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.

Knitting in Transit

If you live in or have ever visited Toronto, you may be familiar with our venerable public transit system, the TTC. Having grown up in car culture Edmonton, where public transit is relatively poorly funded and, thus, requires its users to maintain an intimate geographic familiarity with the city in order to understand that the circuitous bus route will eventually get you to wherever you’re going, I was instantly smitten with the TTC the first time I used it. The TTC seemed impossibly fast compared to ETS, with its frequent bus, subway and streetcar service. When native Torontonians would complain to me about the TTC,  I would scoff and tell them to move to Edmonton, and then we’d talk about poor public transit.

Lately, my benevolent feelings towards the TTC have begun to wane. In fact, I hate the TTC now. Under Toronto’s infamous crack smoking mayor, service has been cut while fares have increased, and no matter the method of conveyance–bus, subway, streetcar–the experience of traveling on the TTC has become a miserable one. Delays are ubiquitous, overcrowding is rampant, and everyone is unhappy.

And yet, I do manage to find glimpses of goodness on the TTC. More recently, I’ve been reading novels like crazy, and if you’re going to be stuck standing up in a fast moving tin can for 30 odd minutes, you might as well be lost in a good book at the same time. When I manage to get a seat, I like to knit.

Knitting on the subway turns me into an instant object of fascination. Most people just stare for a few minutes and then return to their cell phones (those candies won’t crush themselves, after all…). Occasionally, people will talk to me about what I’m doing. I remember once, on a particularly hot and crowded day last summer, a man watched over my shoulder for about 15 minutes as I shaped the toe of a sock before going out of his way (and I mean really out of his way… the streetcar was packed and he had been forced to shuffle to the back of the car with the surge of rush hour commuters) to tell me that he really admired what I was doing. Another time, a woman saw that I was knitting and proceeded to touch my head to see what the hat I was wearing–she assumed, correctly, that I had made it–felt like, not believing that it was made from wool. Yet another time, a woman loudly talked about me and my knitting like I wasn’t there while seated right next to me: “That’s really cool, what she’s doing. I really like her pink scarf. I also really like her blue hat. I bet she made those, too.” On the rare occasion that I see another knitter on the subway, I do a silent internal cheer. Though there are lots of knitters in Toronto, seeing one in the wild is a bit like finding a unicorn, and there’s nothing more satisfying than having proof that there are others in the world like me, who rely on knitting to get them through the awfulness of crowded transit.

So, in aggregate, most people are nice, some people are perhaps a bit too enthusiastic with the whole touching-without-an-invitation thing, and still others are passive aggressive in their support. And, until recently, I thought that was all there was to it. Then, blogTO ran an article identifying the ten worst people on the TTC, and this was the very first comment:

Screen shot 2014-09-13 at 9.42.11 AM

That’s right, everyone: Knitters, according to “Al”, are right up there with the seat hoggers, the doorway blockers and the fragrant hot food eaters! We are among the worst on the TTC, and I, apparently, am one of the worst offenders.

Unfortunately for Al and other destroyers of fun, I don’t think I’ll be giving up my transit knitting any time soon. As long as I have two hands and somewhere to go, the knitting will happen. Besides, it’s definitively autumn now and the air is crisp and chilly. A girl’s gotta keep warm somehow, and I choose wool. I just hope that Al’s grumpy judgement is enough to keep him warm…