You’ll see this baby from miles away!

I was in the mood to crochet something mindlessly simple, but also play with a variety of colours. A “circle in a square” is about as easy as it gets and it’s also the perfect project for using up yarn bits and scraps.

The fun thing about crocheting squares is that they’re quick to finish, there are literally hundreds of square designs available to play with, and you can piece your squares together to make anything from baby clothes to sweaters to bags to slippers to throws and so on.

colored circlesI chose a bunch of bright colours and started out with some circles.square

Then I used a white border to turn them into six-inch squares.

Here’s the crochet square pattern for anybody who wants to give it a try:

CIRCLE IN A SQUARE

Crochet hook: 8 mm
Yarn: colour A, colour B, and white.

With A, ch 4 and sl st closed to make a ring.

Round 1: Ch 3 (counts as first dc); 11 more dc into ring.

Round 2: Ch 3; dc into same stitch; 2 dc in each stitch around. (24 dc) Fasten off and join B.

Round 3: Ch 3; dc into same stitch; *2 dc in the next stitch; 1 dc in the next stitch; repeat from * around. (36 dc)

Round 4: Ch 3; dc into same stitch; *2 dc in next stitch; 1 dc in each of next 2 stitches; repeat from * around. (48 dc) Fasten off and attach white.

Round 5: Ch 7; 2 dc in next stitch; *1 dc in next stitch; 1 hdc in each of the next 2 stitches; 1 sc in each of the next 4 stitches; 1 hdc in each of the next 2 stitches; 1 dc in the next stitch; 2 dc in the next stitch. Ch 4; 2 dc in the next stitch; repeat from *around. To end, sl st into 3rd chain of ch-7. Fasten off.

And there you have it. Easy as pie.

The more I looked at the pink and orange squares, the more I began to imagine them pieced into an adorable sweater for a baby girl.

So I made more of them—eight squares in all. I stitched four squares together to make a back panel and then made two front panels comprised of two squares each.baby_sweater & hat set mod back

I attached each front panel to the back panel by stitching them together at the shoulders. Once that was done, I decided to just crochet the sleeves instead of making them from squares as well.

With the back and front panels spread open into a “rectangle” (on the right side), I started at the left side and used white to crochet a straight row of hdc that started from the midpoint of the shoulder-connecting back circle to the midpoint of the shoulder-connecting front circle. (Now that I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I should have taken tutorial-style photos. Sorry about that. I’ve got to get into the habit now that I’ve started blogging!)

As you can see in the photos, I crocheted two rows of white, then a row each of orange and pink, then another two rows of white, and repeated that until the sleeve looked to be the right length. Then I repeated the same on the other side to make the right sleeve.

Once the sleeves were finished, I matched up all the seams (on the wrong side) and stitched them together. To finish up, I added a row of single-crochet around all the edges, including the sleeve edges.baby_sweater & hat set mod1

I folded back each corner of the top front to make a collar and added matching orange and pink buttons. I also braided a little tie as a fastener for the middle front.

You can’t have a snazzy sweater without a hat, right? So I used the same colours to make a little “Hershey’s Kiss” hat to match. You can find the free pattern here, many thanks to Amanda Tipton and her Pardon My Chaos blog: http://pardonmychaos-amanda.blogspot.ca/2009/09/kissame-crochet-hat-tutorial.html

baby_sweater & hat set mod hat

Hell is a writer with nothing to say

Ever have one of those days when the blank page in front of you takes on the form of an evil sneer that mocks you because of all the barren thought bubbles drifting aimlessly above your head? Every writer knows exactly what I’m talking about. Many of them are nodding their empty heads right now.

We writers want to write with the same intensity that you want to eat that big mother of a chocolate fudge sundae with whipped cream, peanuts, and a cherry on top. But sometimes our brains refuse to cooperate with our fingers, which hover and twitch above the keyboard like a row of benched kids with ADD. Those ten fingers ache to dance across those keys the minute the brain releases anything remotely intelligent. But every so often the well up there is drier than the Atacama Desert.

It hurts. It makes us grind our teeth and sometimes even bang our heads against walls. Is it any wonder that most writers are just a little bit (or maybe a lot) borderline insane?

The topic reminds me of a poem I wrote during a time when the Atacama Desert was having some rainfall:

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THIS WRITER

I slouch before my PC screen.
New Word doc there. 
So bare. So clean.

I itch to write a simple line,
But not a thought will come to mind.

I usually have too much to say.
Damn brain. It’s shooting blanks today.

My need to write’s a gnawing ache.
Grey matter, please! 
It’s time to wake.

O woe is me! I think I’ll try
To spark things with a nip of rye.

Alas! She’s back—O heav’nly brain!
Back in the saddle, I am again.

Thoughts aflame. Hair’s on fire.
I’m higher than a frequent flyer.

Of this writing life, I’ll never tire.

On that note, I would like to end this post by stating that the day I get tired of the writing life is the day that hell will freeze over!

Wait a minute…it did freeze over last winter in most of Ontario didn’t it? Remember what it looked like outside at this time last year? So pretty on branches. Not so pretty on power lines.

Here are some visual reminders.

ice on chive bloom

ice on leaves

split trees

icy tree iced branches

 

From curtain tie-back to shawl clip!

I love the challenge of repurposing an everyday item to use as something other than its original purpose.

For instance, I wanted to curl my hair without having to sleep with uncomfortable rollers poking into my scalp. Nor did I want to use the curling iron that I’d cast into the back corner of my bathroom cupboard, since the curls it made never seemed to last beyond an hour or so.

I remembered reading about how women of a bygone era curled their hair by rolling sections in fabric rags and then tying the rags closed. Hmmm. I also had no intention of spending my evening cutting a bunch of fabric into strips.

Glancing over at the kitchen counter, I just so happened to spot a pad of post-it notes and a big old light bulbpost its blazed on. I tore off a square, rolled it like a cigarette, and sealed it closed with the sticky edge. Then I took a section of dry hair, wrapped it around the post-it “roller,” and pinned it securely with a bobby pin. Before long, my entire scalp was a mass of yellow post-it notes.

A head covered in post-its is not the most attractive look but after living with me for so many years, do you think my husband batted an eye? Nothing I do fazes him anymore. Not even wearing a bunch of paper on my head. 🙂

The next morning, when I unrolled the post-its and combed out my hair—surprise!—I had the most beautiful curls ever—far nicer than all the times I’d used rollers. Surprise #2—the curls lasted all day long and the next day as well. I received a ton of compliments from co-workers as well as a lot of laughs when I disclosed the method to my madness. Surprise #3—I was able to straighten out all the post-its and replace them on the pad to reuse as…post-it notes.

shawl pin

So repurposing sprang to mind when I spotted a gorgeous wood curtain tie-back while shopping at Fabricland. I had just finished crocheting a shawl and was looking around for some kind of fastener I could use to dress it up, along the lines of a scarf pin but larger. Bingo!

I purchased the tie-back and sure enough, it was a perfect complement to the earth colours in my shawl. (The pin could also double as a lethal weapon, no? Probably not a good choice to wear for air travel!)

shawl with pin2

In case you’re curious about the shawl; it was a quick and simple project and it looks awesome paired with a forest green top. If you’d like to make one like it, I used Jennifer Dickerson’s free Mulberry Shawl pattern. You can find it at http://www.fiberfluxblog.com/, along with lots of her other gorgeous patterns.loops & threads

I also used two balls of Charisma Loops & Threads “Deep Woods” green and brown variegated yarn. Very warm and soft.

So tell me…what have you repurposed lately? Please share!

My latest mixed media fabric portrait

maMy mom celebrated her 80th birthday last week (that’s her to the left with champagne all over her dress. Not bad for 80, huh?). I wanted to make her a fabric portrait like the one I made for my dad when he turned 80 (you can take a look at it back in my September 26th post).

So I selected one of my favourite photos of her to use as my templeileen@niagara2ate—a black & white that was taken in Niagara Falls when she was in her 20s.

Little did I know at the time how ambitious a choice that photo was, since it was a full-body shot instead of an uncomplicated head shot like my dad’s.

To my detriment, I can get over-enthusiastic when I have an idea for a project and tend to leap feet first into it without any advance planning. Therefore, stumbling blocks that I hadn’t planned for often crop up as the project evolves. I’m nuts; yes I know. It’s truly amazing that things end up working out in the end as often as they do.

Since that’s how I roll, I also find myself living by the motto “You win some; you lose some.” It’s what I say whenever I start a project with good intentions only to end up relegating it to the “maybe someday, I’ll rip this apart and start over again” pile.

That’s exactly how I began to feel with this project after I was elbow deep into it. More than once I was on the brink of just tossing the whole thing in the trash and heading out to the mall instead to buy my mother a gift that wasn’t spattered with my blood, sweat and tears.

IMG_3637I started the project on a Saturday morning, using Photoshop to pixelate the shot, then printed out an approximate 15” x 15” copy. I used a pen to outline all the various shadow layers on the hair, face/neck, arms and legs and shoes, then traced each layer onto tissue paper to create my patterns.IMG_3636

Next, I selected different tones of grey fabric for the skin and a plain plus a patterned black for the hair. For the top, I chose a crepey white cotton fabric and a white and grey patterned fabric to add a touch of shadowing. The shoes were created with three different shades of cream fabric. I wanted the skirt to be the only three-dimensional part of the portrait so I chose a silky black and white fabric that I could arrange to look poufy, just like in the picture. For the background, I used a large square of plain white cotton fabric.

After cutting out all the fabric pieces, it was time to put the puzzle together. Some of the face pieces were so tiny, I had to use tweezers to pick them up and manipulate them into place. Starting with the legs, I arranged the layers together, then temporarily affixed them with a combination of temporary fabric spray glue and hand-basting. Once I finished the legs and shoes, I moved on to the arms. I left the face/head for last, which was a good call because I would have thrown in the towel if I’d started there. Once those pieces were finally in place (guided by outbursts of cursing), I began laying out the basted parts on my white fabric background. Pinning down the blouse and skirt was the best part, the easiest part. I actually gathered the waistline of the skirt with basting so it would fit the picture realistically.

Once everything was pinned into place on the background, I wanted to cry because as far as I was concerned, my mom’s face looked like that of a mummy you’d dig up from the tombs in Egypt. I was, again, this close to trashing it. But I plugged on and I’m glad I did because—just as a cupcake needs icing—it’s the finishing details that really bring the picture into focus.

First I hand-stitched everything into place, pulling out the basting as I went along. Then I used light grey thread and the finest zigzag stitch on my sewing machine (I also have a quilting foot on my machine to handle any bulky areas) to outline most of the pieces. After all the sewing was complete, it finally resembled the original photo. Whew. Last but not least, I sewed into place a button replica of her earring.

As I stood back to appraise my work, it was obvious that I still had more to do, since my fabric mom looked like she was just floating in a big white space, her arm jutting out into nowhere. I’d been hoping to avoid having to add in all the background details but the picture looked incomplete without them. Damn.

I was done with cutting out any more tiny fabric pieces. No way. Not a chance. So how to get some background detail in there?

Sketching pencils and paint to the rescue! It wasn’t a piece that would ever see the inside of a washing machine, so there would be no problem using regular art materials on the fabric.IMG_3590

I used a pencil to draw the outline of the stone wall and the iron railings behind her. Then I used a combination of pencils, charcoal pencil, and acrylic paint to add shadows and texture. Before long, her hand was actually holding a railing instead of dead space.

As my best friend Sue (a quilt-a-holic who produces the most stunning work) often says, “Don’t things just always seem to fall into place when we really need them to? It’s as if an invisible hand reaches out to help us when we’re stuck.” And that’s exactly what happened after I finished my fabric picture and began to wonder what I was going to use to frame it.

I recalled a large picture frame that my daughter had left behind when she moved out of the house years before; she’d left it leaning against the wall behind her closet door. It was a beautiful, solid frame, but I’d never had any use for it—until now. I dragged it out of her closet and didn’t it just happen to be the exact size and colour (black) of frame I needed. Honestly, my fabric portrait fit the frame as if they’d been made for each other!

In the end, all that work was worth every moment. My mom absolutely loves it.

IMG_3592

The incalculable value of keeping an eReader in your pocket or purse at all times—especially at this time of year

You’re standing in line at the supermarket.

It’s a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g line.

Every second person ahead of you needs a price check.

Or they have armloads of flyers that they want to show to the cashier for price guarantee comparisons.

Or they’re v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y reaching into their cart and v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y placing one item at a time onto the conveyor belt, and you’re beginning to wish you had a taser gun in your hand to prompt them to get their ass moving…

Your teeth are clenching…

Now they’re grinding and little bits of enamel are flying every which way…

Now they’re gnashing back and forth—foam is bubbling up from the corners of your mouth and your eyes are glowing like firepit coals…

Did you know that on average, we each spend an estimated 45 to 62 minutes waiting for something every day: waiting in lines, waiting in medical offices, waiting for employee assistance in stores, and so on. In general, we are destined to waste no less than five years of our life…waiting.

You are sitting in your doctor’s waiting room. You booked your time slot two months ago and expected to be taken within minutes of entering the door, especially since you were considerate enough to arrive 15 minutes early for your 3:00 appointment. It is now 4:10, and there are still six people waiting ahead of you. Your skin is turning a rich shade of claret and your ears are venting what appears to be smoke. Doctor is going to have a lot more to do than just weigh you and tell you to say “ahh” because you are seriously on the verge of gnawing off your limbs…

We wait for deliveries, for our electronic devices to boot up, for humans to answer their phones, for contractors to show up and start the job, for our hairstyling appointments, for bank tellers, for arrivals and departures at airports, for public transit, for parking spots, for restaurant seating, for commercials to end, for entertainment to start, for people who are late, for the microwave to beep, for the UPS guy, for just about EVERY EFFING THING IN OUR CONFOUNDED LIVES!

You need to ask the post office a quick question about a parcel you’d like to send to a friend across the pond. You’ve already spent half the morning trying to locate answers on their website, to no avail. So you decide to throw in the towel and give them a call. You’ve been listening to canned music now for 35 minutes and you don’t think you’ll ever be able to untwist your neck from its current position. If drywall wasn’t so freaking expensive these days, you would punch a goddam hole in the wall…

Has my suggestion for carrying an eReader around at all times become an “Aha!” moment for you?

I can assure you that time spent with your eReader while you wait is the healthiest choice you can make, especially when the only other alternative is high blood pressure and/or a possible life sentence in prison for murder.

With your eReader charged up and ready to go at all times, you will not only be the only person in lineup hell who is smiling and relaxed in posture, you’ll also be the only person in line whose brain cells are getting in a nice little yoga workout instead of atrophying like the moron ahead of you who’s holding up the line while they fight with the cashier over a price comparison between two brands that aren’t remotely related. You won’t even notice the little old lady who’s counting out her $40 balance in nickels.

My Kobo Arc has added many years to my lifespan. It’s my fountain of youth.
I so heart my Kobo Arc!

Crochet a cute clutch for your eReader

bag_clutch cath wheel purple & mint2 copyIf I’m going to carry my Arc everywhere I go, I want to keep it protected from scratches and bumps. I found this free clutch pattern, called the Easy Paolo Purse at the wonderful FaveCrafts site: http://www.favecrafts.com/Crochet-Bags/Easy-Paolo-Purse.

It was my first attempt at the Catherine wheel design and I found it to be very easy to follow and fun to do. I also love how the pattern makes the colours pop! I used purple, mint green, and cream, but it would look lovely with just about any combination of colours. And it fits my Arc like a glove.

bag_clutch cath wheel purple & mint1 copy

Symmetry in motion

Did you know that this December 13th is the last day in this entire century with a consecutive pattern (12/13/14)?

Does it mean anything? Who really knows? I’m sure the 13th will be somebody’s lucky day. And it will be a day filled with nightmares for somebody else.

For the majority of us, I’m sure it will come to pass as just another day.

060When the universe offers up a strange and perfect order such as 12/13/14 (or like the peculiar but perfect rainbow that circled the sun as I stood on a beach in Curacao), I’m reminded of the myriad questions that drift above us all the time like clouds, the answers just as far out of reach.

Like

Why are we here?

Let’s pause what we’re in the middle of doing
and go stand before the nearest window.

Look out. Take in everything around us—
The rain, the snow, the wind, the sun, the expanse of the sky,
All that was made by man,
And all that wasn’t.

Everything we see is a little piece of who we are. Imagine that.

And right here. Right now. Today—
We are exactly where we are meant to be.

You and I, we’re essential puzzle pieces
among seven-billion others. And counting.

Every piece is a fundamental part
of an ever-evolving picture that is our truth.

059We exist for the simplest
and for the most complicated of reasons—
We are links that fit together to create
a perfect puzzle: Life.

Feeling special?
You should.
Because we are. All of us.

You are my sunshine

When my girl was a baby I used to sing songs to her all the time. One of our favourites was “You Are My Sunshine.”

With so much grey above us of late, I’ve been yearning for a good blaze of warm sunshine. Since the Man Upstairs hasn’t been listening to my prayers (I guess He has his hands full these days with terrorists and others in this world who were raised with no regard for proper etiquette :), I decided I should just create my own sunshine.

Since I enjoy painting on 4.25” plain ceramic tiles, I purchased a big carton of them at Home Depot to keep on hand for whenever I get the itch to paint.

Instead of painting one tiny picture, I decided to collage four tiles into one larger piece. I painted a quarter of the sun in a corner of each tile so that all four tiles together would become one whole. I also bled over the edges so that I could leave space between each tile and still keep the flow of the picture.

Next, I incorporated the song lyrics by painting a verse on each tile. Once everything was dry, I sprayed the tiles with sealer.

I wanted to frame them in the same fashion as my Man of the Sea shell picture (displayed in an earlier post), so I chose a plain, square frame and set some metallic-flecked sky-blue fabric under the glass. Next, I used my glue gun to affix each tile on top of the glass. Even with all my measuring, it was a bit of a pain getting the tiles perfectlyyou are my sunshine copy straight because once they’re glue-gunned down, there’s no moving them. The bottom tiles are a smidgen crooked but this is where I fall back on my personal mission statement: “Nothing in life is perfect. Especially the stuff I create.” (Except for my daughter. She’s pretty darn close! 🙂

I think the finished product would look pretty nice in a baby’s room. (Excuse the glare on the glass. My photography skills need a lot of improvement.)

Speaking of babies, here’s a poem I wrote on a wintry night a few years ago:

The Snowstorm

Toasty little flannelled feet,
Tiptoe ‘cross the nursery rug,
Busy, dimpled starfish hands,
Give the drapery cords a tug.

The amber glow of streetlamp light,
Illuminates two widened eyes,
That dance, as icing-sugar spills
In silence, from the murky skies.

Cheeks a-bloom like scarlet roses,
Button nose pressed to the glass,
Watching God’s vanilla frosting,
As it spreads itself upon the grass.

A gleeful gasp of baby’s breath;
Behold the wondrous sight below!
God has closed his doors above,
And sprinkled stars atop the snow.

As the sun begins its rise above
The dips and peaks of whipping cream,
Nanny finds on the window seat,
Her charge, curled ‘round a winter dream.

Hey! That reindeer looks a lot like a cat…

oats the reindeer1My poor little ragdoll cat, Otis, is at the mercy of my Christmas spirit this year as well as my “id” (the little girl that cared about nothing but playing dress up with dolls).

I discovered a priceless reindeer antler hat at the dollar store that fit him like a glove. Unfortunately for him, he does NOT like his new hat, thus the photo of my hubby having to hold him so I could get a picture that wasn’t a bluoats the reindeer4 copyr of a body jumping in the air with paws ripping at antlers.

My mom’s 80th birthday is coming up soon and I’m hoping he’ll be in the mood to wear his new bow tie on the day of! 🙂

Remember those snowflakes I crocheted in an earlier post? Well I fashioned them into a simple garland by using bits of jewelry wire to attach them to a long red silk cord with tassels. Here they are hanging on my fireplace. I used sparkly yarn to make the snowflakes, so they shimmer in certain lighting.

christmas garlandIt’s so easy to make a garland out of just about anything. Get creative! Do something different! A search on the Web offers a wealth of ideas. I’ve seen everything from cookie-cutter garlands to intricately cut paper garlands to bread-dough ornament garlands. The ideas are endless. It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon, especially with your kids or grandkids. (And it’s the only time of year that you can make something really crazy tacky and still be able to hang it up in your house!)

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