Making Together


There’s something about knitting with other people that gives me joy in my heart. This has got to be because, in a world full of non-makers who give you the side eye when you tell them how much it costs to knit a pair of socks, knitters just get it. They understand that, even though you can pick up a really cute cardigan from Joe Fresh for as low as $15 and a 10-pack of socks costs a mere handful of dollars at Walmart, the act of knitting is far greater than the sum of its parts. Where a non-maker sees a plain sock, I see a stress relieving lunch time trip to the LYS in search of the perfect yarn. I see hours of patient work, simultaneously calming and exciting as my vision is realized one stitch at a time. I see a loved one who would be stuck shivering in the cold wearing horrible acrylic if I hadn’t swooped in and draped them in warm wool. Wearing a garment that I’ve lovingly and painstakingly crafted gives me a feeling of pride that lasts for years longer than any satisfaction gained from owning a ready-to-wear garment that, no matter how nice, will invariably come apart at the seams long before my handmade ones will. And when I hang around with knitters, this all goes unsaid. We know why we’re here together, and that is enough.

It took me a long while to muster up the courage to hang out with flesh-and-blood knitters, and before I managed to come out of my introverted shell, I conferred with the knitters of the internet. Like many online communities, the virtual knitting community is a vibrant one. The camaraderie I’ve shared with strangers who share a common lust for a favorite yarn company or designer(s) has done much to spur me on to trying new, different, better things. Despite being a highly self-motivated person in general, there’s something about the encouragement of people who understand exactly why that stranded colourwork sweater you’re slowly talking yourself into making is awesome that helps me to push myself to do more.

Where online knitters leave flesh-and-blood knitters in the dust is in the organization of knitalongs, and right now there are many to choose from. The one that I’m very interested in participating in is the Outfit Along hosted by Lauren of Lladybird and Andi of Untangling Knots. This is the second year that these two awesome ladies have hosted their makealong and, now that I’m somewhat proficient with the ol’ sewing machine, I want to get in on the action.

Though Andi and Lauren have taken the trouble of choosing official dress and cardigan patterns for participants, the point of the OAL is to make an outfit that you love, and not using these patterns won’t disqualify anyone from entry. And so, being mindful of my pledge to make more from my stash this year, I’ve decided to do something a little different. For the sweater, I’ve chosen to combine two patterns: Justyna Lorkowska’s Florrick, for the beautiful cable panel in the back that made me swoon the first time I saw it, and Gudrun Johnston’s Audrey in Unst, a pattern whose construction I am already very familiar with. Whereas the official OAL sweater pattern calls for DK weight yarn, my sweater will be made using a long-stashed fingering weight Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in the luscious Gypsy colourway. Not only does using a lighter weight yarn allow me to be prudent and use my stash, it will also help me to fill a long standing lightweight cardigan gap in my wardrobe. Plus, I’ll be able to wear it without melting on breezy summer evenings.

As for the dress, I’m very excited to be making a Collette Peony, a stashed pattern, out of the wicked awesome breton stripe rayon pictured above. This dress pattern, if the internet is to be believed, is supposed to be easy-peasy to make, so I’ll be challenging myself in other ways. This will be my first foray into pattern matching, which could prove to be a bit more challenge than I bargained for due to the slightly irregular nature of the stripes. This will also be my first time sewing a garment with sleeves, and I’m not at all ashamed to say that, if the sleeves look like they’re going to be a huge hassle or like they won’t turn out, I am more than happy to jettison them if I need to. That I’ll be focusing on perfecting the fit hardly needs to be said.

Okay, okay, I know I have a less than stellar record of meeting KAL deadlines. But with a whole two months within which to finish both projects, I know that I can at least give it a good try. The worst that can happen, after all, is that I won’t meet the deadline. I will eventually, however, be the proud owner of what is basically the outfit of my dreams, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

Fellow makers: Show me your OAL plans!

An Auspicious Start

An impulse I have when thinking about time is to characterize it as moving quickly. “I can’t believe it’s already mid-February!”, I may have written at this point last year, followed by some apologies and promises to be a better blogger. But the truth is that, at present, time is progressing at an even pace, perhaps a slower pace than I’m used to, and I like it a lot. I chalk this up to one big variable: shortly after the start of the new year, my beloved MacBook Pro, the one I wrote my doctoral dissertation on, the one I relied on to extend the thoughts in my brain in a manner fit for general consumption, went kaput. I’m sure it’s not dead dead, but it requires at least some minor surgery in order to be useful again. There was a period in my life when not having a personal computer in good working order would have sent me into a tailspin of panic, and I would have assumed an ungodly amount of debt in order to make sure that I had a computer in good working order. Thankfully, those days are behind me. I’ve come to cherish time away from the computer, relishing the ways in which non-computer mediated time seems to stretch luxuriously before me, a stark contrast to the ways in which being glued to a screen has left me feeling bereft because I haven’t had enough time to do everything I wanted to do.

Of course, this preamble is meant to explain 1) that, though I’ve been silent these last few weeks, I’ve been plenty productive, and 2) why I haven’t shown you this sweater yet.

Okay. The thing is, my version of this sweater is most definitely a failure and has a home at the top of the frog pile. I love the way it looks, and it was easy and pleasureful to make, but the fit is just terrible. It’s too long, there’s a major swayback problem, and the seams look bulky and lumpy when I wear it. Even so, it took the better part of January to make, and I wanted to make sure I gave it due consideration.

Surely you’ll remember from the past that sweater failures tend to bring me down, big time. But in this case, I find myself thinking of this sweater as more of a learning opportunity than an outright defeat. Because, unlike in past cases where the failure has been a result of my own error, my efforts on this sweater foundered because I followed the pattern to the letter, and the person whose body this sweater was designed for definitely isn’t mine. I have to admit that this came as a surprise to me: the construction of this sweater came together so easily exactly as written that, at first, I was convinced that it must have been my error. But the truth is that, when knitting, I rarely think about how to shape a garment to account for the various bumps and curves of my body. The biggest modifications I tend to make are related to lowering necklines, which is just about the easiest modification one can make on a sweater. And when things do fit perfectly, it’s usually due to a combination of forgiving, springy wool and my best friend, negative ease (meaning that the garment is on the tighter side, rather than being of a more relaxed fit). I’m definitely okay with continuing to knit most garments with some flattering negative ease, but I’ve also begun to accept that, in order for me to really improve my knitting skills, it’s high time I learned to how to shape a garment to fit the contours of my body.

This realization comes in large part due to my new found love of sewing with woven fabrics, which require a good deal of measuring and shaping in order to fit the body properly. My sewing machine and I have become great friends in the past few months, and I have spent much of my computer-free time perfecting my new favorite skirt style and learning the basics of making full bust adjustments on simple blouses. Once I finally learn how to make a proper button hole, I’ll expand my fitting knowledge even more and move on to some not-so-basic sewing projects. In other words, I have a few more things to show you, and I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned about sewing and to show you how I’ve improved.

In the meantime, what are your favorite resources for fitting knits?

Post Script: My sister, Zoe, is engaged in a legal battle for access to her daughter, my beautiful niece, Khloe. The case is complex, but if she wins, it will have profoundly positive implications for all LGBTQ couples in Canada who have children. Please consider reading the link below and offering some help to Zoe. Every little bit–including words of support–makes a huge difference.

2014 In Review

Hello hello! Back again! How have you been? I have been very well, indeed. After several months of regular blogging, which I actually enjoyed quite a lot, I just suddenly didn’t feel like it anymore. Nothing is wrong, per se; it’s only that I’ve started to find I enjoy my time away from the internet so much that I wanted to keep away from it for as long as was feasible. And, let me tell you, not being constantly aware of the horrible shit that happens in the world on an hourly basis has done wonders for my wellbeing over the last few weeks.

I certainly don’t think of this space as a repository for the horrible shit in the world, though. On the contrary! I love this space! Sure, I neglect it now and then, but I know it’s here for me when I’m feeling like showing you my wares. And, because it’s the year’s end, it seems appropriate to reflect on the good and to think about the future. Or something.

But, first, a few updates, because I know I left you hanging:

1. I did not finish my NaKniSweMo sweater on time. I know!!!! How disappointing. And the worst part is that I’m still actually not finished this sweater, which, if you recall, was meant to be a birthday gift for my beloved. Here’s where it currently stands:

As you can see, the conspicuous absence of a second sleeve puts this garment firmly in the close-but-no-cigar category. And since I’ve let not one, but three potential deadline dates pass (those are: birthday, the end of November and Christmas) without finishing the sweater, I can and should take some extra time to lengthen the torso so that Keith is likely to wear it without feeling uncomfortable. As for why it’s not finished yet, well, I’m going to blame the yarn. It’s a beautiful and sturdy yarn and I know it will make a long lasting (and hopefully well-loved) sweater, but the high cotton content makes it so, so hard on my wrists. I can actually (okay, maybe more like figuratively) feel my wrists ache whenever I even think about the fact that I still have a whole sleeve to finish, and then I have to lengthen the body. But, oh well. It will be finished, eventually.

2. I am not a complete failure at finishing things, though, because I did, in fact, finish making Coda. And I’m surprisingly taken with it.

I know, what an odd thing to say, right? Well, you may recall my nervousness about making a new garment with yarn harvested from a failed garment and, initially, my fears were totally and completely founded. The finished sweater grew in blocking to such an extent that it became, like it’s predecessor, unwearable. I could sort of get the front of the sweater to sit flat, but the back was all saggy and the whole thing was much too long to be presentable on my short-waisted body. In a brain wave borne of desperation, I decided to machine wash and dry the sweater. By this time I was more than ready to lose this yarn and sweater to the fickle gods of fabric care but, lo and behold, it shrunk back to the correct proportions and was once more wearable. Hooray! I still think the fit (on me) could be better, but I’m mainly thrilled that I can wear it at all.

So, that sums up the last few months. As for the last year, it was a good one! Some highlights include a life changing trip to Lisbon, making friends with my sewing machine, knitting my first ever Fair Isle sweater, and, though previously unmentioned here, falling back in love with recreational reading. I read 25 books this year (yes, I counted. I am like that sometimes), and I owe it all to my lil sister, Zoë, who kickstarted the whole think by giving me a new book last Christmas. For a while, I believed that I had destroyed my ability to enjoy reading through a combination of TV, the internet and nearly a decade of graduate school, so I feel almost inarticulably grateful to have rediscovered the pleasure of getting lost in a great book. (And, okay, the occasional mediocre, fluff book. I’m only human.)

Okay, down to brass tacks. Here’s what I made this year:

19 pairs of socks, including these three new pairs (top pair for me, middle pair for Keith and the last pair for my ’90s baby sister, Zoë):

7 hats and 6 pairs of mittens, mostly destined for friends and family:

A metric buttload of baby sweaters (actual count: 5):

A bunch more adult-sized sweaters (actual count: 10):

And some assorted miscellany:

Grand total: 50 knitting projects and two sewing projects. Not bad!

2014 was a good year and I accomplished many loosely-set maker goals, from knitting enough sweaters to clothe me throughout the work week to building skill in order to replace irrational fears (I’m looking at you, Fair Isle sweater and sewing machine). Now, I’m not one to harp on about the need for constant, vigilant self-improvement–though a worthy goal, I also think it’s okay, even important, to be content with what you have–but I would like to go on record with a few more goals for 2015. In the main, I hope to accomplish two big things:

1) I want to make more of my clothing. No duh, Sheena, you may be thinking to yourselves now. But it’s not such a no duh thing. At present, I am an extremely proficient knitter and kind of a novice sewist, and this imbalance is starting to be apparent in my wardrobe (unfortunately, there is such a thing as wearing too many hand knits, much to my chagrin). So, I’m setting a loose goal to replace some of my ready-to-wear sewn items with handmade items. Maybe I’ll become extra-ambitious and teach myself how to make the perfect pair of pants, but I would be equally thrilled just to have a good collection of basic, tailored skirts and tops in my wardrobe. I’m far more comfortable wearing skirts than I am wearing pants (of the non-stretchy variety, that is), and now that I have two handmade skirts under my belt, I can only improve with time and practice. I’ve also invested in a serger and the idea of replacing some of my old, worn t-shirts with new ones made to fit my body has me practically giddy with excitement. Anyway, 1 outfit per month seems an attainable, if ambitious, goal. If I can make that, great! If not, that’s okay, too.

2) I want to make more from my stash. Thankfully, my fabric stash is limited, but my yarn stash is out of control. I have so much beautiful yarn to make sweaters with! I hope to have the willpower to not add much more to my stash over the next 12 months until I have a big clear out of what’s already there.

So, that was my year of making it my way in 2014. Thanks for giving audience to my ideas and my maker stuff! Here’s to more of the same in 2015.