It’s been quite the week. So, I’ll tell you about this sweater.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The ski hill kind, not the smoking kind. Winter Park Ski Resort is broken up into seven “territories.” The Mary Jane territory is infamous for big moguls, tree skiing, and burning leg muscles. We skied hard, making the most of an awesome day on the mountain, but today… let’s just say that I’ve been doing a lot of sitting.
Things I’ve done while sitting:
Almost finish Sara’s hat
Complain about how sore I am
Finally put button holes in my Alder Shirt Dress
Last spring, almost a year ago, I crossed my fingers, took a deep breath and tackled the Alder Shirt dress, sans ruffle. I’m a big fan of the simple silhouette, back yoke, button down placket, and classic collar, but those design elements also made me pretty nervous about the sewing. I followed the Alder sew-along that Grainline studio has on their blog, and boy was it a life saver! The instructions are clear, well organized, and thorough, so the dress went together much more easily than I anticipated.
When we are skiing, G often reminds me that I can ski anything (this lesson is most often reiterated when I find myself staring down that narrow, tree-lined, mogul filled run) as long as I take my time. So goes the sewing of a many step garment – I can do anything, I just need to take it one bit at a time. Now, I won’t pretend it all went perfectly smoothly. My issues had nothing to do with the pattern – it was all operator error.
Operator Error 1 – Something went wonky with the button band length. I’m guessing I just cut out the wrong length pattern piece, because when I put it together that band was definitely an inch short. Of course, I didn’t have enough extra fabric to recut it, so I attached the band anyway, did some very precise eyeballing, and trimmed the entire hemline to match.
Operator Error 2: The collar was a trick. Jen, of Grainline Studio, does a really excellent job of laying out the order of operations, and explaining (there are even videos) the collar assembly clearly. Even so, I was less than precise when it came to the inside stitching on the collar stand, and the curve at the front of the collar stand. On the front curve, I’m not sure if it was the weight of the Robert Kaufman Yarn Dyed Essex I was using that made it tricky or if I just didn’t sew accurately (highly likely). Regardless, I decided to call it close enough, and was left with only the buttonholes and buttons to contend with…
Eleven months later, I finally got around to them. I do have an excuse – I sewed this dress using my Grandmother’s beloved tank of an Elna sewing machine. A wonderful machine for me to hammer away on, but buttonholes involved a lot of turning of cranks and complicated finagling, which still left them looking wretched. In the last couple of months I bit the bullet and bought a new machine – a Bernina 350B (I adore it). When I upgraded, the buttonhole features were a major selling point, but the idea of putting holes into a garment that had taken so much time to finish? Scary. Turns out there was no need for the nerves – I practiced on a scrap, did some careful measuring, and my machine did all of the work. Slick.
Operator Error 3: Well… except for the buttonhole on the collar stand. My button hole foot quit moving half way through the second long side. Instead of stopping I just laid on the pedal a bit harder – because going faster and ignoring the problem always works.
Half an hour later I had managed to seam rip that sucker out, and made the executive decision that a buttonhole on the collar was unnecessary this time.
Next stop, actually cutting the holes and sewing on the buttons. I can’t wait to add this dress to the wardrobe rotation – boots, tights, and a cardigan for winter weather, and sandals come spring/summer months. I will definitely be pulling this pattern out again… as soon as I can stand up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I finished Hadley’s.
But Sophia’s looked like this at 9:30 p.m. on December 23rd.
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.
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.
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.
Literally. It is one of the few things that actually work to wake me in the morning. An alarm clock? Not so much.
Now, is this jarring and unexpected wake-up call an apt analogy for what the last few weeks have felt like? Certainly…. but, I’m not here to get into that. We’ve just come off Thanksgiving break – and the stress of getting through the next three weeks is sitting as heavily as that little bulldog. I spent vacation thinking about anything BUT what I need to accomplish (i.e. Putting on the 5th grade musical), and instead have been working on the want to accomplish list.
Turns out a few tiny people – you know, our country’s future generation who will be responsible for dealing with/caring for whatever we leave for them – were on my mind.
Tiny human #1
One of my favorite tiny people needed a new beanie before the snow flew. This hat is the Wildflowers Cap by Mary Jane Mucklestone, published in Making magazine, Issue No. 1: Flora. The pattern is written to fit an adult head and use aran weight yarn. I needed it to fit Mae’s adorable 16 inch baby sized noggin, so I did a bit of digging in the stash and came up with some Brown Sheep Company Nature Sport, grabbed some size 5 circulars and knit the pattern as written. I’d love to tell you what my gauge was, but I didn’t actually check it. As long as the hat wasn’t too small, I figured she would grow into it – babies have a tendency to do that. Miracle of miracles, it fit beautifully – and I only had to add a handful of gray rows after the chart in order to make sure it was tall enough (6.5 inches from top of head to bottom of ear).
Tiny human #2 –
My college roomy and dear friend, Kelli, had baby girl #3 last week! With the excitement of a tiny new person to knit for – all other projects were put on the shelf for a bit. I had a stern conversation with the voice that whispers (yells) in my ear to buy more yarn, and once again decided to take advantage of all of the remaining bits and pieces of much loved, but mostly used skeins. I used the free Puerep…wxyz pattern and went to town with a pile of beloved odds and ends, and this yoke happened. The button band was a bit of a conundrum, but in the end I knit the collar and then left two little balls of the mint color hanging from each side while I knit the body. Before I finished the bottom garter band I knit each button band on a couple of dpns (so I wouldn’t have to take the body stitches off the circular) until they matched the length of the body. Then I seamed the bands on and knit the bottom garter band with the body and button bands connected.
I was ready to knit the entire sweater in colorwork, but after consulting with my knitting advisor, we decided the yoke would be plenty. After dividing the sleeves, I used every last inch of an (almost) full skein of my favorite Quince & Co. Owl for the body. When I was finished knitting and had to start weaving in all of those yoke ends, I heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t have an entire sweater’s worth to deal with.
A few more tiny people are on the knit list, but some big people are as well, and I’m still delirious enough to believe I’m making a bunch of Christmas presents. I know that these little woolen things might not ensure that we leave the world a better place, but they’ll keep the wee ones warm while we work on it.
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.
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.
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.
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.