Friday, April 30, 2010

Spring Flower Power Slippers

I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew, so when a non-knitting friend asked me if I’d knit some slippers for her kids’ clothing store in Germany, the answer was a resounding YES heard half way ‘round the globe. Vacation has a way of playing with your head, and this was no exception.

Getting paid to knit – it was like a dream come true! How could I say no?

It all started innocently enough. We were browsing in a wool store, and my friend picked up a book on felted slippers and showed me a little flower-speckled pair, and asked if I would make some to sell in her store. Sure, I chimed in, having given the matter a requisite nano-seconds’ worth of thought. Busy with my own yarn shopping agenda, I didn’t blink when she proceeded to buy the pattern and wool for three pairs. She had help from a salesperson so I stayed out of their transaction, concentrating on my own selfish woolly stash-augmenting plans.

Mistake number one, but who’s counting?

The salesperson had substituted the incorrect yarn. We were in Germany, and being unfamiliar with this private label, who was I to say? A bit like Lopi and it’s thinner cousin, Lett Lopi, the recommended yarn also had a thinner cousin. My friend, being the non-knitterly type, assumed all was well as we strode out of the store.

I started to knit up a swatch and my doubts started to grow along with it. I was sure I had the wrong yarn, but without access to the internet, I was at a loss. It would have to wait until I got home.

Sure enough, my Google-fu concluded I had the wrong yarn. 50g=50m, when what I needed was half as thick, namely 50g=100m. The only reasonable alternative was Lett Lopi, which I mail-ordered from Ram Wools in Winnipeg. Being practical and unable to step down from a challenge, I went ahead and ordered wool for 11 pairs of slippers. This, as you should well know, is referred to as “justifying the mail order charge”. Basically, I just clicked “add to basket” on each bright colour I saw.

I mean, just how hard could this all be?

I started in on my first pair. I didn’t like the way the pattern had a seam up the back of each pair, which, when felted, would contribute to a large ridge at the heel of the slipper. Of course, this brilliant thought occurred to me as I was halfway through the first slipper, so I frogged, and went one better using a provisional cast-on using a crocheted chain. This would permit me to kitchener (yes, it is a verb!) the live stitches when all was done, making for a seamless construction. I knat happily away, until I came to the sordid realization that I didn’t have enough wool to make one pair out of each ball. I weighed the wool, and I came in at 45 grams instead of the 50g “under ideal conditions” as the label states. I wonder what exactly constitutes “ideal conditions”? Perhaps the Icelandic economy is so bad that it has even affected the wool producers? This austerity measure theoretically meant I was missing 10m of wool from each ball or a 10% loss! So I frogged once again, and reworked the pattern. I cast on 2 stitches less than called for (almost imperceptible), and slipped my selvage stitches, by knitting the first stitch through the back of the loop, and slipping the last stitch with the yarn in front. I can’t tell you how much yarn this saved, and, when felted, made for a much nicer edge than a regular knitted edge. Proud of myself, I managed to make one complete pair out of a 45 g ball, and still have a few metres left to spare. I also kitchenered the last 8 stitches at the toe together, rather than pull them together like the pattern suggested. Everyone knows a hole before felting turns into a crater after felting. This extra finishing added a lot of time to the completion of each pair, but the best was yet to come. I managed to bang away a pair a day, knitting so furiously I wore a Lopi induced channel into my forefinger.

Felting time was upon us, and with much delight and glee, I proceeded to felt the first pair. My first victim was a moss green pair. I was a bit disappointed by the colour, so it went in first. Three hours later, I had success.

Obviously, I was going to have to find a way to streamline this process a bit, or the Maytag man might just be wearing a path down to our house. Something tells me Eric might not appreciate my crafting endeavors resulting in home repair bills. When things break in our house, we invariably roll up our sleeves and fix them ourselves. This resulted in a four-hour repair job in which I single-handedly took apart our Thermador stove vent and replaced a broken relay switch, and another in which a fridge-parts salesman told me, “Lady, just get yer husband to call me, eh?”, something that resonated with me like a 4.4 on the Richter scale would. Home Appliance Repair is a challenge we rise to, dammit.

But I am digressing once again, so back to the slippers at hand!

I was afraid to felt different colours together, but at some desperate point, I threw two similar colours in together, and although bits of the wool transferred over, no damage was done. The Lett Lopi felts super-fuzzy anyhow, and needed substantial trimming before I applied the finishing flowers, so the transference of colour was not an issue. I forged ahead.

This lead me to my next mistake. My inability to count and calculate. Each slipper was trimmed with 12 flowers. That’s 24 per pair, making for (drum roll, please!) 264 tiny flowers that needed to be crocheted. My mother, being the crafty crafter she is, hauled out her cache of embroidery floss and we set to work. At first glance, it all seemed so over-whelming, so we simply set out and crocheted flowers haphazardly, until I decided we needed to plan this thing a bit better. For each pair of slippers, we needed a pair of flowers. No sense in crocheting one flower if it didn’t have a partner. I also tried to be frugal, and use the colours we already had, but when I broke down and went to Walmart to buy industrial quantities of embroidery floss, things went much smoother. If you could understand my aversion towards Walmart, you’d understand this was a last-resort coping tactic of epic proportions. I started to match each slipper with 12 colours of floss, and worked from there. It is amazing just how manageable this made things. I’d sit down with the intention of making 4 or 6 little flowers, and in the end, they were flying off my fingers like I’d been making them my entire life.

I finished each crocheted flower by weaving the end in with a needle, and by threading on a bead. If I was lucky, the bead fit over the needle. If I was unlucky, I had to thread it on by hand, re-thread the needle, and tie both ends in the back of the flower with a double knot. I dabbed a drop of Krazy glue on the knot, and trimmed both ends. I did this to each and every flower. 264 crazy times.

The next big hurdle was sewing each little flower on, obviously ensuring the other slipper was a mirror image. Easier said than done, so I first arranged a pleasing colour scheme on a flat surface, and then pinned each flower in place. I basted each flower, before finally sewing them on permanently, going through the bead about 4 times each. The felted fabric was thick enough that I was able to hide my thread from flower to flower in the thickness of the knitting. From the inside, the stitches are almost imperceptible.

I’d hoped to get them all out in the mail to my friend in Germany by Easter, but that day came and went.

I still had one hurdle to overcome: the slippers needed to be slip-proof. I managed to find one bottle of Regia ABS Latex at my local yarn store. The Regia ABS is made for this specific purpose, but once I got it home, I became a bit wary of it. It was blue, and therefore would clash with some of the colours. It also seemed labour intensive, since I had to build up layers for an optimal non-skid surface. Cost was an issue too, this tiny bottle cost me $14, and by my best guesstimate, I figured I’d only get 5 pair out of each bottle if I was lucky.

I stumbled upon a company called Plasti-Dip, and as luck would have it, they have a clear spray-on product called Super Grip developed especially for fabric. The only problem was finding this product in Canada. I was informed by their US distributor it wasn’t available in Canada, but what do they know? I did a bit more research and found a local company who distributes it, and when I explained my predicament to their regional sales manager, he special-ordered me a bottle from their Toronto office – free of charge. Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you was all I could muster. I must have sounded like a crazy, desperate craftsperson, why else would he have given me a bottle for free?

This product doesn’t just work, it works like a charm! If you are a crafter who makes felted slippers, or hooks rugs, then this product is made for you! I tried it out on a missing-mate sock, and am really pleased with the results. It doesn’t pick up dog and cat hair, truly is non-sticky while remaining grippy (that’s my technical term, and I’m sticking to it, pun wholly intended!), and passed the washing machine experiment with flying colours. If there ever was a product to endorse, it is this.

Onward I forge, hoping to get these babies done and in the mail by the end of the week. Really.

This entire project was so fulfilling, that when I found about Ram Wool’s anniversary sale, I jumped on the Lopi bandwagon and ordered 20 more skeins.

Call me what you want, but don’t call me a quitter!


joan said...

I left a comment on rav about these slippers, then I just read your blog about them. They are all so pretty! I think you will be getting more orders
from your friend, to keep her supplied.

Ann said...

Thanks for your compliment, Joan! They turned out very nicely and I am pleased with the results. I really hope they sell, because I just picked up 20 more skeins of Lopi from the post office yesterday! They knit up quickly - the devil is in the finishing details. At worst, I'll have lots of little slippers to give as Christmas gifts! Thanks for stopping by!

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