Why I Sew

Why I sew:

#1 – I enjoy it… the same way I enjoy that first cup of coffee in the morning, french fries, and getting lost in a good book. It never gets old.

#2 – Wardrobe management – I can only make clothes so fast, and that means that when I do have time to sew, I need to think critically about what I need and want in my closet. It prevents me from buying that unfortunate just-had-to-have-but-will-never-wear-top because it was %10 off.  Oh, and it’s pretty amazing to make exactly the clothes you want, and have them actually fit your body.  What’s not to love?

#3 – Making things for the humans I love. Like this dopp kit for my brother.

Or this Driftless Cardigan for my sister-in-law.

This is one of the best reasons.  If I could pour love into a tangible form, it would look like a handmade gift… (or a donut from the bakery in Park River, because seriously – they’re so good).  All of the planning, time, and curse words (I promise I only use the nice curse words, Grandma) that go into that thing – imagining and hoping it will be right for them – man, that’s its own special joy.  *The killer photos above were taken by my brother, Andrew – he’s pretty rad.

#3 – I can make something new instead of doing laundry.  I despise laundry.

#4 – Fabric Shopping.

#5 – So I know who made my clothes, dopp kit, curtains, recorder bags….  

That’s right. Recorder bags.

A few weeks ago, I was handing out new recorders to my 3rd graders. For $3 they each get their own to keep and take home.  Teaching in a lower income school, I’ve always been mighty grateful for a price that my students (or my classroom budget) could afford.  Each recorder comes in its own little blue cloth bag, wrapped in tissue paper, and includes a plastic “cleaning rod” that is used more for sword fights then actual cleaning.

In the midst of handing out recorders to one of my classes, I heard a chorus of shocked yelps from one corner of the circle.  “Ummm… A tooth just fell out of my recorder bag.”  Obviously confused, I walked over to find a dry tooth lying on the rug.

A human tooth.

How? How was there a tooth in the recorder bag? Were they used, returned, and resold?  An immediate e-mail was sent to the company, who assured me that all recorders came directly from the factory.  Things weren’t adding up.  I looked again, but more carefully, and felt pretty confident that the recorder was indeed new. There were no teeth marks or signs of use, and it clearly had the same factory wrapping as the rest of them.

Oh…the factory.

To confirm my suspicions I sent the above photos to a dear friend who is a dentist (FYI: That’s my pinky finger. Also, I have small hands).  Could this tiny thing be an adult tooth? Lost due to horrid dental hygiene (also awful to think about) in the midst of work?  Her response – definitely a front baby tooth that fell out the normal way. That particular tooth is typically lost at age 5 1/2 – 6 years old.  Uff da.

Now, please, if you have an alternative explanation let me know, (and deep down I hope it was some 4th grader from Tulsa or something – who happened to still have a baby tooth (at age 8/9) – storing their lost tooth in the bag of their brand new recorder (that they never used) for safe keeping before forgetting the tooth was there when their teacher decided to pay shipping to return that perfecly fine $3 recorder to the giant music company, which carefully refolded the tissue paper and resold it…far fetched as it may be.) This felt like pretty solid evidence that a child – a child young enough to still be losing teeth – had either been spending their day in a dangerous factory while their parents worked, or heaven forbid they had been the ones actually sewing the seams.

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Humans make our clothes, our backpacks, our curtains, our dishcloths. You can’t run a piece of fabric through an automated series of big machines and have it spit out a shirt like a candy bar.  Where our clothes come from matters.  Now, we won’t all make our own clothes or suddenly change all of our purchasing practices, but noticing where our products are made is a step in the right direction.  If I can (and it isn’t always the case) I try to buy things made in America – I know I’m supporting American companies/workers who are working in (hopefully) decent conditions and receiving a (again, hopefully) fair living wage. Not only does buying American made help to cut down on the environmental impact of having my socks shipped from half way around the world, but I also know that our country has laws against children working in a factory instead of being in school.

Small changes make a difference.  So, post-tooth I’m going to try to shop locally made more often, take some time to research ethically made/environmentally sustainable brands, and hit the thrift/consignment shops (I’m horrible about this one – I own to being super freaked out by bedbugs) before buying new. When I do buy clothes I’ll try to shoot for things that will still be fashionable in three years, and of course – I’ll make my own.

You guys. There was a tooth in that recorder bag.

 

P.S.  If you have Netflix, I’d recommend watching The True Cost, which is currently available for streaming.  This blog post by Elizabeth Suzann gives some insight into the cost of making clothing here in the U.S. – I found it to be pretty eye opening.

 

Details

“Uh, Mrs. S…… You probably should move that red mug by your water fountain.”

Third graders were everywhere, and the line at the water fountain was particularly long.  We had just been folk dancing, so they were hot, and tired, and in an elementary school – a drink from the water fountain is a cure for all that ails you.

Bumped head?   Get a drink.
Tired?   Get a drink.
Hurt feelings?    Get a drink.
Wiggly tooth?   Get a drink.

It works every time (except for the pukers…. it doesn’t help them.)  So, when the girls started talking about a mug by my sink? I didn’t have time to give it much thought. After all I had instruments to move, and technology to wrestle while keeping an eye on my class, because that one minute of “transition” time can go south fast if a teacher isn’t on it.  Red mug, red mug…. I don’t even have a red mug.  Oh wait, I borrowed one out of the teachers’ lounge yesterday during my mad sprint through the school while on my fifteen minute lunch break.

I often leave my coffee mug sitting by my classroom sink after I pour out the inevitable half cup of cold coffee that one doesn’t have time to drink when they are teaching children.  I really should have ended the practice of leaving my cups in the vicinity of the sink after seeing a kindergartener take a big old gulp out of my dirty coffee stained mug one day.  I’d like you tell you I was worried about the health of the child after they borrowed my germs, but I had to tell a student not to lick the sand paper on the sand blocks (it’s an instrument) the other day too, so all things considered, drinking out of my dirty mug shouldn’t have been a concern, or much of a surprise.  The mug I found sitting next to my sink, however, did surprise me.

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That’s right.  Somebody left an animal print “sexy” mug in the elementary school teachers’ lounge.  Now, is “sexy” a bad word? No. But do I want to have that conversation with third graders? Absolutely not.  Where this beauty came from, one can only guess.  It’s possible that once upon a time, some sweet child brought it as a teacher gift without realizing/understanding what it actually said. Of course their teacher kept it, and it eventually made it’s way to the lounge dishwasher… where, I grabbed it and put it to good use holding my delicious and nutritious lunch, which consisted of a handful of bottom of the bag tortilla chips and several big spoonfulls of 505 green chile.

The girls were right on my heels as I picked up the mug – waiting anxiously to see my reaction. I said something like, “Huh, that’s a weird mug in school, thanks for letting me know girls – I guess I should pay attention to little details like, you know, reading my coffee cups before I borrow them,” and promptly stashed it in the closet.

As it turns out, details matter.

Details matter so much, in fact, that I have zero made things to show you.  I’m working diligently on the details (i.e. zip fly, waistband, belt loops, etc…) of my Chi-Town Chinos and I have a Grainline Studio Farrow all cut out and waiting patiently for me to buy interfacing so I don’t stretch the living daylights out of the modal rayon I’m using.

I’m also plugging away at that little In Threes I showed you last week.  Almost done. I’m so close I can taste it.  I’ll share when it’s been sent/given to the sweet babe’s parents.  Until then, remember to pay attention to the little details.

Thanks for stopping by to see my sexy mug.

-D

A Poem

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Roses are red
Sheep have wool
All these new babes
Keep my knitting queue full

I put down my sweater
I set aside a hat
All those works in progress?
No one has time for that

Over pattern, color, and yarn
I hemmed and I hawed
For an itchy black pullover
Her parents might find odd

So lovely lark by Quince & Co
In the color Petal
On “In Threes” by  Kelly Herdrich
I finally did settle

I try to be so thoughtful
I think of my gifts as well planned
Yet I’m making a light colored knit for a newborn
That, “Sorry! You must wash by hand.”

I’ll hurry to finish this sweater
Though here I’ll admit where I fail
See I manage to finish the knitting
But can’t seem to get it in the mail

Now I’m off to pretend to do laundry
While instead I watch netflix and knit
I need my own sweater, I’ve decided
In Lark because I think it’s the…

loveliest yarn I’ve used in awhile.

 

The Sweater

It’s been quite the week.  So, I’ll tell you about this sweater.

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Quince & Co. Puffin in Pea Coat

 

Back in September, the Fringe Association’s Karen Templer started an Improvised Top-Down knitalong ( apparently “knitalong” is one word – I don’t understand either).  I jumped on board, excited to take on the challenge of knitting a sweater without a pattern, and learn about sweater construction in a “next level’ sort of way.  As Nancy at my local yarn shop once told me “you are the master of your knitting,” and this seemed like a solid step toward actually believing that sentiment. Now, I’m pretty proud that I was able to plan, knit, and finish a wearable garment that is (almost) my size. It’s a pretty empowering thing for a knitter, and I’m so glad I took part. This sweater, however, had issues from the get-go.

First, I neglected to account for my button band stitches. I realized my error early on,  but instead of ripping and fixing the stitch count when I was only an inch into the sweater (sighs deeply, rolls eyes) I pressed on – deciding to pick-up stitches and add the band at the end.  Certainly, I assured myself, everything would be fine…

I re-knit the sleeves a time or two, trying to determine out how fast to decrease. Clearly, I never figured it out.  I think part of my sleeve issue was perhaps related to my yoke depth, but I could also just be making things up to sound like I know what I’m talking about.  I love the ribbed section that makes up the oversized hem, but when I pretend it’s buttoned, the hem has the added effect of making the top half look like a mushroom with a wonky neckline. Turns out that shape isn’t super flattering.

There were obviously fit issues, but I finished the sweater anyway, crossed my fingers, wove in ends, and blocked it in the hopes that it’s problems would magically be remedied.  After drying for three days it was clear that this sweater would in no way be okay to leave as is. Frumpy town has no place here. Something must be done.

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Did I mention that my initial plan was a for a fitted sweater with limited positive ease? Such a rookie.  This past week I stared at this ill-fitting sweater, sulked in the frustration of efforts gone awry, contemplated what should or should not be done, and came to a few conclusions…

You can’t ignore the facts.  This sweater does not fit. I could tell you it does – insist that what you and I see is in fact the finest sweater in the history of sweaters, but facts are facts.  There are no alternatives.

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I knew what I wanted – what I valued and expected this cardigan to become. What I ended up with does not reflect what I hoped for.  I could pretend that it’s fine, hang it in my closet for the next four years and ignore it’s issues and lack of effectiveness, but it won’t change the fact and I need a cardigan in my wardrobe that works for my every day life.

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A little extra fabric (and a few bulldog puppy hairs) in the front…

There are those who would look at this sweater and tell me it’s just fine.  I need to get over my expectations and wear it.  What do I have to complain about when I have a sweater that will keep me warm? But it isn’t right, and I would know that every time I put it on.  Starting over will have it’s frustrations, but I’m doing it anyway… it will be worth the extra effort in the end.

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Since I don’t require a cardigan that I can fit body armor under, I’ve decided to rip and re-knit.  I am capable of making a positive change – I can rethink, reshape, and recreate this thing that’s gone wrong. If I’m not sure of the next step, or how to go about solving a particular problem, I know there is an incredible community out there, ready to lend a hand.  First, I’ll plan – you see, before I rip apart something that “works,” I think it’s important to have a better option already worked out.

Deep breath. Here we go.

 

Not-A-Resolution

It’s a new year – calendar year, that is.  As a teacher, this “year” is only at its’ mid-way point. This is the time when I pause to evaluate how little I’ve taught, and the giant amount that is left to accomplish in the next five months.  I start the school year full of hope, goals, and curriculum maps – ready to execute my (relatively) well organized plans.

Then the children arrive…

I end up tossing half of it out the window and am reminded that for me, detailed planning is really just a cute idea.  When you teach 360 Kindergarten – 5th graders every week, you learn that while planning is important, flexibility is necessary. So, as I enter a new year of making, I’m trying to balance the big picture dreams with room for that much needed flexibility.  Sure, my fabric stash does not throw the same sort of unexpected wrenches at me that my students do (it’s been awhile since the stash peed on my floor), but when you’re making something, you never know what’s going to happen.

So, I give you my 2017 “Big Plans With Room For Flexibility!”  Let’s not call these resolutions; that makes my palms sweat, and then I can’t grip my seam ripper.

Not-A-Resolution #1 – Finish Christmas presents before summer. Progress was made on my favorite sister Sara’s hat this weekend. For those of you who care about the knitting of the things… this pattern is totes adorbs and the chart (actually it’s not a chart – it’s written out) is such that it’s memorizable without making your brain ache and your eyes bleed. Sometime I’ll tell you about the lace blanket pattern that made me cry for mercy.  The brothers’ hats are waiting in the wings.

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Not-A-Resolution #2 – Finish projects already in progress. My knit-a-long sweater is done! It still, however,  needs blocking and buttons… and photos.

This featherweight cardigan has been a two year work in progress, and finally has reached the point where it only needs sleeves and a collar.  I’m so excited to wear this sweater! The yarn makes me all heart-eyes.

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Hiding in my closet you’ll also find another half finished sweater, a big cowl, some mittens, a hat that needs to be ripped and re-knit (a story for another time), and a whole slew of yarn with dream projects attached.

My sewing projects need some serious tending, but I received a magical Colette Sewing Planner for Christmas, and I firmly believe that it will solve all of my organizational woes (rolls eyes while crossing fingers).  I’m super pumped about the planner and hope to jump back into the sewing/music room (you can make yourself new pants between scales – Db Major, iron, Db minor, sew a crotch seam…) now that the Christmas gift sewing slam is done.

See these belt loops? They are well on their way to becoming a pair of legit chinos. The pants might not fit, but at least the belt loops will look pretty fab. img_8447

Not-A-Resolution #3: Continue down the make your wardrobe – don’t buy it, path.  I get overwhelmed thinking about this process.  My “to make” list is crazy pants long, and my free time during the school year feels so minimal, but making and knowing where my clothes come from is something that I enjoy, and believe in.  I won’t jam my philosophies down anyone’s throat; we all have our own realities, but I’ll do my darnedest to grow and think about my own purchases.  Conscious consumerism and awareness – those are my goals, and finishing one garment per month – is my not-a-resolution resolution.

Not-A-Resolution #4: Keep writing.  I’ll admit that sometimes I feel silly writing this blog.  How very “millennial” of me (please note: I’m an early 80’s millennial – I remember the days of land lines, Oregon Trail, word-processing on a black screen with neon green font, and the excitement of hotmail chat) to feel I need to tell the world about the stuff I make.  So, I write a post, and then I stew about it for three  weeks until I get over myself and post again. I’ve thought about this quite a lot, and I have decided that:

A. I enjoy the writing and the sharing, or I wouldn’t have started it.

A’: Nobody is being forced to read this…. Except for my favorite sister, Sara and dear cousin, Liz – because I need proofreaders.

B. The maker community – it’s out there, and I’d love to be a part of it. A person can’t think about sewing patterns as much as I do and not have an outlet or they’ll go bananas.

C. Sometimes – we need bright places to retreat and find inane conversation that doesn’t make our souls ache.

Will some of my people think I’m ridiculous for writing a blog? Probably, but that’s okay – they don’t expect me to make normal/sensible decisions anyway.

Non-Not-A-Resolution related news:  Ginger the Bulldog turned 1 year old yesterday! Happy Birthday Gingy! (Gingi, Gingie, Gingee… something like that.) She is the best pint-sized bulldog in the history of ever anything. We love you, and Gunnar (photo bombing below) does too…. when you don’t steal his toys or try to gnaw on his leg.

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Not-A-Resolution #5: My favorite brother, Andrew, said “Di, why don’t you just have a new blog post every Monday?” So, here I am – stating that I’m going to write something every Monday – or that’s my not-a-resolution, not-a-goal. My thanks in advance to everyone who reads.  Believe it or not, it means a lot.

On The Edge

Most people would not place me in the category of “risk taker.” I’m remarkably satisfied on the non-moguly/un-powder filled blue and black runs when we ski, I wear a life jacket when in a boat, and I always carry my flashlight at night in case of mountain lions.    But sometimes, I like to live life on the edge.  You know –  do crazy things like play my horn without warming up, drive my car for days with the “fill gas light” on, or most recently – buy an orange coat.

No, seriously.  This is big.   As a red-head, wearing the color orange is akin to eating lutefisk. Doable, but not recommended.  But orange coats are what happen when you’re faced with crazy sale prices at the CO Ski-Expo. It’s a killer coat – the perfect weight down AND it has a hood (be still my heart), so I’m embracing the orange, like the wild woman that I am…

In addition to the death-defying wearing of the orange coat, I found myself taking a walk on the wild side this Christmas.  The hand-made gift plan started with two hats for my favorite girls – my nieces, Sophia & Hadley.  Somehow that very doable plan erupted into six hats, two pairs of fingerless mittens, a cardigan, a dopp kit, and three matching aprons for my secret santa at work.  Completely reasonable…. had I started in September.

The aprons had to come first, due to the school time-line.  When your secret santa says they like “cooking with their daughters,” does one have any choice but to sew up matching aprons?  I didn’t think so.

Since these had to be made during the crazy last week before break, amidst putting on three performances of our 5th grade musical, all while my parents were visiting – I didn’t have time to go fabric shopping… believe it or not.   I dug out an old, failed attempt at a baby quilt – it had an assembled, color-blocked front, and a piece of backing. Perfect.  I used this  Purl Soho pattern (I did a flip-flop with the quilt top, so they’d be able to tell them apart) for the girls, and this one (backing fabric) for Mom. They are simple and straightforward aprons to put together, and I love that the neck adjusts with the waist. Slick.

 

I took these photos on my classroom floor (beautiful, isn’t it?) before jamming them in a gift bag .

Next up, I cranked out two pairs of Wild Feather Mitts from Making Magazine: Vol. 2 – Fauna,  in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. Great pattern, great yarn – I’m a fan.

 

Now, as for all of those hats…

I finished Harper’s.
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I finished Hadley’s.

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Pattern is Northward by Tin Can Knits

But Sophia’s looked like this at 9:30 p.m. on December 23rd. img_8656

Sophia watched me carefully as I knit away on it all day…  slyly asking who it was for. She was totally on to me.  I wrapped it still on the needles, which she thought was pretty silly.  Fortunately, North Dakota pulled through with a Christmas blizzard that gave me plenty of time to finish on Christmas Day.  img_8729

Speaking of wrapping things still on the needles… I’ll show you my sister’s hat when it looks like a hat.  There was so little finished she had to ask me what it was going to be.

Now, three plus one does not six hats make.  The brothers’ (my twin nephews Oliver and Axel) hats haven’t appeared yet.  I put the pattern and yarn in the same bag, but alas – the elves must finally be on holiday.

 

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Cutest kids ever   –    Photo cred. to Auntie Sara

I’m happy to report that the dopp kit and cardigan were actually finished when wrapped – more on those another time.

I’ll admit that my procrastinator’s walk on the holiday-wild-side may not have been the wisest or most stress-free route to take… But making special things for people I love  – totally worth it.

For my next daring adventures I’ll be sewing button holes, and trying to leave for work on-time.

Happy New Year!

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Woolen things come in handy in a North Dakota winter wonderland.  Photo features my favorite brother, Andrew and his beautiful daughters. Photography by my favorite sister, Sara. Here’s hoping her fingers have thawed by  now.

 

Balance

It was a street race – we were driving in the middle of a Fast & The Furious style street race. We expected it to be a quiet, easy, low-traffic drive home from a jazz club in Denver – It was 11:30 p.m., not exactly rush hour.   Instead,  we found ourselves in a pack of super loud cars that were whipping across the lanes on the highway, ahead of us, behind us, along side us, pulling off on the shoulder to wait for the next car to catch up so they could race again.  It was super intense.  I kept waiting for someone to challenge our little Honda Accord, but alas there were no takers. The cars had blacked out their license plates and I even saw a driver wearing a face mask, presumably so the traffic cams couldn’t take his photo (all strategies worth considering the *next time I’m late for school).  I’m not sure I’ve ever been so thankful to see our exit.

As we drove home I reflected on how nice it is to live in our quiet little town with it’s slower pace. How we enjoy the peacefulness of our home near the creek, trails, and open space. That night, I slept the sweet slumber of a woman unconcerned with whether or not Vin Diesel won.  The next morning I was chatting with a neighbor when we came across a bunny on the front lawn.  Clearly, Thumper had not had a good night. I mumbled something about it being too bad, and coyotes, and oh the poor thing…

“Or, it could be the lion,” my neighbor said.

……… I’m sorry, did you just say lion?  Yes, indeed – I went from being thankful that we don’t have to deal with street racing, to learning a mountain lion had been seen strolling the sidewalks (not kidding people) two blocks from our home in the wee hours of the morning.

The list of things I’m really afraid of is not long. It includes: getting a paper cut on my eyeball, the super volcano under yellowstone, and mountain lions.  So, now when I take the dogs out to do their before-bed duties, I stand on the step with my flashlight, loudly singing Row Row Row Your Boat, while squinting into the dark looking for eyes…  The other night a rabbit ran out from under a bush and I very nearly had to change my shorts.

Isn’t that just the way it is though, happy medium – an ever elusive balance. Should we live with street racing or mountain lions? How do we balance work vs. play (I’d rather play), folding laundry vs. knitting (makes me laugh every time), and of course – store bought clothes vs. handmade.

I’m all about hand made.  Knowing who made my clothes and how they were made is increasingly a pretty big deal for me.  I like to buy local when I can, and try to support businesses who treat their employees the way humans should be treated.  My preference is to make it myself when my skills and time allow.  The planning, plotting, cutting, sewing, knitting, and finally wearing is crazy-pants addicting.  While I’m typically delusional enough to think I’m going to make all of my clothes, in reality I don’t have enough minutes in the day to keep up with my wardrobe’s basic needs.  As a teacher of tiny humans, I’m not easy on my clothes. I spend my days sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor, kneeling to tie shoes, squatting and bending to fix instruments that are on the floor, and dancing (sweating) around the room with kids.  I love my job, but my wardrobe takes a hit.

Because nudity is frowned upon in the public school system, I’m left in the position of needing to refresh and repair more often than I might if I had a desk job.  Repair is often tricky because it’s not worn holes in my knees that are the issue.  I’m dealing with shirts that are pitted out, or pants that wear thin in places one cannot patch while still being considered presentable for work.

I try to crank out those fast/slow-fashion options (I’m looking at you Hemlock, Scout tee, and knit skirts) when I can, but a girl needs next level nice work attire as well. To be honest, I don’t always want to take the time and spend the money to make a muslin for that new pants/shirt/dress pattern, but not sewing a muslin is the equivalent of going out at dawn and ignoring the fact that there is a mountain lion in the neighborhood. Things could be fine, or they could go very, very wrong.

When the process of making is thoughtful, when it takes time and energy – the end product is valued and appreciated on a different level, but planning alone does not a clothed teacher make.  Once again, I’m working to find the balance between thoughtful planning and producing wearable garments.

At present, my big blue top-down sweater is putting the “slow” in slow-fashion. After surviving a wicked bout with the flu last week, the sweater finally has a sleeve! Unfortunately, my progress was thwarted when little Miss Ginger the bulldog decided the DPNs I need for the sleeves are an important part of a high fiber diet.

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So, I took a forced break from the big blue sweater and dug through the stash. I found odds and ends of some bulky weight yarn from many moons ago. The colors were all purchased for separate projects, but they worked together (the purple got the boot). A bit of improvised colorwork later, a few texts to my knitting adviser, and a tall, slouchy, scrunchy cowl was born.

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I can’t tell you who it’s for because it’s a birthday gift.  As a general rule, I tend to think of birthdays as “remember to cast on” days, because I’m organized like that. So, dear friends, if you’ve had a birthday in the last 8 months – this could be headed your way.

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Get out the Big Needles and Big Yarn – Cast on 48 or 50 and make it up as you go!

You know, I imagine street racing feels like fast-fashion. It’s exciting, things changing quickly, always trying to stay ahead of the curve – a thrill, no doubt, while you’re in the moment.  If the analogy is going to hold true – I suppose that would mean making your own clothes is like living with a mountain lion in the neighborhood.  You need to plan ahead and make smart choices. The thrill and question of what’s going to happen exists every time you step outside or make the first cut. And when your project is finished, you can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that all went well – and you’ll live to make another day.

 

*face-mask packed for tomorrow morning