Block by Block


I may have pushed off most of the things on my to-do list this weekend because a big box of yarn arrived on Saturday and with it I could start a fairly ambitious knitting project.

2 down, 28 mystery blocks to go!

2 down, 28 mystery blocks to go!

As ambitious as yarn bombing a tree? Okay, maybe not, but this feels more of a mountain to me than that project did because I have always preferred knitting small things or at least items that knit up quickly. A blanket does not, generally speaking, knit up anything close to quickly. Even the baby blanket I knit a year or so ago reminded me of the monotony of large shapes and how much I do not enjoy that kind of needlework.

The crab was much more enjoyable to knit than the blanket!

The crab was much more enjoyable to knit than the blanket!

Nor do I enjoy piece-work when it’s the same piece over and over again, so the traditional afghan made up of granny squares never really appealed to me, either. (Granny squares are crochet, of course, and I’m more likely to just keep going around and around to enlarge one than make the 60 or so needed for a modest throw. I tried that once but there was something a tad off as my concentric squares ended up a bit tilted as I went along–interesting effect, but not what I was going for.)

A green and white crocheted throw of concentric squares that tilt a bit with each round

Case in point… the tilted squares would be cool if I knew how to make them on purpose!

What changed my mind? I’m still not 100% sure, but it had to do with one of the many email newsletters I usually toss out but randomly read (otherwise I’d unsub and be done with it, but occasionally I want to know what they contain) and it happened to include a notice about the Cascade Knitterati Knit-a-Long. 30 blocks by different designers released over the course of the year via the Cascade newsletter. It was just starting, and it would yield a pretty decent blanket by the end. So I gave up filling in the no-spend block for that day’s habit tracker and ordered about 24 skeins of yarn.

Could I have knit it with my stash on hand? Perhaps. But I don’t really think I have enough of any one type or weight of yarn to make the project without buying anything at all, much less in colors that would all coordinate, so I might as well start fresh, right? Could I subscribe to the patterns, save them, and do them when I’m not trying to be very budget-conscious? I suppose I could have tried, but a project I don’t start now could take years to eventually get around to, if ever, so there’s a higher chance it’d languish on my hard drive instead of doing some good!

So goes my justification of the yarn purchase.

Now, full disclaimer, I’m not using Cascade 220, instead I’m subbing a similar superwash Wool of the Andes from KnitPicks because, at the time, I thought it would break the bank less. That now remains to be seen as the 220 in Cascade 220 apparently denotes the yardage involved, and the WotA is only half that per skein. Rookie mistake, definitely. That said, the first block took slightly less than 1 skein, so the 24 I have might get me through the bulk of the project. It depends on the patterns. Block 2, for instance, is stranded color work, so that takes up twice the yarn. I do have some spare WotA Superwash in my stash from knitting Todd’s Tardis scarf a few years ago, and while it’s not exactly the same colorway I’m using so far, I think the dark blue could coordinate with the merlot, briar, almond, bamboo, and pampas colors I chose if I use it as an accent or intersperse the blocks just the right way.

Or I could order more. We shall see.

Lessons So Far

Always order more yarn than you think you need. Not only could the yardage be different, but if you decide to switch around some color designations for the given patterns, you might fall short of the designers’ projections. I did not do this. I hope I will not knit to regret it.

I finished the first block a single afternoon, interspersed with a little work here and there–I’d reward myself with some rows after completing a different task.


Block #1, designed by Jacqueline van Dillen

Rows might not be the right word, though, as the first block was knit in the round; a different experience to be sure. The circular cast-on was awesome, though, and I foresee using that again when I do more center-out items since it’s far easier than the cephalopod-like machinations used to cast on and divide stitches on double points otherwise.

My knitting strictly from charts confidence got a bit of boost on this one, as well.

Block #2, designed by Shannon Dunbabin

Block #2, designed by Shannon Dunbabin

I got a little more than halfway through block two by the end of Sunday night (pesky responsibilities kept intruding) and set it aside until last night when I was determined to bliss out with the remaining squirrels and acorns. Knitting stranded color work flat is a pain. There, I’ve said it. I much prefer doing it in the round, but that’s not what the pattern calls for. Such is life, and it’s always good practice to do things that come less naturally, right?

All those ends to weave in, too!

All those ends to weave in, too!

The other thought I had while working on the blocks so far (other than the coolness of having a new blanket by next winter) was that these blocks will need blocking and seaming: some of my least favorite parts of the process. The blocking I’ll probably do in bunches, but I’ll have to hold off seaming until they’re all complete so I can get the best possible arrangement. I’m not sure I can just go with the flow and attach them together as I go.

Now I shall wait semi-patiently to see what block #3 will be!

37 Home Decor | Crazy For You: Crazy-Quilted Pillow Covers are Tops for Upcycling Fabric

64 Arts, Projects

Quilting is an age-old tradition of making lovely textiles from bits and pieces of fabrics. While many times these fabrics are purchased with a certain project in mind, quilting can be a fabulous way to use up leftover scraps or rescue fabric from clothes that are headed to a rag bin just because a portion is worn or stained. But a lot of quilting patterns require cutting certain shapes, which can make using those scraps a little tougher.

Enter the Crazy Quilt. Not quite a scary as it sounds, a crazy quilt is simply one without a set pattern. You can see the basics on my How to Crazy Quilt article (back from my eHow days), but the gist is you layer bits and pieces of fabric onto a foundation piece and create a fabric collage of sorts. Then you can embellish to your hearts content.

By the way: Not only is March National Craft Month, March 16th, 2013, is also National Quilting Day–why not give crazy quilting a try?

In our discussion of throw pillows last week I did, rather casually, mention making your own. This might seem like a big task if you’re not handy around needle and thread (much less zippers, button holes and the rest) but I can assure you it really is a simple process.

After all, one of the first things they seemed* to teach in middle school Home Ec. classes was how to make a pillow!

For today’s project I pulled out some crazy quilted panels that I started years ago. I’d been meaning to turn these panels into pillows for some time (yes, they are the same panels from the eHow article posted 4 years ago…they’ve been aging…like wine…or something like that). I finished up a bit of embellishment that had been pinned on (yes, for 4 years–look, it’s finished now is what counts) over the weekend and then whipped up these 2 throw pillows last night.

Two crazy-quilted pillow covers, all ready for snuggling.

Two crazy-quilted pillow covers, all ready for snuggling.

Now, here’s the thing. Even if we ignore the 4 years this project sat dormant, crazy quilting–just like any quilting–takes time and effort. I didn’t want to just have the 2 panels I’d made used up all at once. No, I think if you can put in a sincere amount of work on something and then stretch out its use you get way more bang for your buck, so instead of just trimming the panels to size and adding a back, I cut each panel into 4 and added some fabric from my stash to finish the pillow front.

Here’s a diagram of just how this worked:

This is one way to "sash" your way around a focal panel, the other is to cut 2 pieces 8.5" long and 2 pieces 15" long--it's a bit more straightforward on the sewing end, but not as pretty, I think.

This is one way to “sash” your way around a focal panel, the other is to cut 2 pieces 8.5″ long and 2 pieces 15″ long–it’s a bit more straightforward on the sewing end, but not as pretty, I think.

However you put together the front panel, the back panels are the real trick to quick throw pillows. What makes them so simple is the utter lack of zippers, buttons, snaps, or any other fasteners to fiddle with. Instead, you cut 2 pieces of your fabric the same size as your front panel (in my case I was using a 14″ pillow form, so my finished front and 2 backs are each 15 inches square (allowing for a 1/2-inch seam allowance all the way around) and overlap them to create a pocket fold.

Start by hemming one side of each of your backing pieces by folding over the bottom 1 inch, pinning, and sewing along the length.

Tip: I use corsage pins for just about everything--they're easier to grab and way easier to find when you drop one!

Tip: I use corsage pins for just about everything–they’re easier to grab and way easier to find when you drop one!

Then place the pillow front (right side up) on your work surface, and one of the back pieces (right side down) and fold that hemmed edge up about a third of the pillow length.

Folding the hemmed edge up creates a nice, soft edge for your pocket in the back.

Folding the hemmed edge up creates a nice, soft edge for your pocket in the back.

Do the same with the second pillow back, but coming from the opposite side. This way the two folded-back pieces overlap. Pin the whole sandwich together securely and sew all the way around the perimeter of the pillow case, using a 1/2-inch seam allowance.

The 3 layers are all pinned together to prevent slipping and now ready to zip through a sewing machine.

The 3 layers are all pinned together to prevent slipping and now ready to zip through a sewing machine.

Once sewn, all you need to do is turn the case inside out and insert your pillow form.

Showing both the front and the back of my finished throw pillows. The microsuede is incredibly soft and very durable, too!

Showing both the front and the back of my finished throw pillows. The microsuede is incredibly soft and very durable, too!

I used some navy blue microsuede I found in my blue fabric stash for the back fabrics, so while the front of the pillows are visually interesting, the backs are soft and petable.   If I wanted, I could add some fabric-covered buttons or even these Dorset Buttons (another of my old eHow articles) and have truly double-sided pillows.

For that matter, so could you!

How about it, are you up for some crazy quilting or simple pillow making? I’d love to see what you made!

Oh, and if you want one more bit of throw-pillow inspiration, check out the “shabby applique” technique I made up also back in my eHow days.


*As evidenced by other students carrying them around–I took band instead of home ec/art.

March Hare Digital Stamp Duo by Jennifer "Scraps" Walker

Introducing… Fishie Gallore!


If you get the Gauche Alchemy newsletter, The Dirt, then you may have already had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Fishie, but if not, why don’t y’all get acquainted.

Catch Me If You Can, mixed media canvas, Copyright 2013 Jennifer "Scraps" Walker

Catch Me If You Can canvas for Gauche Alchemy

This canvas started out as a way to use some postcard images shared by fellow Alchemist Marilyn, but then took a turn towards art therapy when I suffered a creative disappointment (no worries, I’m over it now) and was feeling a little down. I needed a fish image that was basically “giving the fin” to the others, and there was nothing else to do but draw her myself.

Closeup of Fishie Gallore by Jennifer "Scraps" Walker

“Suck it, Fishes!” She’s one sassy piece of tailfin!

I could have stopped there, but I’ve been having fun with the concept of digital stamps, so decided to go through the scanning and cleaning-up she’d require to make her usable by me and others. You can now find Ms. Fish in my etsy store, along with some other digital stamp designs just in time for Easter.


Easter Lily has a bit of an Alice in Wonderland vibe to it.

Easter Lily Digital Stamp by Jennifer "Scraps" Walker

While March Hare and Bottoms Up are much more playful (I can never resist a good pun!).

March Hare Digital Stamp Duo by Jennifer "Scraps" Walker

Bottoms Up Digital Stamp Duo by Jennifer "Scraps" Walker

If you’ve never played with digital stamps before, they’re a bit of a cross between clip art and rubber stamps. They work the same as a rubber stamp in that you can print them out, color them, and use them on cards, scrapbook layouts, tags, and for other personal, decorative items; but since they’re digital you can resize them and flip them around–things I’ve always wished you could easily do with rubber stamps. The files you’ll receive are all hi-res jpeg and png files made from my original drawings that I’ve scanned, that you can open in any word processing or photo software (like Open Office Writer, Word, Photoshop Elements, even Paint).

(Clicking any of the stamp images above should take you right to my etsy page.)

Any questions, just ask!

Guest Appreciation: A Seat for Every Seat

64 Arts, Projects

With one foot still in carpentry we’re going to take a half-step towards the next art for this next project before fully immersing ourselves in

37 House Furnishings and Decorations

When we entertain it’s important that all of our guests have a spot—be it to stand or sit really depends on what type of gathering you’re having. As most of our get-togethers involve a meal or playing games (not of the sporty type), having seats for everyone becomes kind of important to the size of our gathering.

I’ve rented chairs for big parties, and happily do so since the cost is low and it saves us having to store them. We have a couple of folding chairs in the garage that we can bring out for the occasional extra keister or two, but they don’t sit as high as the rest of the dining room chairs, so it’s not the best solution for large family dinners.

Ergo, it’s time to make over my $3 chair.

My $3 side-of-the-road antique store chair.

My $3 side-of-the-road antique store chair.

I bought this chair from a little antique shop that’s no longer in business and, yes, paid a whopping $3 for it. The original plan was to clean it up (it still had a seat then) and use it as a spare chair in my sparsely furnished apartment. That didn’t happen, so it’s spent it’s life in multiple garages and storage rooms until the seat’s rotted out and it’s collected more cobwebs than I really want to think about.

So when I started stripping the antique school desk to refinish it, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone, and save myself some grief.

Well, that’s not exactly how things worked.

After the first round of stripping and scouring, the chair didn't look that much different!

After the first round of stripping and scouring, the chair didn’t look that much different!

The first round of stripping and sanding barely made a dent in the paint and varnish combo on the chair, so then next weekend I tried again with a heavier stripping pad and even a scraper. I still only got partway through the finish and, by that point, I was so very over this process.

And I reminded myself it was only a $3 chair.

New plan! Screw the refinishing, let’s just paint the sucker. I started out with 2 coats of matte-finish spray paint in a dark brown as an undercoat.

After 2 rounds of stripping and scraping and sanding and 2 coats of paint, it sorta looks like where we started. Not for long!

After 2 rounds of stripping and scraping and sanding and 2 coats of paint, it sorta looks like where we started. Not for long!

That’s where things are right now, since the weather isn’t exactly cooperating—it’s been either too cold or too wet to get any more painting done, plus I need Todd to cut a new seat for the chair and fashion new braces for the legs.

(The brace being the cross-piece between the front and back legs. One was missing when I bought the chair, and we were unable to find any turned braced the right size or length to match, so we’re going to sub in a round dowel rod with the ends cut to fit the existing holes, and go from there.)

The pieces for the rest of the makeover: 3/4" plywood and 2 " foam for the seat, and a 1-inch dowel for the braces.

The pieces for the rest of the makeover: 3/4″ plywood and 2 ” foam for the seat, and a 1-inch dowel for the braces.

Once the new seat and braces are cut, the entire chair will get a coat of a light blue paint and then I’ll distress the edges so that the brown underlayer shows through a bit (like this project from Crane Farms, but not quite as distressed). I thought about using a crackle medium, but didn’t want something quite so shabby chique as all that. Instead I’ll go for simple distressing for a nice aged look.

Then I’ll seal it to prevent more paint than I want from coming loose.

I’ve also picked up some thick foam to cushion the seat with. I’ll cut it to the needed size and shape, bevel the top edges so it’ll look prettier, and then cover the seat with some plush, dark-brown microsuede (I’ve got an entire bolt of the stuff from another project that went nowhere).

Theoretically this chair will match the triptych I painted for the living room (of our last house) that now hangs above our television. The chair probably won’t live in our current living room, but at least it’ll look nice when we bring it out for guests (though I keep starting at a particular corner wondering if I could make it fit with the desk.

This is a rough mock-up of how I see the chair ending up. We'll see how close reality is to idea.

This is a rough mock-up of how I see the chair ending up. We’ll see how close reality is to idea.

Obviously I’m not done with this project, but I want to stay on track with the blog schedule I laid down for myself, so next week we’ll be talking about another facet of home decorating. Once the chair project is done I’ll post that update on the nearest Thursday.

Cool? Cool.

#35 Woodworking | A Little Spruce (or Pine, or Oak…)

64 Arts, Projects

aka Refinishing an Antique School Desk

Since I was about 9 years old or so I had this antique school desk in my bedroom that usually served as my bedside table. When I started moving into homes where more than just one room was mine to do as I pleased, the little antique desk became an occasional table, usually stuffed with programs, take out menus, instructions for assembling furniture, and any other spare part sort of things that would more-or-less fit.

It was, essentially, a junk drawer.

And, over the years, it’d started to look a little worse for wear. For the last 2 years it’s been hanging out in our garage because there was no place in the house for it to be.

Top of the antique child's school desk, scarred and stained

Poor little antique school desk.

Originally I thought the desk had been something Mom had picked up along the way, but it turns out that the piece of furniture goes back at least to my paternal grandmother, and possibly to my great-grandmother (Mom said it was kept in Mamie’s room, which became mine when we moved in with grandma when I was 3). Apparently it was there when my aunt (my dad’s baby sister) was little and she used it growing up, but didn’t know where it actually came from, either. It was the place coloring books and crayons were kept for the grandkids until it eventually moved with us to Florida.

Knowing how far back the desk goes makes me feel more than a little ashamed at how it’s been treated over the years. There were stickers applied, candle wax melted on, wet glasses set on it, teeth marks in the top (an unfortunate incident that involved my brother jumping on the bed) and the cubby stuffed so full that the bottom long since gave way and had to be reinforced more than once. (Aunt M did mention that she also had a habit of over-stuffing the desk, so I don’t feel quite so bad about that one.)

I’m happy to report, however, that this tale has a happy ending. I’ve spent the last 2 weekends giving this old desk a makeover and not in the spray-paint it glossy white sort of way that seems to be so popular these days. No, no, I stripped what was left of the finish from it, had Todd cut a new, solid bottom for it out of matching oak (once we cleaned it up Todd was able to identify what sort of wood the desk was made out of from one of his book), sanded it 4 times, stained it (and parts of myself) a deep, rich brown (Kona, to be exact), and am now in the process of giving it a full 3 coats of polyurethane varnish so that it will be nice and pretty for a long time to come.

Antique Wooden School Desk Stained but not Varnished

It’s not quite finished, yet–I still have 3 coats of varnish to add, but it’s close! (The hinges are just there for show.)

You see, it has a very important role to play this fall, as we’ll be including it with our wedding decorations (right now the plan is for it to hold the programs). Until then, though, it will sit in our living room as I’ve recently made room for it by moving one of the armchairs into my office. Coincidentally, that corner is also the one that holds the silver platter from my Easter remembrances from that same grandmother’s house, so it’s fitting they’ll be reunited again.

Having accomplished this task to the best of my abilities, am I ready to hang out my restoration shingle? Not hardly.

I’m not going to lie, this was hard, sweaty work and not something I’d like to spend every weekend doing. I will say, though, that the getting started parts where Todd and I were working together to remove the 50+ nails holding on what was left of the original and repaired bottom of the desk was quite fun. So it’s not out of the question that we might tackle something like this in the future.

I took plenty of pictures during the long, messy, process; have a look-see:

What’s left is 3 coats of polyurethane and adding the hinges back on with new screws. We were able to salvage the original hinges, though they still need a bit of cleaning. I don’t want to clean them up too much, though, since then they might look too new. I’m not going to do any distressing–something tells me that will happen over time as we’re not exactly gentle with our stuff–but I think if it’s lasted at least 50 years and many kids that we know of, this facelift should hold it for quite some time to come.