pub
  • British Airways managing to get us rebooked on our flight to Rome after it was canceled due to the intense fog. We got on an earlier flight and managed to get there around the time we originally planned.
  • Not having to spend our holiday at Heathrow like other travelers did
  • Spending the holiday with my husband
  • Breakfast included (it would have been £ 16 each, or about $32 a person at our London hotel)
  • Big Ben and Westminster Abbey lit up at night
  • Beautiful weather in Rome
  • Nice hotels in both cities: Victoria Park Plaza in London and Victoria Hotel in Rome (coincidence they were both named "Victoria"). Thanks and travelzoo!
  • The tube. The prices have gone up but when it's rainy and cold, it's great to have it to get around the city.
  • Learning my room number in Italian
  • La Mia Boutique - I found the January issue in Rome and the December issue in London. I also picked up the Italian version of Diana Moda.
  • Seeing a thick stack of Burdas at the newstand in London - I don't know why, it just made me smile to see so many in one place.
  • Italian coffee
  • Getting a laugh out of "Versace-Man" and not falling for his con. I'll have to tell the story later. It deserves its own blog entry.
  • Viewing the nativity scenes or "Il Presepe" in Rome.
  • Having knitting to keep me occupied on the long flights.
  • A quick tour around a fabric store in Rome. I had firmly decided not to buy any so I just took in the sights, smell and touch of the fabric.
  • Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners in the hotel restaurant in Rome. They had pre-planned menus that looked very good and they were, so we decided to eat there. The service was wonderful too.

The bad
  • Arriving at Heathrow to hear our flight to Rome had been canceled even though we had the concierge check twice on the internet before we checked out of the hotel.
  • British Airways not being able to get our bags to Rome along with us - they showed up at our hotel 30 and 36 hours later (mine and my husband's, respectively)
  • My suitcase is now missing a "foot" - but at least the wheels work and it's not among the tens of thousands of "lost" luggage at Heathrow that will take weeks to get sorted out.
  • Getting an urgent message from our cat sitter about a problem with her alarm code and stressing about it until I could find a way to send an email message (it was 2:00 in the morning PST when we got the message). For some reason our alarm system wiped out the visitor codes. Lesson learned: check them periodically and definitely before we go on vacation.
  • One morning in London, the fire alarm went off at our hotel shortly after I got out of the shower. I pulled on clothes, grabbed my coat and a towel for my wet hair and we filed outside into the freezing cold. The staff were pretty useless and made no effort to instruct the hotel guests. The fire department responded quickly and fortunately there was no fire. Apparently a guest had "accidentally" broken the glass on a fire alarm.
  • Lack of wireless - we found lots of free wireless last summer during our trip to Iceland and our moderately-priced hotel in Paris had free wireless. But on this trip our luxury London hotel wanted $12/hour and the Rome hotel was still on wired internet.
  • Coming down with a cold on our last day - at least it was the end of the trip but an 11-hour flight with a sore throat was not fun.
  • Not able to get seats when we booked our flight, we were assigned the "butt seats" - the last row next to the lavatory and galley. Not a pleasant way to spend 11 hours on an airplane. We ponied up the $200 extortion upgrade fee to Economy Plus and snagged the last remaining aisle seat and the one next to it. On our return flight we had separate, middle seats assigned. We again ponied up the bucks and upgraded to Economy Plus to get the last two seats together (aisle and adjacent - yay!).
  • Cold, cold, cold in London
  • Annoying street vendors in Rome. No, I don't want to buy your fake Gucci bag or Dolce and Gabbana belt. No!
  • Beggars in Rome. There were quite a few dressed up like fake statues to "entertain" the tourists. The non-entertaining ones sat hunched over on the ground with an empty Pringles can before them, covered with layers of clothing so they appeared old, but their hands gave them away. Then there were the gypsies with pieces of cardboard they use to shield their hands as they slice open your bag. Fortunately we knew what they were up to and stood clear of them.
  • Piazza Navona, at least the Christmas market version of it, was a disappointment.
  • Starbucks has invaded London. They are everywhere.
  • The Americanization of London is alarmingly evident: Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, TK Maxx (instead of TJ Maxx), Borders Books, Sunglass Hut, The Gap, and of course Coke and McDonalds. They have Coke and McDonalds in Rome and ads for an "American Diet System" on the TV.
  • They don't sell Patrones in London or Rome. Or at least not at the 356 newstands we checked (it seemed like that many at least!).
  • The exchange rate for the pound. Ouch.