Doodle’s Felted Wool Afghan

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

I feel kind of bad.  Here I am, third-place winner for Best Blog About Crafting and I haven’t put up a crafting post in an age.  Sorry about that.  But rest assured I’m working hard on two major projects.  They’re just the sort of long-term ones that don’t make for exciting blogging.

Two people who are very dear to me are getting married this summer.  My eldest brother, Krystopf, ties the knot in early July, and my high school best friend, Doodle, gets hitched in mid-June.  I am making both of their wedding presents, and both of them are blankets.

Doodle and her soon-to-be husband, The Cyclist, live in Portland, Oregon, a place with weather very similar to what it is here in St. John’s.  By that I mean, windy and rainy.  So an ideal present would be one that encourages cuddling and coziness, right?  And we know from previous experience that felted wool is the coziest of them all.

When we were in Ottawa over Christmas, the Pie and I scoured the local second-hand stores to acquire as many genuine lambswool, merino, and cashmere sweaters as we could, in a specific range of colours.  Doodle and I agreed on red, white, blue, and black, as sort of a combination of Canadian and American colours (and black goes with everything).  I wanted to do something a bit different with this blanket, and have the colours sort of blend into each other, rather than have a pattern of alternating coloured squares.  So it’s going to be a bit trickier than normal.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

Here you can see our initial haul (and Gren).  This is the colour scheme I am going with.  You can see that the main colours are represented at the corners, and then they blend through the other colours in the middle.  Like a square colour wheel.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

Now, if you feel like undertaking a similar project, I just want to give you a heads-up first.  A lot of up-cycling and recycling projects are economical and a good way to save money.  This is not one of them.  A 100% wool or cashmere sweater, even second-hand, will run you between $9 and $14, depending on the quality and size, and for this project, we will be using approximately 25 sweaters.  So you can do the math there.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

I felted all the sweaters while at my parents’ house (to take advantage of the fact that they were footing the power bill), and we mailed the sweaters back to ourselves in St. John’s.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

Then I dismantled them.  I carefully cut out all the seams, so all the pieces of sweater lay flat.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

I’m saving the seams.  I think they would make good toy stuffing material.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

Here are all the sweaters, officially laid out in their colour wheel.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

The sweater in the middle will serve as my keystone, if you will, and then I’ll use the rest of it to construct some baby toys for some wee ones I get to meet this summer.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

Now I have to start cutting out the pieces.  I want to do it more as a puzzle or interlocking oblongs than as simple squares, so I’m going to have to work out some ratios so that all the pieces will fit together nicely.  I will keep you posted.

Doodle's Felted Wool Afghan - Part 1

Cardigan Cozy

Cardigan Cozy

We know that I’ve done things with cardigans, and I’ve done things with cozies.  And now for something completely different.

My mother is an artist, and she spends many long hours perched in her chair, leaning over her drafting table. That can lead to a sore back after a day of drawing, and, in the wintertime, a cold backside.

In her living room, she has a new fireplace, and so spends a lot of time cozied up to the flames.  But upstairs in the studio she has no such luck.

Now, this sweater was knitted for her by my grandmother eons ago.  It no longer fit her, so she gave it to me, because it’s beautiful.  She even switched all the buttons for me and make all the buttonholes fit properly with the new hardware.

Cardigan Cozy

Alas, I’m a little longer in the torso than my mother and so the cardigan doesn’t suit me at all.

But here’s my idea.  We all know about “magic” bags, those sacks filled with buckwheat or rice that you microwave that keep you toasty.  The Pie and I use them nearly every night in the winter, to heat up the foot of our bed.

Why not turn this cardigan into a heating pad that will fit on the back of the chair?  It will slide over the back of most, and for the ones where it doesn’t, well, you can always use the arms of the sweater to hold it in place, right?

Cardigan Cozy

So first I had to come up with the heating pad itself, because I’m not going to stick this sweater in the microwave.  This heating pad is going to be removable, something I can button inside the cardigan.

What I need is a big, flat, rectangle, which I will fill with rice.  To keep the rice from falling to the bottom when the pad is in place inside the sweater, I’m going to sew it into little pockets.  I’m basically quilting, but instead of using batting, I’m using rice.

Cardigan Cozy

To make the bag, I measured (roughly) the inside of the sweater.

Cardigan Cozy

Then I cut out a square of folded fabric.

Cardigan Cozy

It was my goal to sew ribbon loops into the four corners to serve as button holes.  I messed it up, but I also fixed it later.

Cardigan Cozy

So here I am, sewing up three sides of the folded cloth, including the fold side.

Cardigan Cozy

Turn it inside out, and sew again to create the frame for the rice.

Cardigan Cozy

Sew up towards the opening, in equal spacing.  These will be the columns for the rice.

Cardigan Cozy

I scooped 1/3 cup uncooked rice into each column.

Cardigan Cozy

Then pinned each column shut.

Cardigan Cozy

And sewed it up — to make a quilted pocket.

Cardigan Cozy

Continue that way all the way up.

Cardigan Cozy

The finished pockets.

Cardigan Cozy

Then I sealed the top, added some more loops of ribbons to attach to more buttons, and sewed that under.

Cardigan Cozy

Now, because I’d made the loops too small, I used the loops instead as an anchor for another ribbon, which I tied around the buttons, which I of course sewed into the sweater.

Cardigan Cozy

I used extra buttons along the top edge because I was concerned about the weight.  All that rice is nearly 4lb!

Cardigan Cozy

Then I sewed a velvet ribbon into each of the sleeves so that I could tie them together and they wouldn’t dangle.  I figure if this cozy ever goes onto a chair where it can’t slide over the back, you can always use the ribbons to tie the arms to the chair.

Cardigan Cozy

So here it is on a chair.  Gren is not impressed. He’s a hard one to please.

Cardigan Cozy

My mother’s studio chair is a bit more substantial, more like my office chair.  So here is how it looks from the back.

Cardigan Cozy

And the front.  Cozy, huh?

Cardigan Cozy

Let there be LIGHT!

Light BOX

Rule number one in food photography: ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHT.

You know what?  Sometimes that’s just not possible.

You know dinner/supper? Generally that is served in the evening.  And in the winter here, that means it’s dark out.

The solution to that is to use a light box, or light tent.  Many photographers use these devices when featuring a single product.  It’s a good way to get whatever it is to display without any distracting background messing up the shot.

Light BOX

It’s also a good way to diffuse the harshness of electric lighting and make your subject look a little bit more natural.

Professional light boxes or light tents, even the small ones, will run you at least a hundred bucks, easy.  And that’s without the super-bright lighting system that goes with it.  Add another minimum four hundred dollars to your total if you want to go that way.

Constructing my box cost me less than $15 and took me less than an hour.  And a homemade box will give you pretty much the same results. You do the math.

Light BOX

Here’s what you need:

A large and sturdy cardboard box.  These ones are slightly smaller than what I had originally planned, but I can always make another one when I get a bigger box.

Light BOX

Enough white cloth (muslin, linen, cotton, or fleece) to line the box.  Tape or glue for attaching things (I like me my hockey tape, as you know, and it’s designed to attach to fabric).  Double-sided tape is great if you don’t want your adhesive efforts to show.  Scissors/Box Cutter/Rotary Cutter, for cutting things.  White or coloured Bristol board, for your background.   You can also skip the board and use your cloth, but bending the board will give you a nice edge-less angle.

Light BOX

At least two, but preferably more, goose-neck or adjustable neck work lamps.  I already have two of these Tertial ones from IKEA, which cost $10 and come with a clamp base.  I plan to acquire one more to go on top of the box.  It’s important to note that these lamps support the brighter 100W (or 23W if you are using a CFL) bulbs without risk of fire.

As many bright light bulbs as you need for your lamps.  I recommend using 100W bulbs (23W in compact fluorescent terms).  I picked up these “daylight” bulbs, which produce a cooler, less yellow light than a regular incandescent, from Canadian Tire for $10.  Halogens work well in this project, because they’re freaking bright, but they also use more energy, so that’s a judgment call for you to make on your own.

Light BOX

Just make sure that the wattage on your light bulb matches the maximum wattage on the lamps you are using.  You can get cheap desk lamps from anywhere to use for the project but more often than not they will only support a 60W (13W CFL) bulb, and those in the know say that’s just not bright enough for their purposes. The lamp on the right is less bright.

Light BOX

The best part about this is you can totally half-ass the project, if you were so inclined.  You don’t even need to measure the holes you cut in the box and if you’re in a hurry, you can leave the interior of the box unlined and simply drape the fabric over the top.

Light BOX

I plan to be a bit more meticulous, however.  But only a little bit.  It’s sort of half-assed half-assery.

Now of course there are a million different DIYs for making your own light box/tent.  Most of them are by real photographers who actually know what they’re doing, but there are some by people like me.  The dabblers of the earth.  I’m going to add my own to the mix, because the world needs a bit more alidoesit flavour, don’t you think?  My three favourite ones in terms of method and supplies are down below, if you want to check them out, but the concept is always the same.  Box.  White stuff.  Light.  Done.

So you take your box.  Grenadier was extremely helpful in the construction of this light box, as the pictures show.

Light BOX

Cut off the top flaps and secure the bottom ones.  The bottom is going to be the back of the box, and the sides the floor, walls, and ceiling.

Light BOX

Cut out large holes on each of the three sides.

Light BOX

Line the box with white fabric, covering the holes completely.  Make sure that all you can see inside the box is white.  White’s a nice reflector.

Light BOX

Prop a piece of bristol board inside the box so that one end is wedged into the top corner.

Bend the board to make a curve and use a bit of tape to stick the bottom in place so it doesn’t slide out.  This will be your photographic surface.  The curve of the board means that there are no corners or edges visible in the photographs.

Light BOX

Put your lamps with their bright bulbs up to all the holes in the box (as I said, I plan to have three lamps some time soon) and turn them on.  Make sure the bulbs don’t touch the cloth.  You wouldn’t want to start a fire.  You might find it easiest to take pictures of items in your light box using a tripod, but it’s not entirely necessary to your happiness.

Tada, your very own light box!

Light BOX

Here’s some food in a shot taken, like I normally do, in my kitchen during the day.  The light is natural outdoor light through my big kitchen window at the end of the afternoon in October.  Lovely.

Light BOX

Now here is the same food in a shot taken at night, using the electric lights in my kitchen.

Light BOX

And again, in my brand new light box!  I think we can all agree there’s a difference!

Light BOX

Other Light Box/Tent Projects:

http://jyoseph.com/blog/diy-light-box-for-product-photography

http://reverb.madstatic.com/blog/2006/04/01/make-a-photo-light-box-light-tent-cheap/

http://www.digital-photography-school.com/how-to-make-a-inexpensive-light-tent

The Leaky Faucet Gets the Love

Leaky Faucet
As I’ve said before, elementary plumbing is nothing to be afraid of, and knowing your way around your bathroom fixtures can save you a lot of money and time.

When the Pie and I first moved in together, we had a massive apartment in Ottawa’s Little Italy: fifteen hundred square feet.  Three bedrooms, each with its own sink, two bathrooms, and of course the kitchen sink.  And every single faucet dripped.  Not only was this loud and annoying, but a complete waste of water.

When confronted with this conundrum, my landlord, whose grasp of English was rudimentary at best, thought hard for a minute before telling me to “just-a turrrn eet reeeel a-hard.”

Not surprisingly, this rather simplistic solution had already occurred to me.  And of course simply turning the tap “reeeeel a-hard” did nothing.

Fixing a leaky faucet is probably one of the more simple things you can do yourself, however, so I was able to fix the six sinks myself in no time.

Faucets usually leak because the washer in the faucet needs to be tightened or replaced.  In most cases, a simple tightening will do.  Each tap handle has a little cap on it, usually the thing that tells you whether the tap is HOT or COLD.  Use a putty knife or other flat object to pry these caps off.
Leaky Faucet

Underneath you will see the screw that holds the washer in place.
Leaky Faucet

If the washer needs replacing you can just unscrew it and stick a new one in, but most of the time you just need to stick the screwdriver in and tighten the screw as far as it will go.
Leaky Faucet

Replace the caps, maybe after cleaning around the hole a bit first, and there you go.  No more leaky faucet.  Five minutes of love gives you so much peace.
Leaky Faucet

And speaking of getting the love, today is our second wedding anniversary.  Love you Pie!  Seven years along and still going strong …
Photo by Mike Andreyechen

Card Key Chain

Thanks, Alidoesit readers, for a whole year of DIY posts!  Your feedback has been great!

I definitely got this idea from Martha Stewart, but it’s a good one.

I try to avoid joining memberships at stores and things, because I hate carrying cards, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself.  As a result my wallet is jam-packed with cards that I don’t necessarily use on a daily basis.  Plus, they’re tucked inside my wallet when the Pie needs them or vice versa.

Some companies are smart and they give you a wee tag to fit on your key chain.

So why not have a key chain solely for the cards you don’t use all the time?

It’s a simple matter to poke holes in all your cards with a hole punch.  I figure that the middle of the side of the card is the best place to avoid cutting through magnetic tape and bar codes and the like.

Then you can just stick them all together on your key chain of choice, ready for you to use whenever you need them, available to whoever needs them.  Hang them in your car, clipped to your purse, or in the front hall by the door — wherever is convenient for you.

Deathtrap Defeated

***EDIT: Check out this fun bookshelf organization video.  Trust me, it’s more entertaining than it sounds.***

This is my mother’s kitchen bookcase.

As you can see, anyone who chooses a book from any of these shelves runs the risk of becoming imperiled by falling books.

I sat my mother down and made her go through all her books the other day.  My style of organization is purpose-oriented.  The stuff you use, you keep somewhere in the open.  The stuff you don’t use, you either get rid of or you put it in storage.

So anything that my mother hadn’t used in the last six months went into a pile to go into the basement.  It will be her job to sort through it on her own time to decide what she wants to keep and what she can give away.

A much smaller pile of books went straight to a second-hand shop.

This stuff got recycled.

This is what remains, which I sorted by type.

Then of course I got to dust the shelf in a rare state of emptiness.

So of course what is on the top shelf are the books we use the most: Joy of Cooking, family recipe books, the usual.  Also books on baking, just because that’s what I’m doing a lot of these days.

Here we have the all-round cookbooks, ones that cover full meals and a variety of dishes.

Here is the Brazilian version of a Dutch oven, and more all-round cookbooks.

Here are the slow-cooker books and the specialty books, ones that deal with specifics, like marrow bones, pasta, or dumplings.

On the bottom we have soup books and barbecue books, as well as some binders for collected clippings.

Now remember: just because there is empty space here doesn’t mean you have to fill it!

Rectangular Chocolate Cake

This is a great cake to whip up for a potluck or casual dinner.  Baking it in a 9″ x 13″ glass casserole dish makes it easy to carry and means you can even freeze the cake if you need it later.

The fudgy icing adds the element of delectability to what is otherwise a regular cake recipe.  Cake recipe from Canadian Living, fudge icing from Chocablog.

Spray the sides of a 9″ x 13″ glass baking dish and line the bottom with parchment paper (you can use metal baking pans as well, but I prefer the even cooking of the glass) and set that aside.  Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, beat together 1 1/2 cups softened butter with 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar.  I ran out of white so I added in some brown.

Add in, one at a time, 3 eggs, followed by 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

In a separate container, mix together 3 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and the same again of baking soda.

Stir your flour mixture alternately with 2 1/4 cups buttermilk (or milk soured with lemon juice or vinegar), making three additions of the dry stuff and two of the buttermilk.

At this point I was slightly concerned because the mixture was the consistency and colour of wet cement.  I figured I might as well forge ahead in any case.

Scrape that cement into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake until tester comes out clean, about 50 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack for about ten minutes, then turn out onto the rack and peel off the paper and allow to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling you can start on your icing.

In a medium saucepan, melt 10 oz butter at low heat.

Holy crap that’s a lot of buttery goodness.

Stir in 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and raise the heat a bit before adding 10 oz icing sugar.

Gradually add in 6 tablespoons milk and allow the mixture to come to a boil.

Remove from heat when you have a glossy, smooth paste, and allow to cool completely.

Slather that goodness all over your cake.  Just give ‘er.

Then you get to eat it.  I made this for Cait and iPM and Cait informed me that she had it for breakfast.  So it’s a multipurpose cake.