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Lost Projects Club: Accountability for Your Insane Crafting

March 15, 2015

My pals and I had a problem. We are crafty gals and dabble in many things. Fleur has ceramics, jewelry making, crocheting… Carly has sewing, paper craftiness, knitting… I have knitting, crocheting…

We started lamenting about our stashes of unfinished projects. The things you start with every intention of getting done as soon as possible that end up in the corner of a room or packed up in a box. You think about that project every once in a while, wishing you had just finished it when you had the chance but now you have so many more new projects to work on, you couldn’t possibly…!

We blame Pinterest.

I can’t remember if it was Carly’s idea or Fleur’s, but somebody called out with a battle cry,

“Let’s finish this stuff, dammit!”

We decided that we’d get together over tea and the only rule was that you had to work on something that has stagnated, that you haven’t touched in months (or maybe years). We called it The Lost Projects Club.

Every few weeks, we meet up and spend 3-4 hours together doing our crafty thing. The club keeps us accountable to each other to at least continue on with old projects, if not finish them (we’re not very demanding of each other).

It has helped me by forcing me to keep a list of on-going projects and noting how far into them I am. I even finished a scarf last year that I had started in 2009!

If you’re feeling scattered, like you’ve started too many new things and just don’t have time to finish the crafts you felt so inclined to start before, get a group of your friends together and start your own Lost Projects Club!

Woman crocheting

Fleur, doing some tunisian crochet wizardry. Notice the awesome abundance of snacks available in the background to keep morale up!

Woman ironing a skirt

Carly, working diligently on her skirt-making skills

Loom knitting

Fleur, working at this loom knitting!

Paints and a birdhouse

Carly’s daughter took up her own craft too… then got bored


Homemade Veggie Bao Buns

February 25, 2015

Mandy Bee:

Check out our amaze-buns! :9

Originally posted on Coffee, and the Quill:

2015-02-24 16.42.01Tuesday was a super busy day for me and I didn’t find a whole lot of time to be home. While I was out and running around, my wife decided to give this recipe a try. They’re a Jamie Oliver styled asian bun that you might find at any dim sum restaurant you go to. Typically, they’re loaded with barbecued pork and they’re absolutely fantastic. This recipe, however, calls for mushrooms and water chestnuts instead, which makes it perfect for vegetarians and vegans alike.

2015-02-24 16.44.45Mandy marinated the mushrooms and water chestnuts in hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and mirin. I managed to make it home in time to help with the dough, and we set out to make our own self-rising dough which was really simple. The whole recipe is deceptively simple for such a great dish, and surprisingly good for you with the addition of the vegetables. If you’re a fan…

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Learning to draw again

February 19, 2015

One of my goals for this year is to illustrate a children’s book that John has written.

Drawing used to be a huge passion of mine. I could spend 5-8 hours at a time drawing in high school and college.

And then I didn’t have a reason to keep drawing. I had finished school and no longer had drawing or art classes to force me into it. It’s a bit strange when you love something but you find that you need someone to tell you to keep at it.

I assumed that I’d end up needing illustration skills a bit more in my career. Someone would need an icon for their website or something, right? But no one wants to pay you to make one from scratch when they could buy a set for $10 somewhere.

My skills got stale.

When I picked up the pencil again to start drawing for this book, I was discouraged at first. I am way out of practice and I don’t really have my own style.

I started looking for inspiration on Pinterest: Follow Mandy’s board Farm Animal Illustration Inspiration on Pinterest.

As well as drawing tips: Follow Mandy’s board Illustration / Painting / Character Design / Drawing Tips on Pinterest.

And just started sketching, trying not to be too hard on myself for having completely weird-looking animals.

Sketches of farm animals

Sketching farm animals

I found that the inspiration board I made helped me play with different styles for the animals. For example, the cow on the bottom right of the collage is in a style that I would draw on my own, but the one to the left of it was inspired by other cow drawings I found on Pinterest. I’m not sure which is better, but the one on the left is definitely easier to draw in repetition.

Drawing and coloring farm animals

I attempted some colored penciling

The alpaca is definitely the hardest animal to get right. She’s the main character of the story, so I want to make sure she has a lot of her own personality.

Alpaca drawing

Alpaca face and some empty alpaca heads

Drawings of a pink alpaca

Different alpaca styles

Then I switched from pencil to Photoshop / Illustrator. I was having trouble getting a good face on the alpaca. I’d either get the eyes and nose and mouth right, but mess up adding the hair, or vice versa. So I drew a face that I liked, drew some ‘empty’ alpaca heads, then attempted to put them together. With this technique, I feel that I got a lot closer to a more finalized character than I had sketching on paper.

I’m not sure which alpaca will win. The curly hair is fun and fluffy, but I kind of like the spunk the shaggy/straight haired alpaca has.

I’m noticing that I am more comfortable in Photoshop and Illustrator than I am on paper, at least for getting a more finished look to my drawings. I can’t seem to sketch on the computer or refine very well on paper, so I guess I’ll have to merge the two. Sketch, scan, trace with the Wacom tablet.

After wearing myself out on sketching animals, I attempted human figures.

Sketches of knitting and shearing

Sketching some knitting action, some shearing, and just trying to figure out a face for the woman farmer.

Loose sketches of someone spinning yarn

Loose sketches to try and get the posture right… ain’t workin’.

At one point in the story, there is some spinning of alpaca fleece. I scoured the internet for good reference photos of women at a spinning wheel. It was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be, mostly because the photos you find are of women in giant dresses, so you can’t really tell much about their bodies.

Drawing of a woman at a spinning wheel

Some sketching, then some Photoshop coloring

I want the woman who is spinning the fleece to look relaxed. She almost does, but she also looks really stiff, so I’ll definitely need to keep working on it.

I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I need to keep sketching, refining and practicing before I think I’ll be close enough to start really laying out the illustrations for the pages of the book. I definitely have more confidence in my skills than I did two months ago. I don’t know if practice will make perfect, as they say, but it’ll definitely increase my confidence and get me to a final product.

If you’re interested, I’ve been using these awesome Photoshop brushes for the watercoloring: Kyle’s Real Watercolor for Photoshop

Adventures in Intarsia-land (Or the Difference Between Intarsia and Stranded Knitting)

February 13, 2015

I’ve done a bit more research on the color knitting techniques I should try out for my mug cozy and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to learn intarsia knitting.

Before today, intarsia and stranded knitting were all the same to me. Now I know better…

When using the stranded knitting technique, the floating yarn on the inside of my mug cozy was unruly and out of control. To try and fix this, I looked for tips on stranded knitting and found that I could secure the float every few stitches to keep the wrong side of the stranded knitting from looking like a bowl of spaghetti. In that Knitty article that I’d found a few days ago, I failed to notice the “when to use intarsia vs color stranding” section, which suggests that if you have a pattern with blocks of color that span more than 5 stitches, you’ll probably want to use intarsia. Which I do.

Today, as I started yet another Google search for more suggestions on yarn management in colored knitting, I kept seeing “intarsia” pop up. I figured I should at least see what the deal was and when I started learning how to do intarsia knitting (not just looking at end-results), I realized that although intarsia may not make knitting my mug cozy easier, it will probably make a better end product.

Differences Between Intarsia and Stranded Color Knitting

  1. The presence (stranded) and absence (intarsia) of floating yarn behind the work. This is a big deal for my mug cozy, which would be a huge pain in the butt to get onto a mug due to the floats inside the cozy.
  2. If you’re not switching back and forth between colors every few stitches, you’re going to waste yarn with stranded knitting. Intarsia is good for big blocks of color and vertical stripes because the yarn is carried a short distance  up to the next row behind the work.
  3. Setting up for intarsia looks like a lot of fun (not). For every color change or block of color in a pattern, you will want to create a mini ball of yarn that hangs behind your work. With stranded color knitting, you would typically knit from the same ball of yarn the entire time for all colors.
  4. Each color block in intarsia knitting will need to be weaved in when you’re done. Unless you’re not using a color for a long while, you probably won’t have much to weave in as a result of stranded knitting.

References and Helpful Tips for Beginning Intarsia Knitting

  1. The Woolly Brew has a very beginner’s guide in 10 tips for intarsia knitting. I loved this article because it gave me a fairly good overview of how to get started. It also made me dread making all of those little bobbins…
  2. For a visual guide, a video from KnittingHelp on intarsia. A comment on their site also alluded to the difficult nature of intarsia knitting in the round (which is how I’m knitting my mug cozy).
  3. A video on intarsia knitting in the round from Planet Purl, which shows that to do intarsia in the round, you’ll need to purl every other row (eeewwwww). I suppose that’s better than not being able to put the mug cozy on a mug.
  4. Introduction to intarsia from Twist Collective. The author gives some tips at the bottom of the article, such as adding in detail once the knitting is complete using embroidery or duplicate stitch.

After learning these things, I’m still a bit hesitant to use intarsia for my mug cozy. There are some sections of my pattern that seem like they will be obnoxious to set up and the thought of purling even though I’m knitting in the round is not appealing. But the amount of yarn I would waste in using stranded knitting for this, especially in the sheep section, makes the annoyance of intarsia seem pretty worth it.

I will keep you posted on how this intarsia adventure goes! If you have any tips, let me know!

A cute color chart: Tiny 8-Bit Sheep!

February 11, 2015
76x42 mosaic design

How peaceful… sheep in an 8-bit field

Just a quick update on my knitting pattern design adventure. Worked on this in Photoshop (I guess I gave up on hand-drawing) based on the test knit I was working on. This chart is 76 columns by 42 rows.

The color changes are still very spaced apart, so I will need to learn how to secure the floating yarn behind my work every few stitches. I’d rather figure out the techniques of knitting this rather than force my design into being more knit-friendly.

I’m excited to see how this looks in yarn. We’ll see how it goes…!

Designing a knitting pattern: The learning curve

February 9, 2015

As I had written a few weeks ago, I have started working on my first knitting chart / pattern. My hope is to be able to design a simple, knitted travel mug cozy featuring a few sheep grazing on a hill.

My test knitting has been slow because I’m using fingering weight yarn and I have been picking it up and putting it down quite a lot. I have also started over twice, of course (it’s very rare that I can get my knit right on the first try).

Even though I’ve only gotten past knitting up a few clouds, I’ve learned a few things so far that may change the way I knit this and what the final pattern becomes.

1. I probably shouldn’t wing the design as I go. Like I had mentioned in my previous post, my gauge using the fingering weight yarn for this mug cozy is much different than the gauge I had used for my initial design (based off of worsted weight yarn used on previously created mug cozies). Instead of counting my stitches and altering my color chart, I started winging it.

It seemed easy at first but now that I’ve finished a few clouds, I don’t like the way they look (not fluffy and round enough). If the clouds didn’t turn out well when winging it, I doubt the sheep or hills will.

Using a fingering weight sock yarn, I’ve gotten about 3 inches knitted. Like I said, gauge is important, even for a mug cozy. Travel mug cozies should probably only be 4 inches tall. So now that I’ve only got clouds, there’s definitely no room for sheep. I need to go back to the drawing board.

An example of puckered knitting caused by tight floating yarn

Floats are too tight in some places, causing puckering on the knitting around the cloud edges

2. I need more experience and practice in colorwork knitting. As I started making color changes that were 2 inches apart, I noticed I had a lot of yarn being carried around the inside of the mug cozy. It is a huge mess and I’m pretty sure it would be quite difficult to put this cozy onto a mug without having to push, shove and coddle the yarn on the inside into place. It’s not practical and not even worth continuing if I can’t fix this mess.

Too much floating going on in this knitted cozy

Too much floating going on in this knitted cozy, it’s a huge mess in there!

I’ve also learned that keeping your floats (the colors not being used at the time that are brought along the back of the knitting) on double pointed needles is difficult when the color break spans two needles. This article from Knitty has some good tips on how to weave in your yarn along the back if you have longer stretches of color. This is something I will definitely need to practice.

Knitted Cloud

Seed stitched cloud, with one row mucked up near the top (woops!)

3. Colorwork doesn’t need to be in all stockinette stitch. I had a few rows of clouds on my needles before I realized that some seed stitch would make for a really fluffy-looking cloud. Knit 1, purl 1, then knit the purls and purl the knits on the next row.

You can see from the picture that I mucked up one row, but since I need to start over again anyway, I guess that’s okay! I love how fluffy and textured the clouds are just by adding the seed stitch.

I was excited to be able to design in more than just a color change. I have made one hat in the past without a pattern but other than that I stick to patterns because I haven’t had much confidence in the past that I knew what I was doing enough to go out on my own.

I hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of this adventure. I’m hoping I can finish a new chart this afternoon and re-start my test knit again tonight or tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Volunteering: Giving a bit of myself

January 26, 2015

Confession #1: Unfortunately, I used to view volunteering as the giving up of free time. Not wanting to give up my free time, I did not volunteer in the last 10 years while I had a full-time job. Yep. It’s out there; my shame is known.

We’re in a bit of a lull as far as traveling goes and though I’m filling my time with blogging, illustrating and knitting, I wanted to make sure I was contributing to the happiness and compassion of the world. I know I sound like a head-in-the-clouds hippy but that’s what I want to do with my life. I knew I needed to start volunteering.

Confession #2: I am an introvert. One of my worries about volunteering was that there would be a lot of talking and social interaction with a lot of strangers which generally just wears me out. I was thinking of situations like serving dinner at a soup kitchen or what John does: talking to hospice patients and family all day.

After spending five minutes on the VolunteerMatch website, I realized that not all volunteer opportunities are front-line, social situations. So I started scouring Hands On Orlando and VolunteerMatch for volunteer opportunities having to do with the environment and animals and have started filling up my calendar.

I spent this weekend volunteering and now I really wish that I would have seen volunteering as an activity worthy of my free time rather than as something that was taking it away. I realize now that if I had found volunteering opportunities that aligned with my values, it would not have felt like I was losing my free time.

Air Potato Raid

John and I volunteered at an air potato raid this past Saturday at Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte, Florida. Not only was it fun but we helped remove one of the many invasive plant species in the area.

According to the park ranger, 1/3 of the plants we see in Florida are not actually native to Florida. Some of the non-native plants don’t do much harm but others, like the air potato, choke out other plants and grow out of control.

Man with a bag of air potatoes hiding behind a saw palmetto

John tromping through Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte Springs, removing air potatoes!


125 lbs of air potatoes

There were about 15 volunteers and we collected what seemed like a lot of air potatoes. The ranger told us that when they first started doing the air potato raids years ago, they would have about a 100 volunteers and would collect 2000 lbs of air potatoes. Because of the regularity of the raids and the introduction of the lily beetle that eats air potatoes, the amount of potatoes found has been reduced dramatically.

We learned something new and got to run around in the forest searching for and picking air potatoes. I’m not sure why, but I felt like volunteering was going to feel like a chore. I guess you just have to find the right thing.

CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm

On Sunday, John, Jessy (my sister), Mike (her boyfriend) and I went to CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm to volunteer our time.

I didn’t find CJ Acres through VolunteerMatch or Hands On Orlando, but through Facebook… while searching for random farms to follow on Facebook. (I know, I’m a dork, but I’m seriously interested in the goings-on of fiber farms — sheep, alpacas, etc….) I liked them on Facebook because I liked what they were doing for animals and this past week they posted a volunteer opportunity.

Jessy with George the horse

Jessy and George the horse

I didn’t realize that CJ Acres was 2.5 hours away from us before I signed us all up to volunteer there but I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand because it probably would have stopped us from a very fun and rewarding day.

Weirdo taking a selfie with a sheep

Me, ridiculously trying to take a selfie with Moses, the sheep

CJ Acres is a non-profit, volunteer-run farm that takes in abused and abandoned farm animals and rehabilitates them to be adopted to a new home. We spent our day with a bunch of new volunteers and permanent volunteers, as well as a co-founder of the farm, Lee. Lee has been rescuing farm animals for the past 30 years while working his day job in advertising.


Moses pretended to like me but he really just wanted more crackers.

The farm is just a happy, fun place full of animals being animals.

For three hours, we put hay in pig’s shelters for beds, shoveled horse poop (not as awful as I expected), cleaned out water troughs, and socialized with the animals to help them become more desirable for adoption.

Petting a turkey

Mike and Summer petting Thomas the turkey – he made the cutest little noises and flirted with everyone

It was really rewarding helping out the animals who had, for one reason or another, been abandoned or mistreated. And it didn’t feel like work.

We’ll definitely be putting in more volunteer hours here.

On CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm!

On CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm!

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

I am a bird lover and watcher. We put out food for the birds in our backyard and I let ugly bird-feeding bushes grow up around my backyard to give the birds extra food and shelter. I’ve been an Audubon Society donor for the past 10 years to help them succeed in their mission to make the world a better place for birds. I posted about the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey two years ago during my design challenge because I love what they do and it’s really cool to get up close and personal with the birds.

To continue on my quest of becoming the ultimate bird lover, I’ll be starting regular volunteer hours at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. The center rehabilitates raptors (owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, and vultures) for release back into the wild or keeps them safe if they can’t be released. I’ll be feeding raptors on Tuesdays and cleaning out aviaries on Fridays!

I hope this post inspires you to look for volunteer opportunities that you can do in your free time that you’ll love doing. Use VolunteerMatch to find nearby opportunities or just start with organizations that you already donate to.


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