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.

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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.

 

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

On Recycling (and a pair of socks)


The #slowfashionoctober Instagram prompts have me thinking about my craft as of late. I highly recommend checking out the feed here. The “what” prompt got me all excited about recycled materials. Even though the prompt was posted over a week ago, I’m still thinking about the meaning behind using recycled materials for my work. There are a lot of ways to be ethical/considerate in crafting. Sourcing locally, dyeing naturally, and organic wool are a couple that jump out at me. I love these options, but price wise they’re usually out of my reach. However, I don’t think cost has to be a barrier to conscious crafting. Recycling materials from items that already exist can really cut down on the overall costs of making. Buying a linen duvet cover from a thrift store is most likely going to be less expensive than new linen. And, with extra effort, quality materials can be found. But cost is only reason why recycled materials play such an important role in my life.

From the perspective of waste reduction, the best materials are the ones that already exist. According to this view, making my clothing from clothing that might end up in the landfill would minimize total waste. It’s a simple calculus that I find motivating and useful when I think about the impact of my hobbies on the earth. Of course, this is a very mathematical/economic way of thinking about making clothes.

Sometimes I like to be a bit more poetic. As I was knitting these socks I kept thinking about non-human recyclers. Just about every other creature on this earth might be better at recycling than us humans. Or at least every ecosystem has designated recycling systems built in. There are mammals, like raccoons and possums, who scavenge food waste. There are birds who build their homes from discarded items in the forest and the city. There are entire species whose job it is to break down plants and animals so they return to the earth. These decomposers perform essential roles by creating rich and fertile soil that is open and welcoming to new growth. Without these mammals, insects, and mushrooms, we would live in toxic environments.

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I wonder if there is a role for the scavenger and decomposer in the making community? We place much needed emphasis on sourcing thoughtful new materials, but do we pay enough attention to the back end of the process? What would it look like for makers to take note from the scavengers and decomposers of the world?

Just like every slow food devotee has a compost heap, would every slow fashion maker have a yarnpost heap?
Would we dumpster dive for materials that others have deemed irreparable?

Would we have competitions for most mended garment? Or item with the longest or most wears? Would we begin to keep note of these stats on our own clothing items?

Would we celebrate, rather than despair, when our friends frog a garment because it’s unworn and celebrate again when they knit it into something loved?

Would we start up new quilting bees for our fabric scraps?

As I think about the role recycling could have in maker communities I get excited. The ideas I mentioned above actually sound like a blast. I love making with other people, and all the more l reason to gather together in creativity!

I know that talking about material sourcing and waste can be a touchy issue. It’s so easy for me to feel guilty that I’m not following one of my slow fashion goals. But, it doesn’t have to be about strict adherence to moral-fashion guidelines. We are all creative people, and this isn’t a competition. The massive challenges facing our earth and communities won’t be solved through individualism. Working together to do our best which will almost certainly be imperfect is better than perfection alone. I think the best place to start is with a small idea and a forgiving heart.

Happy Making

Tour de Sweater: Porter Cardigan

Sweater number five is this all over cabley squishy number. But I’m going to be honest upfront – this sweater has lost its luster. Which is why the beady eyed amongst you will realize these photos are different than the rest of the tour de sweater photos. That’s because I totally forgot about this sweater while we were taking pictures. So I did it myself and they look a little silly. Which is how I basically feel about this cardigan.

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Pattern: Porter by Beatrice Perron Dahlen. I love the intricacies of this pattern. I think the cabling is beautiful, especially the honeycomb back panel and the stag horn cables.

Yarn: Recycled yarn from a handknit sweater. Origin unknown, but my best guess is Lion Brand Wool Ease? It seems to me to be a wool/acrylic blend. When I first picked it up I thought it was all wool, but now that I’ve actually worked with more wool there is definitely some acrylic content in this fiber. This is my first truly recycled garment. As always, I learned some important lessons and I’ll make sure to list them below.

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Lessons Learned

  1. Recycle your yarn carefully. I did a wrap test to determine the weight of my recycled yarn. Everything appeared to be aran weight (which is what the pattern called for). As I knit this it was clear to me that the fabric was very open. My yarn was not thick enough to produce a densely cabled fabric like I’d hoped. So what happened? After unraveling the sweater, I am 99% sure I wound my yarn too tightly. This stretched out the yarn and reduced the loft, making the yarn move down a category in weight. Now I know: always wind yarn loosely (or use a nifty ball winder).
  2. Anything can be a cable needle, really. I used a pen, the needle section of a broken circular needle, and even a bobby pin for the cables on this project. All worked fine… though the broken circular needle was best.
  3. Check the Sleeves. These sleeves are knit in the round, which is a handy modern construct that eliminates seaming. However, for some reason, the pattern of my sleeves both twist around my arms. The stag horn cable is supposed to follow the length of the arm, but mine snakes around like it’s trying to hide from the light.
  4. Crew Neck Cardigans… I doubt I could foresee this lesson, but it was an important one still. I do not like crew neck cardigans. They’re just not my style. Crew neck pullovers – love, but slice it down the middle and put some buttons on it – gives me ambiguous feelings with small levels of discomfort. So, a crewneck cardigan is not my style, which is why this beautiful cardigan most likely will be gifted to someone who likes it.

img_5704I still love this pattern, which is why I’m considering knitting it up as a pullover instead. I think it would make an amazing vintage style, high neck addition to my large pullover collection. The instructions are phenomenal and the pattern is well written. If you want to try your hand at an allover cable pattern I would highly recommend this one.

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Craft Culture: Process vs Product Knitting

 

Knitting culture is definitely a thing (I always find myself saying this while some guy laughs at me…) I will admit that I use knitting lingo in my everyday life – like every time I have to start something from the beginning I call it frogging, it’s just a perfect term! My personal favorite is swapping worst for worsted (that’s the worsted!) I have no control over the yarn love that just spills out everywhere.  If you’re a non-knitter, a new knitter, or have been confused by knitting lingo, I’m here to help.

Within craft culture, we crafty folks like to be able to identify ourselves and our approaches to projects. One way to do this is by calling yourself a process or product knitter.

What is product/process knitting?

It’s quite simple. Knitters identify themselves in one of these camps to describe how they approach the projects they’re currently working on. If a knitter says they are a product knitter they are most interested in the physical end product of their time spent knitting. They choose projects because they want or need that finished object. This will inform how they choose the pattern or the yarn, especially the color. In this camp, knitting is all about creating an object that will be loved and well used. A good example of this is a cardigan that will fill a spot in your wardrobe or a hat that is destined to be a gift. These products drive your knitting goals.

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The intensity of the Circlet Shrug in all her cabled glory – total product knit

The process knitter is most interested in the actual process of knitting. The physical stitches and the movement of the hands informs her choice of pattern, yarn, and color. One example might be someone who constantly has a sock on the needles while he commutes to work, the product might be nice, but the most important thing is the knitting that keeps one occupied during an otherwise boring block of time.

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A relatively calm and mindless sock on the needles – all about the process

Of course, because we humans are complex creatures, the process/product divide is more like a continuum. You can fall anywhere along this line between the two extremes. I don’t know if I have ever met a knitter only interested in the product who hated the process or vice versa.  I, myself, have experienced both sides of this scale with individual projects. Sometimes, a project gets intense (my Circlet Shrug…) or boring (miles of the same stitch in my mountain gods vest). When things get boring or crazy and I keep knitting, I identify as a product knitter. I need that finished object! But, sometimes I just need something to do with my hands in front of the tv, on the couch, or in a lecture; these are my process knits. The movement of my hands and the feel of the yarn work their magic on my psyche and I’m no longer at risk of death by boredom.

I find both descriptions to be extremely helpful in planning my projects and knitting time. Knowing when I want a process knit or a product knit is especially important if I’m concerned about using my materials responsibly. I don’t want to buy hundreds of skeins of a type of yarn I find unpleasant or commit to knitting everyone hats for Christmas if I hate knitting hats. It can also save me from hating a project. The “I just have to get this off the needles” feeling might subside for a while if I pick up a project on the opposite side of the continuum. I just did this recently, my Circlet Shrug with her high stakes 20 row cable chart was starting to drain my inspiration, so I cast on an easy sock pattern just to keep my fingers moving and my mind at ease (also to practice a little english style knitting).

Sometimes, product or process knitting can refer to learning an new skill. I might be process knitting if I am learning a new method of holding the yarn. I recently branched into english style knitting to improve my colorwork game and decided the best way to practice was on a low stakes project like my simple socks (see above). In this way, identifying something as a process knit takes any pressure off perfection and allows the knitter to familiarize herself with the technique. In this same vein, product knitting might be oriented toward mastering a skill or executing it perfectly. However, I find that this conception of process/product is less common among knitters.

While I don’t know any stark process or product knitters, the distinction is still a helpful one. It helps us identify our feelings toward our craft and a specific project, it can help us pin point what we didn’t like about a certain object-was it the feel of the yarn or the impossible to memorize lace pattern- and it can help us decide what kind of project we need to cast on next. Wherever you fall slog the process/product continuum, I think he most important thing is that we, as makers, can identify what we love and do more of that! So if you love your finished object, keep doing it! And if you love knitting squares – okay they’re technically called swatches – keep doing it! All this process/product lingo only helps us get there.

Happy making!

In Progress

It’s halfway through August and I’ve been on a making spree. Classes start on August 29th so I’m trying to work at peak making speed before most of my time will be spent reading academic jargon. 

I have one sewing project and one knitting project in the works at the moment. 

Sewing

I was selected to review the Laneway Dress by Jennifer Lauren Handmade. I’m almost done, just have to insert the invisible zip (my first one!), the facings, and the hem. I’ll be writing a separate post to review the pattern- so look forward to that. 


So far this dress feels very Cinderella to me. Not in the modern massive ball gown way… More like everyday Cinderella pre-prince style. The dress is 1940’s inspired, which, combined with the light blue color, probably contribute to the Cinderella feelings. Also… could use a good press. 

Knitting

I’ve joined the Brooklyn Knitfolk #hipsterKAL. Very excited about the whole theme of the KAL – knit a pattern that has less than 30 projects. I’m knitting the Circlet Shrug by Norah Gaughn in the newest issue of Making (this is the most amazing knitting periodical in existence). It’s a beautiful pattern that uses cables and lace to create a really unique fabric. 


 I’m using unused yarn, Brooklyn Tweed Arbor in the Potion colorway, because this thing requires a ton of yardage… and I was doubtful I could create the right fabric type from salvaged yarn. I’m pretty stoked about Brooklyn Tweed though. I love that it’s 100% American made


Im trying out the KT method of knitting all the parts at once. Rather than knit the entirety of one side, I’m keeping the pattern fresh in my mind by knitting similar sections all together. I’m almost done with the ribbing which means I’m about to start the cables! I feel really excited about this knit. Lots to keep me interested.