Totoro sweater

Early last spring I ordered yarn from Peace Fleece for a sweater for myself and asked my son what his sweater for this winter should be like. “It should have Totoro on it,” he said. And so I contemplated how to make him a sweater which would look nice without the Totoros on it (in case he changed his mind) and how to construct it.

I ended up deciding to knit the Seamless Saddle Shoulder sweater from Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the Top. The sweater has set in sleeves that are knit as you go, which makes it fit well. The instructions in here are not step by step, but are infinitely adjustable.

blue and green sweater with two small totoros.
Chibi Totoro and Chu Totoro are shy.
Back of sweater with cheerful big Totoro, waving.
Big Totoro is not so shy.

I made it as a cardigan, with a V-neck. The body edging is single crochet, including the button bands and bottom edge. I made up how to do the pockets.

The Totoros themselves were a challenge. I was originally planning to do them in duplicate stitch. However, my stitches were large enough that the Totoros would not have been recognizable, just blobby and pixellated. My next plan was to embroider directly on the knitting, but the fabric didn’t seem stable enough for an embroidery base. My third thought was to crochet them separately and then sew them on, but I was having trouble again with the stitch size being too long.

Finally, I remembered how nice chain stitch embroidery can look as an appliqué, and did a test run with Chibi Totoro (the smallest). Success!

Chibi Totoro
Chibi Totoro is the shyest of the three, and I was pleased at how well that came across.

So then it was on to Chu Totoro:

Chu Totoro
Chu Totoro has places to go

You can see with Chu Totoro that I was embroidering with wool yarn on cotton fabric. I used some pieces of old sheet that would otherwise have become rags.

The first thing I did was find a picture I liked, scale it so it was the size I wanted, and then print it out. Then I needed to transfer the outlines to my fabric. I flipped my printout over and used a charcoal pencil behind the lines I wanted transferred. (There are other ways to transfer the design; you could put dressmaker’s transfer paper between your drawing and the paper and trace, or you could use heat transfer pencil.) I put the image on the fabric, charcoal side down, and traced all the lines I wanted onto the fabric. Then into an embroidery hoop:

charcoal transfer of big Totoro
Doesn’t he look cheerful?

The next step was to use some thin black yarn I had around to make the outlines; for that I used back stitch. Then I filled in the space in between with chain stitch (mostly); there were a few places I used satin stitch (teeth, and the space between his mouth and arm to delineate the shapes) or just random stitches (the whites of his eyes).


half-done embroidery of big Totoro
At this point I kind of felt like he was emerging from the fog or something. Maybe it’s that Cheshire Cat grin?

Once I was done embroidering, I trimmed to about 3/16 of an inch from the edge, clipped the curves, and turned the hem allowance under. I tacked the hem allowance in place with sewing thread.

Turning the edge under.
Turning the edge under.

And here’s what the back looks like. Messy, eh?

Back of in-progress applique
So you can see the edge being tacked in place.

Finally, I consulted with the wearer of the sweater as to placement and sewed them down with whipstitch.

Not dead yet

Hey look, I made something! Well, several somethings, only I haven’t posted about them either. Oops.

Anyway, here, look, I made a bag to hang from my loom and keep tools in!


Oh, didn’t I tell you? I got a loom! I had one before, but I’d gotten it for free and it turned out to be too badly cracked. I bought a loom from someone I know from online, and swapped the pieces of the other one (as spare parts) to her for some nice heddles to use with it. (The heddles are the things you run warp threads through; when the heddles go up and down, so do the warp threads, making it easier to weave.)

Here’s my new-to-me loom in an earlier stage of being fixed up.


I’ve done some work on her since I took that picture: wiping everything down with diluted Murphy’s oil soap, rubbing in some Wood Beams, getting the rust off with wire brush and naval jelly, moving the treadles around to the back where they started out, and replacing the rusty and pitted lower warp beam. I have a little rod stock on order to replace a rod in one of the harnesses. Finding metric rod stock in small quantities in the US is hard to do. I wish I could say I was surprised. After that, the only thing I need is tie up cord. I’m waiting until I can afford the fancy TexSolv tie up cord, because I gather it’s worth its cost.

And then I can start warping the loom (putting the warp threads on) and get to weaving.

She’s a Lillstina 46″ floor loom (means I can theoretically weave 46″ wide fabric on her)—a counterbalance—and her name is Diamond Lil.

Other bits I already have that I’m going to need: a tall chair that I hope is the right height, a warping board, shuttles and bobbins, and lease sticks.

First steps in slip stitch crochet

I got a pjoning hook (that’s the traditional flat hook with angled sides) from Lacis for doing slip stitch crochet.


I really like it! It slips into the stitches really easily, and while I was worried about getting correct gauge because of the angled sides, it turns out that the angled sides are there to help with correct gauge!

At least, that’s my hypothesis.

Gauge is established with the foundation chain; I admit, I used a regular crochet hook for that part because I was worried about evenness.

With slip stitches, the size of the last loop you made is determined by where the angled hook sits in the stitch from the previous row, except that I want the loop to be a little bigger because it’s also going to hold the next stitch I make and so I need a little slack. Having the loop of the next stitch formed below that on the hook means that it will be just that little bit larger.

There’s a sneaky thing about knitting stitches that many people don’t realize, and I think it holds true for slip stitch crochet as well (probably fiber arts in general, now that I consider the matter): the size of the stitch I just made is partially determined by how I pull on the yarn as I make a new stitch. I think it might actually be more important in crochet than in knitting because there’s no needle sitting in the stitch until the end of the row to keep it from shrinking too far.

So, after I make a new stitch, there’s a loop on the hook, right? It could end up being any size depending on what I do next.


I insert the hook into the next stitch from the previous round until the stitch is tight around the hook. You see how the loop on the hook is underneath?


Then I pull gently on the yarn as I make the next loop on the hook so that the loop already on the hook is snug but not tight. This will keep my gauge the same. Or it will once I’ve practiced enough that I pull the yarn consistently after each stitch. But it’s pretty clear to me that consistent tension will lead to consistent gauge because of the angled sides of the hook.

Oak leaves in winter

Sometimes the light catches something in just the right way and I have my camera with me. Look at this vivid red, the result of sunlight shining through dried up oak leaves:


I ran it through the palettes app I’ve been using on the iPad, and came up with this, that I sorted by value (I read this very interesting post today):


I recently was going through my fiber arts books and discovered that I own a Dover book called Folk Designs from the Caucasus by Lyatof Kerimov, which has some interesting charted designs in it that I want to use in conjunction with Sara Lamb’s book, Woven Treasures.

I combined the palette above with one of the designs in there and came up with this combination, which I quite like. It’s also a fairly common traditional color combination, but the book I was working with was in black and white.


On further reflection, I think it’s truer to the original photo if the background is pale grey:


I also played around a bit in Percolator, which I’ve recently been having fun with, and which I think might be a good way to pull out a palette:


Sea anemone

I think this might be the penultimate Monterey Bay Aquarium color exercise. Here, have some striking sea anemones:


I used Palettes for iPad to pull out this set of colors:


And then used Sketchbook Express to paint in squares of color in a grid. I used a design from Sarah Don’s Fair Isle Knitting, sample 11 on page 37.


I didn’t care for the grid lines, but I realized while cropping the result that I could have fun with the preset filters in my photo editing apps. I was actually kind of surprised by how much easier it was to visualize a finished product based on the result.


knitting, crochet, other string tricks, and forays into other creative endeavors

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