Smocked Baby Dress

 

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I LOVE babies. I don’t like babies. I don’t tolerate babies. I absolutely adore babies. I often wonder if moms think I’m creepy, because I don’t just glance over at the baby and smile, then return to my business. I will spot a baby and not be able to take my eyes off that baby until it is out of sight. If you hand me a baby to hold, chances are pretty slim that I’m going to hand that baby back any time soon. My dream job would be holding babies all day.  In fact, in high school, rather than going out and getting a paying job, I volunteered at the local hospital to rock and cuddle sick babies.

So even though it appears that my own baby-having years are behind me, I am thrilled beyond belief that my younger siblings are all still having babies (my parents’ grandchild total is currently 18 from the six of us kids).  By last November, I found out that not one, not two, but all three of my sisters were due to have babies in the ensuing six months. HEAVEN!

Being an avid knitter and crocheter, there was no way I could let this momentus occassion pass without crafting something special for my sisters’ new babies. And while blankets are always the go-to baby item, I wanted to create something with a little more personality. [As an aside, when my first was born over 20 years ago, the lovely ladies at my husband’s family church threw us a baby shower and I recieved well over a dozen handmade blankets.  I was not the crafter I am now, back then, and I know that though I did express appreciation, I had no clue how much time and love was put into those items and I sincerely wish I could go back and proffer adequate thanks to each of those lovely ladies.]  One little “sticky issue” that I had to work around is that – like myself – none of my sisters follow the mainstream pregnancy protocols, including things like prenatal ultrasounds to determine the baby’s gender. So whatever I chose to make would not only have to be knitted after the baby was born, but would also depend on the baby’s gender for the final design.  I opted to make a top of some sort for each new baby, with the idea that once I knew if it was a boy or a girl, I could quickly pick the color and then either make a sweater or a dress.

I had recently finished my first sweater (thanks to Tin Can Knits and their fabulous Flax sweater pattern and incredibly thorough “Let’s Make a Sweater” Tutorial), and figured that for any boy, I would simply use that pattern and perhaps add some kind of design to the front panel of the sweater.  But seeing how versatile that pattern is (it can be made for anyone from newborn size all the way up to 4XL), I wondered if it might be possible to create a homemade baby dress for any girl that came along, using a similar format.

After a few false starts, I finally managed to design a baby dress pattern that is versatile, fairly quick to knit up, and thanks to Expression Fiber Arts‘ new ‘Luster’ Superwash Merino Tencel blend sport-weight yarn, can be machine washed.

Which is a good thing, because in November, January, and May, I was thrilled to become aunt to three new nieces! (That puts the grandkid count at 7 boys, 11 girls!)

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November Niece – First Dress

As you can see from the photos, the dress has a few different versions.  Though I went off the same basic design, I chose to make slight modifications for each niece so they would have something unique to them.  Further, as I live quite a distance from two of my nieces, I had the “opportunity” to expand the pattern to a few sizes when, in February, I went to visit my nearby sister and niece born in November at the same time my parents were visiting. Holding my niece, my dad proclaimed that the three-month-old was the same size as my niece that had been born in January.  Given that my November niece was just-then fitting into the dress I had made for her, I knew that there was no way my January niece was going to fit into her dress by the time I finished it, if she was growing that quickly. So I ripped out the partially-made second dress and messed around with the sizing a bit until I came up with a dress that should fit most babies between 6-9 months. Also, seeing the first dress ON my November niece for the first time, I wasn’t thrilled with the neckline, so I redesigned that for the second and third dress. And given that my third niece was born in May, I decided to go with shorter sleeves for a more summery look.

 

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Dress 2, for January Niece

My intention is to also create a pair of “bloomers” to go with the dress, as it is rather short, and as a mom of 2 girls, I have never been a fan of baby tights.  Not having a resident baby to try things on, I’m working through quite a bit of trial and error on those, so that pattern will be released separately.

 

 

 

The First Pattern Ever

An Ode to Beautiful Yarn

When I set out to create a brand new pattern, it took me a moment to realize: there are no new patterns, just new ways of doing other patterns. Think about it. There are only so many knit and crochet stitches in existence. There are a finite number of ways to putting them together.  When we’re talking about Broomstick Lace, that has to be restrained to a specific yardage, in a certain weight, that also limits the options.

So this is not so much my “I’m so creative I invented a brand new crochet pattern” announcement. Rather, it is my, “I tried my very best to put together a fun, user-friendly, beginner-encouraging, experienced-attention-holding, slightly unique pattern for a fun and interesting crochet-along” announcement.

The best thing about this is the yarn. It shines. LITERALLY. It drapes. BEAUTIFULLY. And it will knock your socks off when you see the simple, sensational results.  Two posts in, and you will probably get sick of my gushing over Expression Fiber Arts, but the creative genius just astounds me. Who knew you could combine silk and merino wool into a single-ply yarn? Well, Chandi, obviously! Her Pearlescent Worsted yarn – if the stashes on Ravelry are anything to go by – are the second most popular in her store (her Resilient is the most, and I will happily rave about that another day).

When she announced a Fingering version of her Superwash Merino Silk Pearlescent, I jumped all over that. The colors are out of this world breathtaking. The silk just soaks up the dye like you wouldn’t believe. And the squish factor is off the charts.  I made my son a slouch hat using the Worsted Pearlescent over Christmas, and I kept having to stop and squeeze my work because it was just too yummy!

So as soon as we agreed that the Winter 2016 KAL and CAL were going to feature the Pearlescent Fingering yarn, I knew that we had to do Broomstick Lace!

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Without further ado, let me introduce the Pearlescent Broomstick Lace Scarf, Infinity Scarf, and Wrap.

Pearlescent Broomstick Wrap Scarf

Leaping Into Design

My son says I don’t do things half-way. By that, he simply means that when I discover I enjoy something, I plunge in with every fiber of my being (full warning: that is the first of many, MANY puns. Blame my son for his bad influence).  When it came to needle arts, there was no exception to this.

I taught myself to knit less than 4 years ago, via a combination of books and YouTube tutorials. Most of my beginning efforts were so bad I resigned myself to using the cheapest yarn and needles I could find, reasoning that maybe over time I’d get good enough to make it worth investing in better materials, though to be honest, I wasn’t devoting a whole lot of time to getting better.  Just a project here and there

In the spring of 2014, I was rear-ended in what can only be described as the “least serious car accident ever”, but because I was sitting in the driver’s seat in an odd position, my right hip and shoulder were both injured.  In the oddest catch-22 of all time, I found that knitting helped distracted me from the pain I was experiencing (both from the rear-ending and from a 7+ year battle with chronic pelvic pain), but because of my injury I could only knit for maybe half an hour before I’d start having numbness and tingling in my right hand, and my elbow would ache for days, even if I limited my activity.

Fall arrived, I was still dealing with pain and having to restrict the time I knitted to less than half an hour  week.  In desperation, I decided to teach myself to crochet, reasoning that the motion was different enough from knitting that my shoulder and arm would heal without my having to stop the needlework entirely. My YouTube search for crochet tutorials led me to several fun, informative and extremely helpful videos by Chandi Agee, the creative genius behind Expression Fiber Arts.

I signed up to get her blog updates and started following her on Facebook. The thing is, it was only a matter of time before I couldn’t resist trying out “just one” skein of the gorgeous yarn she was posting pictures of every day. I’m usually a very hands-on person. I touched and squished every single ball of yarn at Hobby Lobby AND Michael’s before I bought some to knit with. I knew it had to feel soft and not scratchy (even if it was just acrylic).  So to buy some random yarn off the internet, just because it was pretty, was a huge stretch for me. I knew my moment had arrived when she listed this gorgeous beauty:

Tahitian Turquoise pearlescent

Love at first sight…and first touch. Expression Fiber Arts had a new, enthusiastic fan.  We’re going to pretend that significant portions of my bank account were not involved in what can only be described as an “ongoing love affair” with Chandi’s gorgeous colorways and fantastic, inspired, custom-milled fiber blends. I do NOT sit in the corner, playing with my little beauties and lovingly stroking them. The words “My Precious” have NOT been uttered. That didn’t happen.

Let’s just skip right on ahead. Expression Fiber Arts announced the beginning of a knit-along (KAL) and crochet-along (CAL) on Ravelry, and I was more than happy to sign up for both, thinking that one month was plenty of time to finish two projects. Which, of course, I definitely would need some yarn for…and probably would need to place a few orders to get just the right yarn. Right?

Those contests turned out to be the best thing for both my skills. I quickly learned that sometimes you need better tools to become a better artist.  Anne Shirley once wrote to Gilbert Blythe that she couldn’t write love letters with a scratchy pen, I’ve never heard romantic music come out of a beginner violin, and apparently you can’t do a very good job of creating beautiful needlework projects with cheap yarn, cheap needles, and badly-made hooks.

My knitting went from this: bleh (I didn’t take pictures…those were some embarrassing finished items).

To this:

GlamShellsBack

And my crocheting went from this: meh

To this:

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I will admit there are some willpower issues involved here as well. I can’t count the number of times my husband looked at me in dismay and said, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” as I ripped out my entire, nearly-completed project because of some little mistake I’d made near the beginning. But as I said, my son knows that I don’t do things half-way. If I’m going to do something, I want to do it well.

I was overjoyed to be asked to help moderate the Fall 2015 Knit-Along and Crochet-Along for the Expression Fiber Arts Forums on Ravelry, and spent most of my summer furiously learning to knit and crochet socks (confession: I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of crocheting socks yet). I knit on dpns. I knit on magic loop. I knit an entire pair two-at-a-time cuff-down all the way to the toe, only to rip them both back to the beginning so I could knit them two-at-a-time toe-up.  I made tutorials, and realized I really enjoyed it.

And now, I’m thrilled beyond belief to announce that I am making my debut into the world of writing my own patterns.  Our Winter 2016 CAL is going to feature Broomstick Lace. Only after testing several of the free patterns on Ravelry, I concluded that they were either too plain to hold the interest of our various-leveled CALers, and the moderator agreed. So I suggested, and she gave her permission, that I could write a pattern instead.

So welcome to my little blog – “little m expressions”. I hope, like everything else, it will be full of all the passion, joy, and excitement that I’m discovering daily through knitting and crochet.