Monday, June 13, 2016

Sewing a straight line

I have been dreaming about sewing my own clothes for a long, long, long time. I have owned a sewing machine for four (and a half) years and I haven't sewn a single garment yet. More to the point, I still have approximately zero sewing skills. What has held me back?

I think the biggest barrier has been deciding where to begin. I'm not a good decider, or rather I am not a fast one. My creative process is painfully slow because of this, and my wardrobe building process is even slower... which creates a perfect storm of procrastination! So for my first "official" sewing project I decided-- after lengthy internal debate-- to separate the "acquisition of sewing skills" part of this endeavor from the "making garments" part. I just want to sew some straight lines!

With that in mind, it doesn't much matter what these cloth things are supposed to be, but let's just call them kitchen towels:

I thought this little straight stitching project-- hemming rectangles!-- would be something to breeze through on my way to bigger and better things. The point was to prove that I could get a project to the finish line and have a little victory dance, not to encounter any actual challenge. My sewing machine had other ideas.

I should back up and let it be known that I have sewn with my machine before in a very casual way and that I know how to, for example, wind the bobbin, thread the machine, change the stitch length & tension, etc. A remarkable store of knowledge, really, for having done not much with the thing in four and a half years, but still not enough to sew a straight line with it-- at least not enough to sew a straight line where I wanted to sew a straight line. Try as I might to keep the stitches close to the fold of the hem, the feed dogs kept dragging the fabric to the left, so that my stitch lines landed in the middle of the hem. Not pretty:

I described this problem to every sewing friend I have, including Google. No one could tell me what I was doing wrong, probably because I was doing something so fantastically incompetent that no reasonable person would think to tell me not to do it. I ultimately found out through a rather lengthy process of trial and error-- combined with watching this super helpful YouTube video-- in which I learned a number of things about my machine:
  1. I was missing a step in the threading process-- not relevant to this problem but good to know nonetheless! 
  2. The needle position selector moves the needle from the center to the far left or far right. I knew that already. What I didn't know is that the stitch width selector also moves the needle-- to any position I want! Neat!
  3. When the needle position is set by the stitch width selector, the needle position selector can't move the needle back to the center position-- which to the uniformed makes it appear that the machine is broken! 
  4. The correct stitch width for a straight stitch is zero-- not four. Guess where mine was set. 
  5. Returning the needle back to the center position by setting the stitch width to zero magically restores the feed dogs to their proper functioning! They stop dragging the fabric leftwards! Being still at least partially incompetent I'm not entirely sure why this is, but I'm not going to argue with success:
On top: before-- on bottom: after. Much better!

Once I learned how to properly set up my machine for straight stitching, I won't say it was entirely smooth sailing. My stitch lines are still wobbly in places but I am learning to steady the fabric as it feeds-- working with the feed dogs rather than playing tug of war with them and losing. I began to enjoy the process of stitching slowly while gently guiding the fabric and was kind of sad when I ran out of rectangles to hem. I think that's a promising sign!

After all the difficulties I worked through in the process of making these cloth things I think I am more attached to them than I would have been had I breezed through the project as expected. Also they have pigs:

Maybe I need a matching apron? That's sort of a garment, right? 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Me made

Hello there. It's been a while! Last time I checked in, I think I was knitting some socks. I'm knitting probably my favorite socks of all time right now:

Hermione's everyday socks!

The May weather in Maine has been fickle and frequently disappointing, fortunately I have a fairly deep bench of hand-knit wooly socks to keep my feet warm while spring decides whether it's going to happen or not. My new favorites will have plenty of company:

Taste the rainbow

This plus a couple pairs of thick store-bought hiking socks is my entire sock drawer. I wear each pair at least once a week. The oldest pair is going on four years old-- with zero holes! I have never had a store-bought pair last that long.

The new ones are a bit of a departure from the rest, I wanted a slightly fancier-looking pair in a less riotous color scheme. The yarn is Lorna's Laces Solemate, which is supposed to have magical foot-cooling properties. As much as I love the toughness of my old standbys, the nylon content sometimes makes them a bit sweaty and stifling to wear. I am curious to see what the tradeoff will be in terms of durability-- and I'll find out soon because once these are done I'll be wearing them ALL the time.

Colorway: Daley <3

Socks are my most consistently worn handmade wardrobe item-- they are a practical and benign extravagance, worth both treasuring and, well, wearing to pieces... and then mending and wearing to pieces again! The payoff on the time & money invested is pretty spectacular, setting aside the special satisfaction of wearing something I made. That, of course, is priceless-- and addictive! I want more handmade things in my wardrobe!

At the same time, I enjoy the process of making as much as I love the results... maybe more, if my success rate in knitting a sweater that I will wear as much as my hand-knit socks is any testament. And I'm about to set out on a new adventure in making that I have dreamt about for I don't know how many years-- SEWING!! So... I want to delve into the process of making garments and building a handmade wardrobe, and I think I will have plenty of fodder. It seems like the right time to come back, after such a long pause.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Home Again

I came home late Monday night after ten days in Iceland and I'm still feeling disoriented. It's been a long, long time since I went on such a big adventure, one that makes the familiar unfamiliar when you return to it. I think an exchange of molecules takes place when you travel-- breathing in different air, drinking different water, eating different foods, seeing different sights, hearing different sounds. I imbibed a small draught of Iceland and I may never be the same. It's kind of freaky.

I'm trying to unpack back in to my usual life. There is laundry to be done, groceries to buy-- fresh vegetables will again be part of my diet, thank goodness-- gifts to disburse, and four nights of work ahead of me. Sleep schedules need to be recalibrated-- it stays light almost 24 hours in Iceland this time of year, and I didn't adjust well.

But I still want to hold on to all of it: dizzying bare volcanic cliffs, pools of silver light on dark seas, winds strong enough to lean into, water pounding down mountain sides, lambs scampering, terns screeching, the eerie bubbling call of snipe. The sound of no road noise. The spicy sweet smell of some plant or tree that perfumed Akureyri. The sulfur smell of geothermal hot water on my skin and the laminate coating of minerals in my hair. The strange caramel flavor of brown cheese-- perhaps best forgotten! The unbelievable fat-free richness of skyr. Trying to enunciate mouthfuls of baffling consonants: Snaefellsnes, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, Hvoll, Vagnsta∂ir.

I have pictures, probably not as many as I now wish I had taken-- I find it hard to take things in and take pictures at the same time-- and I will share some soon!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Slow Socks

I have been knitting these socks for I don't know how long. They didn't seem to grow much for the first six months or so. Most of what you see now wasn't there two weeks ago. I'm either going to finish them in a week or they will return to a vegetative state. I'm not even sure what made me pick them up again after making so little progress for so long-- I think from time to time I just need to knit something that has already been started, that requires no effort to get going.

I am knitting them very tightly-- so tight that I have to take breaks because I get a stab between my shoulder blades from gripping my size 0 needles. They are going to fit perfectly and wear like iron. I love the colors and the blurry stripes the patterned yarn makes. It's ordinary Patons sock yarn from the craft store, nothing sacred or fancy, but it delights me all the same.

I have one other pair of hand-knitted socks, and I cherish them. They cost me effort to make and they aren't easy to replace. I wash them carefully and fold them carefully-- I'll probably even repair them when they start growing holes. It's probably placebo effect, but I feel different wearing them-- like someone cares a great deal for me, even if it's only myself.

Sock knitting may just be the opposite of "fast fashion"-- at least for me, at my snail's pace. I have been kicking this phrase around my mind quite a bit in the past month or so, ever since the disaster at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. I have been thinking about the true cost of the abundance of cheap, disposable garments available to us, and searching for a different path.

I would like to live in a slower, kinder world-- the one we have seems so fast and cruel sometimes. It's a naive wish, or an impossible one, surely. Hand-knitted socks are probably not an answer or antidote, but maybe they are a small part of one.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Few Questions

The sweater I mentioned is finished. I wove in the last few ends on Friday, as promised, but I didn't end up blocking it until last night. The blocking scared me a little-- in fact, anticipatory fear of the blocking was what held me back from finishing the darn thing in the first place. After touching water, will it still fit in an attractively slouchy way... or will it become lounge wear? Or better yet, a cat bed?

It's still sopping-- it will be days, weeks, maybe, before it's dry enough to try on-- but I think it's going to be okay. I don't dare verify this with anything so scientific as a tape measure. Which seems like the right thing to do, given that I didn't check my gauge with anything so scientific as a swatch before I cast on.

Delusional knitting is what that is called. But doesn't it look wonderful?

And I think the universe was satisfied by my efforts, because another happy accident of fate brought me together with a dear friend on Saturday. Though we live in the same region of the country, within driving distance even, and generally smile and laugh our faces off every time we get together, this doesn't happen often enough. It was so nice to see her.

I wonder what will happen if I go off now and swatch for a new project? Using my own hand-dyed yarn? It has been sitting unused for almost a year-- if I take it up now what rewards lie in store? Should I buy a lottery ticket?

Friday, April 12, 2013


I came home from work last night at 11:30, which is unusual because I normally come home at 7:30 in the morning. I occasionally get these little gifts of extra free time, and since I have been lately thinking about writing here again, the moment seemed ripe for starting.

It has been almost a year since my last post, but I prefer to say that it has been less than a year since my last post. The devil is in the details. As with many other time periods of less than a year, many things happened-- and not much happened-- but I have let it all go by without comment. Which I don't regret, entirely.

I wasn't sure I wanted to write about anything, least of all knitting. I haven't been trying to come up with things to say, but I also haven't been deliberately avoiding it either. I guess I have just been waiting for something to push me in one direction or another-- either to definitively stop or definitively start.

What I have noticed is the desire to write slowly returning to me. I want to organize thoughts into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and so on. I remember handing in my last paper senior year of college, and thinking, with great pleasure, "Ha! I never have to do THAT again!" Strange to find myself here, ten years later, wanting to write about everything.

And by everything, I mean a lot of things that are not knitting. When I think about knitting, more often than not, I think IN knitting, if that makes sense. And I dream in knitting quite a bit too. But someone once said that writing about art is like dancing about architecture -- the translation is complicated. I'm also beginning to think that I started a knitting blog (or two) to disguise any notions of being a "serious" writer-- which isn't really fair to knitting as a craft or as a topic worthy of  consideration. A blog with few readers flies under the radar no matter the subject, so I suppose I'm free to choose whatever subject I like.

I have a feeling knitting will come up at some point.

Now that is started, and with some of my remaining unscheduled free time I think I will try to finish something else-- a sweater, a nearly done sweater with a mere handful of ends to be woven in. It has been sitting there for almost three weeks. Or as I prefer to say, less than a month. The moment is ripe-- the universe demands it.