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?