In Progress: June Knitting

My summer of knitting has arrived.

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I’m very excited that I finished my #MeMadeMay18 featherweight cardigan. I’ll have a post about this soon. Though I’m sad I can no longer knit with this amazing yarn, this finished object has opened up space for a new cast on in my knitting queue!

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I have a tiny little hem worm of my Tegna sweater by Caitlin Hunter. I am so excited for this top – perfect for summer but suitable for cooler months as well. I am knitting my Tegna out of a silk/cotton blend I reclaimed last fall. I dyed this yarn at Alpacas of Troy with with Sumac berries and Indigo. The result was this lovely teal-blue with green undertones. I also experimented by dying this sweater in its machine knit form. The result was quite exciting, the dye is speckled evenly on the yarn which enhances the shimmer effect from the silk fiber content. This yarn looks like the waves of a lake on a summer day softly lapping the shore; not too much drama but just enough movement to capture my attention and lull me into relaxation.

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I had a little hiccup with my Tegna. I swatched three times to achieve the pattern gauge – starting with a US 5 and finally getting gauge on a US 7. I cast on for the medium, which would have given me about 9 inches of positive ease and knit half of the lace, I realized the bottom circumference of the sweater was far too large for my size. Even with the decreases in the lace, I would have been swimming in this top. Nine inches of positive ease on my petite frame is just a little too much. I also noticed that in my gauge on US 7 needles, the lace was already quite open. I thought this whole top could do with a downsize. I downsized my needles to a size 5 and, after some gauge math magic, cast on, again, for the medium size. This will give me a top with about two inches of positive ease which will probably be more my style. I’m hoping this all works out.

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I have two other projects that are probably going to travel with me the entire summer. The first is my Reyna shawl by Noora Backlund – which I’m knitting because my friend Kate in St Louis decided to cast this on as her first shawl project! After yarn shopping with her and guiding her through the first bits of the pattern, I realized that I really wanted one of these shawls for myself.

I had the perfect yarn – a gift from my friend Anna after her trip to Wyoming during the 2017 total eclipse. This yarn is the most amazing collection of purples. It’s Palouse Yarn Company Merino Fine in the Total Gravity colorway. This color is part of a special collection the dyer made especially for the eclipse and I think the dyer absolutely nailed it. The purples are so rich, but shift in tone from a lavender to an almost black. I’m really enjoying the color of this yarn.

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My second project is this little basic sock – made with a commercial Patons sock yarn I picked up from a reused craft store in Cincinnati. I have yet to find sweaters that I can unravel that are suitable for sock yarn, as I always prefer a tightly spun yarn for my socks. Most of the sweaters I come across in thrift stores end up loosely spun, if spun at all (especially if they’re blended fibers or have any sort of cotton content). Therefore, I keep my eyes out for any commercial sock yarn I can find at secondhand craft stores. One day, I would love to knit my socks without superwash or nylon content – but until that day I’m eagerly watching Mrs. M’s no-nylon sock experiment to glean from her research.

Usually, I knit my socks cuff down and use a heel flap and gusset, however, I started this sock toe up and will probably throw a short row heel on there just for ease. The short row heel doesn’t fit my foot quite as well as a flap and gusset – I have quite a high arch and instep – however, it’s been a while since I tried a short row heel and I want to double check the fit on my tighter sock gauge that’s developed over the last year since I’ve been regularly knitting socks.

I’m quite pleased with the projects I have on the go for June – my Tegna, Reyna, and my toe-up sock. The variety of these projects has kept me interested as I still mourn the absence of my sewing machine. Speaking of my wonderful sonata sewing machine, I’m beginning to miss it so much that I’m thinking about naming it! Naming is a skill that I seriously lack (if you only knew how long it took me to come up with a name for this blog – hint two+ years). However, I think my trusty machine deserves some attention while I’m away. Since my machine was originally owned by my mom, I’m thinking a name from her generation will suite it best. Something like Linda, Karen, Tammy or Denise. Or I might go super 80’s like Heather, Tiffany, or Stacy. As of now I’m leaning towards Stacy or Linda.

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Finished Object: Pink Birkin

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I set my sights on a pink pullover long before this Pink Birkin ever materialized. In its materialized Birkin form, my pink pullover dream has been smashed to pieces and replaced with something divine.

I am simply thrilled, absolutely beaming, that I can call this colorwork yoke sweater mine.

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First I want to gush over what I love about this sweater: the colorwork yoke and the body shape. I have not attempted colorwork of this scale before, not to mention never tried my hand at holding three strands in one colorwork row. I think I could have managed my yarn with more grace (I wish I had seen this video by Dianna Walla on stranded colorwork!), but blocking truly worked miracles. Even with superwash yarns with nylon content, blocking still managed to fill in the gaps left by my inexperienced colorwork hands.

The shape of this sweater is loose and relaxed – my most essential life values. Thanks to the unique a-line shaping (increased needle size rather than increased stitch count) the body of the sweater did not feel monotonous or strenuous to knit. My initial gauge swatch was a bit small on the recommended needles, so I went up a needle size – swatched again, and felt comfortable with my results. After the surprising close fit of my Zweig, I decided to knit a size larger than I would typically knit for extra positive ease to ensure my Birkin had space to breathe.

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So I did fudge a few things. First, I used heavier weight fingering yarns for the colorwork while my main color yarn was lighter weight. What did this do? Well it threw off my row gauge in the yoke section and I created a much deeper yoke than I was expecting. Considering the whole sweater is a relaxed fit, this doesn’t actually affect the overall look or function one bit.

Second work around: I used superwash yarns instead of yarns better suited for colorwork like a more rustic wool. How did this affect my Birkin? Well, I was on the verge of a breakdown before I knew blocking would even out the colorwork section. I had no idea how superwash wools would behave in a colorwork yoke or of blocking would work the same kind of magic. Final assessment: the magic isn’t exactly the same, but it’s smooth – I’m happy. Superwash wools also have a tendency to grow (elongate) after blocking. Therefore, my Birkin is a little longer than I was expecting and the 3/4 length sleeves hit me at my wrist – but again this only adds to the relaxed feel I was going for.

Using superwash wools created a very fluid sweater while the heaver yarns in the colorwork section create a more stable shoulder section.

I used Manos del Uruguay Alegria in the Petal colorway for the body (2.66 skeins) and a variety of Bergere France Ideal for the colorwork yoke (check out my ravelry page for exact colors). I wouldn’t necessarily buy these two yarns on my own as I prefer to work with natural fibers without chemical treatments. These yarns were gifts from various parties excited to help me along on my knitting journey from I time before I was vocal about my ethical preferences (and I’m still not very vocal to be honest). Since they were in my possession, however, I decided it was best to use them up.

I feel committed to using what I have rather than purchasing new materials as a way to unwork some of my consumerist habits. Part of my approach to ethical making that keeps it affordable and accessible to all income levels is my commitment to materials that already exist – materials in my possession being the best to use first.

I hope my Pink Birkin will continually remind me of this commitment, even after the new sweater joy fades and it begins its regular rotation in my sweater collection.

Finished Object: Carbeth

This enjoyable and fast sweater knit has come to a end. My Carbeth sweater is bound off, blocked, and finally dry.

I used two mystery cones of yarn held double for this project. One a wooly, rustic black and the other a soft, smooth blue. These cones were purchased from Scrap It Up, the creative reuse store in Cincinnati. I would highly recommend a visit to this shop if you’re near the city – the diversity of supplies is incredible.

I used the Patty Lyons ssk decrease recommended on MDK: it’s mainly just slip one then pass it back to the left needle then knit through the back loops. Patty Lyons also has a one move version of this decrease, but I found that actually made my stitches looser rather than tighter.

Blocking was simple, I followed the plate method and used a 10″ plate. Surprisingly my sweater took three days to dry. Probably because it’s been raining in STL for the past four days and everywhere is quite humid.

This was a great basic and easy sweater. I think I’ll wear it often in the deepest part of winter as it’s toasty warm (I might even say boiling). Hopefully I can get a few more wears before Spring arrives.

Finished Object: Zweig

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Also known as the sweater that was a little tighter than I planned.

This sweater is an hommage to my Minnesotan childhood winters.  The natural white mimics a blanket of snow and the tonal blue reminds me of a the blue skies that can only happen on the coldest days. Would this sweater keep me warm when windchill hits -40 degrees? Probably not by itself. But I would  be super stylish while waiting for the endless winter to end. (Also, -40 is the point where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet… v. cold)

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This sweater is tighter than I planned. I don’t mean uncomfortable or ill fitting, it just doesn’t have as much positive ease as I imagined. I’ve decided that one of the reasons for this closer fit is due to the 100% merino of the body – it’s probably more like a sport weight than a fingering. Second, I made the crucial mistake of swatching flat rather than in the round. While my flat swatch matched gauge – once I started to knit in the round, I no longer had purl rows to bulk up my stitches. The fabric I produced in the round was much tighter than if I were knitting flat. So lesson learned… always swatch in the style in which you will knit. I’ve already fixed my bad habit in my next sweater project.

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I experimented with bind offs on this sweater. For the sleeves I used Jeny’s surprisingly stretchy bind off and for the hem I used a stretchy bind off (k2tog, tbl). At this point, I prefer the stretchy bind off for ease and overall finished look.

I have a few more sweaters planned this winter – but I’m happy with the first finished sweater of 2018. Here’s to many more!

Finished Object: Logalong Circle Skirt

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Holy Moly. She’s finished.

My dreams of a full circle skirt knit in the log cabin style have been actualized.

I left my last post on this skirt a bit hesitant. I was unsure my design idea could even be realized and not at all confident my planning skills were up to the task. However, after taking a few gambles, I am pleased to say my skirt checks all the boxes. It’s full, flowy, light, high-waisted, and delightful. IT WORKED and I’m not totally sure how.

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Here are some specs:

  • I originally planned for ten triangle segments to make up my skirt, that number shrunk to seven after a layout test.
  • I seamed the triangles together with a three needle bind off.
  • I finished the bottom of the skirt with an i-cord edge treatment.
  • Each triangle uses 40 grams of Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. Overall for the whole skirt I used seven skeins of yarn.
  • I picked up stitches for the waistband and knit a casing for elastic

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The most difficult part of this project was decision making. I have no experience designing – and this was a pretty large and intense way to get my feet wet. I was baffled by the sheer amount of decisions that must be made in a garment. Stitch texture and yarn choice proved relative easy for me, but the waistband was more challenging. For a while I imagined I would knit the waistband separate from the body of the skirt and seam it together, but after mulling over this option for actual days, I determined that fitting a waistband to my body as well as the skirt would be beyond my skill level. So, I calculated the number of stitches needed to fit around my waist and picked up stitches to generally match this number. My waistband is taller than I imagined – but I think this height helps balance the volume of the skirt. It also ensure the skirt falls at a wearable length. One unintended result of my waistband that I love is how the body of the skirt (the triangles) start right at my hip.

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I’m pleased (and surprised) that this skirt has turned out as I imagined. During the construction process I felt a bit nervous about knitting so far out of my comfort zone, but now that I’ve worked through the decision making process I feel quite empowered. I’ve tasted the sweet results of seeing a project from design idea to finished project – and they certainly are addictive. Now I wonder if I can go back to settling for patterns that aren’t quite right (answer: probably not). But I’m not in a rush to give up patterns entirely. I feel quite grateful to Karen Templer and her marvelous idea for the #fringeandfriendslogalong, without which I would be skirt-less and uninspired.

 

Subtle Kitsch Christmas Sweater

I had no plans of knitting myself a Christmas sweater in 2017. But sometimes a newly released pattern catches your eye – and it won’t leave. That’s what happened with Andi Satterlund’s Julgran – a cute cropped sweater with a striking textured evergreen pattern. The word “kitschy” was thrown around quite a lot with this sweater. I would not readily use that word to describe myself, but that didn’t stop me from falling completely in love with this pattern. However, I had two sweater projects in the pipeline and no readily available options for ethical yarn, and not a lot of funds left in my craft budget. I tried to let Julgran go by telling myself I could wait until next Christmas to knit this amazing pattern. I was fine with this plan, until I found myself at the Perennial Clothing Swap staring at a lovely sparkly greige (that’s grey and beige) sweater from Ann Taylor Loft. It was begging to be unravelled and turned into Julgran – and I listened.

The fiber content is a lovely mix of rayon, wool, cotton, and rabbit hair (Does that mean angora? What else is rabbit hair?). The weight is probably on the lighter side when compared to the recommended worsted weight yarn. My excitement to have this sweater finished before Christmas encouraged me to skip the washing and stretching portions of the unraveling process, but even in my hurried state I managed to squeeze out a gauge swatch. My swatch produced a fabric that was a little loose, but still met the pattern requirements, this was good enough for me to jump into knitting.

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I found the knitting process to be absolutely wonderful. This is my first time knitting one of Andi’s patterns, and I now understand why other knitters describe her patters so kindly. I found the pattern and Christmas tree chart were easy to follow. I made a small modification – after the last sleeve decrease I knit four inches of stockinette the ended my now full length sleeve with four inches of ribbing. I used tubular bind off’s for the sleeves and body. I’ve used this bind off before to mixed results, in this project the edges tend to flare out. I’d really like to find a stretchy bind off that doesn’t produce any flare. I’m thinking the surprisingly stretchy bind off is next in line?

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My favorite part of this sweater was bedazzling the Christmas Tree. I was so very hesitant to sew anything onto my sweater. I want this sweater to be wearable all winter long – not just in December – and I thought adding any ornaments would limit my sweater’s wearability. But after finding some faux pearls at Perennial, and playing around with some designs, I decided that I set the limits of wearability – and if I wanted to wear this sweater after Christmas I very well could. So I committed and sewed on the pearls with some invisible thread. In hindsight I should have used a grey or light brown cotton thread instead of the plastic invisible thread. I reached for the plastic stuff without thinking about how many small little pieces I would cut in the process of sewing on small beads. I don’t have a good way to dispose of those small plastic thread clippings while I often save my cotton thread clippings to use for stuffing in toys.

The thing I love most about my Julgran sweater is that it is made of 100% used materials (the yarn, the pearls, and even the invisible thread). I do love the sparkle that comes with Christmas decorations, and with this sweater I can actually wear that sparkle with minimal waste involved. This sweater is also a great addition to my winter wardrobe. With the long sleeve modification, I can keep warm by wearing this sweater over dresses, high waisted skirts, and high waisted pants (#sewinggoals2018). This sweater took me 8 days to knit (WHAT, AM I CRAZY?). I met my deadline with room to spare. I love my subtle kitschy Christmas sweater.

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.