My training as an artist encourages me to see knitting as a canvas for all kinds of surface design, so I'm teaching myself to grade patterns and hope to release my first collection soon. I'm currently raising a Little One, and working knitting in wherever it fits!
Sometimes you’re given a day. It’s always a normal day for me, routine in every way. I still get up at 7 am. I still commute. I still know that terrible things are happening, I know that people hate and fight and die. It just so happens that on that perfectly usual day, the past doesn’t hold weight and the future doesn’t scare me. Everything in the world is golden, a birch’s leaves falling all over the place. Dying, maybe, but oh, so brilliant.
Every now and then* I get a little over-ambitious.
*all the freaking time
Last month my ambition led me to think that I should absolutely, completely, whole-heartedly sew a coat for my son for the winter. I had about a yard of dark gray wool in stash, and I pictured an adorable little double-breasted dress overcoat. Instead, after about half an hour of Googling, I settled on this Little Goodall pattern.
Can I tell you the saga of this coat? Let me tell you the saga, please please, please. There are a few useful tips at the end, but if you want the full feeling of living through punchline after punchline of sewing mishap, read happily onward.
First of all, I impulse-bought the pattern.* I called Joann’s, and yes, they had it in stock, and they set it aside for me. I swung by on the way home from work, and also picked up the contrasting colors for the fox’s face, and a flannel lining fabric (not pictured above for reasons that will become obvious), and buttons and thread based around the gray wool. I also picked up some wool batting, because I thought it would be smart** to quilt some extra layers in there for extra warmth.
*I know, I know. Never impulse buy! **trying to be smart results in more crafting-related deaths*** than any other single reason ***project deaths, that is
Then I got home, put the new fabric in the wash, laid out the pattern, and realized that I didn’t have enough gray wool. Like, not nearly enough gray wool. I also realized that the smallest size of the pattern is 3T, and, as you may or may not know, my kiddo isn’t even 2 yet.
OK, well, we’ll roll up the sleeves and he can wear it for more than one winter, I thought. That’s smart, it’s going to take a lot of effort to sew a coat. And he can layer sweaters underneath. It’ll be fine. Right? It’ll be fine?
Lack of outer fabric was a problem, though, a true-blue serious roadblock. I know our Joann’s doesn’t carry any 100% wool that I could use for the outer layer (and my knitter’s snobbery was kicking in. Wool is the warmest. I wanted all wool, not 10% wool felt). I hopped online. And realized that it would cost another $40 to buy and ship the kind of fabric I wanted. I love my son, but an $80 coat? Even spread over a couple years’ use and counting in the fun I would have making it? It seemed like a little much.
So I put the project in timeout (this happens a lot in my studio). And then I had a brainwave – I got the gray wool from Lancaster Creative Reuse a few years ago. Maybe I could get some more wool there!
Lo and behold, LCR came through for me. They had several options, in fact, all under $5. I settled on the thicker, camel-colored, herringbone weave you see in these photos.
Now I had gray thread, gray buttons, and lining fabric that didn’t match my camel-colored wool.
Back to Joann’s. Return the buttons. Return the thread. Buy the right buttons. Buy new thread. Buy three times as much thread as you will need, because you think the quilting will use a lot (spoiler alert, it doesn’t). Excavate a new lining from stash (super cute doggies, no?).
Then let’s line up all the layers (outer wool, thick felt interfacing, batting, and lining fabric) and realize oh cuss, just quilting these layers together will max out the height of the foot. What am I going to do when it’s seam-time?
Well, I’ll figure it out, I thought. And started to quilt. This turned out to be a secret stroke of genius for keeping my edges roughly even. There’s actual useful piece of information #1: quilt your layers! It’s good!
Let’s skip ahead a few days to the actual seaming: yes, the many layers are a bit of a problem. I get the body constructed, though. I even get the hood put together, the eyes and nose appliqued on, and the hood attached to the body. Tip #2: go ahead and use the longest stitch length your machine has. There’s no other way to go when you’re dealing with this much stuff.
Setting in tiny sleeves, though? Not gonna happen on the machine. I sewed them in by hand. This took days. But it is sturdier than you might think. I doubled my thread and used a back-stitch, put on pretty music and took my time.
The lining is added separately, at the very end, and I decided there was simply no way I could manage that on the machine, either. Plus, I always meant to learn how to do more than whip-stitch things. Here before me, I had the perfect opportunity to improve my slip stitch.
OK, OK. Let’s get to the very last punchline. I did finish the coat, over the course of a month. It is super cute. It is also super big. And last year’s down winter coat, the one I was sure would be too small? The one I was in such a rush to replace? I decided to put it on S, you know, to make myself feel better about all that work.
The day, almost the hour, after I received my new birthday tools, I put them to good use: steaming the swatch for my Knittin’ Little submission.
And then remember when I made Greg that new pair of jeans? A huge part of why they look so good are my new birthday tools. That, my friends, is a new iron to replace the travel iron I’ve been using since 2004. And a sleeve roll to iron on top of (perfect for sticking in jeans legs, too, when you press your seams).
I super love them. Good tools make everything easier. I couldn’t resist sticking them on some lovely hand marbled paper and styling them up like queens and kings.
What’s your favorite tool? Do you also harbor an unhealthy love for your iron?
Remember when I told you I had a new pattern in the works, my first submission for a magazine (the super adorable Knittin’ Little)?
Here is the yarn – Sueno from Skacel. It’s extremely springy & soft, with a 20% bamboo viscose, and the rest superwash wool (perfect for Littles!). I enjoy knitting with it in the extreme. I have a hunch it would make beautiful cables, too.
There is a little problem with the colors as a group – have you spotted it yet?
Yep, the blue and purple are actually pretty close in value. It’s a lot more obvious in grayscale.
My design incorporates these two shades into a stranded colorwork band, and the two colors just aren’t different enough to look good. When you get yarn support from a company, you don’t always have full choice of what gets sent to you. This yarn, while a very pleasant surprise in terms of how it feels and knits, meant I had to do a bit of trouble-shooting in order to meet my submission deadline.
Turns out, I love that part, too. An excuse to sit on the couch and knit for six hours straight? And watch movies? And think about stranded colorwork variations the whole time? It’s my jam.
Oh, wait? Are you curious about the solutions I came up with? I hate (love) to leave you in suspense, but… I’ll tell you soon. Same time, same place.
And I do a lot of sewing with thrifted fabric – including these two beauties that are destined to be the brightest work blouses you ever did see.
But really, truly, fabric is hard. I’m heartened to hear that I’m not the only one who thinks so. There are many options for organic fabric, but in order to tell if your fabric is made safely, or is fair trade (much more important to me, personally, than local or organic, but you may have different priorities), you have to figure out not only which country it was made in, but perhaps which specific factory, and then learn something about the manufacturing rules that govern each country and/or individual factory.
Compared to indie yarn suppliers, fabric is a few steps (a lightyear) behind on transparency.
However, after creeping (i.e. reading) lots of great posts from other sewcialists this week, here are a few new things I’ve discovered (and am pretty excited about):
This is crazy, but apparently a lady named Sally Fox is breeding colored cottons (and raising sheep now, too)
And last, but possibly the most exciting of all, Offset Warehouse contains lots of details about the manufacturers of their fabric. The link I included there takes you to info about their Cambodian-produced fabric. Cool.
There, some extra reading for you. Until you digest it all (it took me a few days!), if you have good ideas on how to dispose of worn-out clothing, I want to hear about it.
I just wrote the words waist-boob problem? in my sketchbook, which is newly full of sweater ideas, some of which may be suffering from bad proportions at the moment. So, yes, my friends, my experience designing a pullover for Knittin’ Little has energized me.
Also, my beautiful, wonderful, amazing toddler has decided to start sleeping through the night again (knock on wood). So, while I’m feeling like an energetic mother, let’s talk #slowfashionOctober for kids. Karen‘s prompt this week is basically my manifesto for my son’s wardrobe:
second-hand / mending / caring for things / laundering for longevity / design for longevity (bucking trends, quality materials …) / heirlooms
As much as I hate a top 10 list, I really, really love handmade things in a little kids’ handmade wardrobe, and I have made a lot of terrible mistakes in taking care of those things. I hope a list saves you a little time and trouble. Here are the things that are dead simple, make my life easier, and enable my habit of #slowfashionbabies:
1. In the summertime, let your baby eat while wearing just a diaper. Or, at the very least, take off the handknit sweater before feeding.
2. If your baby is prone to spit up, just keep a bib on him when he’s wearing a handknit sweater. A friend made some like these adorable ones for her kiddo, and they are, well, freaking adorable. And can be easily made from thrifted t-shirts or scraps or whatever fits your slow-fashion mandate.
3. If you suspect your baby has a blowout poopy diaper… take the handknit sweater off and place in a safe place before changing. Do not ask how I know this.
4. I don’t worry about superwash v. non-superwash when knitting for my Little. I look for yarns that don’t pill and will be long-lasting, regardless of fiber content. We just have a house rule: all sweaters for all ages are washed by me, because my superpower is remembering which things need to be hand washed. I have also started to make the effort to use these labels in every finished piece to prevent disasters. Or, you could order your own custom labels. I keep intending to do that, but, you know… toddlers/work/etc.
5. When do I handwash things? It sounds onerous, right? Actually, no. I have one designated day when I bake bread and do laundry and sweep, etc. I keep a pile of sweaters to be washed (usually quite small, because if you take care, you don’t have to wash wool very often), and each week plop one into a sink of Soak right before I mix up the bread. By the time the bread is ready to rise, I can pop back to the bathroom and spread the garment out to block/dry.
6. Lengthen things. When I’m knitting a baby sweater, I add 1″+ to the length of the sweater body and sleeves. I can always turn up the cuffs until he gets older. So far, that’s meant he can still wear most of the 6-month sweaters at 21 months – he’s growing taller a lot faster than he’s growing wider. And knitting stretches beautifully to accommodate all kinds of widths. (Full disclosure: my tiny one is at the very bottom of the growth charts, so I’m not sure how much the success of this strategy is dependent on having a slow-growing babe.)
On second thought, let’s call this my top 6 list, OK? If slow fashion can be about bucking trends, surely my post structure can follow suit.
Any other good ideas you want to send my way? I welcome them all! Especially as I’m mapping out my Christmas/winter wardrobe making!
There’s one thing that I don’t understand about the knitting world: the concept of knitworthiness. Basically the concept is this: you don’t want to knit something for someone who doesn’t care two beans about hand-knit items, or won’t take care of them the same way you would. The implication is, even if you love someone dearly, the theory is, that doesn’t mean that person is inherently knitworthy.
I super love giving gifts to people. My first memory of my mother’s birthday (I must have been 3 or 4), was being given some money to walk next door to my grandmother’s book store and buy a gift. I chose a t-shirt with a gigantic, sparkly pink flower (sorry, Mom). It was so fun that I begged to do it again and again. Pretty young, I started saving up my allowance to buy gifts on my own. Gifts and art supplies. Best of both worlds, I sometimes saved up to buy supplies for making gifts for people. We had a really fun Christmas one year, when the family budget was tight, and we all decided to either make or thrift things (or make with thrifted things, or thrift art supplies, double-espresso-shots of fun).
I can’t remember anyone ever being in the least unappreciative about what I made or gave. I never heard anyone say this is not what I wanted until well into adulthood – 23 or 24, I think (and in that case, it was truly helpful feedback, and easy to change, like I appreciate the shoes but these are not the right size). My childhood embroidery is framed and hanging in my parents’ bathroom, or was for many years. A painting I made in summer camp hangs in my grandparents’ house, even though of course it’s super childish. I don’t know if my brother has ever worn the stranded-colorwork-binary-coded scarf I made for him, but he was super sweet about the effort. People who love you? They’re going to understand that you make things out of love, and they’ll appreciate the gesture. And if you’re good, as you get older, you get better at identifying what giftees want, and giving better gifts (hand made or not).
So for this week, during #slowfashionoctober, let’s start thinking about Slow Gift-Giving. The people you love are knitworthy. They are giftworthy, basically, and if you want to, you should just freaking make them something without worrying if they’ll dry clean it or not, or whether you’re wasting the many hours of making (although no pressure, man, you can’t spend 20 hours making a bespoke pair of jeans for everyone you love every birthday).
I’ve started thinking about this, and the people I want to make for this year, because there are, as I’m writing this, 83 days until Christmas, and I have a few special gifts planned for my Little and his BFF. Wish me luck with my time management, and good luck to you in any of your gift-making!
Isn’t it ironic that the topic this week for #slowfashionoctober – SMALL – strikes me as one of the biggest? I could talk about sustainability, sewing for my son (sewing small things is so cute), how I deal with fabric/yarn stashes (or not)… but let’s start with one of the small, everyday reasons I love the idea of having a small, intentional wardrobe.
I don’t have any closets.
This is a slight exaggeration. My husband just built an upstairs hallway closet for coats and things (in a nook created by old, defunct chimney – it’s brilliant).
The end result of this is that I constantly feel that my drawers are very full. As you can imagine, this helps me question whether I really need this or that, and to clear out items I do not wear regularly, and ensure that everything matches very, very well.
I have to give massive credit, again, to Sarai’s wardrobe-planning blog series for helping me to think about colors, shapes, and my style in a very focused way. Turns out it’s basically gray, brown, pockets, and hand-knitted pops of fall color. I wear dresses with leggings, and short-sleeve blouses for work that I can layer with my handknit sweaters.
My husband is also very intentional about his wardrobe – he basically has a uniform: khakis, button-down white shirts, a few flannel shirts, a few heavier sweaters always made from the same vintage pattern. He always matches, he always looks classy, and he never has to think about what to wear.
He’s been holding on to one old, holey pair of jeans for several years, though – his favorite pair to date. They’re not made any more. We kept thinking, we could turn them into a pattern and re-make them, but until recently, neither of us had those sewing skills.
This year, since I’m feeling cocky about my first pair of jeans actually fitting, I decided to pull those holey jeans apart and use them as a pattern for a new pair, for his birthday. I ordered some khaki/jeans material from Mood Fabrics (how genius is their order-a-swatch-for-a-dollar thing?). Unfortunately, because of my insane schedule, I had to package them up unfinished – without hems or button-hole (and I won’t be able to finish them until late in October).
He was still happy. And he now has a bespoke jeans pattern, all his own, for as many more pairs as he would like.
P.S. Seamwork Radio launched a few weeks ago – and I really enjoyed the first episode! Put some sewing in your ears!
Hello, my name is Mackenzie, and I’m kind of interested in Slow Fashion.
I used to have stress dreams that consisted completely of clothes shopping. I would need to wear something awesome for something important, and I would spend hours shopping. Nothing, of course, would fit, or it would all be in black or pink (which I don’t wear), or I would find something great and then it would fall apart at the seams when I tried it on.
And do you know what? I realized that since I have been sewing more of my own clothes, I have not had those dreams.
Avoiding bad dreams may be small motivation to go through the hours and hours of sewing and knitting that it takes to make your own clothes, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
I sew (a little) and knit (a lot). I’m a full-time working mom with a toddler, and a knitting-design deadline looming, so I don’t plan on any ambitious goals this month for Slow Fashion October. But I do plan to spend some time reflecting here on the blog, about what I’ve made and what I’m planning to make. I’ll be more or less following Karen’s prompts for the month. If you’re interested in the topic, head on over to her blog and read the comments for lots of link love.
There are a lot of factors that make slow fashion worthwhile for me – I enjoy the processes of knitting and sewing. I hate buying something amazing, and then not being able to find that same thing again a year later (shoes and jeans, I’m looking at you). Nothing makes me feel prettier than competence (i.e. wearing something I made well). I have concerns about the labor conditions in the garment industry. I like to avoid waste. You don’t get much more efficient than a capsule wardrobe you can literally design and coordinate to your exact specifications.
Why do you make hand-knitting part of your wardrobe? Do you create any other elements of it?