Most of my Clothes Used to be Bedsheets

 

It’s true, most of my clothes were originally produced to cover mattresses. Other people’s mattresses. Now, those old sheets have become my arsenal of t-shirts and dresses. I love transforming bedsheets into everyday garments.

The Practical:

It’s already been established that I’m operating on a tight making budget. $40 a month doesn’t go very far for everything needed to make clothing. Plus, I’m a newbie. I’ve only been sewing regularly for nine months – and teaching myself no less. If I hope to get any better, I need to practice, which requires access to materials. Sheets have a ton of yardage. Thrifted bedsheets, which I can sometimes buy according to weight, are a perfect solution to a tight budget. Most of the time I can get a bedsheet for $1-3, and each bedsheet will make two items (50 cents a shirt! that’s even cheaper that fast fashion). But the practical is only one piece to this grand making adventure.

The Philosophical: Beyond the practical reasons for sewing with bedsheets.

When I use my hands to create a garment from a discarded textile, I give those materials new life. I honor the hands involved in producing those materials – from the farmer who grew the cotton, to the workers who processed the fiber, to the artists who compiled the pieces together. My transformed garment remembers all of their efforts. I’m remembering the nameless and faceless. I’m refusing to let their efforts be masked. I’m recognizing that behind every item is a collection of hands desperate to make a living because my community demands absurdly cheap materials. And by remembering them I can resist my own urge to demand the same. I consider making garments out of discarded items as a gentle but powerful act of resistance. I resist the structures of capitalism that equate human beings to energy – simply cheap resources to get the job done. I resist the culture of waste – that new is always better and the old is better off discarded. I resist the idea that making things by hand is useless and meaningless. I resist the concept that handwork is too costly and inefficient.

Each time I choose to transform a discarded item into an everyday basic, I am habituated to see the good in the unwanted and discarded. This act small act of resistance reminds me not to give in to the demanding voices of an economic system that feeds on cheap labor and easy access to anything I want.

Making from unwanted items satisfies more than just my small budget, it creates the space for thoughtful reflection and critical engagement with economics, culture, and capitalism. I’ve grown to love my practice of sewing from bedsheets. But it doesn’t end there, while the practical and philosophical reasons for sewing with bedsheets are necessarily entwined, I wonder what would happen if my craft budget increased? I’m committed to the philosophy behind making with used materials, but I don’t believe that used materials are the only answer to my environmental and ethical commitments. Used materials fit within my budget at the moment, but I’m confident that ethical options are available at any budget point. I know if I had the resources, I would gravitate towards newly produced materials that acknowledge and valued the work of farmers, producers, and makers.

I’m purely speculating. I don’t have the resources at the moment to buy new, and I don’t think I’m good enough at sewing to use new ethically produced materials without the fear of ruining them forever. So while I’m building my skills with needle and thread, I feel confident and comfortable with my choice to use discarded items.

All that from an old bedsheet!

Happy Making.

 

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Mending: Torn Leather Bag

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One of my recent clothing swap pieces was this handy leather crossbody bag. It’s an upgrade from the tiny sized one I previously owned. While this tiny bag was perfect for the essentials (phone, keys, wallet), it was a bit tricky to stuff a cake of yarn and small knitting project into it. I imagined my new favorite hobby (knitting and walking) would be much easier with bag large enough for the essentials + knitting project.

I also picked up this bag because I wanted to give it some added years of use. Rips and holes are usually reason to toss an item into the landfill. If I mend this small rip, even if I find this bag isn’t as useful as I hoped, I could send it back into the clothing swap cycle and it might have a higher chance of new ownership. Basically: no rip = greater chance of use.

Even more than that, I wanted to test out how sewn repairs on leather hold up on high traffic or high tension areas. This bag tore right where the strap meets the bag, which makes it a perfect candidate to test how long a sewn repair might last.

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The Repair

Materials: I used hand quilting thread and a large eyed needle for my repair.

My method was something like this: insert needle from underside of leather to top on lower portion of rip. Pull thread tight (but not too tight). Insert needle from underside of leather to top on upper portion of rip. Pull thread tight. I did this until the hole was closed. I tied a small knot in the thread to secure the stitches and snipped the thread.

This repair created a zipper like effect on the fabric which reminds me a bit of Tim Burton movies (specifically Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas). I ran into a few problems in the middle of my rip. With this leather, it was clear that the area immediately surrounding the rip was weak and would not handle the stress of a needle and thread. On this particular rip, the area in the middle was significantly weaker than the two corners. When I would sew through the middle section, often my thread would tear through the leather. My solution to this was simple: insert the needle farther from the ripped edge. So, in my repair, the stitches are noticeably different lengths.

This isn’t what I would call the most beautiful bit of visible mending, but it does the job. I am interested to see how these stitches hold up, especially considering in my repair process the stitches pulled out in some places with minimal force. If they don’t hold up, the next step is to create a larger patch secured to more than one seam.  However, I will be pleasantly surprised to see how long this repair might last.

Happy Mending

Tour de Sweater: Half Brioche Sweater

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This is my favorite sweater. Just by number of wears, this sweater overwhelmingly beats out every other sweater I’ve made. It’s everything I want in a sweater: pullover, slightly oversized, white, textured, normal sleeves.

I jumped on the knitalong for the Universal Brioche Sweater by Anna Kuduja. Like the improv, the universal brioche sweater is another sweater recipe. It’s knit top down with a drop shoulder. I think this construction serves my shoulders better than a raglan construction. This sweater hangs nicely and doesn’t shift around. However, I am fully aware that might be because it is a pullover and not a cardigan…

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This yarn comes from a fantastic, very large, vintage (80’s?) brioche mohair sweater. I wore the original sweater around for a season, but it was so large it swallowed me whole, more like a very unshapely sweater dress. I decided to unravel it and knit my own brioche mohair sweater that was more suited to my size. Unraveling this yarn was a sneezefest. Mohair flew everywhere. I had to unravel very slowly because the fibers would tangle in a flash. But I really wanted this sweater, and my determination won.

 

OS2A5945My sweater has around 4 inches of positive ease, a scoop neck, and sleeves that fit! I chose to make the armholes longer than I ever expected. I thought by making a larger armhole than I have ever made before, I might be able to avoid my tight sleeve curse. It worked, sort of. I ran into a brioche specific problem when starting the sleeves. When picking up stitches in brioche stitch, the picked up fabric tends to puff out. I experimented with fewer and fewer stitches, and finally came up with a combination of picking up stitches every 2 out of 3 rows, decreasing (k1, k2tog) the next row, and starting a drastic underarm decrease immediately. After three half sleeves, I finally produced a sleeve that made me happy: enough ease to be comfortable, but enough shaping to follow the actual shape of my arm. Can I confidently say the cures is broken? Not yet…

 

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This sweater actually took ages to knit. I didn’t realize before I jumped in, but brioche stitch takes double the time to knit as stocking stitch. Because brioche involves slipping stitches, every row basically takes two rows to complete. I was also using lace weight mohair on size US 5 needles. I began this sweater on February 16th and finished May 1st.  Um… What? Two and a half months on a sweater? While my internal assembly line is freaking out at the time it took to make this sweater, my slow fashion brain is trying to kick it aside. I wear this sweater all. the. time. This is the first sweater I pull out when the weather turns cool. It is the first one I put on when I’m feeling a little sick, and also the first one I grab when I want to feel classy and effortless. This sweater is everything to me. It was well worth the time and, to be honest, the frustration.

 

Frogging, Tinking, and other ways of un-knitting

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My favorite of the knitting lingo has to be the various ways we describe undoing our knitting. Different terms describe specific aspects or feelings about the undoing process.

Frogging: Most often, frogging refers to the phenomenon of completely undoing all of your knitting. The entire project is returned to yarn ball form. Usually this involves frustration, a massive mistake, or a lackluster project. There are some fantastic reasons to frog a project (like my portage cardigan), but if and when to frog is completely up to the knitter. I’ve noticed that most knitters I meet consider frogging an incredibly painful process, and sometimes it can be. However, I think frogging can be the most liberating part of knitting. When I teach beginner knitters how to do the knit stitch, I build in a bit of frogging in our first class. After newbie knitters have knit about seven rows of garter stitch (remember how hard that was??) I ask them to rip out all their knitting so they can learn to cast on. I’m often met with moans and groans, “but we just did all this work! how will I manage to do this again?” I always try to assure my new knitting friends that frogging isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s sad to see hours of knitting disappear in a matter of minutes, but I would rather have usable yarn freed from a hideous project. And if we’re really looking on the bright side, this means I get to do more knitting! Synonyms: rip back, rip out.

Rip Back: this is also a synonym to frogging, but can also refer to undoing only a portion of one’s knitting. For example, I had to rip back a hat to the ribbed edging because I used the wrong needle size for the body of the hat. Some people might also refer to this as frog back.

Tinking: (literally knit backwards). Tinking is the process of undoing only a small number or stitches when compared to frogging. It can be a partial row, or maybe even two or three rows.

Cutting you knitting: This might be the most drastic measure on this list. For example, If I had knit the back portion of a  sweater, only to realize that I accidentally used the wrong needle size for the rib edge section, I could rip back the entire portion of the sweater, or I could make a small incision into one stitch above the ribbing, unravel that row, pick up the stitches from the body and knit the ribbing again in the correct needle size. The Fruity Knitting Podcast has a great tutorial on cutting and grafting your knitting. I often cut into my knitting if there’s a particularly tricky bind off that won’t budge, is too tight, or refuses to unravel.

It’s clear to see that each term describes different reasons one would undo knitting. We could view these moments as tragic, or we could embrace them as part of the making journey. I view these moments as an exercise in humility and as a reminder to slow down. I have never been forced to knit. Knitting is a hobby, a time for leisure and relaxation, also necessary for my soul (so I might even call it a spiritual exercise). I can take the time to undo knitting. And it might even make me a better person.

Tour de Sweater: Improv Cardigan

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This next sweater in the lineup was an exercise in knitting confidence. I’m talking about my Improv Cardigan using Karen Templer’s Improv recipe. Her recipe is an introduction to knitting any top down raglan sweater. There is a ton of room for improvisation (hence improv). She details how to use measurements, gauge, and a little math to create the sweater of your dreams.

Stumbling across this recipe on her site will probably mark an important day in my knitting life. This is the kind of autonomy I always search for in knitting. Someone who will take the time to explain why things work the way they do, and how I can make exactly what I want. This recipe is all of that and more, plus tons of projects on the ravelry page to inspire you to take chances.

I didn’t exactly dive into this project. I actually took my time to read through every blog post before starting. Preparation seemed imperative when branching out into improv territory. I found the recipe on the very edge of my capabilities, so I drew out every step to visualize the process.

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I was equally excited about my yarn choice as I was my newfound knitting autonomy. I spotted this sweater at a thrift store about a year before, immediately bought it, and was waiting to finish languishing sweater wips to cast on. It is mainly natural colored lambswool with a strand of gold spun in to add the perfect amount of shine. It’s girly, but not over the top (how I usually describe myself). Unraveling this sweater was a dream, there were no instances of armpit felting or difficult necklines. It just wanted to be released from its current shape.

The knitting process was a bit arduous. I think this was my first fingering weight sweater. I remember thinking “this sweater is taking so long” but in reality I knit it up in about a month. Upon reflection I was probably being dramatic.

I have detailed notes about my improv choices on my ravelry page, if you’re interested I recommend checking them out.

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The rubber really hit the road for this cardigan after a few wears. I found that the sweater wanted to shrug back off my shoulders. Also, as usual, the upper sleeves were too tight. The sleeve problem is understandable given my history, but the strange thing with this sweater is that my armholes were actually too large. I’m still at a loss to describe how armholes could be too big and sleeves could be too tight. I just don’t know. So, fit issues were a major factor that prevented me from enjoying this sweater. I wore it often, I just didn’t enjoy it.

As I’ve considered the fit of this cardigan, I started to wonder if, perhaps, raglan cardigans aren’t for me. Maybe my shoulders need the support and structure of a seamed garment? I don’t know enough about fit to be confident in this conclusion, but I’m suspicious.

This fall, I made the decision to frog this version and knit up a different little white cardigan in its place. I chose the Honeyflower Cardi by Hannah Fettig in Making No. 3. The finished version of this cardigan will be on the blog soon, and I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts to share.

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Even though I’ve transformed this sweater into something new, I’m still overjoyed that I stretched my skills. By stepping into an unknown world, I realized I want to learn more about good pattern construction, fit, and sweater design. The best thing about this realization is there is no deadline. I have all the time I need to think more about patterns and what I want.

Tour de Sweater: Portage Cardigan

Before I begin I have to admit that this sweater in this form no longer exists. It has already been transformed into this sweater here and I regret absolutely nothing.

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The moment I first saw the Portage Cardigan on ravelry I fell head over heels in love. This cardigan has the kind of details I love. An all-over cabled back, amazing pockets, and a shawl style collar.

The problems began when I also set my heart on using Berroco Remix – a heavy worsted/aran weight yarn – for a pattern that recommends dk weight. Problems continued when I determined this yarn did not highlight the cable pattern, and culminated in my choice to substitute cables with a slip stitch pattern.

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Yarn substitutions: I am a serial yarn substituter. I can think of two projects where I have used the recommended yarn + pattern combo (my vest and shrug). Since both of these projects were just completed this summer, I have spent most of my knitting career substituting yarns. Yarn substitution is a helpful skill to have as a knitter, especially one with a tight budget. The basics of yarn substitution are simple: rather than knit with the recommended yarn, you knit with a substitute. The easiest way to substitute yarn is to find a replacement yarn in the same yarn weight. Most of the time I’ve found this works relatively well. But sometimes the results can be less than satisfying.

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A gauge swatch is essential for any successful yarn substitution. Determining if your selected yarn matches the stitch and row count is the first step, but isn’t the only thing that matters. Any patterned stitches should be swatched to see if the yarn and pattern work well together. That was one lesson I learned with this cardigan. When I swatched the honeycomb cable section in this yarn, I found that the cables were almost invisible. This isn’t just because the yarn was black (though black has a bad reputation for visible cables). While there can be a number of reasons a particular yarn doesn’t work for something like cables, I found that the most glaring factor of this yarn was the tweed content. The white flecks were much more visible than any stitch pattern. Another factor was the spin and sheen to the yarn. The recycled content of this yarn includes silk, which reflects light, combine that with a loosely spun yarn and the likelihood that pattern stitches will stand out is low. Overall the fiber content reflected light, the white flecks that reflected more light, so all the light was reflecting away from my cable stitches.

Rather than admit my defeat, I decided to replace the patterned stitches with a slip stitch pattern. I did swatch, and the slip stitch gauge matched the cabled pattern gauge. So I just stormed ahead – guns ablazing – ready to knit.

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So what happened? Well, the slip stitch pattern shrunk the back part of the cardigan, while the two front sections grew longer  than expected. So I unintentionally created a low back long front cardigan. The front was so long that I couldn’t easily put my hands in the pockets. While I wore this cardigan for a few months last winter, I found that every time I looked at it I would feel incredibly dissatisfied. After quite a bit of reflection, I determined that these feelings were rooted in all the shortcuts I took while I knit this sweater. I felt no pride when I wore this cardigan – instead I felt slouchy (not the cute kind) and messy. Those are not qualities I want to feel when I wear handmade garments. It was time to take action – I have the ability to make clothing, and I have the ability to remake clothing. So I could either hide this sweater in a corner of my closet, or I could reknit it into something that would bring me joy. So I exercised my knitting agency and knit my new go to cardigan.

I learned some very important lessons about yarn substitution with this sweater. While I was not happy with the end product, I believe these lessons have been essential to my knitting confidence. I learned about what yarn types work with cables and other patterned stitches. I know this skill will be extremely useful in future knitting projects. So while this sweater no longer exists, it has left a lasting impression.

Uniform Cardigan

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I am so excited to have this cardigan in wardrobe rotation. It fills a massive gap – the everyday cardigan – that has been empty since last spring. Uniform is a versatile pattern by Carrie Bostick Hoge, one pattern with different lengths, waist shaping, sleeve details, and necklines to choose from. I choose the long, a-line cardigan with fitted sleeves, a regular neckline, and patch pockets. I also made the optional waist tie which really *ties* the whole look together.

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I used Berroco Remix for this cardigan. It’s an aran weight yarn made from 100% recycled fibers (nylon, cotton, acrylic, silk, and linen). I chose the “charcoal” colorway, black with white flecks, because I knew this would be the best option if I wanted a basic, wear every day kind of sweater. I am so glad I did. I don’t see this sweater going anywhere or losing its appeal.

This yarn is unique – to say the least. It has almost no memory; it’s very slouchy. It does, however, hold sleeve wrinkles (those folds around the elbow). The black with white flecks makes it a tweed yarn ( I think? Is a flecked yarn the only criteria for a tweed?). While I was knitting I noticed that sometimes I would come across these rough patches in the yarn, almost like a hard plastic and pieces of straw. This was a weird experience that I chalk up to the recycled nature of the yarn. Would I buy this yarn again? Maybe, I might buy the fingering weight version… I’m looking forward to the one day that a yarn company has a 100% recycled yarn that has a high twist and is great for cables. This yarn certainly doesn’t fit that. If anything, this yarn has really cemented my love for natural fibers.

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This sweater used to be a Portage Cardigan (coming up in tour de sweater). I made the decision to frog it after I was unhappy with the fit and appearance. What a relief – frogging this sweater and knitting it into this perfect basic number that actually fits has redeemed the yarn and the process, and maybe even garment knitting (was garment knitting ever really up for consideration? no… I’m obsessed).

I am happy to say that the sleeves fit perfectly! I think my days of too tight sleeves are behind me (I hope).

This sweater is pretty basic. Tons of stockinette, plus some garter stitch. I like the deep garter stitch sleeve cuff for the fitted sleeve option. It’s an unexpected detail that adds some interest during the knitting process.

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The pockets were a bit strange for me to put on. I chose to knit the patch pockets. But the pattern instructions were very vague about the location of the pockets and how to attach them. So I decided to graft the bottom and use mattress stitch for the sides. This proved to be challenging – black yarn and seaming are not a good combination, throw in some poor lighting and you have a total meltdown on the horizon.

By far my favorite thing about this cardigan is the waist tie. I have never knit a waist tie, nor worn a cardigan with a waist tie. At first I thought it would remind me of wearing a robe – something I’m not too fond of. Once I had bound off my last stitch on the cardigan, I looked at my remaining yarn pile (three balls of yarn left…) and thought, might as well try it out. This was one instance where branching out and trying something new really benefited. I could not imagine this cardigan without this waist tie. It would definitely be slouchy and baggy, and I think without the tie, I would feel swamped with all the slouch. But with the tie… the slouch is still there, but I feel like it’s all a little contained. I even considered knitting ties for every larger cardigan I make in the future… too much?