creative-hours

forward motion

Some folks are happy with a goal-driven all-out sprint towards the holidays with their crafting (I just read my daily dose of Yarnharlot and almost cried, but Stephanie seems to love her process). Some people break into hives at the mere mention of a crafting deadline. I fall somewhere in the middle – I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t making anything. But I see no reason to let my irrational ambition take over the holidays – because, unfortunately, I do take deadlines seriously.

I limited myself to sewing superhero capes for my son and his BFF, and creating a cardboard stepstool so that he can learn to wash his own hands. Plus I’m making steady progress on a few baby shower gifts that need to be done by mid-January.

As I truck along on those few handmade things, I’m mostly thinking about my theme for next year. In 2014, my theme was “say no” (I had just had a baby, and wanted to create realistic expectations of what I was going to get done). In 2015, my theme was “say yes” (try new things, meet new people, accept a challenge again).

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I’ve done well with both of those things. I set ruthless priorities in 2014, and it’s actually become kind of a habit to think, “Is this necessary to my creative life, does it contribute to the family, does it strengthen my relationships?” and if not, I just say no, with ever-decreasing levels of guilt.

And of course, in 2015 I published my first sweater design. Challenge accepted and enjoyed. I also tried yoga, started guest blogging for Lancaster Transplant, and I made an effort to meet new people and invest more love and energy into my existing network of fabulous folks.

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Both of those were necessary resolutions to my creative life – when I stopped and looked at it carefully, the only ones that made sense. So what’s necessary this year?

I think it might be “more with less.” Or maybe it could be rephrased as “do the best with what you already have.”

In the micro: I have a yarn and fabric stash to work from. I have the incredible Creative Reuse Center nearby. I want to take creative aim at spending less money with less intensive use of new materials in my work.

In the macro: I have been given enough resources, skill, and support to make a life I’m really happy with. I often lose sight of that, feeling like there isn’t enough time or money to go around, or mismatching my ideas with my reality. But really, truly, I can and should focus on using what I have in the best way possible.

Please tell me I’m not the only one examining and re-examining my life as I stitch. What are your themes and thoughts for the holidays and the new year?

creative-hours

The Mountaintop Pullover

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It’s here! My first published knitting pattern. Part of the incredibly cute Winter 2015 Knittin’ Little collection, the Mountaintop Pullover is alongside some beautifully wearable and beautifully quirky selections for your Littles (I especially dig the skunk scarf).

Can you believe I started thinking about this design, oh, I don’t know, 18 months ago?  In toddler world, that is literally a lifetime. Indulge me while I take you on a tour of all the little details.

I’m a huge fan of stranded colorwork, but I know it looks intimidating to many people. So I chose to put a band of colorwork around the waist, where you won’t have to fuss with increases and decreases at the same time you’re juggling two yarns.

It’s a top-down raglan with a larger neck opening built in for your toddler sizes.

Each repeat of the colorwork motif adds 1″ to the length of the sweater, so it’s super easy to calculate if you want to make the colorwork part longer or shorter.

It’s geometric and unisex (depending on your choice of colors). I initially envisioned it as a pattern I’d be happy to have my son wear, and I have to say it looks super adorable modeled on a little girl for the magazine.

The design started here:

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It hit a little snag here,
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went through a few variations,
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and ended up here!

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You can find the pattern on Knittin’ Little’s website and on Ravelry. Go check out the whole collection, and if you knit my design (well, I’d be thrilled regardless)…  pics or it didn’t happen!

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Little Bit of Good

I was standing in the check out line at the grocery store last night. A cookie pack in my hand was my contribution to the lock-in at my local yarn store (Stitching Memories).

Lock-ins occur one night a month and consists of  knitting, eating, laughing, and sharing – while knitting with fellow knitters, of course. It’s a great time to escape the grind and connect with fellow pickers and throwers.

As I was waiting to pay for my pack of cookies, the gentleman in front of me was getting ready to pay for his groceries. When the total cost of his groceries was tallied, he was short. I looked away, thinking that by looking away I would ease his discomfort at having to go through his groceries and figure out what to leave behind and what to keep. Inside I was thinking “I’ll do this man a favor by acting as if nothing is happening. This will make him feel less uncomfortable.”

The process of picking out one item at a time and re-tallying his total went on for 5 or 6 items when the lady behind me spoke up and said “Excuse me, but how much are you short?” The gentleman said “about twenty – two dollars” at which the lady replied “I’ll pick it up.” The gentleman expressed his thanks and the lady picked up the rest of the tab. I could have said things like “but you were buying chips and lemonade mix and things that aren’t essential, so why should I help?” or “everyone has hard times and you have to learn how to live with whatever is given to you,” but honestly… the lady behind me got it right.

She showed compassion without judgment. Every time I think of compassion lately, I also think of all the news stories of so many refugees fleeing such horrific living situations that they are willing to risk their lives to escape. That’s a fast track to becoming totally overwhelmed with the needs of so many. So the subject of charity has been swimming and swarthing (that’s a made up word, by the way) in my head and heart.

I have come in contact with so many knitters that knit for others, out of pure compassion.  Making hats for preemies, for instance. I recently ran into someone who knits blankets and outfits for stillborn babies in the hospital. Western Michigan University has a special scholarship program for kids who have graduated from foster homes. That may sound great, but these kids are basically too old for foster care and have not been adopted – so a local group knits items to give to these young adults for Christmas each year. There are so many ways for knitting to touch the lives of others.

I have been knitting several items for a nonprofit organization that provides coaching and support to missionaries. This organization (Coaching Mission International) has a fundraising Christmas Bazaar each year. I have a lot of time to knit in the evenings so why not use some of my knitting time to turn yarn into items to donate for this cause? So here are a few of the items that I made this year:

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And as I keep stitching and shopping and moving through my life, I’m going to keep working on this compassion thing and hopefully get it right more often.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu

creative-hours

et si j’ai du mal, c’est noye, c’est noye

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.

The Gift by Czeslaw Milosz

C’est Noye by Victoria Vox

My Dream by Ogden Nash

creative-hours

in the weeds

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Malabrigo sock. Sorry, I have forgotten all the colorway names.

I have a lot of knitting to do in the next few months.

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Also Malabrigo sock. I have an enormous stash of this stuff from my days working at the knitting store.
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Malabrigo sock. Sensing a theme? The light green is Lettuce, but I still dont know the name of the dark green.
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This will be another Stripe Study shawl

And furthermore, my life feels like (to borrow a phrase from my southern living days) a hot mess right now.

So, short post this week, happy yarnings my friends, I’ll show you the follow up photos when I can (many of these things are destined to be surprises)!

And happy Thanksgiving!  Despite being deep in the weeds, I’m thankful for all y’all reading this post, and wonderful family to spend the day with.

creative-hours

the cutest winter coat

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.

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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?).

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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!

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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.

Are you sure you can't speed this story up, Mom?
Are you sure you can’t speed this story up, Mom?

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.

It still. freaking. fits. 

creative-hours

love for my tools

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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?

creative-hours

in progress: first magazine submission!

Remember when I told you I had a new pattern in the works, my first submission for a magazine (the super adorable Knittin’ Little)?

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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?

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Yep, the blue and purple are actually pretty close in value. It’s a lot more obvious in grayscale.

bandwblue-yarn-1bandwpurple-yarn-1My 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.

creative-hours

slow fashion: KNOWN

This week’s #slowfashionOctober prompt is the one I wish I knew the most about:

favorite sustainable resources / “local” / traceable fabric and yarn origins / traceable garment origins / reference books, films, videos

Let’s start with what I do know.  I’ve been pinning a few made-in-Americasingle-breed, and eco-friendly yarns. The knitting designs I’m working on next use some of these.

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.

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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 Etsy shop sells Fair Trade fabric, and it’s not all cotton
  • Alabama Chanin is now producing organic cotton fabric you can  purchase
  • Organic Cotton Plus, Honey Be Good,  has a Made in USA section
  • 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.

creative-hours

slow fashion October: WORN

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.

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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.)

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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!