On the Needles

I have two projects on my knitting needles right now.

I started the Liesl Tank by Cocoknits a little over a month ago. I’m not using the recommended yarn for the pattern. Instead, I had a bunch of Knitpicks Cotlin yarn leftover from a Christmas project last winter. It knit to the same gauge, and I noticed there was one on Ravelry with this yarn, so I thought I’d use up my leftovers in this pattern. I didn’t have enough to knit the top in a solid color, so I did stripes. These aren’t normally colors I would wear, but I held the top up to myself in the mirror and I don’t hate it. I think it will look good with denim. We’ll see when I get it finished. I just have the front left. It’s been a nice take-a-long project, as most of the pattern is mindless knitting. It has helped pass the time at many soccer and little league practices this spring.

The other project I have going is the Estee Necklace.

A friend of mine bought me some very pretty, silver yarn by Sublime for my last birthday. When I saw this necklace pattern, I thought it would be perfect for the yarn. My yarn doesn’t have any beads or sequins, but it has a nice metallic shimmer, so it still looks pretty enough for a necklace. I don’t think I’m going to make the matching earrings, as they aren’t really my style, but I should have enough yarn left over to make a matching bracelet or cuff. I’ve enjoyed knitting this pattern. It’s the perfect amount of challenge to keep my mind busy without getting frustrated.

I’m almost finished with both projects. I’m hoping to get the tank done this week at least. I just bought a bunch of yarn for a yarn bombing project I’m participating in this summer and I am anxious to get started on that. I really should finish at least one of these before I get started though.

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A Planting We Will Go

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I’ve spent the last two weeks playing in the dirt and finally got the gardens planted and some relandscaping done around the back deck. It was a lot of work, but satisfying, even if this year is already proving to be a challenging one for gardening. It’s hot, hot, hot one week and chilly the next. I sure am confused by the weather, so I’m pretty certain the plants are too. Luckily most of my sickly, little, sunburned seedlings seem to be growing and getting stronger by the day. I did lose a few though, which was sad, but this is the first year I’ve started the entire garden from seed, so I still consider this a success. I’ve taken notes and learned a lot in the process, so hopefully next year will be even better.

The Romas seem to have taken the largest hit. They suffered the worst damage from my negligence during the hardening stage. I had to replace all but two of my Roma tomatoes with store bought versions from the local nursery. I couldn’t find any Roma plants, so I am trying Bradley tomatoes. I’ve never grown them before, but they looked nice and sturdy. And the tag said they are good for canning, which is usually what I use the Roma’s for.

I also lost one of my heirloom tomato plants to the dog as he boldly charged through my little plot by the side of the deck before I had cordoned it off. And I’m not entirely sure what happened to the cucumbers. They appear to have been trampled, and possibly dined on, by those dastardly bunnies that love to hang out in my backyard. The good news is, I had some seeds left over. I planted them. The first round of seeds got washed away in a storm. I replanted and this time I’m seeing sprouts pushing through the soil. Oh yes…and some fencing with smaller openings is going up in an attempt to keep the bunnies at bay.

This year I planted in the main garden:

  • Oregon Sugar Pod Peas, ORG
  • Royalty Purple Pod Bush Beans, ORG
  • Spicy Mesculun (in the gutter)
  • Arugula (in the gutter)
  • 3 California Wonder Peppers (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Jalapeno Peppers
  • 2 Habanero Orange Peppers
  • 1 Costa Rican Sweet Pepper
  • 2 Suhyo Long Cucumber, ORG
  • 2 Black Beauty Zucchini, ORG
  • 3 Green Flesh Honeydew Melon, ORG
  • 1 Calabaza Pumpkin
  • 3 Roma Tomatoes (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Bradley Tomatoes

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All the squash, melons and cucumbers are being trellised against the fence. I’ve grown them this way for the past 3 years and it works out great. It saves space and helps keep the plant healthy and free from bugs because it’s off the ground. If you decide to trellis your squash and melons, make sure the trellis is well secured to the wall or fence so it will be able to support the weight of the fruit when they grow.

If you are wondering what all those milk jugs in the garden are, they are my new irrigation experiment. It has been so unseasonably hot and dry here, and my plants were already sun damaged, I was looking for an inexpensive way to keep them hydrated without damaging them further. I was inspired by this pin on Pinterest. I changed it up a little bit after reading one comment about poking holes in the bottom of the jugs instead of the top as shown by the pin. It seems to be working. I think the plants look a lot happier since I’ve added the milk jugs.

There are a few cons to this method though: it will obviously only work on smaller gardens, it’s time consuming to fill all the jugs and cart them back and forth between the rain barrel to the garden, and one odd con – when the ground gets too hot, the little hole on the bottom of the jug seems to close in on itself. I have to keep reopening the hole. Next year we might invest in a more sophisticated irrigation system, but I think this will work for this year.

What I did for my milk jug irrigation system.

1. I rinsed the milk jugs, and a few large Gatorade bottles, and discarded the tops.

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2. I poked a small hole in the bottom. I experimented with the size and number of holes. I found that 1 small hole is the best. (Maybe when the plants are a little bigger I’ll need a few more holes.)

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3. Place them near the base of the plant and the jug slowly drips out water. Make sure the side with the hole is closest to the plant.

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Since we have a small yard, I try to incorporate some herbs and smaller veggies in with the landscaping around the back yard as well. I grow herbs and wildflowers in the rocks around the perimeter of the main garden. And I have a small strawberry patch and two Sugar Baby plants that will be trellised along the side of the garage.

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And we just relocated a bunch of ornamental grass that was overgrown along the side of our deck to the back of our fence so we could have more room for tomatoes and some other veggies.

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In this little patch I have planted:

  • 2 Purple Calabash (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Green Zebra, ORG
  • 1 grape tomato
  • 2 Habanero
  • along with Marigolds, Lavender, Morning Glories, Calendula, Mexican Heather, Asian Lily, Daisy and some herbs. (This patch extends along the front of the deck, so there is plenty of room for everything.)

And the kids are in charge of the patch along the fence. It doesn’t get much sun, so we’re limited in what can go there. This year they planted:

  • Spinach
  • Pink Beauty Radish, ORG
  • Royalty Purple Pod Bush Beans, ORG
  • Florence Fennel, ORG

This is the first year we’ve tried fennel, so we’ll see how it goes. I found this pin with lots of helpful tips on fennel.

I’ve been gardening for about 10 years now, and each year brings new lessons and challenges. It is certainly unpredictable and never boring in my opinion. It’s great therapy, helps keep me fit, and I love the idea of being able to walk outside and snip fresh herbs or veggies for dinner. The fruits I grow are usually sweeter and the cucumbers are less bitter than their store-bought counterparts. And you certainly can’t compare a fresh-picked, sun-warmed, heirloom tomato to the hard, reddish, tomato-like things they sell at the supermarkets.

I also use gardening as an educational tool for the kidlets. I think it is important for them to learn about the growing cycle, where their food comes from, and how to care for our environment. And because I would like to leave the earth a little better place for the next generation, I try to get organic, non-GMO, local seeds or plants when I can, but it isn’t always possible. There seem to be more organic, non-GMO varieties available every year though, as consumers become more educated and demand more diversity in their produce. I know my little backyard garden is a small drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop just the same.

Happy gardening.

Schoolhouse Tunic Revisited

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I don’t know why I like the Schoolhouse Tunic by Sew Liberated so much. Maybe because it is so quick and easy to sew I get almost instant gratification. It could also be because it is very comfortable, and I am all about comfort over fashion these days. Or maybe it’s because the pattern is so basic, it lends itself well to modifications.

My first tunic, which I wrote about here, was made with a grey and rust polka dot fabric by Kaffe Fassett. I kept pretty true to the pattern. I like it. It was comfortable. I wore it once and felt ridiculous with all those polka dots, so I dismantled it. I kept the top and replaced the bottom with a solid black skirt. It looks much better now.

My favorite tunic was made from a really nice, med-weight, red linen. The drape of the fabric was perfect for the pattern. I made a few changes by lengthening the skirt, adding pockets, gathering instead of pleating the back skirt, and leaving the sleeves off. This one gets the most wear, as it is the most versatile. I pair it with long-sleeves, leggings, and tall boots in the fall. And I wear it over shorts and a tank in the summer. Here it is making an appearance in the brick pits at Colonial Williamsburg last summer.

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I’ve been wanting to make another one for awhile now. I’ve had the pattern and fabric sitting on my sewing desk for months, but I’ve been distracted by other things. I finally decided to tackle my sewing pile last Sunday. After repairing several tops and converting worn jeans into shorts for the kids, I decided to reward myself by making a top for me.

This time I made the short version with a few other modifications and I think this is my new favorite summer top. I used a light-weight, cotton poplin print by Vera Wang. I had some left over from a dress I made a few summers ago.

With this one I left off the pleats in the skirt and gathered the front and back instead. It reduced some bulk that the pleats caused, and I just think it looks better that way (at least on me). For the front, I ran a gather stitch between the pleat marks. And for the back, I just ran a gather stitch across most of the back, leaving about 2-3 inches on either side. (I didn’t take a close-up of the back. I should have though.)

And for the sleeves, I decided to make little, gathered, cap sleeves. I finished those off with some black bias trim that I made from some fabric in my scrap bin.

If you are wondering how to make the cap-sleeves, I thought I’d write up a little tutorial to show how I made them. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take photos while I was sewing, but hopefully you’ve sewn enough sleeves that it will all make sense. (If you click on the photo, you can view it at full resolution and it might be easier to read.)

Gardening Update

We put the gutter garden up a couple of weekends ago and the salad greens have sprouted. I decided to try just one gutter this year. If it works, I’ll put a couple more in next year.

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There is a bunny family that sets up house under the shed every year.  They like to raid my salad greens. I wasn’t even going to bother growing any this year, but when I saw the gutters they seemed like a good solution. I’m suspecting my garden is the reason they’ve decided to take up residence under the shed. I’ve tried everything to discourage them from marigolds to human hair. Nothing works.

Not even my dog keeps the bunnies out of the yard. He caught one last year, sniffed it, and let it run free. Now they play and chase each other around the back yard. Not that I wanted the dog to murder bunnies, but I was hoping he’d at least scare them away; not make friends with them.

Stop and Smell the Flowers

And we already have bunches of strawberries. I wasn’t expecting any this early, but I guess all the warm weather we’ve been having set the process in motion early this year. These are green, but I have ripe ones out there too. (Well not anymore because I ate them.)

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Unfortunately, the little seedlings I planted in those fabulous, origami pots aren’t doing so well. They got a little leggy and when I started the hardening process, I got distracted and left them in the sun too long one day. They are all sunburned and sad looking now. I lost a few, but I think some of these may bounce back. They are growing new leaves, and the new leaves look healthy, so I hoping that I didn’t kill them all.

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Today I’m putting in the peas, beans, fennel and radishes. Hopefully this weekend, or early next week, I can get all these seedlings into the ground. I think they might be happier in the ground.

Overcoming My Fear of Knits

I decided now was the time to finally overcome my fear of knits. I’ve been sewing on and off for over 20 years, but I have avoided knits like the plague. There is really no rational reason for this fear. I’ve been deconstructing t-shirts, which are technically knits, for years. But the thought of actually piecing together a garment from a stretch knit sends shivers of terror down my spine. I’d rather sew zippers. My old stand-by excuse is that I don’t have a serger. I know it’s possible to sew knits without a serger, but it sounded like a good excuse to me.

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Since I’ve come to the realization that a serger is not in my near future, I decided that I just needed to confront my fear and try a new challenge. I feel incredibly foolish for not having done this sooner. I’ll admit, I would rather sew wovens, but this knit top I made a few days ago wasn’t such a bad time.

Before I started on this project, I did some reading up on sewing with knits. I found this big list of tips very helpful. Be sure to read the comments on this post too, because some of them are just as helpful as the article itself.

Then I chose a few patterns and decided to start with McCall’s M6356. It said it was “easy” on the pattern envelope. I also really liked the style and draping of the top.

I chose a nice jersey knit in red, because I promised my husband I would start making more colorful clothing. My go-to color is usually black. But I like red too. And red looks really good with black.

It was a pretty easy pattern. I had a few bumps along the way, but overall the top came together fairly quickly. I learned a few things though. I’m an imperfect seamstress. Or maybe the better way to look at it is that I’m a “good-enough” seamstress. I hate pins, so I rarely use them except for matching seams, and I don’t measure hems and stuff like that. I often wing it. If it looks even when I look in the mirror, and everything fits comfortably, then it’s good enough for me. It’s worked out so far because, except for the obvious t-shirt deconstruction, people rarely know that a lot of my clothing is made-by-me.  I found with knits though, you have to be a little more precise and careful than with wovens, knits are harder to unpick (they snag easier), pins are your friends, and measuring is important – you don’t want your seams stretching at wonky angles, and since knits tend to cling more to your body, one wonky seam becomes an obvious distraction.

I didn’t have any stay tape for the shoulder seams, and I couldn’t find any locally, so I just used single fold bias tape. I read somewhere that bias tape was an acceptable substitute. It seemed to work. I’ve ordered some stay tape online though for my next project.

The top is not perfect, but it’s “good-enough”. I think I’ll be giving knits another go. I have two more tops and a skirt cut out. I’m just waiting for the mailman to deliver my stay tape.