Sunday, January 27, 2008

Last Lap

I've completed three more garments for Nikki during the third week of the January "Take it Further" challenge.  After reviewing what I had done so far, I knew I needed a black top to complement the moss green outfit and the coat.  I also needed a neutral top to go with the cotton skirt.  And I had a skein of crochet thread I bought specifically for this project, so I wanted to at least attempt something with that.

My dear Tulsa sister had sent some lovely Handmaiden silk that she had left over from a project she had done.  So I decided to use that for the neutral top, even thought the color wasn't exactly what I had in mind to match the skirt.  It whipped up fairly nicely in plain garter stitch, considering I had no pattern.  I just kept measuring the garment every two knitted rows or so against Nikki.  All I have to do is add the velcro closures at the neck and back edges, and it will be done.

Next, I turned my attention to the crochet thread that has been patiently waiting since early January.  I decided to just wing a long, funky vest because Nikki was with me only part of last week and I was unable to measure the garment against her every few rows the night I started the project.  I used a stitch count based on the sweaters I had completed, and just set about doing what was in my mind.  Knitting with crochet thread was challenging, but I actually like the look and would consider making an adult garment out of it.  The twist of the fiber is really tight, so the thread doesn't split, and the drape is nice (not great, but nice), but it requires very small needles (I used size 0 USA).  The fit of Nikki's vest is okay, but if I had to do it over again, I'd allow fewer stitches on the two front panels and provide more of a shoulder seam.  When I tried the vest on Nikki,  there was so much overlap in the two front panels that I realized if I made a belt, she'd have a mini-dress or a beach cover-up.  So, I did a teeny-tiny I-cord for the belt and found a small plastic ring in my embellishments stash, and voila! another reversible multi-purpose garment.

My last and most dreaded project was a black blouse, which looks more gray than jet black in the accompanying picture.  The problem with black fabric is that it's so hard to see what you are stitching when you are using black thread.  By the time I had completed the project, my eyes were worn out and I was thinking this was the last item I'd do for the color-coordinated wardrobe.  I guess I was partly starting to feel like I did what I had set out to do - make color-coordinated outfits in the color family assigned for a fashion doll.  And I was also partly feeling the time pressure - the need to be ready to move on to the February challenge, which God wiling will NOT entail making doll clothes.

At the moment, I still have to stitch on all the velcro closures and I need to get some shoes for the doll.  And I think I'll host a fashion show to demonstrate how the garments look on Nikki and maybe some of her "friends."  You see, I've told some of my coworkers about the project, and they think it might be fun to use part of a lunch hour to put the dolls on a catwalk and do a photo shoot.  Yes, I'm talking grown women with Barbie dolls.  I guess this project has brought a smile to more than just my face.  Or maybe it just says that we have too much time on our hands and we should be cleaning out our kids' toys now that our kids are in college.  Nevertheless, it looks like we'll have a photo shoot at the end of the week - Fridays are always a good day to get giddy.  So, just as the next challenge is upon us, I'll be posting the final pictures from January's challenge.  See you next weekend, and I hope you got at least a little kick out of these posts.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Sew and sew

I spent yesterday afternoon cutting out one skirt and one jacket pattern each for Nikki's wardrobe.   When I was done, I made an emergency phone call to my dear Allentown sister.  I had all the pieces for each garment, but I wasn't sure how to go about assembling them.  Do you seam the sleeve and then put it into the armhole, or do you seam just the shoulder, insert the cap of the sleeve, and then seam the arm and side together in one long seam?   Where's the best place to tack facing?

My sister calmly and patiently walked me through the assembly process, and then said, "So, you got your machine set up?"  I said, "No."  She said, in a tone nurses reserve for mental patients going through a psychotic break, "You're going to hand stitch them?"  (emphasis hers)  I said, "Well, yeah."   Now, you have to understand my dear Allentown sister does not just sew.  She has a room devoted to several sewing machines which function in a variety of ways I can only guess at.   She is an expert at tailoring and machine embroidery, and she teaches sewing.  So I could just picture her madly flipping through a "Sewing for Dummies" book as she spoke to me , hoping to find easy explanations for the sewing simpleton she had on the other end of the line.   Talk about being sorry for answering the phone!  Anyway, in addition to the assembly advice, she suggested I use a product to stop fraying and she said, if Nikki had rubber legs, to be careful about how form-fitting I made the clothing.  Apparently rubber legs makes the clothes difficult to slide on and off.

So, I sat myself down and hand-stitched two garments, and they look pretty good if I must say so myself.  The jacket matches the knitted green wrap skirt, and the skirt looks good with the celadon mohair turtleneck sweater.  I think I won't use a closure on the jacket, although I saw the cutest teeny-tiny buttons at Hobby Lobby today and they'd look great as an embellishment.   The skirt pattern called for a zipper, but I left the back seam open and I'm going to use velcro for the closure.

And speaking of patterns, K.F. Williams' fashion doll patterns are right on for size, plus they are very easy to understand. I mean, if a novice like me can get two garments looking as good as these two do using hand-stitching, then an experienced sewer should be able to whip up a whole wardrobe in a day.  And the clothes look great on the doll.

Now, I'm off to see where the gaps are in Nikki's wardrobe and make plans for the final two or three garments.  I have to be done by next Monday.  That's when my coworkers have agreed to help me host a fashion show.  They will be bringing their Barbies to work and we're going to photograph the group in the full array of garments.  This is turning into way more fun than I had anticipated.  Who'd have thought that playing with dolls at my age could be so much fun.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rowan and Noro for Nikki

This is the last of the knitting for Nikki.  I decided to make her a coat and a mohair turtleneck sweater as my final contributions for this part of the wardrobe. 

I had a skein of Noro Shinano (65% wool, 35% silk) in my stash, but I cannot for the life of me figure out where this skein came from.  I can't picture myself purchasing anything in this color family, but it worked perfectly for this project.

I was hesitant to knit anything for Nikki on needles larger than a size #3 (USA).  The Shinano required a minimum needle size of #7.  I have to say it didn't turn out all that badly, and Nikki actually looks fairly cute in it.  To give the sleeves and body of the garment some rigidity, I allowed for a hem.  For those of you who are new to knitting, this is a very simple operation if you are dealing with a stockinette fabric.  All you have to do is purl one row on the knit side of the garment where you want the hem to turn, then continue in stockinette for the remainder of the garment.  I have never used this technique to turn a vertical edge, but I would guess it would work just as well.  It gives a nice finished edge if you don't want the traditional K1P1 or K2P2 ribbing, and the raised stitches of the purl row provide a guide if you want to add a fancy edging when the garment is done. 

The belt was an afterthought.  I was going to try my hand at looped closures down the front of the coat, but then I thought a three year old might have a hard time with tiny toggle buttons.  Also, I didn't want to complicate the project beyond belief (which I seem to be doing anyway), so I thought I'd just make it into a wrap coat.  If I had it to do over again, I'd make the belt narrower.  I only completed three rows of garter stitch including the bind off row, but it's a bit too wide for my tastes.

Overall, the coat exceeded my expectations and looks darling with the magenta skirt.  The weight of the fiber was acceptable for a coat and it was definitely quick to knit up and finish. 

Next came the turtleneck sweater in Rowan's Kidsilk Haze.  I was really excited about trying this fiber because so many knitters absolutely adore it.  But I have to say I was disappointed in its performance.  Aside from the fact that it is an extremely fine or dainty fiber to work with (think thread), it turns really nasty if you have to rip out an error.  The mohair fiercely grabs the neighboring stitches, and no amount of either gentle coaxing or vigorous tugging convinces the errant stitches to release.  This is a property of most mohair fibers, but I found it particularly annoying knitting a sweater for a fashion doll.  The garment pieces are so small to start with, that any error needing frogging results in a balled up piece of unusable fabric.  In fact, I made an error on one of the sleeves and ended up throwing it away because of the tangle that resulted.

Personally, I'd choose Habu's A-32B (60% mohair, 40% silk) over Kidsilk Haze for adult garments made using this fiber composition.  The Habu blend seems to be spun a little tighter and the fabric that results is soft, a bit less fluffy, and has a wonderful drape.  I haven't compared yardage or price for either of these yarns, but now that I know how each fiber performs, I'd feel confident making the financial commitment for the Habu if I wanted a special sweater.

As far as the sweater design is concerned, I wish I had made the collar a bit larger.  I measured the doll and estimated the amount of fabric that was needed, rather than trying the garment on Nikki every few rows as I knit.  The body of the sweater fits perfectly, but the neck requires a bit of stretching to get it right.  I will probably not use the velcro closures on the neck edge.  Nikki's long hair will hide the fact that the collar does not go all the way around easily. 

Clothing patterns for fashion dolls don't seem to be widely available on the Web, unless you want to knit.  One woman in New Zealand has generously posted her patterns at  Since I don't have a sewing machine set up in my craft room and have little experience with making clothing (okay, dear sister in Allentown, I have no experience making clothing from textiles), I decided to use all the help I could find in this area.  I printed out three of the patterns and I'm off to hopefully not make a total mess of the fabric I purchased last Saturday.  What was that again about checking for the bias of the fabric?  What's bias?  And do these paper patterns have an allowance for the seams?  How can you tell?  Darts?  Okay, dear Allentown sister, you can stop laughing now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Paper Kimono

Nikki's kimono jacket is done.

I used Habu's item #A-62, which is 1/10 paper moire, and 50% each linen and nylon, on size #3 (USA) aluminum straight needles.  It was a heck of a fiber to knit with.  It was very slippery on the needles and it was easy to drop stitches.  The fabric is very stiff and has a mind of its own when it comes to drape.  On the plus side, because of the tiny paper flags (and I mean tiny), it was tough to see uneven stitches or mistakes like knit stitches where a purl was required.  The fabric is a bit scratchy to the touch, but I suspect that it will become softer if I wash the kimono and use a bit of fabric softener in the rinse water.

I knit a swatch from #A-62 several weeks ago as part of a Spring fiber display for my office, but the swatch was so unruly, I nixed the plan to make a garment for myself out of it.  However, after seeing how cute Nikki looks in the jacket, I'm revising my thoughts. I bought just one skein of this fiber at Stitches East this past Fall, with the idea to try some alternative fibers and maybe update my wardrobe to include some "now" fashion looks.  I showed the swatch to a few coworkers, one of whom said that I could use it to patch a bare spot in my lawn.   So maybe I'm just too short and round to carry off an alternative fiber that could make me look like a mobile marijuana plant.  Then again, a jacket in #A-62 could be quite a conversation piece if not a wacky fashion statement for a woman my age.

I've looked over the five garments that are now completed for Nikki and this challenge.  I'm trying to figure out how I developed ideas for each piece of clothing.  I'd say that the style of the clothing was dictated by my past knitting experience with human-sized garments.  I did a lot of improvising and I measured the garments against Nikki every few rows.   It was liberating to look at the pieces as they evolved and not be constrained by counting stitches or ripping work because I had not followed someone else's directions perfectly.  I think more of my sweaters would turn out as I had planned them if I followed this course of action for human-sized projects - constantly measuring the knitted piece against a piece of clothing that fits me the way I'd like the knitted garment to fit.

Choice of fiber also has heavily influenced the evolution of the Nikki's garments.  For example, when I chose the Habu fiber for the jacket, I pretty much locked myself into the style and fiber for the wrap skirt.

The fact that a 3-year-old will eventually inherit the completed project definitely played a role in the clothing design.  The garments had to be relatively easy to get on and off the doll, and she had to be able to secure the garments on Nikki without adult help.  Hence my choice of velcro closures.

Finally, mistakes caused me to make changes in the originally conceived designs.  The first sweater I knit was too small in the back, for example, so that dictated a corrective action if I wanted to salvage the sweater; the color of the sweater locked me into the magenta skirt, and the weight of the fiber made me choose an A-line design.

I'd like to say that I planned all the clothing out on paper, but in truth I just grabbed a fiber I wanted to work with from the palette I was limited to, and, using the stitch counts I researched on the Web, just started knitting.  I've learned from this project that if you know how to knit, purl, increase, and decrease, you can make anything if you just follow your intuition.

Now, I'm off to complete a turtleneck sweater to go with the drawstring skirt.  Sorry, dear Tulsa sister, but I cracked the Kidsilk Haze last night (I couldn't resist the temptation any longer) because the green color was perfect.  I promise I'll make it up to you somehow.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Yarns, New Clothes

My horoscope for Monday said, " A thing of real value is to be found right on your own doorstep."  And guess what arrived by post?  The yarns my Tulsa sister sent!  And talk about value?!?!?  She sent me two Knitpicks "Palette" yarns, Kidsilk Haze (aka Kidsilk Addiction), a Shepherd's sock wool, a Rowan wool and a wool-cotton, a hand-painted yarn by Dani, and ...  I'm hyperventilating just looking at the selection.

So, I did the only logical thing I could do under the circumstances.  I dove in, grabbed the Shepherd's sock yarn, and knit an ankle-length wrap skirt for Nikki.  I have a marvelous Habu fiber that is nylon and paper, and I wanted to make Nikki something up-to-date and funky out of it.  The Shepherd's wool was the perfect compliment for the Habu yarn, color-wise.  And I had never knit with Shepherd's fibers, so I wanted to try it.  I can definitely say that it is a wonderful fiber to work with and the subtle color shifts resulting from the  dying process are fabulous to behold.  Frankly, I'd never waste this fiber on socks, but then there aren't a lot of us who like using size 3 needles to make an adult-size sweater.  Anyway, here's the skirt.  I'll be adding a velcro tab as a closure on the band, and maybe another velcro tab to hold the top of the skirt closed.

I was on the road most of last week, and Nikki went with me so that I could make sure the garments I was knitting fit properly.  Fortunately, I was not in an automobile accident.  I don't think I'd want to try to explain to a South Carolina state trooper why I had a half-dressed fashion doll in my trunk.  But the trip went well, and during the evenings, I had a chance to make another skirt for Nikki.  This time, I used my sister's Knitpicks Palette yarn.  It's 100% Peruvian wool and it too was nice to work with, although I am not a big fan of hand wash, lay flat to dry clothing.   I changed my original drawstring skirt pattern a bit by putting in a keyhole opening in the back and using a tab band for a closure.  Here's a photo of the skirt's back view.   Once I get the velcro on the band, the opening should disappear when the doll is dressed.  Plus her hair goes down to her hips, so that should conceal any gaps in the closure.

When I arrived home last night, I decided I still didn't like the first sweater I made Nikki, so I did a wedge thingie along the back opening on both sides.  It looks really cute on her now and is officially reversible, front to back.  And the sweater goes great with the purple skirt.

As much as I like knitting, I was starting to feel like Nikki was getting cheated in this deal.  I mean, how many of us only wear woolen knits 24-7?  A blouse would be good.  So would a cloth skirt.  And maybe a cotton dress.  So this morning, I went off to my local quilt shop to see if the proprietor, Nancy, had any "fat quarters" that fit the color parameters of the challenge.  And of course, she did, so I had to break one of my rules about spending only $10 on each month's challenge.  I dropped $16.00 for 6 fabrics and 2 packs of beads.  I decided that I'd use black as an anchor color, and let the rusts and oranges in two of the other fabrics serve as accents.  Here are the latest supply acquisitions for the challenge.  I'm still trying to decide what I will make with these fabrics, except for a black blouse that will go with the moss green skirt and kimono.  As for the beads?  I'm not sure yet, but don't the turquoise beads go great with the magenta fabric?  I'll come up with something if I just let my mind wander a bit. 

I am having a huge amount of fun with this month's challenge.  Every time I think of the fibers, fabrics, and doll clothes I smile.  If the next 11 months are anything like January, I'll be in a perpetual state of bliss.  Thank you, Sharon, for choosing colors I'd never have selected.  The challenge is really reminding me how to play like a kid again.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Off and Running

My Tulsa sister sent me a photo of the fiber she was willing to share with me for this project.  She asked me how much of it I wanted.  Well, duh...ALL of it.  I mean, is there a knitter on earth who would turn down fiber?  Okay, actually, I asked her to edit out the fiber that looked turquoise unless her camera did not capture the true color.  I also asked her to edit out the very pale fibers, unless they had a green-yellow tint.  The package was shipped Thursday priority mail (gotta love my sister!) and should arrive tomorrow.

I found an 11.5 inch fashion doll at Target.  Her name is Nikki (according to the box) and she was dressed in a bikini.   Must have been a Mattel remainder from the summer.  Anyway, she was screaming for more seasonally appropriate clothes due to the cooler temperatures we are having in South Carolina, so I got to knitting right away.

I consulted the Web to see if there might be any knitting patterns for Barbie dolls.  Wow!  Were there ever a lot of choices!  But I decided that I'd like to try my own designs, so I limited myself to noting the needle size, fiber weight, and stitch counts that other knitters had used.  I didn't really want to knit gauge swatches so I made the assumption that I'd at least be in the ballpark if I started out with established numbers for the yarn I had on hand.

My first attempt was a sweater in the mauve tones of the color chart Sharon posted.

It was not a huge success.  The numbers I used for the body of the sweater were from a 1960's era pattern.  Clearly, today's fashion dolls have bigger hips and smaller busts, because the sweater doesn't close in the back across Nikki's hips.  Either that, or she's menopausal.  Anyway, since the sweater opens all the way down the back, it may morph into a jacket if I can figure out how to edge the opening.  Maybe then, it could even be a reversible sweater?  For you knitters out there, I used some leftover Welcomme-Pernelle superfingering fiber from a sweater I made for myself in 1978 or thereabout.  I'm not keeping detailed patterns but I'll do so if there's any interest.

Next project was a self-fringing scarf, on the theory that I couldn't go wrong with such a simple project.  Plus, I wanted to see if I could knit with the tapestry yarn I had pulled from my needlepoint stash.

I met with some success.   I separated the three-stranded tapestry yarn into separate fibers and knit each one individually.  Each row of the scarf required one strand of fiber, with a length allowed at either end for the fringe.  It was knit on size 0 needles (USA) in garter stitch. When the scarf was completed, I used one strand at either end to wrap the fringe.  Also, I bound the scarf off tightly because I wanted it to curl a bit.  That way, it would hold onto the doll better (the clothes are going to a three year old, and I didn't want to raise frustration levels because the scarf kept falling off).  For you knitters, I would not recommend tapestry yarn for knitting.  It doesn't have a lot of give or spring to it, so if you are tight knitter, don't go here.

The final project to date was a skirt, and if I must say so myself, the biggest success.

I used the two circular needle method that sock knitters use, instead of double-pointed needles, in order to get a seamless tube.  I decreased one stitch each side every 4 or 5 rows in order to get the skirt to taper.  The waistband is a simple (*K2 tog, YO*) to create small holes through which a sash can be threaded.  The sash is just three strands of the yarn plaited.  The yarn is a sock weight fiber, and I used size 2 (USA) Addi turbo needles to complete the project. 

Cheers to all of you fellow TIF-fers.  I'll try to catch up on everyone else's posts in the coming days.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Decisions, decisions

I was stunned, absolutely stunned, when I read Sharon's first design challenge on New Year's Eve.  I was anticipating a traditional assignment.  Something like "Use three to five lines in a composition with a nature theme."  So when I was asked to use admiration as a theme, I was floored.  How an artist expresses admiration in a fiber creation is a mystery to me.  Or maybe I just needed to give the design challenge time to mentally marinate.  But I'm impetuous so I knew ruminations over admiration weren't in the cards for me.

So, I moved on to the color part of the challenge, hoping that I'd get some inspiration from a jaunty, vibrant color theme I expected Sharon to select. Wrong! Mauve and celadon are not jaunty or vibrant. They aren't even "my" colors. Last Fall, I took a color workshop with Brandon Mabley at Stitches East. Halfway through the class, we were asked to display our work. The other women produced samples that had subtle color changes in gentle heathers, soft transitions from light to medium hues. Not me.  I handed over my sample for posting and told Mr. Mabley that I wasn't Mexican by birth, but my sample sure looked like I might be. Bright yellows and reds and greens were all over my piece. He called me "Salsa Girl" for the rest of the workshop. See? Celadon and mauve have never been in my color vocabulary.

So, after staring blankly at the computer screen for about 10 minutes, I took Sharon's suggestion and visited the Colour Lovers Web site. That visit explained a lot. The color scheme is one that might be chosen by graphic designers. Did I want to start thinking in terms of a graphic design project?  Then, I clicked on the Korean Handbok link and got the inspiration for my January project. All those little dolls lined up made me think of fashion and the dolls made me think of Barbie. And what do you know? I thought "Why not create some up-to-date fashions for Barbie?

Now, you are probably thinking that I have more than one screw loose. However, I set up some personal parameters for this challenge over and above Sharon's monthly limitations. I have to use up stash wherever possible and avoid adding new materials to stash. I have to produce something useful if possible. And I have to have fun doing the project. Designing for Barbie in the mauve and celadon colorways was perfect because I know a very young lady who is having a birthday in February and she'd love to get some clothes for her doll. Plus, I have been saving some Barbie knitting patterns since 1968! I mean really, if not now, when? And doing this project would be a hoot for me. I haven't played with a doll since... well, for about 50 years.

So, I rummaged through my 7 (huge) boxes of fiber and came up way short. Like I said, mauve and celadon are not my colors. 

So I telephoned my Tulsa sister and begged her to go through her stash to see if she had anything in the assigned colorways. She is the kindest, sweetest person on earth, and she was awfully nice to humor me, especially on New Year's Eve. She promised to send me what she had. She's a sock knitter, so a lot of her fiber remainders will be the proper weight for Barbie clothes. She also buys expensive designer fibers, so Barbie will be the recipient of at least one one-of-a-kind garment.  She also made me promise to buy a Barbie doll to accompany the clothes.  I believe her exact words were, "Oh, come on, Bernadette. Spring for it." So, since Barbie will only be temporarily residing at my house, this will be an acceptable purchase. New personal parameter: Monthly purchases for a project cannot exceed $10. And now I am off to the Dollar General in search of a mannequin, er, Barbie.