Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Lorikeet



Here's another bird that reminds me of Singapore. 


This is a Rainbow Lorikeet, which is native to Australia but also lives in its  neighboring countries. In Singapore's Bird Park, there is a large enclosure in which you can interact with and feed lorikeets and lories (slightly larger, with shorter tails). The girls have done this a couple of times on our visits to Singapore.


Anyway, I was visiting on the phone with my brother in Australia some time ago and we got to the topic of native critters that run amok and sometimes are pests. We have raccoons and coyotes and squirrels, among other things, I told him. Where I live, we have lorikeets and ibises, he replied (the lorikeets, as I understand the situation, aren't anywhere as nasty as the ibises, plus they're gorgeous). While I didn't feel inspired to make an ibis, I did think it could be fun to  make a lorikeet - if nothing else, to see how many colors of fleece and felt I could combine in a single project.


And they are fantastically colorful! 



Now all flying birds are aerodynamic in their own way, but when I think of parakeets and lorikeets with their long tails, I visualize them as especially streamlined compared to the smaller, chunkier birds I see in my backyard, like finches and chickadees. To better represent the more streamlined profile of this lorikeet, I laid out and cut the fabric pieces with the stretch in the head-to-tail direction rather than wing-to-wing. I mentioned this orientation in this hummingbird post.


Getting all the colors together was simply a matter of layering one over another.


I counted 13 colors! I had a absolute blast sewing this.






Friday, July 16, 2021

Merbah Jambul



Um, I've been making more birds. In spite of my resolve to stop so that, if nothing else, I might move on to other projects. It's hard sometimes to declare something finished, especially when it's open-ended and you feel as if you've just scratched the surface with its potential. I have no self-control in the face of this kind of temptation, but help arrived in the form of a bathroom remodel in late June. This bathroom opens into my sewing room, so in preparation for the dust, debris and disorder, I plasticked-and-taped my sewing closets shut and cordoned off my entire sewing room with tarps. Which meant that for the last four weeks, I haven't been able to access my fabric and notions stash. This sounds somewhat masochistic, while also dubious in that I can easily go to the fabric store and buy new fabric if I wimped out, but hey, I had to try. My sewing machine itself is exempt from the lockdown so I can deal with mending and alterations and other utility sewing emergencies (I forgot to also liberate my thread box so these mends have sadly all been with white thread regardless of fabric color - not pretty at all), but I'm happy to say that this arrangement is working so far. Sometimes we need serious, drastic intervention when we're out of control, was my reasoning. 

Before the Great Sewing Room Quarantine, though, I made three more birds - a last hurrah, as it were. This first one is a red-whiskered bulbul

Photo credit: https://ebird.org/species/rewbul


These bulbuls are found in Asia and in even some of the warmer parts of the US like Hawaii and Florida. They're sometimes kept as pets and trained as songbirds for competitions. Growing up in Singapore, I knew them by their local Malay name merbah jambul ("jambul" means crest, and "merbah" is the name for bulbul. I've also heard them called merbok jambul although I haven't been able to find what "merbok" means). 


We kept one of these birds as pets during my childhood. I have vague memories of my dad building a cage with bamboo skewers and my brother and me putting chunks of papaya and little cups of water in it, whistling to the bird and hearing it singing its sweet song back. I also remember that it was injured at some point - we always suspected it might have been attacked in its cage by a larger bird - and after it had recovered, Dad released it so that it would no longer be vulnerable to predators. We thought we might have seen (and heard) it singing in the nearby trees some time after, but it could have just as easily been wishful thinking - after all, who doesn't love a story about a wild thing set free who returns to to say hello? 


My Dad's birthday was in June - it's the second one since he left us - and as expected, I was fragile in the days leading up to it. It was partly due to it being just a week from Father's Day, which was nobody's fault but the commercial marketing surrounding it felt like a relentless assault regardless. Case in point: I was sitting in my car and the radio DJ reminded us to "not just send a card - give your Dad a call!" to which I responded, "Yeah, well," and refused to have the pity party that was threatening to throw itself. And part of it was having been bombarded with graduation open-house invites which, while celebratory for the accomplishments in an especially challenging year, mask the loss of childhood and innocence, a bittersweet caveat which mothers might mention in passing but which nobody talks about, not really. And maybe another part was being still unable to fly to Singapore more than a year after Covid started and since we lost Auntie Laura. 

The sum of all those parts felt like a lot all at once, I think. Much of the year, I'm mindfully able to stay in the blessings of the present, but these milestone days are hard. Either the memories come thick and fast while I'm miles away from the ones with whom sharing them feels like healing, or else they don't come at all, and I wonder if I've somehow also lost the parts of myself who were daughter and niece.

So it was in that context that I thought I might make a bird that reminded me of home and Dad and being a kid in the house where I grew up. 


I don't know if it helped, but it felt intentional, and if there's anything I've learned about grief-from-far-away, it is that often you have to be intentional in order to move forward. I finished this little guy a few days before Dad's birthday and sat at my sewing table wondering if I should have expected an epiphany. The thing about grief that's funniest to me is how everyday it is. I always think it comes in big gestures, borne aloft on words like tribute! and honor! and legacy! Which it certainly can be - a couple of my grief group friends have launched movements, bestowed scholarships, organized benefit dinners and other wonderfully meaningful things, for instance. But more often than not, it's mundane and common and intimate and persistent, inserting itself into my family, personhood and psyche, quietly refusing to be left behind with what once was and insisting that it continues - powerfully, transformingly - to be.  

Sorry - didn't mean to get all metaphorical on you. Finding words for what's going on inside me helps. Most days it feels like I'm making things up as I go, and it's haphazard and crazy, yet there's also a sweetness in letting go and seeing what the world throws my way. The universe, I've found, has tremendous resources at its disposal.  

And I did survive my Dad's birthday, incidentally. It was a testament to resilience I didn't know I had, and to a God who knew me better than I knew myself, expending those resources to carry me through a couple of especially tough days.  


But let's talk about the bulbul, shall we? It isn't very colorful, as far as birds go - mostly dark brown with a black head,



white cheeks, red whiskers, 


brown spurs on the sides of its breast


and red feathers on the underside of its tail, a feature I used as a child to identify these birds when they were perched in trees overhead. 


I really liked the outcome - quite different than the other birds I've made so far, which rely largely on rainbow-bright coloration to feel distinctive. I showed it to my brother on a Zoom call and was pleased that he was able to identify it.   



Hope everyone's summer is going well! I'll be back soon to share the other two birds, both much more colorful than this bulbul (with one of them especially so)!


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Bunch of Washcloths


Happy summer, everyone!

Thought I'd check in and share an update on my crochet learning process. So, in that first post, the one in which I told everyone that as of February 2021, I'd begun this new and obsessive hobby and asked for suggestions and advice, you guys stepped up and recommended projects and websites to provide direction for that obsession. I was thrilled, and set forth with wild ambitions and every intention to make hats and mittens and scarves and afghans.

Five months later: washcloths.

And in spite of grand plans to Be Versatile and master crochet-in-the-round and granny squares and magic circles, I've thus far only done rows. Hundreds of rows, granted, but still . . . just right-to-lefts bookended by seemingly random numbers of turning chains. Which turned into a slowly-growing stack of washcloths. 

Halfway through the stack, it became clear I'd been subconsciously collecting stitches"Huh," I thought. "I guess some people gravitate toward application and some people stick to the building blocks . . . and keep sticking." 

And that's OK. I remembered that I'd been interested in crochet because it looked like a technique that was fun to wrap my mind around, and not because I'd seen some sweater in a magazine and desired to DIY it. I'd figured that at some point, like once I'd learned what crochet was about, what its potential was, the projects would naturally follow.

And if those naturally-following projects were looking more like they'd lost their way, so be it. In the meantime, I was happy to fall in love with the thousands of beautiful variations one could create from almost infinite combinations of the basic crochet stitches.

I thought I'd post some of those here partly as a record of my learning, mistakes and all, and partly to share my favorites (and unfavorites).

Here are my earlier pieces, which I made solely to practise the basic stitches - SC, DC, HDC and slipstitch. You've probably seen them in an earlier post.


I remember making my first-half-decent border and thinking, "So this is how one finishes a crochet project. I wonder if beginning seamstresses ask this same question about a sewn bag or a garment: 'how do I know when a project is considered finished?' " Those of us who've been sewing or knitting for years just know. Even without rules, we recognize the moment when we can set down a needle and switch off the sewing machine and feel satisfied that it is done. But beginners don't - and it may be years before they learn how much more it is about the quality of the work than the sequence of tasks that deem a project complete. I loved that learning to crochet made me become aware of that.


This one was a fun lesson in the anatomy of a stitch - back loops and front loops and such.


This was the stitch pattern that first made me feel that I might actually have hope with this whole crochet thing. Prior to this, prospects in the tension department had been quite bleak - I'd all but accepted the idea that crochet for me would forever mean overtight bunches of knots randomly interspersed with dangling loops, like something the cat had taken its claws to. 


The day I discovered the existence of floral-esque stitches (thank you, internet), my world blew apart. It wasn't just utility chains and knots and posts and see-through lace doilies on the backs of armchairs - there were actually texture and structure and delicate intricacy and color in crochet!




I don't know what possessed me to try this next cable stitch. It felt ambitious, so I worked doggedly at it. It also felt tedious, so I upped the danger factor by mixing yarn colors. All wonderfully rebellious, overall, but not a stitch pattern I'll regularly pick for future projects, i think. I also have mixed feelings about the shell stitch as a border. It's traditionally pretty, but I've never liked traditionally pretty, so. Anyway, it seemed to be one of those things every crochet person needs to know, so I did it. A shell-stitch border - hurrah. Moving on now.


C2C was fabulously mind-twisty. I loved the mechanics of it - all sideways and sly, and with those curly maggoty ridges, like cluster stitch on crack. This has so much potential. I can't wait to do more of it.


And here I had the first of two epiphanies. This one was about the yarn. I'd been using this cotton yarn, and I'd absolutely hated it because of how it kept splitting and dragging on my crochet hook. Zero-elasticity aside, it felt no better than garden twine or hemp. But because washcloths must be made with cotton yarn in order to properly serve their function, I stuck to it with the zeal of a martyr.

Then I was in a different store and found this, wonderfully soft and smooth and non-splitty while still being 100% cotton. Instantly, I was cured of my crotchetiness. It was a veritable miracle. 


This Waistcoat stitch was funny in an ironic way: a crochet stitch that aimed to impersonate a knit stitch. 


Ah. This. The AWIP (abandoned work-in-progress). You know, like the skirt from 19 years ago, missing its waistband and languishing under the sewing table, the cute dress we'd cut out for the six-year-old and 'forgot about' until we unearthed it the day before her high school graduation, the quilt stuffed in a rubbermaid tub because we abruptly lost interest in knotting the one zillion tailing threads on its WS. I have uncountable AWIPs in my corner of sewingdom.

This, however, was my very first crochet AWIP - an alluringly, gorgeously nooks-and-crannies thing called the Waffle Stitch. I was smitten when I first beheld it on some website - it looked like layered magic - and I had to make it. So I dutifully followed the instructions but it was a nightmare from the start. Not the stitch itself, which was simply frontpost-backpost DC in multiples of three and almost hypnotically soothing to execute. Rather, it was the random turning chains and the 'insert into the x-th chain from the hook' instructions and other such peripheries - I was so frustrated that I chucked it into the deepest corner of my crochet bag and refused to look at it for months. 


Then a fortnight ago, overcome with guilt and shame, I exhumed it and made myself finish it. And discovered to my surprise that the instructions weren't as ambiguous as I'd remembered. Either I'd had a brain leak when I'd first embarked on the project or else I'd somehow become more comfortable with interpreting crochet instructions since then (I'm going to be kind to myself and believe the latter).

Anyway, you can see the bottom row of the piece where the posts are all skewed, like trees in a hurricane. Quite different from the top row, where it's the calm after the storm, as it were. The leftmost and rightmost sections - where there should be stitches but are instead blandly featureless - are where something else went weirdly wrong from the beginning but whose wrongness I had to continue perpetuating throughout the upper rows in order to preserve some semblance of pattern consistency. Sometimes we have to do two wrongs to make a right. Like when you've accidentally sewn a dreadful left sleeve and have to make the right sleeve also dreadful so it matches the miserable left one. Which I've done. Now that the piece is finished, though, I'm moving past the doom and gloom - today, I look at it and tell myself, "Look how much better you are now than x months ago. Brava!"


Case in point: this basketweave stitch I did more recently. Uses the same techniques as the waffle stitch but without the bewildering mistakes. Happy dance.


The Primrose Stitch is one of my favorites - it looks like water lilies on a pond - in another even more gorgeous cotton yarn I found some weeks later. Ridiculously soft and easy to work with. I'm like the person tearing their hair out sewing lycra with the universal needle that came with their machine and then discovers there's such a thing as a ball-point. 


Milestone moment: when you make your first project to give to someone else. I got all chills-and-weeps when I was wrapping it up for my sister-in-law.


Incidentally, the Moss Stitch (aka Granite or Linen Stitch) is one of my favorites for washcloths because it's harder than most to get wrong. Which I know from crabby experience.


Here are my current WIPs - first, this Elizabeth Stitch washcloth, in which the point is to practise making straight edges.

And here I will share the second of those two aforementioned crochet epiphanies: the Clover Amour hook. I love thee. I adore thee. I use thee exclusively. Thou art worth thine weight in gold and rubies. All the hype is true. Since I started using this Clover hook, I haven't touched my Boye and Bates hooks. I know everyone says hooks are a preference thing, so there may well be folks out there who despise the Clover hook, but it's been an absolute game changer for me. Incidentally, I've also heard good things about the Tulip hook, which I hope to buy soon.  


Also working on an Even Berry Stitch for tension practice


(and also because it's round and squishy like bubble wrap).


This Millstone Stitch sample


is a dry-run which I'm daring to believe that, with patience and time, I can replicate in a couch throw with these yarns:


Finally, the beginnings of a scarf (not a washcloth - shocking, I know) in that delightfully pretty Primrose Stitch. It's strange, after all those cottons, to be working with yarn that actually has some give. So springy!


Over to you guys now: would you share your favorite hooks and yarns?


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Hummingbird



Happy summer! I can't believe that this is the last week of school and that summer - with most of its joys and opportunities - is actually here. Last year, we ended the school year in a very different mood, faced with the prospect of so many more "no"s than "yes"es. The kids were despondent and afraid, and sad in many indescribable ways. I am so thankful for the vastly different scenario this year. My heart aches for the communities in other places where the situation is the opposite, and closer to, if not worse than, our experience in 2020. May they find relief and help and hope, and very soon. 

I've been working on putting together the last of the bird kits for my Etsy shop (there are still some of each variety available, so you can pick them up here) and now that I'm done, I can return to documenting my birds here on the blog! Here's another one I picked out from readers' suggestions in this earlier post



In real life, this little guy has iridescent feathers and, depending on the lighting, can appear in photos in shades of green ranging from emerald to lime and even turquoise. Which, as you can imagine, is a tad challenging to render in fabric that isn't sequined or something else from the Halloween costume aisle of the store. After changing my mind about a million times, I eventually decided on a tie-dye green fleece to approximate the changing hues in the sunlight.  


His wings are a very simple green overlay on dark brown, which has stitching lines to mimic the flight feathers.


His tail is almost fin-like, 


and very similar in coloration to the wings - green over brown.


He has a red throat - again, in the photos, it seemed to be anything from scarlet to orange to deep red.


His bill is very different than the ones in the other birds I've made - long and skinny and slightly curved. If I were to make him again, I'd shorten it a little, but otherwise, I do like how he turned out.


I mentioned in an earlier post that while making this hummingbird and the oriole from the last post, I experimented with the grain direction of the fabric so I could show you guys how that affects the shape and proportion of a finished stuffed toy. I've discussed this idea previously in the context of bunnies when I was making prototypes for the Bunny and Carrot pattern - the conclusion then was that one grain orientation produced plumper bunnies and stumpier feet than another, and if we didn't want skinny bunnies (or, conversely, if we did), we'd do well to pay attention to the grain direction.

The premise holds for birds, too, and is particularly useful if one considers that some bird species are naturally rounder than others, at least as they are typically depicted. I think of robins, for instance, as fluffy things that puff out their little red chests and hop on the grass in mounds of feathers. Hummingbirds - when they're still long enough to see - are tiny little things, sleek and slender and zippy. Obviously, depending on the conditions, any bird can be of either profile, but in my mind, some birds are round and others less so, and I wanted to be able to represent that difference by choice when making mine.

Here's the body of the hummingbird, which turned out leaner and more streamlined than the other birds, although you might think it looks plenty plump here.


Until you compare it to, say, the oriole.


Here they are in a series of side-by-sides. 


It's probably most evident here. These are exactly the same body templates, by the way. The oriole's were cut with the stretch direction (fleece has some stretch in one direction) horizontal i.e. it stretches sideways, which is the grain orientation recommended in my sewing pattern, and most other stuffed toys. The hummingbird's were cut with the stretch direction vertical i.e. it stretches head-to-base.




This difference in stretch orientation also affects the overall heights of the birds,


as well as the proportions of one body part to another. Incidentally, I laughed when I took these juxtaposition photos, because it's ridiculous to imagine a hummingbird next to a blue jay in real life without being completely dwarfed by it, let alone beat it in a size competition.


So, grain orientation and stretch direction. It's not rocket science, really, but I thought it'd be interesting to see that we can in fact sometimes defy the instructions of a sewing pattern for advantageous reasons. Summary: if you want to make a leaner-looking bird, disobey my grain suggestion and turn the templates 90 degrees.

And with this green addition, I now have an almost-rainbow of birds.


I should really make a purple bird, like one of those purple starlings or martins. Maybe someday.


Till then, I wish you guys a wonderful summer. May you enjoy the sunshine and the glorious symphony that is nature: the sibilant dance of leaves in a sudden breeze, the crashing rhythm of ocean waves (if you're lucky enough to live along the coast, I mean, and no, I'm afraid lake waves don't come close), and the sweet descant songs of the birds.