Sunday, July 26, 2020

Marley Shawl and Paper Mache Crafting

We've had an exceptionally nice summer this year in Southern California.  The temperatures are mild, the evenings are cool, and there are a few foggy days tossed in the mix.  Around this time of year (late July) there is always a pregnant pause when it feels like the warm days of summer will last forever.  And if the weather would stay like this I wouldn't mind one bit.  But summer won't last and change is coming.  And no one knows that better than retailers who roll out fall fashions almost before the 4th of July fireworks have faded into the night sky.  And that's okay with me because around about now I like to start thinking ahead to my fall projects.    

If you want to be wearing a new fabulously cozy shawl in a couple of months then you need to choose your project and get started now.  And I think the Marley shawl would be a great choice for this fall, winter and beyond because of the brioche stitch and the wonderfully squishy fabric it creates.

Another reason to love the brioche stitch is that it's a great way to convert an impulse purchase of shocking pink yarn into something actually wearable.  In public!  That's an under appreciated aspect of the brioche stitch.  How it magically tones down a bright yarn when paired with a neutral color.  This is important for anyone with a propensity for choosing bright and garish colors.  Like me!  I've always been drawn to bright colorful colors.  Anecdotally, for illustrative purposes, when I was a mere tadpole my grandmother taught me to crochet.  She turned me loose in a thrift store with the instructions to pick two colors of yarn.  I chose bright purple and bright yellow.  I proceeded to crocheted a blanket at a speed that left the grownups astonished.  A blanket that my mother, bless her heart, gifted to the family dog explaining that the colors did not go with my bedspread.   Thus ended my passion for crochet.  By not my love of garish colors.

To show the "neutralizing" effect of the brioche stitch I have pictures showing both the neutral and the bright sides dominant.  In the picture above I am wearing it with the grey neutral dominant and in the picture below the bright pink is dominant.  But the real beauty of brioche is showcased when both sides are mingled as shown in the very top picture.  Your choice how you want to wear it my friend.

Learning the brioche stitch does take some effort.  But like riding a bicycle once learned you will have a skill for life that will bring endless pleasure.  For a beginner I highly recommend Nancy Marchant's online class, Explorations in Brioche Knitting.  She's a little hard to understand at first but if you slow the video down you can see the stitch formation better and once you understand that the rest is easy. Youtube has some great free tutorials too.

Particulars:  Marley Shawl designed by Andrea Mowry; US 4 circular needles; 2 skeins each Ella Rae Merino - DK (neutral color) and 2 skeins Qing Fibre Supersoft Sock (Miss Bim colorway).  My only modification was to knit a much narrower border as I thought my shawl was large enough without adding a bulky border.  Other designs I've knit by this designer include her Comfort Fade Cardi (where coincidentally I also made the border much more narrow).  My Comfort Fade Cardi is in this post Sweater Weather and Gnome Spotting.  Both Marley and the Comfort Fade Cardi are very wearable and make great wardrobe additions.  And as I had plenty of  leftover yarn from my Marley Shawl I knit myself a pair of basic socks with the remaining, you guessed it, pink yarn!

For additional brioche projects, see Parlour and Texture Time Shawls.

Pandemic Living 

The powers that be have advised us to learn a new hobby with all the time we  are spending at home "being safe."  Obviously they weren't aware of the state of my housekeeping.  Because initially all of my free time was spent reclaiming my house, cupboards and closets from years of benign neglect and don't even get me started on the chore it was to organize my recipes (a project that is still ongoing).  But after a mere six (6) months I am happy to report that I have advanced to the stage of learning a new hobby!  And I am happy to report that I have not one but two new hobbies, both of which I really enjoy and only one of which am I talking about in this post.

In this post I'm talking about crafting with paper mache.  I had lots of fun making these wee paper mache gnomes.  It's fascinating to me what you can make simply using bits of scrap papers, liquid starch, and craft acrylic paint.  I'll never toss out the cardboard center of a toilet roll again without pausing and reflecting on it's potential uses.  But I digress.  To learn to make these gnomes I went to a pro.  Knowing absolutely nothing about paper mache I went in search of a kit and was very happy to find the Gnome Head Paper Mache Starter kit put together by a "paper mache artist."   And the gnome pictured above is the first gnome I made using that kit and I couldn't be more happy with it.

My second project was this little June Bug.  I made him more or less with the supplies that came in my kit.  But I added antennas that I made out of soft wire (that came wrapped around the electric cord of my new vacuum) that I formed with small wire pliers and inserted deep into the paper mache while it was still soft.  I then used both glue and liquid starch to secure in place.   His facial features I made from bits of my own paper mache mulch (made with a combination of glossy magazine paper and blue craft paper agitated with water) combined with liquid starch as needed.  His "head form" and the napkin I used to make his hat (as well as the paper mache technique I used) came from the kit.  I painted him with craft acrylic paints that I had leftover from painting a birdhouse and/or other crafting projects.  For his glossy finish I coated him with Mod Podge (typically used to decoupage).  I am so pleased with him that I plan on making a whole series of insect gnomes, along with Christmas ornaments, and any other whimsical flights of fancy that may come to me.

If you are interested in learning paper mache (and who wouldn't be?) I recommend going on Youtube and searching for free tutorials and seeing which of the paper mache artists has a style that appeals to you.  There are tons of artists but I really like Rozani Designs Masquerade (who I bought my kit from) and she has a lot of free tutorials on making gnomes, dragons, and other animals.   Whether you have kids or still are a kid at heart (like me) you will find crafting with paper mache a fun creative hobby regardless of whether or not you are in a pandemic lockdown.

Farewell and until next time be well, love well, and be safe at home.  On the plus side I've found that staying at home has slowed the place of my life to a crawl and allowed me the leisure and luxury of time to relax and be more in touch with myself and my thoughts.  I've also been reading substantive books like I haven't had the time to do in years (possibly decades) and, as a christian, I am finding The Benedict Option- a strategy for Christians in a Post Christian Nation an interesting and timely read.  That being said I think anyone from any religion, or an agnostic point of view, will find it an enlightening examination of world history, religion, and politics and how we have arrived at the place we are today.  Of course during this time it's also important to relish simple pleasures like these delicious almond and chocolate biscotti made using a recipe from Sally's Baking Addition.

The beautiful pottery mug pictured above is made by WildChildClayWorks (on Etsy) and I simply adore using it.  It doesn't have a handle instead the mug walls are very thick and it has a buttery soft glaze making it a very delicious way to savor a cup of coffee ~