Friday, December 27, 2013

FO Friday: Christmas Crafting Edition

Merry Christmas! I hope you all had a great holiday. It's been so nice to relax and get to spend time with family, at home (since my husband and I both work full time, a day to just "be home" is a rare treat), and take a step back to appreciate how blessed we really are. We are quite fortunate to have absolutely 0% stress with our family plans for Christmas, as we do the same thing every year: Christmas Eve with my in-laws, and Christmas Day with my family. It was great.

Now that all of the gift-giving is done, I can finally reveal what I've been working on lately! I took a much smaller-scale approach this year - last year I knit or sewed every single present. A little crazy, a lot of fun, but not something I wanted to do again. So this year I decided that every family member who had not been knit for yet needed a knitted gift.

I ended up doing a few jewelry projects along the way, too. Compared to the other crafts I do, jewelry making always feels so fast to me. I forget how enjoyable it is! So that this doesn't turn into a ridiculously long post, I'll share the jewelry projects today and the knitting projects in a later post.

Nest Earrings

I stumbled upon this idea on Pinterest. There are a ton of tutorials out there, but the basic idea is very simple: string a few beads onto your wire, twist to secure, and then just start wrapping the spool end of the wire around the beads until you've achieved the desired effect. I used very thin copper wire (26 gauge, I think), and since it was so thin I decided to secure it in three places with small wraps. Here's a nice photo tutorial if you'd like to make your own.


These earrings were spawned by a totally random idea: "I wonder if I could freehand some wire pieces to look like birds?" I have no idea why that popped into my head. I started by drawing a very simple bird shape, trying to eliminate as many details as possible to make an outline that was still recognizable as a bird. Getting the wire to cooperate was much more difficult than I thought, but I eventually got it down. I used round-nose pliers for the curved bits, and a small pair of needle-nose pliers for the hard angles in the tail and beak. A few tips: 1) DO NOT use your desired end-product wire when practicing, and 2) it's easier if you turn the template upside down. For some reason my brain was able to better interpret the angles and curves when I stopped trying to make a wire bird, and instead tried to bend the wire to look like the picture (which did not look like a bird when upside-down). If anyone is interested in a step-by-step tutorial, I could put something together. Let me know!

Tree of Life Necklace

Another winner from Pinterest! I had never seen these before, but found oodles of them when browsing the "jewelry DIY" section of Pinterest. Seriously, there are some great projects on there. I looked at several tutorials and came up with a mashup of techniques, but this tutorial is very similar. I didn't have any wire thick enough for the circle, so I used two strands twisted together to form the ring. I like the extra bit of twistyness. This was a very gratifying project. It looks complicated, but with a bit of work I think even a beginner could do just fine. 

'Til Next Time...

I'll post the gift knitting in a few days, but for now I'll leave you with a couple shots of an instant-gratification knit I started AND completed yesterday. Super-bulky yarns for the win! Full details on Ravelry here. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

WAYM Wednesday Guest Post: Metalworking with TheActualDaleFishman!

Welcome to another What Are You Making Wednesday! This week, I have a special guest post for you: my little-brother-in-law TheActualDaleFishman will be sharing how to make your very own Batman Begins Batarang. Don't know what a Batarang is? (I didn't either.) It's similar to a throwing star, but shaped like the Batman symbol.

Like this:

In other news, my Secret Christmas Crafting is complete - plenty of time to spare. Now I get to plug away at my new sweater that I haven't shown you yet - next week, maybe. I might do a very quick/short post around Christmas, as I'm sure I'll be knitting away all through the holidays.

With that, take it away, Fishman!

Hi everyone! @Theactualdalefishman here and I am here to show you what I made for "What are you making Wensday"!

This will be a tutorial for my homemade Batman begins Batarang.

There are many interpretations of the famous "Batarang", Batman's most handy and well-known gadget, Such as Batman's fold-up version in Arkham city, or the classic-Batman Batarangs from the comics!
But I have made the famous Batarang from Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins".

I am a big nerd about Christopher Nolan's Dark knight series, and decided that I wanted to have my own little bit of Batman at home, and today I am going to show you how I made it!

*WARNING: The sheet metal and the tools used for this project can be sharp and can easily hurt or injure yourself with them! Please use gloves for this and be careful while making this.*


First off I started with a simple Google image search and found a great template for the Batarang.

You can view it here:

When I printed it out, the paper turned out to be just a little smaller than the actual measurements, but I prefer it like that.

Next I carefully cut out the paper Batarang and taped (glue will work allot better) it onto a piece of very thin cardboard. And then I cut out the shape of the Batarang with an Xacto knife.

*I would show you a picture of the cardboard template, but it got destroyed in the process of making the finished product.*


For the actual metal part I used scrap-steel sheet metal for it (The thickness of the metal is up to you depending on what you want the weight to be).

Next I glued the template to the metal trying to save as much extra-metal as I could for future projects, and waited for it to dry. (Elmer's glue will work fine for this.)

Once the glue was dry, I then began to cut a square as close as possible to the template with a tool called a Beverly sheer, a tool with a lever that is made for cutting metal and other things. But as long as you can cut the metal, it doesn't matter what you use to cut it.

Once we have a smaller object to work with, we can begin the more detailed cutting.


Now is the more slower-moving process. I had my dad teach me how to use a jeweler's saw to help with making it and I think the best results you can get with a Batarang is with that.

I will not explain exactly how to use a jeweler's saw since there are probably plenty of instructions online on how to use one. A clamp that can hold the piece of metal flat and off the edge of a table is recommended to use to cut it. Remember to slowly cut and take your time with a jeweler's saw... Or else you will break the blade. (Thank goodness for cheap-priced blades!)

The pointy-ness of the ears will not matter when you cut them out, for it will be filed down later.

The outcome of it should look like this:


The next step is to use a file (preferably a rounded one) and start filing down all of the curved sides and in-between the ears (And sharpen the ears all you want now.

And the last step is using a belt grinder to grind down all of the shapes of the extra details into the Batarang ( I had my dad help me with that), and to grind down the faces to make them shinny and clean.
And as for Sharpness, I prefer to have mine sharp, but that is your decision to make.

A belt grinder can be a very dangerous machine if not used with much caution... It may not look very dangerous, but it can cause serious injuries. Be very careful while using it!


And after all of that you are done! And if you are keen on making another one, than you can just trace this one onto more sheet metal instead of having to glue a cardboard template on it, and follow the same steps again!

This is throwable and if the edges are sharpened it will stick into wood and (if you are not using thin metal) not bend or warp.

I hope you enjoyed my tutorial!
Special thanks to Amanda for letting me guest on her blog!

Have fun!


Hope you enjoyed that! I am super excited to have my very first guest poster. I feel like a real blogger now.

So, what are you making? If you'd like to be featured for a guest post, let me know - I'd love to use this blog as a place to share others' work as well as my own. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Recipe: Fried Black Beans

Hello again! 

Two posts in two days; craziness. Yesterday I promised you a recipe, and here it is. This is very simple and is loosely based on this Simple Recipes entry. Refried beans are very difficult to photograph - they're not a very pretty food item. However, I can assure you that these taste delicious. If I were doing it over again, I would chop my onions much smaller than what you see in the pictures. You'll have a smoother texture that way. Enjoy!

A note on the title: "refried" beans are really only fried once, ever; they're not really "re-fried". So I've titled this without the "re-".

Fried Black Beans 

  • 1 large can black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 scant tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 tsp oregano 
  • 1.5 T lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Place the oil, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon in a skillet and heat until the spices start bubbling. Add the onion and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes, then add the garlic and stir for a minute before adding the black beans. Fry for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The beans will start to split and break apart. Mash with the back of your stirring utensil, or break out the potato masher, until the beans are a consistency you like. Add water if it looks too dry (I added maybe 1/4 cup). Remove the beans from the pan and add the lime juice, oregano, and salt.

NB: Fresh herbs could be used in place of the oregano. Cilantro or parsley would be natural fits, and I'm sure other herbs could be used as well. Experiment and make it your own!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

WAYM Wednesday: Makin' a List

This week I've been mostly working on secret Christmas stuff, and I already taunted you with a post of sneaky closeups and blurry images, so this week I thought I'd make a list of creative and/or Christmas related things as a countdown to Christmas itself. Only two weeks left, can you believe it? Without further ado, here is my countdown to Christmas.

Christmas Countdown

  • present that still needs to be knit. Time to get on that.
  • days until my work's holiday party.
  • stockings hung on my fireplace - Andrew has 2.
  • days until my little sister, who isn't so little anymore, turns 18.
  • years it took me to come around to actually enjoying colored lights on Christmas trees. "Hate" is much too strong a word, but I used to really dislike them. Andrew has always loved them, so we had been taking turns switching between them. Finally, this year, I suddenly like them. Andrew is so happy. (Side note: this means this will be our FOURTH Christmas together as a married couple. Time flies!)
  • letters in the word PEACE and candles on my mantle.

  • hours left in the day as I write this.
  • logs of wood in our firewood holder.
  • feet tall is my Christmas tree. When people say "trees always look smaller when you're outside" they are not lying, and you should maybe listen to them. It fits though (barely) so it's all good!

  • candles that I can see from where I sit. Winter = more candles please.
  • ingredients in the fried black beans I made to go with dinner tonight. I'll post the recipe tomorrow.
  • porcelain figures in the Nativity scene in my living room. My mom used to put this out each year, for almost as long as I can remember. I've been searching for a version of my own, but this year she said I could take it home and put it up myself. (Thanks, Mom!)

  • skeins of yarn that arrived from KnitPicks last week, tempting me to jump right back into knitting for ME instead of finishing up making presents.
  • days until Christmas Eve, when family festivities begin.
  • days until Christmas.

What are you making? 

Are you counting down the days until Christmas? Making any Christmas gifts or decorations this year? If you have any quick, simple decor ideas I'd love to hear them. Come chat!

Friday, December 6, 2013

F.O. Friday: Oshima

Remember this sweater I was raving about a few weeks ago?

Well, mine is done! I've been wearing it almost non-stop since I finished it. It's incredibly warm and cosy; exactly what I was looking for.

My Oshima

My sister got these pictures for me on Thanksgiving day. Pardon the slightly odd facial expressions - it was really cold outside and I was trying not to look incredibly goofy (which is how I usually look in photos). I'm not really used to people intentionally taking pictures of me. Anywhoo, here's the sweater!

Pattern Review

Ravelry link: Oak Moss
Size: 38", resulting in 2" of ease
Yarn: Oasis Yarn Aussie Worsted

This was my first time working with a BrooklynTweed or Jared Flood pattern (Oshima is both). For the most part I was pleased with it. The pattern is quite long (12 pages), as there are many techniques explained in a sort of appendix in the back. Five needle sizes are called for, so it is imperative (isn't it always?) to do a proper gauge swatch and block it like you would the finished sweater. I was able to get away with mostly using 2 sizes: a US 3 for the ribbing and brioche and a US 5 for the main stockinette body and sleeves. I did graduate sizes a bit more for the cowl, as called for. 

The top half of the sweater is worked in brioche stitch, and the pattern gives top-notch instructions for working it in the round, flat, and with fully-shaped increases and decreases. The result is stunning, and produces a very 'knitterly' sweater. Non-knitters seem to appreciate it, too - Oshima fits right on the line between being fun to knit (and show off to other knitters), and producing an accessible, wearable garment that doesn't scream "I KNIT THIS!" It's the difference between the knowing nod and smile that comes with the "Oh, did you knit that?" kind of remark, and the astounded "wait, you actually KNIT that??" after someone compliments your outfit. 

Oshima is made with an interesting construction method. The body is worked circularly from the bottom-up until the underarms, where the front and back are divided. The shoulders are seamed along what looks like a raglan line on your back, so the fronts of the sweater as worked flat are much longer than the back, and wrap over the top of your shoulders when the sweater is worn. Sleeves are then set in and the cowl is picked up and worked circularly. 

This is where I had my one and only issue with the pattern. A detailed schematic is included, which shows every measurement on each of the flat pieces. It's very informative! However, no assembly diagram is given for how the shoulder seams should go, or how to line up the sleeves to set them in. Unlike typical set-in-sleeve patterns, the sleeve cap is very angular and definitely contributes to the lines of the garment. I tried to use the closeup shot from the lookbook to position the shoulders:

In the end I'm not completely sure that I got it right, but I'm not sure what I would change or how to get mine to look more like the picture. 

You'll notice that my sleeves look much shorter than those in the lookbook photos. That's because I have monkey arms (it's true; we've measured and my arm-span is larger than my height) and I decided to go with the sleeve length specified in the pattern with no alterations. Usually when I'm running around going about my day my sleeves get in the way, so they're pushed up a bit anyway. With the doubled-over cuff, since I didn't tack it down, I can always unfold the cuff if I want to cover my wrists. 


As noted by several of the other knitters who have made this pattern already, the brioche line is a bit odd, as specified - it bisects the torso right in the center of the bust.

While the model manages to pull it off, I didn't think it was a good place for a horizontal line to be. A couple other knitters decided to move the line down, so it hits just under the bust. That looks too much like a babydoll silhouette (which I know from experience is a bad choice for my figure), so I chose to go the other way and move the line up by an inch or so. I like how it turned out.


I used Oasis Yarn's Aussie Worsted, rather than two strands of fingering held double. Price-wise it made more sense for me to use a single strand of worsted. Aussie Worsted is a slightly plumper worsted weight than is typical - it comes in a put-up of 200yds over 100g. In the skein it isn't rough, but feels like your standard untreated 'real' wool. However, after a bath in hot water, it blooms and softens into an incredible fabric. It also comes in a vast array of 54 sophisticated colors. I would definitely use it again. 

Overall I'm very pleased with how this turned out! I don't normally go for sweaters with positive ease. This sweater has definitely changed my mind on that. It's comfortable, easy to layer, warm, and it actually works with a lot of my wardrobe.

The End

Happy Friday, everybody! I hope you have some nice weekend plans lined up (or not, if a relaxing do-nothing weekend is in order). Tonight I'm off to watch Christmas movies with family and friends. You can bet I'll be knitting away the whole time, and of course I'll be wearing my sweater :-)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

WAYM Wednesday: Spinning Progress and a Primer

Hello again! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, and maybe even participated in the #CraftFriday movement. I stayed off of social media for much of the holiday, but you can be sure I was crafting for most of it regardless :-). Here's what I've been making lately:

This is natural, undyed 100% Merino wool that I purchased at Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival this year. I'm spinning it up on a hand-made drop spindle that my father-in-law built for me. My plan, which so far seems to be working, is to produce a 2-ply fingering weight yarn. I'm working with 4 oz, so, going by standard yardage amounts, in the end I should end up with between 300-500 yards of finished product. I'm managing to produce a single that is fairly consistent and very close to lace-weight, so this may all work out as planned.

At Thanksgiving, my father took a video of me spinning away. (And check it out, I'm wearing my finished Oshima sweater! I hope to write an FO and pattern review post for this Friday, once I get pictures back from my sister.)

The video prompted a comment from a family friend, who asked if I could give a few more details on the spinning process so she could share it with her students.

I am by no means an expert at any of this, but I can hopefully provide some good background information for anyone looking to either get started with handspinning, or just to understand how fibers are processed into cloth. Let's get started!


There are many steps taken between the time a sheep is shorn and when a hand-spinner might pick up some wool to spin. Skirting is likely done first. This is the process of removing the shorter, coarser, undesirable portions of the fleece, which are usually around the edges. Doing so ensures that the final processed wool will be even, which is better for consistent spinning (scroll down for a discussion of staple length). Cleaning the fleece involves removing vegetable matter (sometimes referred to in the spinning community as VM) and dirt, which can be done by picking over and/or shaking out the fleece. Washing or scouring is done next to further clean the fleece and remove some of the naturally-occurring sheep oils (lanolin) from the fiber. 

Once that is done, you might end up with something like this:

While you technically could spin directly from this, producing a lock-spun yarn, it would be very labor-intensive and might not be very consistent. (But if you're interested, check out this Knitty article about lock-spinning.) Instead, the fleece usually goes through a combing or carding process to align the fibers and produce wool that is easier and faster to spin.

In the olden days, wool was carded by hand:

On an industrial scale, modern carding looks something like this:

Wikipedia has a good article on carding that I recommend reading if you're interested in learning more. Smaller, portable drum carders are also available for home use, but they carry a not-insignificant price tag (around $500 at the lowest end). For these reasons, most hand-spinners tend to start with wool that has been already cleaned, carded, and packaged for spinning.

Here's where I start:

Carded fiber may be sold as roving, top, batts, rolags, and many other preparations. Spinning Daily has a nice handout that explains each variety. The preparation you choose determines the kind of yarn you can spin from it. The dividing line most often used is whether you spin worsted or woolen. Classic spinning literature defines the difference this way: in worsted spinning, fibers are well-aligned and parallel to the final product, creating a dense single. In woolen spinning, fibers are mis-aligned and spun perpendicular to the final product, which traps air and creates a fuzzy, lofty single. There is some controversy over this but I won't get into that here. Links: Knitty article on worsted spinning, Knitty article on woolen spinning.

So far, I have only spun worsted-style from combed top. Here's a look at the wool that I'm currently working with. (This is the other half of what will become my 2-ply.)

The top was about 5" wide straight out of the package. I like to split the top into thinner sections before starting. In this form, the fibers are all aligned parallel to each other in a long, continuous, overlapping mass. It can be easily separated by pulling apart two sides of the top, as shown below. It's a bit like playing with cotton candy.

For this fiber, I knew I wanted to make a 2-ply (I'll explain plying below) using 4 ounces (out of the 8 I had purchased). To do so, I broke the top in half lengthwise and then in half again. I split each half into thirds before proceeding to spin.

One last thing to mention here is staple length. This refers to the average length of the individual fibers that make up the top. To measure this, grab one end of the top, and with the other hand begin pulling the opposite side. Keep sliding your hands further apart until a tuft of wool separates out from the top. 

The process of spinning involves drafting or drawing out a thinner portion of fiber from a wide section, by pulling in the same direction as the fibers. The fibers slide along one another until the desired diameter is achieved and you stop pulling. Staple length determines how your drafting experience will go. Shorter staple length fibers are more difficult to spin, so in general longer is better for starting out. This wool has about a 5" staple length, which is great for a beginner spinner like me. 

Do you feel overloaded with information yet? I sure did when I started my getting into all of this. As you can see, a lot goes on before we even get to the actual spinning process. 

One more thought, and then I'll leave the rest for another post.

Yarn Construction: Ply and Twist

Take a look at any commercial yarn, rope, or string, and you'll see that it is composed of 2 or more smaller strands twisted together. This is called plying, and it is done to increase the strength of the finished product. The degree of twist in the yarn also affects strength. A loosely spun (low-twist) single-ply yarn will be very soft, but it will break and pill easily. A tightly spun (high-twist) multi-ply yarn feels harder, but is much more durable. Note that neither of these is necessarily better when we are talking about garment construction - it all depends on what the yarn will be used for in the end. Clara Parkes had a great article in the Fall 2013 edition of knit.wear that shows how knitting the same yarn differently can  yield stronger or softer results. 

What does this mean for handspinners? When beginning a new spinning project, if you want to control your end product, you must decide on 1) the desired diameter of your finished yarn and 2) the desired number of plies (and potentially the plying method to use), in order to determine what size single you need to spin. 

Final Thoughts

In a future post, I'll describe my drop spindle, how to build your own if you'd like (it was less than $5), and how the actual spinning and plying work.

In the meanwhile, take a look around your home at all the textiles surrounding you and clothing you.

Just think: in the past, every single strand had to be spun by hand. Not even counting the effort to knit or weave it all together, it's an enormous amount of work to fathom. To me, it brings a whole new appreciation to the mechanization that was brought on by the industrial revolution and refined into the manufacturing plants we have today. Some may think it silly to indulge in a hobby that ignores all of that progress and goes back to the ways of early civilization. But the truth is, it is AMAZING that we can even think of this as a hobby or meaningless past-time now. I think it is incredibly important to hold on to these kinds of foundational (in the civilization-building sense) skills. 

Plus, in the end it is a whole lot of fun. And you'll never look at a sheep the same way again.

What are You Making? 

Come chat!