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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Kalle Shirt Dress

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I started this dress in March, fully believing I would finish it in a week or less. Finally in May, this dress is wearable. March and April were crazy months for me. My husband took a job in Oregon, so during my spring break in March we drove across the country to drop him off. Then, I flew back, leaving the car with him, to finish my semester in St. Louis. April marked the beginning of final paper season, which was intense this year (more intense than past years), and I felt swamped.

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I had little energy left for creativity – and reclaimed crafting requires that little extra bit of energy to address things like stains, yarn substitution, or pattern adjustments.

But let’s rewind, before I couldn’t finish this dress, I did start it – and make it most of the way through the pattern. My kalle is made from an old bed sheet (from Ikea) that had a few very subtle bleach spots. The fabric was in good condition (besides the pervasive smell of bleach) and I knew it would make a reliable shirt dress. It also pressed very well and feels quite stable.

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I knew I wanted to make a change to the pattern. Instead of a box pleat at the back, I gathered the excess fabric. So I have a small section of gathers at the back of my dress (which I love).

This dress hung mostly finished on a hanger in my room for six weeks. The thing that kept me from adding the final touches was one small stain on the back, about the size of a pencil eraser. It looked like a spot of permanent marker. This dark little stain was a huge thorn in my crafting side.

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Finally, due to the pressure of leaving St Louis to spend my summer in Oregon, and the added pressure of not having room to take my sewing machine, I knew I had to finish this dress if it was to ever see the light of day. I sat down with The Geometry of Hand Sewing by Alabama Chanin (which I just realized is a signed copy… woah), and tried to identify simple decorative stitches that would cover the stain in the back.

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I settled on an Algerian Eye variation that looks like an art deco flower design. I tried it out on the pocket and then tackled the back. I had to play around with various layouts for a while, and finally reached this triangle idea with the Algerian eyes in crossing diagonal lines. I was very chill (uninterested) in making this super precise – so one side of the triangle is about an inch higher than the other… but I can’t see it because it’s in the back and anyone who notices it would be far too close to my backside for my comfort.

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This dress has blown my mind. The simple stitching (which maybe was about three hours of work) has transformed this dress from basic to heirloom. I’m shocked with how well it turned out. I imagine I’ll be adding many more hand stitched touches to my dresses in the future.

Alex Shirt – 2018 Make Nine

The Sew Over Alex shirt as basic as it gets.

I can finally breathe easy now that I have a basic white button up in my closet. The last time I had something this basic was when I had to wear a school uniform in 2008. This shirt is much better than that uniform.

This shirt is relaxing. I mean, the Alex Shirt is a relaxed fit, but it genuinely calms my worries and soothes my anxieties. I feel like the missing piece has been found. With this basic white shirt, I can shine confidently. My wardrobe has entered a new realm of creativity. This basic has me feeling inspired.

The Alex Shirt is my perfect basic oversized tunic length shirt. Dressy enough for presentations and casual enough for chilling around the house. It has volume, it has sheen, it has drama, but mainly it is pure basic bitch button up.

The pattern was simple to follow. I did make a muslin. I was concerned that my size wouldn’t have enough room for my shoulders. However, I was pleasantly surprised and relieved when my first muslin fit well. I could move my arms back and forth and in circles without busting any seams. The oversized nature of this shirt made it a perfect fit for my unique shoulder situation.

The Alex Shirt is labeled as an intermediate pattern in the City Break Ebook. I’ve been sewing for a year now and label myself as highly adventurous. This pattern was my first shirt yoke, and it was 100% successful thanks to the Sew Over It YouTube tutorial.

The best part about this 100% cotton shirt is the fabric origin: a secondhand bedsheet. Though if you’ve been following my sewing journey it’s probably not surprising as most of my clothes used to be bedsheets. This one is a beautiful satin weave cotton with a high thread count. It’s absolutely luxurious to wear; smooth and silky, but still structured.

I made a couple of small changes. First, I chose to do a regular box pleat at the back, rather than an inverted pleat. I think this highlights the pleat as a central feature of the shirt. Second, I curved both the back and the front of the shirt hem. In the pattern, the back hem curve is exaggerated while the front has a straighter cut. As a petit person, I find shirts that land at tunic length feel more comfortable than those that stop at the hip, a curved front hem helped me accomplish this length without adding bulk to the sides.

I’m pleased to check another item off my 2018 Make Nine list. The Alex Shirt (along with my Mia Jeans) brings my current completed total to two. It’s only February, so I feel comfortable with my progress so far.

Happy Making!

Craft Culture: My Top Five Crafty Podcasts

The audio podcast was an essential part component to my full immersion into craft culture. Listening periodically to devoted makers describe their crafting journeys has tuned me into my own perspective on craft. These podcasts continue the tradition of oral education in traditional crafts. I imagine that, at one time, discussing projects, techniques, patterns, and materials was something done by makers who lived close to each other; family members, close friends, and neighbors. Now, as a general knowledge of needlecrafts has disappeared from collective culture, finding these important places of communication requires a little extra effort. Enter: the podcast – today’s version of folk knowledge.

Here are my top five

  1. Love to Sew. Helen and Caroline are my two favorite hosts of any podcast. They make me giggle out loud in elevators, nod along in the hallway, and dream up sewing projects after every episode. I have learned valuable skills and tricks from these two and the wonderful folks they interview. Also, the theme song is brilliant. My favorite episode so far is this one. Overall theme of this podcast: you can make anything.
  2. Mrs. M’s Curiousity Cabinet. Everything about this podcast is my style. From Meg’s attention to the ecological implications of making to her soothing presentation of her making journey – this podcast inspires me to keep asking questions about my habits and materials. Her research oriented approach to knitting and sewing really satisfies my academic side, but I think even non-research folks will love this podcast. Each episode is packed with information and inspiration. Meg even answered a question I posed to her in a comment on instagram (in this episode)!
  3. Making (formerly Woolful). This is a hugely popular podcast, and the first proper knitting podcast I ever listened to back in 2014. It’s new iteration – combining Ashley Yousling’s Woolful with Carrie Hoge’s Making Zine (one of my favorite designers and publications) is pure magic. The story telling and interviewing in this podcast is beautiful.
  4. Curious Handmade. I’m really late to the game on this one. Helen Stewart is a veteran in the knitting podcast genre, but I didn’t start listening to her until last November… I now realize what I was missing. Helen has this ability to describe knitting projects and patterns with words that renders the need for images useless. This podcast really inspires me to dream up perfect projects that fit into my life, while moving slow enough to make space for realistic expectations with our crafty time.
  5. Live from Here with Christ Thile. Okay this isn’t a podcast, its a radio show. It’s also not about crafts, its about music, laughter, and pure radio magic. I had to include it because I love this show and knit to it all the time. Prairie Home Companion was one of my favorite things while growing up in Minnesota – though not without serious issues (like obvious sexism). Chris Thile has transported this show into the 21st century with modern artists, storytelling, and content. Every one of my favorite musicians has been on this show in the last two years including Brandy Carlile, Abigail Washburn, and just this whole episode with Marcus Mumford, Corrine Bailey Rae, Trevor Noah, and Gabby Moreno…). I love to listen to this show while eating wild rice soup and staring at my Dala Horses and dreaming about cross country skiing.

Christmas Break Crafting: Wraping Up with the (sort of) Mia Jeans

I have put the finishing touches to every project I had planned for winter break making madness.

My Erin Skirt, Logalong Skirt, Flora Mittens, and Zweig Sweater, are all complete. Finally, I have put the finishing touches on a pair of refashioned Mia Jeans.

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These jeans are a hybrid of the Mia Jeans pattern from Sew Over It and the original pants design. I kept the side zipper and the button closure of the original pants, as well as no pockets. I achieved the right fit using the Mia Jeans – and that’s about it.

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Here’s a high quality shot of me wearing the original pants (kind of a drop crotch going on)…

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I found these jeans at a Goodwill in Cincinnati, I was on the hunt for a pair of pants with enough stretch required for the Mia Jeans but also large enough for me to achieve a high waisted fit. I walked around the denim aisles stretching every pair of jeans to see if I could find a truly stretchy pair. Eventually, I started imagining that some pairs were stretchy, but then I realized I was actually pulling them on the bias… I’m sure I looked a little crazy. Finally, I was shocked to come across the perfect pair of stretch grey trousers from Gap. The key is that the tag in the back actually says “stretch,” making my job much easier.

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Refashioning these was relatively simple, up to the zipper. I don’t know if I like the long side zipper on such a tight fitting pair of pants… but I also don’t hate it. It makes it a bit easier to tuck in tops and prevent awkward bulking in my midsection, but it does stick out.

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I’d like to make another pair of Mia Jeans, however the fabric characteristics (stretch denim) is not the easiest fabric to find while thrifting. I’m on the hunt for some non-stretch pants patterns (like the Lander Pant!) as non-stretch denim and canvas is easier to find used and reclaimed.

Reclaiming Femininity: how I respond when people call me a 1950’s housewife

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Pictured here (clockwise from top left): my bento bag (from making no. 4), a candle made by my friend Brie, my great aunt Joan’s thimble and sewing scissors, a necklace made by my friend Carly, my basic fingerless mitts, a pink skein of Manos del Urugray, and my Flora Mittens.

Domestic. Feminine. Girly. 1950’s Housewife. All “compliments” that require a huge amount of interpretation on my part to be received well. When I first picked up knitting I had no idea about its history or its current cultural connotations as a woman’s activity. As I began to knit around my family and friends, I heard comments using the adjectives above with greater frequency. Being called domestic or feminine felt more like an insult than a compliment. It has taken a lot of thought to reach the point where I say thank you when someone compares me to a 1950’s housewife rather than slam the door in their face.

If I’m being honest with myself, I am feminine. Identifying as feminine is difficult to do considering my strong identity as a tomboy and my rejection of anything girly as a child. This rejection was still present when I picked up knitting in 2011, completely unaware of its feminine connotations. I was also completely unaware how this new hobby would reveal years of internalized sexism. As I became more and more of a “knitter” I wrestled with what it meant for me to be feminine and my deeply held negativity about femininity.

Let’s return to my identity as a tom boy. This identity had a very clear origin: sometime in elementary school I chose to embrace all things “boyish” and reject anything “girly.” Previous to this point I was a huge fan of the characteristic girly stuff: dresses, pink, dancing, dolls, etc. I chose to push aside those interests and take on totally new interests like football, the color orange, and cargo pants. Now I find it absolutely hilarious that to my eight-year-old brain cargo pants and orange were the most boyish things I could imagine.

One of the reasons I rejected femininity as a child was because, in my community, feminine things were characterized as boring, frivolous, and limiting. If I was girly, I couldn’t enjoy playing outside or being loud and rambunctious – which I desperately wanted to do at all hours. Somehow I made the all-or-nothing calculation that if I were to be strong, athletic, and loud, I couldn’t be feminine. I identified with these traits that could be traditionally labeled masculine and gave up my feminine traits. While I am glad I embraced those parts of me that were loud and strong, I can identify that for most of my childhood I did not feel like I could be myself. My decision to reject the feminine had been detrimental to my sense of identity.

After years of schooling and some very helpful academic courses on feminism and theology, I realized that qualities labeled masculine and feminine could, in fact, be embodied in one individual. These traits that are labeled feminine or masculine aren’t actually inherently gendered. The color orange does not, at its core, belong more to men or women. The ability to follow a recipe for cupcakes does not inherently belong more to women than men. Gendered traits are formed by communities and cultures. I realized that in my community, those traditional feminine qualities get quite a bad reputation. Even though I was raised in the era of “girl power,” girly things weren’t considered powerful and girls could only feel powerful if they rejected femininity.

Because I believed words like domestic and feminine to be boring, I had a hard time imagining why someone would tell me, to my face, that I was so domestic or I reminded them of a 1950’s housewife. In my mind these phrases were akin to calling me boring, frivolous, or antiquated. However, now I understand that my association of femininity with frivolity was internalized sexism and revealed how my community valued (read: did not value) traditional feminine traits, qualities, and activities. After coming to terms with my community’s belittlement of the feminine, I began to explore the values of traditional femininity. I rediscovered my love of dresses, embraced my appreciation for the color pink, and owned my skills in baking, knitting, and sewing. Rather than hide my love for these things, I embrace these activities as equally valuable to my skills in more male dominated spheres like rock climbing, technology support, and building/fixing things.

My obsession with knitting, and perhaps my initial ignorance of its gendered history, was the spark that began my reunion with femininity. Now that I no longer view feminine qualities and activities as boring, I feel more connected to the strong, creative, and feminine women who have preceded me. Women like my great aunt Joan who was a master weaver, natural dyer, and spinner and my great grandmothers Eleanor and Mary Belle who could knit lace weight garments with their eyes closed. These women were previously just names on my family tree before I took up knitting. For them, traditional women’s crafts weren’t limiting, but provided necessities and freedom in the form of economic independence. When I think about them, being called a 1950’s housewife seems a bit more bad-ass than it did before.

The Embroidered Erin Skirt

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This skirt began as a pair of mid-rise wide leg pants. The beautiful herringbone weave fabric with tiny strands of gold were calling out to be transformed into a wearable, everyday item.

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One item I’ve been reaching for constantly this fall/winter is my high waisted denim a-line skirt (seen here). This skirt has been a year round staple since I bought it, ready to wear, about two years ago. I’ve slowly been transitioning from store-bought clothes to homemade versions, and I thought my beloved denim skirt could use a sibling.

The Erin Skirt from Sew Over It is a high waisted button down skirt that comes in a mini and midi length. It’s high waistband is perhaps the only feature it shares with my store bought version. The Erin Skirt has the added details of a button down front, pockets (!) and a more pencil-skirt feel, while my denim version is sans pockets, has a bit more volume and is a bit shorter.

As I mentioned earlier, this skirt began it’s clothing life as a pair of pants. While I loved the pants as-is, they were just a tad too short waisted for my preference. I’ve been leaning toward cropped tops and high waisted bottoms lately; it’s a silhouette I’ve been drawn to in all seasons. While I toyed with the idea of altering the pants to fit me perfectly, I recognized that a skirt would be of greater utility.

Every material in this skirt was somehow secondhand. The pants were found at my favorite clothing swap at Perennial, the covered buttons and material come from Cincinnati’s creative reuse store called Scrap It Up. I’ve never used covered buttons before (let alone vintage one’s), but when I came across a six-pack of Prym covered buttons, I realized their versatility was invaluable. After a short rummage through an upholstery sampler box, I found a perfect navy herringbone fabric for a statement button. I think the total cost of these buttons was $.40 ($.25 for the buttons and $.15 for the fabric sampler). The clothing swap fee was $10, but I took away 10 items, making these pants $1. My total cost to make this skirt was $1.40.

I had to do some unique pattern placement to get enough fabric from the pants to make this skirt. First, my front pieces both include the side seam from the original pants (visible in the photos above and below). Second, I used the original waistband, which is double the width of the pattern waistband and includes four belt loops. Because I used the original waistband, I had to mend the original buttonhole – so there’s some mending visible on the front of the skirt. Third, the pants have about four layers of hem (why so many???) and after unpicking all four, the stitching and fold lines were still quite visible around the bottom of the skirt. After mulling over my options to camouflage the original hem, I decided four lines of chain stitch embroidery would do the trick. This thread came from my sister-in-law’s closet clean out, she found them in a box of middle school craft supplies and I was thrilled to rescue them.

Refashioning pants into a skirt was well worth the extra effort. My favorite parts of this skirt (the buttons and embroidery) were only possible because I limited myself to used materials. These limitations, rather than produce something subpar, allowed me to develop my skills and creativity. I’m absolutely thrilled with this skirt.