Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I Love Craftsy ~ An Honest Review

I discovered Craftsy because they were sponsoring Stitches West in 2013, and soon after I signed up for my first class which is Amigurumi Woodland Animals with Stacey Trock. That class started a chain reaction, and in the past few years I've purchased over a hundred classes and I've been so, so in love with all that I'm learning.

Reasons why I love Craftsy:

#1 - Learn At Home

I'm a mom of 2 little ones, and it's just not easy for me to get out of the house, especially to take crafting classes, which may be far away. With Craftsy, I can take classes at home when the kids are napping, or even playing quietly, any time I want to. And although the teacher is not watching over you directly ... I do find that I can ask the teacher questions when I need to, and lots of times other students ask what I'm thinking of asking, and I get to read the responses. If necessary, I can post a picture and the teacher will respond to you personally. It's a very rare case when I wish I had someone to watch what I'm doing and help me.

#2 - Rewatch Anything

It's a common problem for me ... I learn a technique in an in-person class, perform it in class, and after I get home, I forget how to do it. I so wished I could have filmed it when the teacher was teaching me in class! But that's usually not possible. With Craftsy, I can rewatch any technique I want, however many times. There are so many things that you do once, then you forget how to do it, so with Craftsy as long as I know where to find the technique, I can go back and rewatch that class. However ... this does lead me to one of the areas of the site I wish they'd fix. See "Things I Wish Craftsy Can Improve On."

#3 - Price

I'll admit it, Craftsy isn't cheap per se ... an average class costs $20. Although for many hours of instruction that you can rewatch as much as you want, it's definitely not expensive either. some people complain that they can watch videos for free on Youtube, which is true. But I love Craftsy's class structure and organization. It goes into much more in depth, and you are usually taken through a progression of skill level. Sometimes you don't even know what you don't know, so there's no way to look for it on Youtube. In addition, a lot of these teachers are world-renowned crafters, so if you take a class with them in person, it can get much, much more expensive. Craftsy classes go on major sales quite a few times a year, so that is the best time to pick up classes in bulk. In fact, I don't even recommend paying full price for any class, unless for some reason you must take it immediately. Wait for the sale, they can be pretty incredible.

#4 - Customer Service

Most of the Craftsy classes are really, really excellent. Once in a while though, you get a class that's less than stellar. It's bound to happen. (Read the reviews, they're usually very honest!) In the few times I've complained about a class, Craftsy contacted me personally and gave my money back, every time. I didn't even have to ask for it. Also, whenever I had an issue with the site, I always get a reply very quickly, and they really work with you to resolve issues.

#5 - Class Variety

My main interests are knitting, crocheting, quilting, and sewing. In all those categories, Craftsy has pretty much any class you would want to take. Almost any technique I can think of, they have a class for. This wasn't true in 2013 when I started using the site, but over the past few years they've seriously increased their offerings, and now for those aforementioned categories, you really can learn anything you want to learn.

And because I love and use the site so much, there are of course a few things I hope they can improve on in the near future:

Things I Wish Craftsy Can Improve On:

Easier way to navigate and save students' questions & responses

There are a lot of gems hidden in the student questions & responses, but it's not really easy to search through them, and it's not easy at all to save the responses. In fact, if I wanted to make a note of something someone said, I'd pretty much have to copy & paste it into some textfile somewhere. Not a good interface.

Create a profile of topics I'm interested in so I get alerts

Craftsy has realized that I like knitting ... and I get a lot of alerts for new knitting classes. But I also have a large amount of crochet classes, and sewing classes, and quilting classes. But to date I've yet to receive a single alert for new classes in those categories from Craftsy. I want to hear about new classes as soon as they come up, instead of having to poll the site on a weekly basis.

Easier way to get to free classes

Craftsy has a lot of really great mini classes, that are also free. And I mean, really great, sometimes I can hard believe the free content in those classes. Much better than a Youtube video, for sure. But they certainly don't make it easy to find, or advertise these free classes at all. In fact, if you scrolled through a list of classes, the free ones aren't even listed. You have to specifically filter "Free Classes" to find them.

Search your notes across classes

As I mentioned it's great to be able to rewatch techniques. Craftsy has a way for you to save a video note, so you know exactly where to go in that class to find techniques ... but what if I can't remember in which class the technique was taught? Say I'm watching a bead knitting class, and the instructor showed a great bind-off that I saved a note on. I wouldn't immediately connect a bind-off with bead knitting, so if I wanted to find out how to do it later, I wouldn't know where the technique was, without clicking through all my classes and checking my notes. There has *got* to be a better way to do that!

This is my completely unbiased review. I certainly was not paid to write this, nor was I asked in any way, shape, or form. I just want to share the love of Craftsy ... after all, the more people who sign up to take classes, the more classes they can offer, and the cycle will continue!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Craftsy Block of the Month 2012 - October

I had to skip the September blocks for now because I had to order the Drunkard's Path templates and they aren't here yet. For now I'm going straight to October blocks, which is foundation paper piecing.

It took me a little while to understand how these worked, but once I did, I was totally hooked. These are really, really fun! Especially if I don't fuss too much about wasting fabric and cut out a bigger piece to ensure it'd be enough, it's just really great to do. And the end result is quite amazing, it's hard to believe I did them. I'm really in love with this technique, and definitely want to explore it more!

I picked up some more classes on Craftsy since everything was on sale. More quilts to add to my todo list. I wish I had more time to quilt every day, but with a 3 year old and a 6 month old, I can only do what I can. I sure look forward to this time at night when the kids are in bed and the house is in order, when I can churn out a block. Blissful.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Adding a Ravelry Gallery Widget

I added a small Ravelry gallery widget to the right side of my blog. The code provided on Ravelry's API site seems lacking, so I had to write something of my own. I figure this is a common enough usage that others can benefit from it too. My widget displays 16 of the most recently finished projects that have a picture. Copy and paste the following into a Javascript widget, and replace COUNT and YOUR_RAVELRY_URL with what you want. <div id="rav_projects"></div> <style type="text/css"> .rav_project { float: left; padding-right:5px; } </style> <script type="text/javascript"> function drawRavelry(json) { var projects = json.projects; projects.sort(function(a, b) { return (b.thumbnail ? Date.parse(b.completed) : 0) - (a.thumbnail ? Date.parse(a.completed) : 0); }); var html = []; for (var i = 0; i < COUNT && i < projects.length; i++) { var proj = projects[i]; html.push('<div class="rav_project"><a href="' + proj.url + '"><img src="' + proj.thumbnail.src + '"/></a></div>' ); } document.getElementById('rav_projects').innerHTML = html.join(''); } </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="YOUR_RAVELRY_URL&status=finished&notes=false&callback=drawRavelry"></script>

Change COUNT to the # of items you want to display, and substitute YOUR_RAVELRY_URL with the special URL that Ravelry generates for you, which you can get here. Copy and paste the Personalized URL on that page (which looks something like http://api.ravelry.com/projects/username/progress.json?key=5ca09d97cbb02b57f942d392adb00518252318bc) into YOUR_RAVELRY_URL.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Craftsy Block of the Month 2012: January to August

I enjoyed Amy Gibson's classes so much that I was delighted to find out she had taught a Craftsy Block of the Month back in 2012. The idea was really great. 20 blocks, 10 techniques, to make a one-of-a-kind quilt. I was mostly interested in learning all the different techniques, and I wasn't super concerned that the fabrics were going to be insane and probably not matching. I would have paid good money for a class like that, but it was free! I went to Jo-Ann's and got a bunch of fat quarters, and not worried about the matching, I just grabbed what I liked.

January: Slash & Sew

These two blocks weren't very difficult, though I definitely had trouble keeping it straight. My wonky pond sign, especially, isn't perfectly aligned. But I'm not too bothered.

February: Half-Square Triangles

I found these quite difficult, and had to make the first one twice. I used Jenny Doan's HST method this time, which meant the outside edges were bias. Whether that's the case, or whether it's just my sewing, or my cheap background fabric, I have no idea, but none of my triangles were usable at first, I ended up redoing them with larger squares, so that I could then square-down to the right size. I also seemed to have a habit of losing about 1/8" of fabric during pressing time! I had a real hard time with these.

March: Foundation Piecing

The foundation blocks were fun to do, and were very scrappy, I just grabbed whatever. I definitely once again had trouble with the size, I was losing fabric during steaming, and they were stretching at the same time. At the end my right triangles weren't right triangles anymore. Once again I had to be super careful and make it a little bigger and trim it down to size. I think this is the last time I will use the cheap white cotton, next time I will definitely use Kona cotton. And I think I need to be more careful during pressing time.

April: English Paper Piecing

I'm really glad to have Jon's cutting machine, because I ordered some hexagons for the first block but I forgot to order for the 2nd block. It also seemed a waste when I just needed a single 2" Hexagon. So Jon used his cutting machine to cut some hexagons for me, and they work perfectly. I thought EPP would be difficult, but turns out they were fun and surprisingly satisfying to make. I'm not afraid of a little hand-stitching, and I didn't think it was hard to remove the paper forms, either. It's quite time-consuming compared to other blocks, but I'm very excited about EPP.

May: Log Cabin

I enjoyed the blocks a lot, though the straight one more than the wonky one. I'm just not a wonky kind of person, I think. I did think these were easy, and it turned out very well, I think.

June: 9-Patch

And once again, we're looking at blocks that get pieced together in rows and columns, which is a big challenge for me as I always seem to lose fabric along the way, and my finished block is always 1/8" too small. This time though I decided to press my seams open, and it made a difference, for sure. It made nesting more difficult, but I ended up not losing fabric so much, so I think I will still press to the side when it doesn't matter but when I'm joining rows or columns and size matters, to definitely press my seams open.

July: Dresden Plates

I really enjoyed making these. They were much easier than I thought they would be, and appliqueing them was easy too. I did a zigzag applique for the first time ever. I'm not sure how much I like the way they *look*, but I definitely think they're easy and fun to make.

August: Stars

I had some problems with these blocks. The Ohio Star block was on the easier side, and my quarter-square triangles weren't bad. I had a lot of problems with the double star block though, the flying geese units were really hard to get just right. And at the end when I had to sew them all together, they still weren't even. By pressing the seams flat, which took a long time, I manage to get juuuust under 12 1/2" squared.

***

I just love this series, I've learned so much already! After all the blocks are done, I will add sashing, then probably explore some interesting straight-line machine quilting (I might do a different design for the different blocks), and finish the binding by machine. I just don't want to do a hand-binding anymore. This will probably end up being either a quilt to display on my craft room wall, or a quilt that we use when we play on the deck.

Hello Pfaff

I've been thinking about a new machine for awhile, but the choices were so overwhelming. Not knowing exactly what I wanted, and not knowing even what I wanted to spend, there were a dizzying array of options out there. In knitting I invested in the best tools immediately. But a full set of Signature Circular needles was ... about $400+. The best sewing machine on the market seems to be Bernina, price wise, but it went anywhere from a few thousand to a few TENS of thousand dollars! I wasn't sure, even at the low end, if it was worth it. I decided though that the following features were absolutely essential for me:

  • Automatic needle threader
  • Automatic thread cutter
  • Large throat space for quilting
  • Adjustable needle positions (my Brother had 3)
  • ...

    Well, all this in addition to a great straight stitch and zigzag stitch, of course.

    At some point of my searching I read about Pfaff machines. Immediately I was intrigued, because I loved the idea of the IDT. An integrated walking foot ... how great is that! I loved that idea, and I loved loved loved how the machines looked. I was also totally seduced by the Expression Quilt on the Pfaff site. (I know it had nothing to do with the machine itself, I can do it with other machines, but it contributed to the overall feel of the machine, the association with the beautiful modern quilt.) I decided to look into them. The nearest Pfaff dealer was Linda Z in Arlington Heights, so I decided to visit them when Jon had a day off. It was a little intimidating as I was a pretty new sewer/quilter still.

    I ended up deciding on the Pfaff Expression 3.5. The Quilter Expression 4.2 was nice, and had 2 additional features that were nice, including adjustable presser foot pressure, but I couldn't justify the price tag, which was $2700. My 3.5 was expensive enough, after all! I thought it was funny, my Brother was $150 ... the Pfaff was $1500, I sure hope my next machine, if I ever get one, isn't a $15,000 Bernina. I can't imagine upgrading right now though. At most, to the Quilter Expression 4.2, but I hope I won't need to. The salespeople tried to convince me into the embroidery machines, but while they were nice, I wasn't all that interested. What's the fun of watching the machine do it for you, anyway? Plus, the pricetag was like $6500 ... to start.

    Anyway, I took my machine home the next day, and I kept my Brother machine too, just in case Kaylee or Tristan wanted to sew in the future. I sure didn't want them using my fancy machine. I'm really, really, really happy with it so far. I did buy a service plan for it, just in case, but so far I'm totally in love with my new machine.

    I do need to buy some more accessories for it in the future, more feet, but they're really expensive so I need to take it slow or my budget will suffer seriously.

  • Chevrons Runner

    I was really excited to find out that Amy Gibson's 2nd class in her learning to quilt series was up on Craftsy. I immediately snagged it, and started watching it. I love Amy's style, and she explains things so clearly. I used to think quilting was for grandmas, but now I know it can be very fresh and modern too, it all depends on the design and the fabric!

    I wanted to make a table runner for my breakfast table, and I decided to get a mix of blue fat quarters in different designs, and make the table runner following the class. I had everything purchased, but didn't actually get to work on the project until after my sewing room was ready. Then I realized I had no more excuse, so I started working.

    The half-square triangles were easy enough to make, though I realized that I had actually been using the wrong guideline on my patchwork foot and everything I made up until now that I thought was quarter-inch seam, was actually 1/3 inch! But I hated using the actual guide of my patchwork foot to make the quarter inch seams, so I looked into other options. Turns out the generic zigzag foot that came with my machine has a needle position that created a quarter inch seam.

    I enjoyed every part of the process, the fabric selection, the cutting, the sewing, the squaring up, and the pressing. I really liked machine quilting as well, and I liked doing the binding too. However, I'm not a huge fan of basting ... at least not compared to other parts of quiltmaking. But it's unfortunately part of the process, kind of like weaving in ends is for knitting and crochet. I played with the design of the top quite a bit, before coming up with my chevrons, which I think is my favorite. My options were actually rather limited because I added a single column to the runner to make it bigger, not realizing for most designs I needed to add 2 columns.

    I didn't like my quilting design at first, which was just horizontal lines at different widths, as well as some diagonal lines, I basically copied Amy's original design. I wish I had been a little more ambitious and played up the geometry of the chevrons instead. Next time I do a chevron quilt, and I'm sure I will as I'm obsessed with them, I will do some quilting in the shape of chevrons on the negative space, for sure.

    I expected the binding to be hard, but turns out it was really easy. My final join was perfect on the first try, and my corners are very nice. I didn't mind doing the hand binding but it took so long, that for future quilts I will definitely use a full machine binding.

    I'm totally hooked on quilting now! And it's time for a new machine.

    Sewing Room

    When we finished the basement, I decided I wanted a craft room ... or more specifically a sewing room. I realized one of my major deterrences in sewing is that setup and teardown is such a pain. There are the cutting surface and cutting mats, the ironing board and iron (which I also have to make sure my little kids don't mess with), the machine itself, all the notions, so sewing seemed so much more work to get going than knitting or crocheting.

    But no longer! I designed my craft room, had it painted orange as that's one of my favorite colors, and decided on all white furniture with gray/chrome accents. I just love it, and it means I can nip downstairs sometimes to cut a square, sew a seam, and then rush back upstairs to take care of my kids. I also don't have to worry about leaving a mess out overnight. I never want to go to bed with our main living area looking messy, so now it's just perfect.

    Jon also put in some speakers, so I can listen to music when I'm working away. All we're missing now is cabinets with a countertop along the back and more shelves up top. We looked into putting a sink in, but it was going to be way too expensive, and there's a bathroom next door anyway, so never mind that. The countertops will probably have to be ordered from Ikea, I'll worry about that this summer.

    Of course, it's not just a sewing room, our cutting machine is there, my loom is there too, and I got a stand for it. I imagine in the future as the kids grow up other crafts will make their way here.

    Kimono Runner

    This is another project that I saw in Sew Gifts! that I really liked. It was a kimono table runner, because it was made with kimono fabrics. Well, construction looked easy (at least, to me, understandable!) and I decided it would be just the perfect table runner to go with my new dining room table. The dining room table itself took a long, LONG journey to get to our house, but it always gave me a Japanese feel. I've always been obsessed with Japanese aesthetics anyway.

    I was planning to order fat quarters from Spoonflower, but they were so, so expensive ... finally I went to Jo-Ann's to see what they had. To my surprise, I was able to get a variety of fat quarters that I felt were Japanese in feeling. And for very little money, probably a quarter to a fifth of what I would have had to spend at Spoonflower. Plus I didn't have to wait for it to print!

    Since Tristan was due any day, I decided to get a move on this. I actually sewed this on my new dining room table, since I still didn't have a sewing room. I had grown confident of rotary cutting and piecing by this point, plus there were no seams to match in this project, so I thought it'd be easy. The top was easy, and was so beautiful. But the way it's constructed, the sides and back was one long stretch of fabric, and somewhere along seaming it, it started to become quite puckery.

    I think the fabric is great and I'm happy with it for now, but I know I will have to fix it sometime. I don't want to waste the beautiful top, so I think at some point I will cut the back out and remake it, either into a quilt, or something with interfacing beneath so it's a bit stiffer. I basically want to get rid of all the puckers, or just make it into a tabletop quilt.

    I asked my husband if it's Japanese, and he said he wasn't familiar enough with Japanese aesthetics to say. But then one time my sister-in-law visited, and she immediately said the fabrics remind her of Maiocchi, so I know that it's definitely Japanese in feel!

    Adventures in Weaving

    I became somewhat interested in weaving after I saw some stuff people made on Ravelry. I bought a class on Craftsy which is an introduction to Rigid Heddle Weaving by Angela Tong, just because I wanted to watch weaving and see how it works. I finally got a loom at Stitches Midwest, and began my first project. I didn't want to do a scrappy scarf, so instead I warped it with black worsted weight yarn, and the weft was this red/gray self-striping yarn. I do think I wove it a little on the tighter side, and it looks a little stiff. But durable, I actually wore this scarf a lot during the winter, it didn't feel as prone to snags or stretches as my knits were!

    My next project was tea towels, which was following along in the weaving class. However, the instructor moved onto a 24" Kromski Harp, which I did not have. But her towel was actually 16" wide. I just had my little 15" Cricket loom, so I decided I'd just modify the pattern so it was 15" instead of 16". Luckily with weaving it's bit of math and calculations before you start ... which I happen to be really good at. While turning the warp onto the beam I got so fed up with the craft paper I was using, it kept bunching and just didn't work for me. Finally I said, forget it, and I did not use the paper, just to see what would happen. Turns out, I ended up having some tension problems during warping, I noticed the yarn on the sides were pulled MUCH tighter than the yarn in the middle, and I remembered that I didn't have this problem when I was working on the scarf. So that's why we had to use something to separate the warp ... Anyway, the problem was pretty obvious when I took it off the loom, but it went away a lot after I washed it. I'm pretty happy with my towels. I made 2.

    I really enjoyed weaving in general, and I really liked doing the hemstitch too. Considering how much I hated seaming handknits, I was surprised. But I think this is really different. The conclusion? I like weaving. I do. But I sort of hate warping right now. I will definitely weave more stuff in the future, as I have a ton of yarn to go through anyway, but I think I will have to find a solution that is not using grocery store paper. Perhaps a bamboo mat? Or maybe warp sticks? I can't find warp sticks made for my loom, but my husband does have a saw, maybe I can get him to cut a few for me.

    Charming Baby Quilt, Take 2

    Kaylee watched me make Tristan's quilt, and I didn't want her to feel left out, so I promised her I'd make one for her too. After finishing Tristan's quilt, I went to Jo-Ann's and bought a charm pack, as well as some white fabric since they didn't have any white charm squares.

    I very carefully cut the white fabric into 5 inch squares, which took me a long time because I was still afraid of cutting. Then I realized that the squares from the charm pack I bought wasn't really 5" squared! It was just slightly above. I decided to trim down to 5", but the pinked edges was a real pain. After just trimming one, I gave up and decided to save the charm pack for another day. Then I went and bought fabric for my colored squares.

    I found this print with puppies on it, which I know Kaylee would love because she's obsessed with puppies right now. (Not real ones though ... she's afraid of real dogs!) Then I found a few other fat quarters that coordinated with it, cut them all, and got sewing.

    I was a bit more experienced this time, and made fewer issues. When a seam didn't line up perfectly, I fixed it, so that at the end all of the seams on the squares actually lined up quite well. I also was very careful doing the topstitching this time too when turning the quilt, and I made sure the edges are square and straight. All in all the quality of the quilt was better.

    I didn't feel like hand-sewing the label this time, so I just used a Sharpie and wrote the label.

    I think she likes it! Well, this picture was taken just now, and I made the quilt 8 months ago, so ... that explains the wrinkles.

    I'm not very happy with the ties though, they have already come out once and I had to re-tie half the quilt. I'm not sure it will hold up in the wash. But no big deal, any future quilts I make for Kaylee will be quilted. I sort of hate ties anyway.

    Charming Baby Quilt

    Browsing on Craftsy one day, I saw a beginner's quilting class called Charming Baby Quilts, and I thought, perfect! I was 7 months pregnant at the time, and I was going to crochet a baby blanket for Tristan, but decided a quilt would probably be faster to do, not to mention teach me something I've been becoming interested in.

    I bought precut charm squares from Craftsy, one of the two for the class, in boy colors. I almost could not wait to receive the package so I could get started!

    I didn't have to cut, which was nice, because I had become afraid of cutting. I got a patchwork foot for my machine and got going. It was also more challenging than I expected ... Amy made it look easy, but she had been doing it for years. For me, even sewing a quarter inch seam consistently, such that the strips lined up, was really challenging.

    I'm not really sure I'm very happy with the blanket, the squares didn't line up well, and when turning the edge the edge wasn't straight so I ended up having to resew parts, parts fell out, it was just bad. At least a baby blanket is made cute by the essence of what it is. The label is hand embroidered, and I used interfacing for the first time.

    But that's okay, I'm sure Tristan will be getting more quilts in the future!

    Courthouse Step Pillow

    I think one of the most scary things about sewing, when I had already become very good at knitting, is understanding the instructions and diagrams of sewing patterns. I find them so confusing and very non-intuitive. The first project that I decided to tackle from the Sew Gifts! book is a courthouse step pillow. I had previously made an envelope style pillow with a Craftsy class, so at least I understood pillow construction. I thought this would be easy ... ish.

    I got fabric from Jo-Ann's, and started cutting. That's when I realized that rotary cutting is not as easy as it looked when other people did it. The ruler kept slipping, and it became such a problem that I ended up cutting the strips with my scissor. I had a really hard time cutting, which I did not expect.

    Next came the sewing, which was also much more difficult than I expected. It's a simple quarter-inch seam, right? But it was not easy for me. I didn't pin, and my strips weren't straight, so the seamlines were all crooked. I'm lucky it's a pillow and size doesn't matter super much in the end.

    When I put it together, I was surprised that it actually looks ... decent. But one of the seamlines along the edge kept busting open, so I know this pillow is merely for looks and cannot actually be used. I will definitely make a replacement some time!

    Journey to Sewing

    I've been on Ravelry for several years, happily knitting and crocheting, but I finally decided to explore some other forms of crafting too. I considered cake decorating for about a minute ... then dropped it fast. Who's going to eat it, after all? I finally decided to get a starter sewing machine and try sewing.

    I made 2 skirts, but really didn't enjoy fashion sewing very much. I was kind of annoyed at the back-breaking work cutting the pattern out was, and I really hated working with the pattern paper, too. It wasn't until I read a book called Sew Gifts! that I decided I was interested in sewing after all ... just maybe not clothes, at least not yet.

    There doesn't seem to be a sewing equivalent of Ravelry, so I decided to just detail my journey in sewing (and other crafts) on a blog. Besides sewing and quilting, I also will be doing weaving, and I'm interested in trying other crafts as well. Quilling, paper crafts, shuttle tatting, kumihimo braiding, I want to try them all in time!

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