Friday, January 20, 2017

My March

Tonight I'm getting on a bus to D.C. for the Women's March. I've never done anything like this-- I'm going with one of my best and oldest friends who has also never done anything like this. But when she asked me to go with her a week after the election I had no hesitation saying yes. Preparing for this has given me much needed focus the past two-and-a-half months. Now that the day has arrived I'm feeling lost and overwhelmed-- excited, terrified. I don't know what to expect.

My instinct in situations of great uncertainty and fear is to retreat-- I know that's probably true for a lot of people. Get it the bunker, ride it out-- if you can. I am feeling the pull of that right now and trying to fight it. In many ways it's a privilege to hide, and my fears are mostly hypothetical and projected. It's also a privilege to march, to feel safe expressing your dissent. I am trying to remember the women (and men) to whom this incoming president poses a more existential threat. I want to stand with them. Still I feel profoundly disoriented.

It has helped, is helping, that preparing for the March connects to my fiber pursuits-- I know I said I would probably not bring up politics again here, but for this reason I have allowed, required myself to do it, even though it's uncomfortable and I feel unqualified as a writer to talk about it. Anyway. Pink is emphatically NOT my favorite color but when I heard about the Pussyhat Project I had no hesitation saying yes. I decided to go all in and spin the yarn-- I scooped up pink wool top in cotton candy, neon, magenta. I spun in a kind of fugue, swift and possessed, until my shoulders ached. Pink wool became big, thick, loud, proud pink yarn:

Which has-- so far-- become two pointy-eared hats:

One of those is for my friend's daughter, who will be marching in Boston. The other I plan to give to a marcher in D.C. A third hat is in progress:

Yes, this obnoxious neon pink/blaze orange/Pepto Bismol concoction is what I hope to be wearing tomorrow. I have a ton nervous energy to expend over the course of the day so I'm feeling optimistic it will be done-- and it's good to feel optimistic about something.

I'm delighted but not surprised that so many knitters have taken up this project we're creating a shortage of pink yarn. I am surprised (and delighted) that so many non-knitters know about the Pussyhats and what they stand for, are asking for them and wearing them and celebrating them. Now that the day has come I'm feeling the power of this connection, alongside all the fear and worry. I'm not sure what the March will "accomplish"-- how I hate hearing those sneering, cynical, defensive words "But it's not going to accomplish anything! It's not going to change anything!" whether spoken by others or in my own internal voice. I have to believe in the power of being present, that there is a kind of magic in so many women (and men) showing up for justice.

My instinct is to fend for myself, to stay hidden and isolated. This no longer seems possible. If nothing else, I want to be there tomorrow to change myself.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The great K1P1 ribbing quest

For my green sweater, I decided I wanted a folded-over k1p1 rib neckband-- it's a neat, cozy sort of edge that looks good to my eye right now. Trouble is I am never happy with the look of MY k1p1 ribbing, to the point that I usually avoid the stitch altogether because it's just demoralizing. Other knitters seem to produce crisp, even ribbing--  I have produced it, in fact my very first knitting project (circa 1999!) was a scarf done entirely in k1p1 ribbing and it looks great:

Compare that to my first neckband attempt on the green sweater:

I am mystified by my inability to reproduce as an expert knitter what my own naive, beginner hands once made without thinking about it! But I am also stubborn and unwilling to admit defeat-- and tinkering with my neckband has given me an excuse to procrastinate further on fit decisions. I have knitted, ripped, and re-knitted the neckband of the sweater... quite a few times. Five I think. I am closer to the look I want but I have also committed to what feels like a bigger quest of sorts: to find some answers-- through research & swatching-- to this problem of k1p1 ribbing. I don't think I'm alone in my struggles, so for the Greater Good of knitters, this is going to be the first in a series of posts about k1p1 ribbing. Get excited!

First I should define what "good" k1p1 ribbing should look like and how my k1p1 ribbing deviates from that ideal. That first scarf is the only sample I have on hand of what I would call "good" k1p1 ribbing, so let's take a closer look:



The knit columns are tight, fairly even and very well defined-- they stand up prominently like the ridges of corrugated cardboard. I think of those knit and purl stitches like partners in a contra dance, linking arms alternately in perfect balanced opposition-- the energy of that opposition is felt in the springy, sprightly elasticity of the fabric. It stretches easily but snaps back with spirit, and when the fabric is relaxed, the purl stitches vanish. A sliver of vertical shadow between the knit columns and a slightly rounded appearance to the knit stitches shows that it is not stockinette, but it is nearly as neat and cohesive. I notice a very slight back-and-forth wobble to the knits, as if they are being pulled to the left or right, but it is subtle and regular enough that it seems like a characteristic of the fabric rather than a mistake. That is good k1p1 ribbing-- or at least the best I have ever made.

The neckband of my green sweater shows what my present-day k1p1 ribbing typically looks like-- quite a contrast! The knit columns are wide and look stretched out-- like ladders, but in the middle of the stitches rather than between them. The fabric has little elasticity-- the purl stitches are still clearly visible in the relaxed state. I would describe it as both stiff and lethargic. Yet it has this twisting energy, as if the knit stitches are being yanked upwards by their left arms-- this is more visible in profile, but in the picture above you can see that the left sides of the knit columns appear slightly higher and more prominent. As a result the whole neckband seems to bias to the left. Maybe if I didn't have that first scarf for comparison I wouldn't be so aware of the flaws in my present-day k1p1 ribbing-- or maybe I would just think that k1p1 ribbing was an ugly-ass stitch that I never, never want to use in my knitting. What I do know is I can't accept it as-is.

There are some big differences between these two samples in terms of construction, yarn, knitting technique-- what I want to know is which factors exactly lead to the huge differences I see in the appearance of the fabric. Are there fundamental characteristics of the k1p1 fabric that lead to the problems I'm seeing? And how do I go about correcting these problems? What role does technique and tension play in this? What about construction and yarn? These and other questions I hope to explore in my upcoming posts on this topic-- with lots of swatches to illustrate! I will say that what I've learned so far in my quest has led to noticeable improvements in the look of my sweater neckband-- here is the most recent version:

Much better right? More about how and why soon!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

And then there were three...

Last time I checked in on my green sweater it had become two green sweaters. If you paid attention to the title of the post (or read my last one), you probably know where I'm going with this.

Yep. A third sweater. My knitting group is worried about me. I am just amazed that I two skeins of still-untouched yarn-- way to go, Bartlett yardage! So I don't see the multiple sweaters-in-progress as a problem... yet.

How I got to this point is mildly interesting if you're a top-down raglan sweater fan. The first sweater I had knitted to about waist length when I started to doubt if I was going to like the fit. When I started the second sweater, I wanted to keep the same yoke depth, neck shaping, and sleeve circumference but end up with more body stitches-- to do this I cast on fewer stitches for the sleeves and changed my rate of increasing for the body and sleeves. I failed to account for how this would change the fit of the neckline, and I didn't figure it out until I had re-knitted the neck ribbing on the second sweater for the fifth (or sixth, I lost count) time. I was trying to get my 1x1 ribbing to look better-- and in this pursuit I fell down a knitting rabbit-hole that I will probably have to write more about in a future post-- and when I finally got something close to what I wanted it still didn't fit the same because I had fewer stitches around the neck than I did for the first sweater.

Still following? God bless/help you. At this point I could have unravelled that second yoke and started over with the same number of neck stitches as the first, with different rates of increasing for the sleeves and body. BUT-- I wasn't sure that I wanted extra room in the neck, and I had enough yarn, AND I was already in an empirical mindset. A third yoke with the EXACT same neckline as the first, but with the same number of body stitches as the second, was inevitable. Sometimes I have to let the "what if?" part of my brain take the rest of me along for the ride.

Now I can choose between neckline #2 or neckline #3 (which is the same as #1) and then decide whether I want more or less room in the chest. Given my decision-making track record I might have this one done in time for next winter!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


I had this slightly mad-- completely bonkers, actually-- idea that I would get all of my unfinished projects done by midnight December 31st. Isn't there something alluring about a clean slate for the New Year? Then I remembered I started two-- TWO-- new textile pursuits in 2016 (sewing and spinning on the wheel), leading to exponential growth in UFO potential. This is good-- exciting! I'm not planning to give up any of my creative obsessions any time soon so why should it be somehow auspicious to start the new year with nothing in progress? But I am not entirely of the belief that "New Year" is a meaningless construct and I like to observe it in some ways-- drinking champagne, passing out on the couch before midnight, and taking down the Christmas tree are my usual rituals. And I thought instead of finishing all my projects-- which was not ever going to happen-- it would be good to start the year with a recap of the finished and unfinished of 2016.

Knitting-- Finished

Baby sweater trifecta:

I got my colorwork on and made good use of some hand-me-down yarn for these wee delights-- more here on # 2 & 3. I finished the first one before I dove back into blogging so I don't have any close-up shots-- you probably can't see but the buttons are tiny purple elephants!

Hermione's Everyday Socks:

Which would be MY everyday socks if I thought they could endure more abuse than they already take. These are comfortable and perfect and just the right amount of fancy.

Ribbed Hat:

My current go-to started as emergency knitting and got me over the fear of knitting with my handspun. I love the interaction of the chunky, irregular yarn and the organized structure of the ribbing, and the shape of the hat is a tiny bit pointy which makes me feel like a tasteful elf who digs earth tones. My husband steals this from me whenever I'm not looking, I should probably make him one of his own-- next time I'm in need of emergency knitting!

Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang:

My absolute favorite project of the year! The yarn deserves a shout-out too:

I started with hand-dyed Polwarth top from Mad Color Fiber Arts and I spun a fractal-- I split the whole braid in half lengthwise, spun one half end to end for one single and the other half I stripped down into three lengthwise sections which I spun sequentially for the second single. I plied them together for a two-ply self-striping yarn with blended color transitions! I chose a pattern that would use up every last little bit of it and I loved every minute of knitting it. It belongs to someone special now, though I was very much tempted to keep it for myself!

I find it a little bit hard to believe that I only finished seven knitting projects in 2016-- I feel like I must me missing something? Probably all the time I spent frogging and re-knitting, because I knit almost every day!

Spinning-- Finished

Look at all that gorgeous yarn!! From left to right: hand-dyed BFL (spun on my drop spindle ages ago-- I used it to practice chain-plying on the wheel), hand-dyed Polwarth from PortFiber, undyed BFL, hand-dyed BFL/silk, and commercially dyed Romney. I ended 2016 with empty bobbins, which I promptly filled and emptied again on January 1st. I am so in love with spinning right now! I'm starting to be able to control my spinning to get the yarn I want and that allows me to think about what kind of yarn I want for a particular project. Knitting with my handspun and planning out projects from the fiber stage is so satisfying-- but I am also in love with the process and with the yarn.

Sewing-- Finished

Many months after officially starting, I still only have one finished sewing project under my belt-- the hemmed rectangles:

Sewing-- Unfinished

BUT, my kimono/robe is pretty close to the finish line:

Hanging it up to take pictures gave me a little burst of pride which I hope will translate into a big burst of finishing it, for God's sake! I definitely want to do more sewing this year-- I have started sketching out ideas and plans for my fabric stash... yeah, I have one of those already.

Knitting-- Unfinished

There's this thing, which is supposed to be a cowl:

and one of these days I'm going to whip it, and the pattern I am writing (!) into shape

And my Bartlett top-down raglan pullover:

Which sprouted a second version:

And now a third:

The perpetual indecision follies continue-- some things never change I guess. I'll post more on this one soon!

This is the first time in a while that I've taken a good look back at a year of making, and I like what I see-- my creative, restless mind and hands continually at work, maybe with not as many finished things to show for my efforts as in years past, but my process has become slower, more thoughtful and engaged, more open-ended. I am excited about my unfinished projects-- making is a continuous thread woven through my life, not something with a beginning and end, and I don't think I will ever be done with it, not as long as there is so much left to explore.

Here's to another year!

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Big "E"

The weekend before the election, I went with a group of friends to the Fiber Festival of New England, otherwise known as the Big "E", in Springfield, MA. That seems like a lifetime ago now-- the results of the election have left me reeling, grieving. Maybe that sounds melodramatic, but this is three weeks later and those words-- reeling, grieving-- seem completely appropriate even though the initial shock has worn off. Looking at my pictures from the Big "E" feels like sifting through artifacts from a lost civilization:

And what about this?

I am still blundering towards a way forward-- I'm not wallowing in despair, I have quite enough to occupy my days between work, family and general life maintenance for that. I am speaking of a bigger way, a moral path-- something to be done against the breathtaking dread that rises up, renewed, each day since November 9th. That plaque seems impossibly precious in both senses of the word-- rare and valuable as well as a bit quaint and naive. Kindness-- in this newly re-ordered world-- seems both necessary and insufficient. I will cling to it but right now I'm feeling like I'm going to have to dig in and find some other things to lean on. I'll let you know if I find any.

Still I keep looking and looking at these pictures, maybe with a selfish little wish that I could go back to that island of peace and civility and glorious human variety-- of identities, talents, passions, stories. It's easy to imagine, inside a bubble of happiness, that everyone wants the same things from the world-- and perhaps we do, mostly, but we seem to be so (hopelessly?) divided on how to get them.

This might be the only thing I have to say here on the subject of the election and its aftermath, I'm not sure yet, but I needed to say something before I resume my regularly scheduled programming of knitting, spinning, sewing and other things that keep me sane.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Sweaters multiply

Whilst I have been yammering on about Slow Fashion I have been knitting away on my green sweater-- last time I checked in I had knit to just beyond the yoke increases when I had to reassure myself about gauge. Sometime last week I reached the end of a skein and decided it was time for a try-on. It's hard to judge what the final fit of the sweater will be because I know it will grow about an inch with blocking, but I'm pretty sure that that inch it not going to get me the fit I want. The trouble is I'm not 100% sure and I want to be!

I wish there was an easy way to compare size and fit with handknits-- how great would it be to have two sweaters that were almost exactly the same except for the chest circumference, so I could try them both on and do a side-by-side fit comparison?

Well, because I am that kind of knitter, I decided that I had to do it-- I had to knit a second sweater that is almost exactly the same as the first except the chest circumference is two inches bigger. My future (warm, cozy, stylin') self will thank present-day self someday, I just know it.

Really it's not so outlandish a thing to do-- I have enough yarn, enough time (though it is beginning to feel distinctly winterish these days and I would like another warm sweater!), and sufficient math skills to work out the changes in the stitch counts and increase rates and so on. I wanted to keep the sleeve circumference and the yoke depth essentially the same, so I had to start the sleeves with fewer stitches-- and that meant more increases at the front neck to keep the same front neck drop as version one. The added chest stitches will come from a combination of another increase round and extra stitches cast on at the sleeve divide. Ah, the satisfying puzzle that is the top-down raglan sweater!

I am also taking the time to try to get the neck ribbing just right. The key word being try-- I have kind of an inferiority complex about my k1p1 ribbing. The knit columns always look too wide and stretched out to my eye, even when I go down 3-4 needle sizes:

So version 2 is going to be my testing ground for better-looking neck ribbing. I have tried six sizes down, and now I am trying six sizes down with Eastern-wrapped purls. I think the stitches are getting smaller, but I may be reaching the limit of how small they can get before I actually need to increase stitches so the neck will fit over my head!

Looking better, maybe?

I don't feel any hurry to finish-- once I choose an overall size I still have to figure out length and sleeves and I am fully prepared to rip back as many times as it takes. Funny, I have always beat myself up for my indecisiveness in apparel, especially handmade apparel. Maybe I just haven't given myself enough time to decide, and maybe my failures have been the result of rushing my decision-making process? Maybe once I re-establish some confidence in my choices the decisions will get easier? Hard to say, but this feels different and I love it!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Negotiating Ethics-- Slow Fashion October Week 4

This month has felt very slow indeed as I have taken more time than ever before to think and write about what I wear, what I make, and why it matters. These posts have not come easily, but through patience and sometimes force of will I have managed to write my way into a kind of understanding of where I stand with my wardrobe-- and I have been getting dressed slowly and thoughtfully, and I feel less hurried to add new things. But still so many more thoughts remain and questions that have no easy answers. Karen's prompt for this week is Known Sources:

Good (especially good and affordable) sources of yarn and fabric with traceable origins. And for the things we buy, favorite sources: from small-batch designer-producers to fashion companies trying to do the right thing in a transparent way.

I have been having a harder time with this topic than any of the others. Maybe it's that fatigue has set in a bit, or maybe it just feels like there is way too much to say when we bring up ethics, about doing the right thing. I have written about failures and guilt, overbuying and under-wearing my clothes, because it feels honest and transparent to me at this moment, and I do want to make better choices, ones that I can feel good about. But I keep stumbling over this notion of "feeling good." My mind has been occupied in particular by this post by Suze, and this one by Simone, as well as this essay with its cheerful title: Being moral means you can never do enough.  Does feeling good-- or less guilty-- about our personal choices mean that we have done "enough"? What if we never can do enough with good intentions-- and enough money to opt out of buying cheap clothes? What then? 

The ability to buy your way out of an ethical dilemma is a privilege that few have. If we're going to talk about transparency and ethics, I think we need to address this. And please understand that I am speaking as someone with the means to spend a bit more on my clothes-- I include myself in my own scrutiny, in fact I'm usually first in line. 

A lot of what I read about Slow Fashion is tinged with nostalgia for the way things were-- before Fast Fashion, before the garment industry relocated to low-income countries without labor or environmental regulations. Clothes cost more and for that reason most people had fewer of them. Having a closet full of nice things was a sign of wealth and privilege-- still is, for that matter-- or else a lifetime of smart shopping, but I suspect that most people made do with what they could afford and made those things last because they had to, not because they were necessarily satisfied with what they had. Now many of us can afford closets that are stuffed full, clothes can be worn or not worn, kept or discarded, based on our preferences rather than need-- and I think that many people are satisfied with this. Before, we were accidentally, or incidentally, ethical in our clothing habits, for the most part-- I would rather not complicate things further by bringing up the realities of garment work and the lax environmental protections of the good old days. Today, the default mode of garment manufacturing and consumption is an unqualified human rights and environmental disaster (see The True Cost or read Overdressed) and making ethical choices is so much harder than being accidentally ethical because we can have what the majority of us wanted all along-- cheap, abundant, stylish (or at least trendy) clothes. It's soothing to imagine an idealized past when getting dressed, when just buying underwear for Heaven's sake didn't feel like such a moral quagmire, but do we really want to trade places with our great-grandmothers who had one dress for everyday and one for Sunday best? Maybe feeling good about our choices is what we sacrifice to have so many of them?

When I wrote my first post on this topic, I thought of Slow Fashion as a way to reconcile my desire to dress well with my ideals and ethics. Now I'm not sure that those things can be reconciled, especially if leading a moral life really is a never-ending journey-- and I think it probably is. Negotiation might be a better way to describe it-- making small sacrifices of desire and promising to do better. That is why I have trouble recommending sources based on transparency and ethics, because "better" choices are inevitably a compromise-- one that not everyone can afford to make, at that. 

I like Everlane, their clothes are simple and easy to wear in a lot of different ways and the price-to-quality ratio is high. They claim to work with factories that have high standards for human rights and they have plans to push this further in their supply chain as they grow and have more clout. I love Dieppa Restrepo shoes for their quality and comfort and the way they effortlessly work with almost everything I wear-- I have one pair that I have worn at least three times a week for almost two years and I hope to make them last a long, long time. They are also pricy and hard to find-- and I can't find much info about their sourcing, other than that the shoes are hand-made in Mexico. I can imagine saving my pennies and buying a few things from Elizabeth Suzann-- I could wear the heck out of these pants or this dress. But I need to make it clear that these are all things I like-- I'm not making any huge sacrifice in choosing them and I don't need a pat on the back. And having a smaller, more functional wardrobe is also not a sacrifice-- it's actually easier and more rewarding, or so I've heard. 

These questions have me tied in so many knots I can't even figure out what I'm arguing anymore. Sometimes I try to account for every possible point of view on an issue and I lose track of where I stand. Morality and ethics are not easy or comfortable, that's why so few of us actually live up to the standards we claim to have. But that isn't a reason to stop trying-- buying fewer clothes, wearing them longer, choosing handmade, second-hand, and responsible brands, mending and refashioning, even though it might not be enough to save the world. Maybe I just want to acknowledge that it might not be enough, that I'm not sure what "enough" looks like. Maybe I want to make sure that I'm not putting too positive a spin on my choices, because I continue to see this as a negotiation between desire and ethics. I will continue to make compromises because there is a certain baseline of enjoying my clothes and enjoying style that I am not ready to give up. 

Then again, I don't think I have to-- I keep finding, to my surprise, more enjoyment in having less. Maybe someday I will have two dresses and that will be amazing.