Monday, September 12, 2016

Desperation knitting

My latest knitting project started as a total desperation move-- I was nearly finished my baby sweaters and was about to run out of knitting! I have become so hesitant and indecisive with my knitting that this is now a regular occurrence, but this time I decided to take preemptive action. I turned to my Ravelry favorites with two assumptions: 1) Recently favorited items are more likely to be what I want to knit RIGHT NOW! 2) The longer I spent looking for a project the more likely I would be to end up in decision-making paralysis-- and without knitting. So I forced myself to choose a pattern from the first page of my favorites and vowed come-hell-or-high-water I would cast on within 24 hours, using whatever stash yarn was a reasonable approximation of the pattern yarn weight. Which was this:

My first wheel-spun yarn! It was actually started during my first wheel-spinning lesson and I am still shocked by how well it turned out. The fiber is undyed BFL top and it was pure joy to spin. I am in love with looking at and touching the skeins and probably would have hoarded them forever were it not for desperate times calling for desperate measures.

It turns out to be pure joy to knit with-- much more so than yarn from my drop spindle. This is good news because repeated shoulder injuries have made the spindle a thing of the past for me. I am knitting a hat, of all things. Now that it's in progress I realize I have been hankering for a simple ribbed hat in a rustic, tweedy yarn. Desperation, meet serendipity!

The fabric looks rough but I assure you it is very soft and squishy. I am set for knitting for at least a few more days...

Monday, September 5, 2016

Knitting: baby sweaters

I have been a bit of a stranger to my knitting needles lately. The summer has flown by with lots of hiking trips and quite a bit of sewing (which also deserves a post... soon) but I did get a tiny bit of knitting done. Literally, I have been knitting two tiny things:

When all other knitting inspiration fails me I usually find myself in need of a baby shower gift or two-- human reproduction is reliable that way. My thought process for these started with a color palette-- I inherited some yarn from a friend* who has decided she is done knitting.* What I got is a selection of cool blues and purples-- I wanted to flex my color design muscles and use up this windfall.

For the first sweater I chose a deep plum and dusty light purple-- and my go-to baby gift pattern Beyond Puerperium. I tried stripes and I tried a contrast band but neither looked good to me. Here's what ended up happening:

The embroidery took a long time because: a) I had to figure out how to make the stitches on knitted fabric-- there was a lot of starting over! b) Once I had the hang of it I kept stopping to admire the effect, kind of like a photo negative or sun print I think. I did not document my many attempts to stitch leaves for those flower stems-- suffice it to say they didn't look right and they aren't needed.

The second sweater started with two medium blues-- to my eye without much value or hue contrast between them, so I didn't have high hopes for the combination. I played around with stripe width and landed on a ratio that I find very pleasing:

The slightly lighter blue has more contrast with the slightly darker one when there is more of the lighter color-- I wish I could say confidently that this is color theory at work, but my eye at least tells me it is true.

Baby sweaters are a snack-sized amount of knitting with a feast of finishing, usually by the time I have one sleeve done I begin to wonder why I always end up making them.

It's probably because they are adorable-- and another perfect small canvas for playing with color and pattern.

*Hi Vickie!
*Which I find sad, but that didn't stop me from snatching up her yarn before she could change her mind! 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Just for fun

So... I needed a portable project to take on a hiking trip in Vermont, I don't need yet another pair of socks AND I have a small stash of embroidery floss-- the trip is over now but I'm still having a ton of fun making these:

I remember making friendship bracelets way back in the day, but my memory of HOW to make them was fuzzy. This helped me re-learn. Getting the knot tension right took a little practice, and then I had to figure out how to join the ends for wearing. I don't really need to prove undying loyalty to myself-- that's the point of friendship bracelets, right?-- so I wanted an adjustable closure. Here is what I came up with:

I'm rather pleased with the result-- instructions for the macrame sliding knot are here.

These remind me that I make things because it's fun-- maybe not just for fun, but joy and play are essential! I think I lose track of that when I become too product-focused. These bracelets are the perfect little canvas to have FUN with color and pattern. I have a limited selection of colors but I keep finding new ways to combine them:

Pretty soon I'll have an armload-- or perhaps I'll share with my BFFs?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A bit of mending

July 2nd I had an encounter with a sparkler that left a trail of carnage on a favorite skirt:

I was wearing the skirt at the time of the incident, and there is a perfectly matched trail of carnage on my epidermis-- second degree burns, in fact. Fortunately they are healing well with minimal assistance.

The skirt -- actually it is more of a sarong or pareo, but I refuse to confine it to beach wear!-- is quite badly damaged. It wasn't the most precious garment to begin with. I received it as a cast-off from a friend's wardrobe purge, I thought I might reuse the fabric-- lightweight printed rayon, not the highest quality-- for sewing practice. But then I started wearing it and grew to love it, which makes it worth saving in my book.

I have done some darning on knits before and I'm using pretty much the same process for the burn holes using a single strand of embroidery floss and a sharp darning needle. I start by outlining the area I'm going to darn over with a running stitch:

Then I fill in the shape with "warp" threads running across the hole and anchored behind the outline stitches. Finally I weave under and over the warp threads using more floss and a longer needle-- here's the first patch in progress:

This part is engrossing and very fiddly, and I'm enjoying it immensely. I learned to use the side of my darning needle to push against the previous rows as I weave a new one, it kind of snugs up the weave and keeps it flat and even. I am very happy with the results so far:

The color doesn't quite match and that doesn't bother me. Really I should have used silver metallic thread as a kind of visual memento of the sparkler incident, and I may find some and do a little embellishing later on. I don't think I will soon forget catching on fire*, but long after the wounds heal the darned patches will help me remember how to line up the skirt with my body when I put it on! I can't wait to start wearing my skirt again, good as new if not better.

*I actually had to stop, drop, and roll

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sewing Progress

In fits and starts, I am making myself a kimono. I didn't expect to be sewing a garment for my second official sewing project, but the idea sort of fell into my lap-- from a 1990s-era sewing book I picked up at the library on a whim:

The other garments in the book are a bit dated, but the final chapter is a long tutorial on sewing a kimono. A pretty nice looking one:

I liked the idea of following a kind of lesson plan for my first garment, and I was able to scoop up an uncut copy of the circa-1985 pattern:

And also discovered at the same time a very charming way to waste hours and hours--
 hunting for vintage sewing patterns!

I could use a kimono for sure-- my lounging-around-the house clothing consists of a decades-old pair of hospital scrub pants and a small collection of ratty t-shirts. Even a slightly wonky kimono will be an improvement on the current state of affairs.

My planning process slowed to a crawl while I spent hours online browsing for fabric-- and then a quiet weekday afternoon fondling quilting cottons in the Marden's fabric department. I found something suitably soft and lightweight in a --frankly-- fabulous print:

I had and still have major worries about using quilting cotton for a garment, but I also wanted something easy to cut and sew. I hope it works out! The material feels almost like fine percale bed linen-- crisp but not too stiff. Three weeks after cutting, this is where I am stalled:

Three seams sewn and finished-- I should say two seams because I am planning to rip out one of the shoulder seams because the edges don't quite line up and I imagine this will cause downstream problems. I already ripped out and re-did both shoulder seams once because I didn't like my first attempt at seam finishing:

Clean finished = nice looking but too much bulk for this fabric

If I zoom in on my progress a bit, the list of basic things I've done that I had never done before is SO LONG! Cutting out a paper pattern! Squaring my fabric! Pinning and cutting my pattern pieces! Tailor's tacks! I spent several hours playing with my thread tension and stitch length, first with straight stitch, then again with zig-zag stitch. I have learned so much already-- but I do think it's time to step on the gas a bit, and that is just what I plan to do after submitting this progress report!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Sweater baggage

I am in a very sorry state with my knitting right now--I finished knitting everything I was working on and I don't have a single work in progress that is actually in a working state. My hands are itching to knit, but not just anything. Sure, I could easily start another pair of socks and I have a baby shower or two coming up, but what I really, really, really want to knit is a sweater for me. I have five-six sweaters' worth of yarn in my possession but can't seem to commit to anything.

I think the problem is the sweaters I have already knitted for myself-- five in about as many years. Not one has made it into permanent wardrobe rotation-- not after the initial excitement of newness wore off and I began to no, notice wearability issues. A drawer full of barely worn sweaters is a lot of mental baggage for a knitter-- this knitter, at any rate. Let me take an inventory:

1. Shadow:

Finished May 2012. I adore the fabric and the cable pattern-- the yarn is Brooklyn Tweed Shelter and it is so airy, light, and squishy that I just want to hug it all day.  But it is undone by the details-- the sleeves are too short for layering over a long-sleeved shirt and the wide neckline bunches up under all of my coats. If it's just the right temperature-- not too warm for a sweater, but not cold enough to need an outer layer-- I can wear it. It has a loose, flared fit, so without an under layer it gets breezy on those not-warm days-- and with an under-layer it takes on a casual/sloppy look that I don't particularly like. I still try to wear it from time to time and I think it breaks my heart the most because it is SO close to being a great sweater.

2. White Pine:

Finished July 2012 and frogged in 2015. The yarn is a discontinued color of Berroco Ultra Alpaca that a LYS had not-quite-enough of-- but I fell in love and had to have it. I tracked down a sufficient quantity at another yarn shop-- in Minnesota! Turns out I can't stand the heavy, clingy, claustrophobic feeling of alpaca, at least not in this sweater. It's also seriously hot, hot enough for winter outerwear use... if it weren't for the deep v-neck, which leaves some body parts freezing while others roast! I thought about reusing the yarn-- hence the frogging-- but lost interest after a while and gave it away.

3. Shellseeker:

Finished February 2013 and sold at a consignment shop in 2014 for less than the cost of the yarn, which I got on sale at WEBS in 2012. Beware sale yarn! The sweater started out fitting well, but stretched and grew with each wear until it looked about two sizes too big-- I blame the rayon and alpaca content.

4. Orange top-down raglan, knit from my own head:

Finished in 2014 (I think). I got the yarn in a swap and this  sweater was an experiment in trying to match the neckline of a favorite t-shirt. I got pretty much what I was aiming for, but a wide, open neckline is not practical for a heavyweight sweater-- a shame because I took such care with all the details:

I'm really proud of those raglan lines and the purl row to start the neckband.

5. Cordova:

Finished September 2015. This one is also a heartbreaker, because it is objectively gorgeous:The practical details-- long sleeves, crew neck, relaxed but not oversized fit-- are all there. The yarn is Shelter, just like Shadow, but the texture of the fabric is stiff and a bit crunchy for some reason (different gauge, I think). And there is just a whole lot of texture going on-- the cables, the trinity stitch borders (hiding in this photo), all the tweedy flecks. It looks cluttered. The neckline doesn't lay quite right. And I don't love the color.

There they are, all the beautiful sweaters I don't wear. When I start to dream of a new sweater, they taunt me. Is one "just right" sweater too much to wish for? Are my expectations set impossibly high? I'm definitely not ready to give up the quest, not yet-- the process of knitting a sweater is just so satisfying, and the (elusive, seductive) pleasure of wearing a great sweater makes the effort worth it. I think I have some useful wearability criteria going forward:
  • Heavy yarns-- for me that means worsted weight and up-- are meant for warmth and should be knitted with warmth in mind. That means long sleeves and higher necklines! 
  • Pay attention to layering! I don't like to think too much about whether my layers coordinate-- wide necklines should be approached with caution. Also, a sweater without stand-alone warmth should go easily under a coat or jacket. 
  • Approach alpaca with extreme caution! Smooth, heavy alpaca yarns not only make me feel suffocated, they are prone to stretching out-- I'll have to stick to the airy, fluffy kind, or to more fitted shapes.
  • Get texture right: I like pebbly, wooly yarns and I like cables, but I need to be careful about overdoing it. Fabric texture is also important and small changes in gauge can lead to big changes in the feeling of the knitted fabric. I will knit big swatches on multiple needle sizes and if necessary adapt patterns to suit my preferences. 
That's a lot to ponder before I can get on with it! I don't think I'll remain stuck in planning mode for too much longer, but I may have to get my knit fix some other way in the meantime...

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?