Knitting Experiment: Early Attempts at Pig PJs

My current knitting experiment is not finished yet, but I want to share the ugly early stages of improv knitting. It’s easy to see a finished art project and be amazed without realizing just how many mistakes had to be made to get to the final product. I have to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them if I am going to wind up with something I like.

Some of the pieces in my pony PJs project required more than one try to get them just the right shape and size. When I wound up with a hole due to a miscalculation, I knitted a little patch to fill it and it looked fine. But I am knitting the PJs for this piggy bank I got at the thrift store in one piece. I want a smooth, finished look rather than the lumps and bumps patching might produce.

My victim
My victim

My original idea was to make a close-fitting knit suit I could embroider with flowers, in honor of a hand-painted bleach bottle pig that used to live on top of my grandmother’s refrigerator. I had some cotton yarn I wanted to use for it, but when I couldn’t find it, I decided to use some pink mohair I’ve had for years instead.

Attempt number 1: the mohair was not working.
Attempt number 1: the mohair was not working.

I quickly realized the yarn wasn’t working for me. Not only was it hard to work with, but the piece was way too loose, nothing like the form-fitting PJs I imagined. I gave up when I was only halfway done.

I decided both for look and handling, I really wanted the cotton yarn I knew I had somewhere, so I searched until I found it. I also learned from this first failed attempt that I needed to rethink the pattern. I moved the seam on the bottom from between the legs to one side of them, and focused on knitting from edge to edge on every row, even if there were holes in the middle, to improve the consistency of the overall piece.

Attempt number 2: Looks pretty cute from the front (although one of the ear holes is too small).
Attempt Number 2: Looks pretty cute from the front (although one of the ear holes is too small).
Attempt number 2: The back looks pretty decent: I managed to fit the tail well.
Attempt Number 2: The back looks pretty decent: I managed to fit the tail well.
Attempt number 2: The leg holes didn't work, and I refuse to patch them. Try again!
Attempt Number 2: The leg holes didn’t work, and I refuse to patch them. Try again!

While my second try worked much better than the first one, I still wasn’t satisfied. The leg holes came out all different sizes, and while I could patch the holes as I had done with my pony, it was going to be much more noticeable. I decided to try again.

I’ve just taken all the notes and measurements I can think of off the PJs from my second attempt, doing my best to correct the things I don’t like about my second pattern in the process. Next I will unravel these PJs and start again. I’d leave them intact for reference, but I don’t have enough yarn left to make a second suit. I have to recycle what I’ve got, but that’s one of the beauties of knitting: it’s easy to undo your mistakes and try again.

The third time may do the trick, but it may not. That’s OK with me. I love knitting, and this experimental knitting is fun, even if it isn’t guaranteed to work first try. My satisfaction when I finally get this pig dressed just so will be all the greater because of the effort it took to succeed.

The Solution to The Problem of Too Many Projects: Let Some Go

My Great Horned Owl quilt... Almost done!
My Great Horned Owl quilt… Almost done!

I promised myself studio time this year as a first step to letting myself sew more. But every time I walk into the room, I get lost. I’ve been telling myself I need to get organized (again), clean up (one more time), and then I’ll be able to get to work (at last).

But my attempts to get organized have shown me that what really needs to happen is something I hate doing: I need to let go.

I have been quilting for about 20 years, and I have plenty of quilts already under construction. I’ve decided one of my intentions for my studio time this year is “finish”. I am nearly done with the owl quilt I designed in Linda Beach’s class last March, so it’s time to choose my next project to finish. In order to make an informed decision, I started making an inventory of my works-in-progress. If you’d asked me last week, I would have guessed I had about 20.

So far, I have found 41 quilting projects ranging from blocks for a king-sized quilt to 5″x5″ exercises I made during a class. The scary thing is that I haven’t even gone through all the shelves or drawers yet. I have no idea how many more WIPs are lurking in the shadows. (I think there’s only one, which means there are probably ten or so.)

With 40+ projects to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start.

I didn’t put these projects down because I was bored. I put them down because I was stuck. In most cases, I need to make a decision. I have to make fabric choices or decide how I will set the blocks I’ve made. In a few cases, the next step is unpleasant. For example, I have seven quilts that just need to be basted (a step I hate) so I can quilt them (a step I love).

The bad news is: I can’t finish all this stuff.
The good news is: I really don’t want to. I started some of these over ten years ago. Some I still love, but I’ve lost interest in others.

So my next step isn’t cleaning the studio out or even finishing the inventory . It’s looking at what I already know about and deciding what to do with each project.

Some ideas of what I might do with my numerous WIPs:

1) Finish the quilt as planned
2) Finish the quilt according to a simpler plan
3) Donate the quilt top or blocks to a good cause (like Project Linus or my guild’s yard sale)
4) Experiment with pieces I don’t like (by cutting them up and using them in other quilts)
5) Paste smaller quilts or pieces into my art journals and use them as the base for a mixed media piece

(Note: “Get a really big garbage can” is not on this list because I’m pretty sure that throwing away anything I’ve spent a lot of time on will crush my soul.)

I am dreading making these choices. Choosing between my projects is going to be hard. I recently made myself finish a book I didn’t like because I’d paid full price for it. If I feel like I’m invested in something, I find it hard to let go.

But letting go is what this is going to be all about. Letting go of perfection, letting go of old interests, letting go of old dreams. I could try to keep everything without finishing it all, but it’s taking up more than physical space. These projects are cluttering up the creative space in my mind, space I need if I’m going to start anything new*. So I will have to discipline myself and let some things go.

Do you have WIPs cluttering up your house and mind? How do you decide what to finish and what to release into the wild?

*I know what you’re thinking. “You’ve already got 40 quilts to make! You don’t need to start anything new!” But I know myself. I need variety, or I curl up in a ball and die. How do you think I wound up with all these projects in the first place?

WIP: Maple Leaf Quilt borders

Making good progress on my Maple Leaf Quilt. I laid out some of my border blocks with the center yesterday so I could see how it’s coming. I love the tiny squares, but am afraid the new blocks pull the eye away from the center. I’m hoping when they are balanced by more blocks, it will all even out.

Maple Leaf Quilt laid out with one of the side borders

The new border is only going on the two long sides; I need to get this thing closer to square to fit the bed. I do intend to wrap everything with the little row of squares to tie it together, then to use a multi-color fabric I originally intended to use on the back for the final border.

Note: the flying geese (aka Dutchman’s puzzle) blocks are not their final size here: I gave them extra big borders to I can trim them to size when the time comes. I’m finding this project really fun at the moment. 5 blocks to go and then I’ll make the decision about whether or not to attach them. Of course, this thing is getting monstrous. With every border I add, it will be that much harder to work with…

WIP: Maple Leaf Quilt

Most of my projects tend to be big and complicated and take a lot of time. As a result, I have plenty of WIPs (works-in-progress): novels, quilts, me… 🙂 So I’ve decided to post about a bed quilt I’m making even though it isn’t finished yet, because it could be a long time before it’s done.

The center of my maple leaf quilt

Back in 2001, I was part of a quilt block exchange group in the Tompkins County Quilters Guild. We made maple leaf blocks using batik and batik-like fabrics. I came up with an unusual layout for the blocks not long after I received them, but I didn’t actually put them together until recently. I love blocks on-point (so that they look like diamonds instead of a grid), so I found a way to do that with the blocks I had. About half the leaf blocks in my quilt were made by friends. The rest were made by me.

The observant may have noticed that not all my leaves look the same. I intentionally made some wonky blocks using the techniques in Cut Loose Quilts: Stack, Slice, Switch, and Sew by Jan Mullen, and I really liked the results. To me, the odd angles make the leaves look like they’re dried and curly — like real leaves lying on the forest floor. So I mixed in my wonky leaves with the regular ones for a more interesting quilt.

My goal is to make this quilt big enough for our king-sized bed, which means it needs to be a lot bigger than it is at the moment. The final quilt needs to be about 100″ square, so I have to make the center section wider and then add a border or two. I’ve decided to make two strips of blocks to go on either side of the center panel. I couldn’t face making another leaf block (even though it’s been years since I made the last one), so I choose another pattern that goes with the outdoor, autumnal theme: flying geese. I already have a few done…

Wild goose chase blocks

My current goal is to have this quilt finished within ten years of starting it, which gives me at least one more year. Ideally, though, it’ll be done in time to go on the bed for this coming fall. I’d love to have autumn leaves scattered in the bedroom at the same time they are falling outside. But I still have a long way to go.