Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/congmicj/cathyconger.com/wp-includes/query.php on line 751

As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

In early August I headed up to Door County, Wisconsin to a place called The Clearing. The Clearing is a folk school on beautiful wooded grounds where all of the arts are taught year round. I took a two day class on free motion quilting on a home sewing machine.  It was a small class with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher.  Free motion quilting is done on a regular machine with the feed dogs down so as to allow the sewer to move the fabric freely under the needle.  It is a skill that requires a good machine, the right thread and needle, and a lot of hand-eye coordination!  We learned to quilt all sorts of designs based on 5 basic shapes, the straight line, the S, the arch, the wave, and the squiggle or meandering line.  It was hard!

I managed a decent looking squiggle but the rest of the designs were tough.  The trick is to balance the speed of the machine (ie. the foot pedal)  with the speed at which you push the quilt sandwich past the needle.  Too fast and you get teeny tiny stitches too difficult to see.  Too slow you get big, sloppy stitches.  Once you get your stitches the right size and consistent, you learn to push the fabric around with the palms of your hands in whatever direction your design is leading.  My arches ( supposed to look like rounded m’s) were never the same size or width!  The crests of my waves were too pointy or too rounded, too far apart, or too high.  No two came out the same!  I was completely exhausted and frustrated by the end of Day 1.  It didn’t help that the quilter across from, who had only been quilting less than a year, was amazing!  Her shapes were consistent and actually looked like something recognizable.

Day 2 was a little better, but I definitely needed many more hours of practice before I could actually tackle the real thing. The teacher was so supportive and we learned a lot about threads and creating our own quilt designs.  The Clearing staff served 2 excellent lunches.  I have been practicing some since then and now have all the tools that make free motion quilting easier (there’s always a new tool to buy, isn’t there?)  I am going to have a go at a baby quilt panel that I sandwiched and basted.  I’ll try to remember to take a photo to post when I finish.  You can find out more about The Clearing at www.theclearing.org They offer a lot of great classes (not just sewing classes).

After knitting Katie a dress for her July birthday only to discover that it will not fit her for several more birthdays (yikes!), I set out to knit another.  And here it is!  I did learn from my mistake concerning figuring sizing.  I’ll be taking it out to her in a few weeks.  Happy dance!

Good grief!  It is now nearly the end of April and I still have not finished the sweater vest I began January 3rd!  I wrote before about the knitting class I joined in January at Herrschners in Stevens Point, WI.  I took the class because I had requested a class that would teach me how to read a knitting chart. The pattern is the German clock vest from Cheryl Oberle’s book, Folk Vests.  I absolutely love this vest!  But it has been a nightmare for me.  I suppose I should have realized this pattern was way over my head and quit a long time ago, but…  I just couldn’t bring myself to give up.  I had to have 2 extra help sessions beyond class time.  I have to tell you that Peggy, who teaches at Herrscners is the world’s most encouraging, gracious, and PATIENT teacher.  What it amounts to is that twisting cables are my downfall - and now my enemy!  I’ve not only torn out and re-knitted them all, but Peggy re-designed the back of the sweater to eliminate the cables there.  All I had to do was complete the cables under the arms and down the front - and still I’ve had trouble! 

Well, now it is Easter and I only have to knit the bands around the armholes and neck and the buttonhole and button band down the front. With the end in sight, I have decided that I have indeed learned to read a chart, so in one respect, I have been successful!  Concerning twisting cables, I have decided that in the future I am going to leave patterns that require an above average short-term memory to anyone else but me!  When I finish this vest, I will put it on, take a picture, and post it for you to see.  In the meantime, it’s off to the knitters’ salt mine so I can knit something easy and springy.

It was a most frustrating 2 weeks in Knitwit Land.  First of all, I got terribly sick and couldn’t give any time to knitting.  I still am having fibro pain and feel wiped out, but my head is no longer stuffy.  I can rejoice that the border of my sweater is completed and I am working my way up the sweater.  There are 2 cables up the front, two more under each arm, (see photo)then 2 more up the back plus a V-shaped cable pattern up the center back.  The point of taking this  class was to learn to read pattern charts.  Holy Moses!  They’re really hard!

If you’re knitting on the right side of the work, you read the charts from right to left and the tiny gray squares are purled while the tiny white squares are knitted.  However, when you turn and work on the wrong side of the work, you read the charts from left to right and the gray squares are knit while the white squares are purled.  If that’s not confusing enough, you have to form the cable stitches with each chart.  Cable chart A is the mirror image of cable chart B and cable chart C has two cables that follow an ever widening V shape up to the neck!  Turning the cables is not so hard, but reading the symbols for each type of turning stitch is ridiculous.  The symbols are tiny and so similar and , of course, cables require that you throw a third needle into the fray!  I think I am finally getting the hang ofit, although I have to concentrate on every single stitch all the time. Whew!  Class #2 is tomorrow.  We are supposed to have gotten the sweater knitted up to the armpits by classtime.  That’s 59 rows of 212 stitches.  I am presently on row 19, which is about up to the second button from the bottom of the sweater in the picture above.  I’m doomed!

Wednesday I am leaving on a trip to visit my parents in Pittsburgh for 2 weeks.  We’ll see how much knitting I get done out there (ha ha).  Hopefully all this mental gymnastics will yield me an impressive sweater vest.  If not, I will chalk it up to Alzheimer’s prevention. Wish me luck.

I signed up for a knitting class at Herrschners, a needlecraft store about 30 miles from me.  Last month I went in and told them I wanted to learn to read knitting charts and graphs.  What class would teach me that?  They recommended the folk vest class.  The price was right and I would end up with a lovely, cabled sweater vest to fit me!  I purchased a perfect shade of blue wool and two sets of circular needles. Fortuitously, I already owned the expensive, but beautiful book containing the pattern and instructions.  The class was to meet five, alternate Monday evenings at the store beginning tonight, January 3rd.

Wouldn’t you know it had to snow, which, on top of our icy roads, slowed me down.  I arrived 15 minutes late to discover that there were only 2 of us in the class.  My absence was conspiculous to say the least.  However, Peggy, the teacher, was very laid back and patient.  It took me the whole first hour and two changes of needles just to finally knit a swatch with the proper gauge.  Then out came the charts - four different charts - to make the border and all the intricate cables on this vest.  That’s when I realized that IO had jumped into the deep end of the pool!  It’s sink or swim, and by golly I intend to swim!

By the end of the class, I had a stiff neck and my brain hurt from trying to learn when to purl and when to knit depending on if I’m on the right side or the wrong side of the work.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around the cable chart with its many teeny tiny symbols for which way the cable should turn (sometimes you move the cable needle to the back and other times to the front)  I would have given up had it not been for the encouragement of Peggy and the non-chalant confidence of my classmate, Billy.  “You’ll get it.  Sit down with no TV or interruptions and attack it slowly.  You’ll be fine.” they said as we were packing up. 

When I finally had gathered up my paraphenalia, I walked outside.  The snow was falling hard.  After scraping the car windows, I slid on home fearing to drive any faster than 40 mph.  I have two weeks to knit up to the armholes.  So, here I go, Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.  I’ll try to take photos along the way so you can see how my vest progresses (or doesn’t, as the case may be)  For you knitters who are interested, the sweater vest appears in the book Folk Vests by Cheryl Oberle (Interweave Press)  on page 15. (photos above)  Wish me luck!

During a recent visit to see my grandchildren, I noticed that the polar fleece slippers I had sewed my daughter-in-law several years ago for Christmas were falling apart.  She “loved them hard.”  So I promised to sew her a new pair.  Using her old pair as a pattern, I bought fleece and sewed her a pair on her old machine.  They were too small!  Back to the fabric store for fleece I went and sewed her a bigger pair.  I tossed the pair that were too small, but my granddaughter, Katie, fished them out of the trash.  “Look, Grandma. It’s a puppet!”  She even gave him a name - Scruffie!  I took Snuffie to the button box and sewed him a face.  With scrap yarn, I made Scruffie an attractive hair-do.  Katie was thrilled. See the photo!  I took the other slipper home with me and made a girl puppet and mailed her off to rendevoux with Scruffie.

The other photo is of my grandson, Andy, in his hand-knit froggie hat and scarf, which his Aunt Laura made him this winter.  So cute!!  If anyone would like to knit the frog hat, I can get the pattern to you.

Well, I told you I would keep you up to date on my knitting.  We were in St. Thomas V.I. for 10 days.  I took the yarn and needles along to work on a simple and adorable baby sweater for my grandson, Andy, in varigated primary-colored yarn.  It is going well except that I developed bad tendonitis in my dominant elbow.  The doctor and physical therapist are advising me to lay off any repetitive motion with that arm.  That means no knitting or typing!  I have laid down the knitting as I had to get 2 papers done and my weekly D-mail and couldn’t stop typing.  I just know I am a victim of sabotage!  The good news is that I read 4 books at the beach and have a nice tan.  I’ll show you the sweater when it’s done enough to photograph.

 

 

If you read my story about sewing and needlework a few weeks back, you will know that when it comes to knitting, I’ve had doozies upon doozies of projects.  I suppose I should have given up knitting long ago, adding it to my category of failures along with down-hill skiing, bowling, and painting.  However, for some reason, I desperately want to become a knitter!  So I just keep trying (and ripping out with tears).  The projects are labeled “easy” and they look simple enough in the pattern photos.  But do I learn?  Nope.  I buy the yarn and the needles and get sucked in.  I’m an accomplished “cast-er on-er” now and I  can do ribbing blindfolded.  But somewhere along the way after that, my own personal knitting demon attacks and the project goes awry.  Although granddaughter Katie loves the jester hat I made her (see above photo), it turned out too big.  I measured her head and knit a swatch to test the guage!  Argh!!

 However, I wish to report that after months of knitting baby socks for my 6 month old grandson, I finished a pair that actually match and look like socks!  When we were down there this past week, I presented them to his mother with great pride.  I had made them long - knee socks- because he always kicks off his socks. We slid his fat little feet into them and pulled them up over his knees.  They were adorable all knit in Scandanavian-like patterns.  In less than 2 minutes, the little stinker had KICKED THEM OFF!  Back to the drawing board.  Of course by the time I figure out how to knit socks that stay on, it will be summer and he can go barefoot.  Sigh. 

Meanwhile, I found a sweater pattern for his older sister that used bulky yarn, was knit all in one piece, and knit up so easily I was sure elves had fixed it for me while I was asleep.  I was so excited when it was nearly finished as was my granddaughter.  “Grandma will have your new sweater done before I go home,” I promised her with glee.  The last day of the visit, I sat down to finish it.  There were only 20 rows left.  I ran out of yarn!!!!  I’d been so careful to buy enough too.  I got in the car to hit every sewing and craft store in town, determined to find one more ball of this Lion Brand boucle yarn.  No dice.  I spent hours online trying to find this yarn.  I mean, it’s Lion Brand, not some obscure yarn!  To make a long story short, I took the unfinished sweater home with me, leaving a teary granddaughter.  After several days of checking - you guessed it - this beautiful, varigated Lion Brand boucle yarn is DISCONTINUED!  The knitting demon strikes again.  Now I either have to start over completely using a different yarn or finish this sweater with something that sort of matches and look foolish.  Sigh.

I refuse to go back to just knitting scarves.  I have a pattern for a simple garter stitch, sleeveless summer sweater for myself and 8 skeins of the lovliest ocean turquoise shade of yarn and I’m going to get back on the horse and go for it.  I’ll keep you posted.

I have been sewing since I was 10 years old.  My Grandma Elsie was a professional seamstress and dressmaker her whole life.  When she was 12, she began to sew for other families.  She would go to a client’s home and live there while sewing the season’s wardrobe and do the mending for members of the household.  The she would move on to the next household.  We lived in Pennsylvania and she lived in Iowa.  She was amazing!  She could take our measurements (that my mother would send her by mail)  and a few weeks later, mail back dresses or whatever for my sister and me.  They would fit perfectly!  She used the familiar old, little black Singer.  For years she also worked in the notions department at department stores.  When I was about 8 or 9, I wanted to learn to sew.  Grandma visited us once a year and we went to Iowa every other summer for visits.  Whenever I was with her, she would teach me to sew.  Regularly, she would mail me packages containing her fabric scraps and I would turn them into doll clothes.  When I was 13, I got to go spend several weeks with Grandma and Grandpa in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Grandma said it was time to teach me to sew garments for myself to wear!  She worked at Cramers Department Store during the day and my Grandpa worked nights. The first day of my visit, she took me to Cramers to choose my patterns, fabric and notions.  Every evening, she would help me get measured, read and cut out a pattern.  Then, while she was at work and Grandpa was sleeping, I would sew.  When she came home from work, there would be show and tell (and often, rip and re-do).  By the end of my visit, I knew how to manage a pattern and cutting.  I could sew a French seam, put in a zipper, make buttonholes, set in sleeves, and all the other basic things to garment sewing.  Proudly I took many garments that I had made myself!  But back at home, I ran into a problem.  There was no sewing machine at home!

Realizing how excited I was about sewing, my mother managed to borrow an old treadle sewing machine from the mother of our next door neighbor.  I learned to sew on a treadle machine, my feet pushing the treadle back and forth with a steady rhythm.  My father often would say no to a new dress from the store, but he always gave me money for fabric and pattern.  Looking back, I see that he was encouraging me to practice and hone my new and useful skill.  However, by the time I was 16, I had run out of patience with the treadle machine.  After all, even Grandma Elsie had an elecric machine to sew with!  For my 16th birthday, I received a brand new Kenmore machine, with several specialty stitches on it.  That Kenmore got me through high school, college, and well into my married years.  I even sewed my own wedding gown on it.  However, it had the most cumbersome, impossible buttonhole attachment in the world so I would have to either use snaps or zippers or borrow someones else’s machine to do buttonholes.   When my third child was born, I had had it with the Kenmore and my husband bought me a Singer Futura machine, the top of the line.  I sewed on it for years, making clothes and home dec items for my whole family.  But finally something broke on it and when I took it in for repair, they told me not only that Singer no longer made the Futura, but they no longer manufactured the parts!  It seems that the Futura was the Edsel of the Singer line.   So I junked it and moved into the computer age with the purchase of a Janome 9000 machine.  Since then I have sold the Janome and purchased a Babylock computer machine and a serger.  Now the sky’s the limit.

When the oldest of our 5 children went to college, I decided to sew for money to help out with tuition.  I began a children’s hat and dress business, which I called Fairy Stitches.  I had no trouble with designing and sewing my wares, but I discovered that I HATE marketing!  Then, all of a sudden, my father got me an order from Nordstrom’s department store and they wanted 100 hats yesterday!  Suddenly, I was buried in work.  I had to enlist the help of all my sewing friends.  Even my husband and 5 kids were put on the assembly line.  When that first order was safely in the mail, they all turned to me and said, “Either you hire an assistant or two, or you quit this, because none of us can go on like this.”  I agreed.  Besides, it hadn’t yielded the needed college tuition help I was aiming for and I hated the sales part, which was rather essential to the income part.  So with a lot of life lessons under my belt, I sold the business.  Shortly after that, I was introduced to quilting!  I was already doing a lot of cross stitching, embroidering, and a little knitting and figured that I didn’t need to get into another hobby.  However, what nobody told me was that quilting is addicting!  Which brings me to the subject of my STASH.

From all the years of garment sewing, I had accumulated a lot of fabric scraps and even bolts of fabric in my stash.  Over the years I had sewed on the kitchen table and in the basement (YUK) and was then sharing a room with my husband and his brand new computer.  My stash was threatening to bury us both.  Soon, he decided to take over our glass solarium as his office and I got the whole den to myself!  And still, the stash and tools expanded to the point of insanity.  By that time, all the children had moved out and I had my eye on a nice big bedroom upstairs as my sewing room.   We decided to swap the sewing room for the bedroom and made a nice downstairs bedroom.  I cleaned, painted wall-papered and curtained my new sewing studio.  I bought storage and sewing furniture.  The great transfer of all the “STUFF” began.  It was a perfect opportunity to glean out the best of the stuff and get rid of the rest and I did it!  I was so proud.  That was 10 years ago and do you know what has happened since then?  My stash has undergone asexual reproduction!  Oh yes!  And once again I am buried in stash.  Oh dear!

So, this week I have begun Operation Clean Out.  Everything except the furniture and shelving went into another bedroom, where I have spent hours and hours going through every bin, box, drawer, and plastic organizer, gleaning out what I can’t live without and putting the rest out in the hallway to give to some other deserving soul.  Then, before placing things back in the sewing room, I have organized and labeled things to make it easier to see what I actually have - and, in the process, adding more things that I decided I could live without.  Now the upstairs hallway is heaped, but my sewing room looks so good, it is actually inviting! A quilting friend of mine makes quilts to send to an orphanage in Brazil and said she was open to receiving any fabric I wanted to get rid of.  Look out, Rhonda!  Here it comes!  I am now ready and anxious to get going on sewing and quilting projects for Christmas.  Now, if I could just figure out what to do with my knitting stash!!!!!

I’ve returned home from an exciting weekend with thousands of fellow quilters!  I attended the 2009 Quilt Expo in Madison, WI.  My dear hubby graciously went along and even attended some workshops so that I could gather as much info as I could in the 2 days.  I had no idea there were so many quilt shops in Wisconsin!  I think nearly every county was represented plus some from Illinois.  Over 300 amazing works of quilt art were on display for the competition (not any of mine!).  I shopped till I dropped at the hundreds of vendor booths.  I learned some terrific ideas on designs for purses, learned about the Cotton Theory of making quilts by quilting each block as you go, got excited about working with wool to make beautiful wall hangings and table toppers, and fell in love with quilted landscape art.  I got to meet Nancy Zieman of Sewing With Nancy from Wisconsin Public Television.  My husband took 5 pages of notes on the best types and brands of needles and threads for a plethora of projects as well as soaking up all the latest ideas on using photo cloth and the PC printer to produce quilt blocks from favorite photographs (and he is an excellent photographer).  I photographed quite a few quilts, but we are not allowed to post those photos or I would show you!  I am ready to organize my sewing room and get to rotary cutting and stictching. As soon as I complete something, I’ll post a photo!