Slow fashion is… really slow

 

We arrived in San Antonio in the summer of 2013 so that V could attend graduate school. I was excited to get away from Portland and from the stresses of work. Though we were only going to be there for a year, we sold a lot of furniture on craigslist, down-sized from a three-bedroom house and moved into a one-bedroom apartment. I was at a crossroads about work and life, and San Antonio offered the chance to get away from the physical and emotional clutter that I felt buried under. I knew no one, and there was something exhilarating that. Just shortly after we arrived, however, Little A had a severe allergic reaction to something she ate. I also found out that someone I had once worked with, a most lovely, kind and good-hearted person, had suddenly died of an undiagnosed brain tumor at the age of 35. Suddenly, the freedom that I had craved made me fearful, exposing a fragility that stress and routine had dulled, and so I turned inward, finding comfort in the tangibility of handwork.

It was there that I started spinning for this sweater, almost three years in the making, spanning time spent in San Antonio, Portland and Washington, DC. I had only just learned to spin the year before and didn’t have any idea of where to buy fiber and what kinds of independent dyers were out there. I was still finding my way through Ravelry and learning the ropes about destashes, fiber clubs and the like. I bought two bags of Portuguese Merino dyed by Hello Yarn through a bulk destash.

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I split each bump into thin strips, and I worked on spinning this, on and off. After a bit, I saw someone destashing another bump of “Silt” and the idea that I might possibly have enough for a sweater began to emerge.

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Fractally spun, I made sure that I did pair the first spin with my last one so that the unevenness of my spinning would somehow even or cancel each other out.  Portuguese merino staples are short, and that made for an uneven rustic yarn with a bouncy crispness.

I finally finished spinning 12 oz this spring. By then, we had already returned to Portland and had also moved twice! All that chaos made it hard to see the project through, and I also found myself with less time for knitting and spinning now that I had returned to full-time work.

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That year in San Antonio had been clarifying. I realized I love my job. I am incredibly lucky I am to be able to do something that is intellectually satisfying and always unpredictable. I’ve also come to grips with aspects of the job that I’m not so good at, and being honest about my limitations and being willing to say “no” has helped scale down the stress tremendously and enabled me to focus more on my writing and research.

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I didn’t know what to knit and I had forgotten to record the yardage. I was going to Washington, DC this summer for work, and I wanted to make sure I had a knitting project to bring along. This cardigan, Praline, by Gudrun Johnston was a last minute impulsive decision. I got gauge and threw the skeins into my suitcase and hoped for the best. I began knitting on the flight to DC, and I worked on it during the evenings, after a long and satisfying day spent at the Library of Congress. I worked on it during the train rides to New York City and Philadelphia, and I finally finished it back at home in Portland.

img_7677So much has happened between when I first started spinning and when I finally sewed those little buttons on.

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Friday Night Light Spins

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I’ve been lax about spinning, knitting, and blogging. Maybe it’s because I haven’t figured out how to balance the two sides of my brain. When I’m working hard, there doesn’t seem much mental space for spinning,  knitting or even blogging. In the past few weeks, however, we have been watching Friday Night Lights after Little A goes to bed, and it’s given me a little time to catch up on some spinning.

When Friday Night Lights first aired, I had dismissed it as a teen drama along the lines of Beverly Hills 90201 meets football. But when my colleagues raved about this show, V and I decided to try it out. Having now lived in Texas, especially near where the show takes place, I feel a personal connection to that cultural landscape in which football is the center of gravity. But, more than that, the writing is really good. We’re only on season two, but I like the compassion with which the characters are presented. On some level, they are high school stereotypes: the jock, the cheerleader, the nerd, etc., but they seem aware that these are precarious roles in the tumultuous high school social order, subject to sudden change.  The two parental figures–the coach and the high school counselor–are married, and despite their strong marriage, their dedication to their jobs means that they sometimes have competing ideas about what is “best” for the students. It’s pretty clever to have a high school counselor as a character. Through her, the show offers commentary and analysis about the characters’ motivations in a way that seems to be a natural feature of the plot and doesn’t sound too contrived or out of place. And, it is very eerie to watch these episodes, which aired in 2006-2007, against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and the football players’ strike at the University of Missouri to protest against campus racism.

I could go on and on about this show, but suffice to say, this show has increased my spinning output!

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This skein was spun from fiber dyed by Woolgatherings.  They are a regular vendor at my favorite fiber festival, The Flock and Fiber festival in Canby, OR and I bought this 70% oatmeal BFL/30% silk braid last September. I had been waiting a while to spin it and knew that I wanted to make it lace-weight. I didn’t quite expect to get so much–604 meters! I will admit that there were times when I was so over this and wanted it to be done so that I could move onto something else. I think I started spinning this earlier this spring…

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This is my first ever Southern Cross Fibre spin, and yes, it was heavenly. I had signed myself up on the fibre club wait list the spring or summer of 2013, and finally, this summer, I got in!  I must have been needing something different from the lace-weight yarn I had just spun. This corriedale is about 180 meters, and it is squishy and crisp.

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This is probably my new favorite–“Esmerelda” in bond from Southern Cross Fibre. I love the surprise combinations of two and three ply yarns, but right now, there’s nothing more satisfying than plump singles. I am going to be spinning more singles.

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Last but not least, another Nest favorite. This is targhee, and is about 350 meters. I’ve never spun targhee before this and I was amazed but how much it plumped up after I set it. I took this photo a little while ago, otherwise I would have placed it beside the other skeins for scale. It’s only 4 0z, but it’s got bulk.

The Christmas sweater that almost wasn’t….

Or, “It takes a village to knit a sweater.”

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In keeping with the trend of posting Christmas knitting way after the fact (and what better way to celebrate Christmas goodness than to talk about it a few weeks before Halloween the year after), let me present to you, Little A’s Christmas sweater that almost wasn’t.

(Actually, one of the reasons I didn’t post earlier was because it was a test knit and it was to be on the downlow. But, Jones, the sweet little old man cable sweater by Tin Can Knits finally got released.)

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Let me reconstruct the scenario from way back when I first heard of this test knit and jumped at the chance. I love Tin Can Knits’ designs (and the fact that they are partly based in British Columbia) so Little A and I rushed to Twisted, my favorite LYS, and Little A chose this beautiful cranberry DK yarn “Cherry Fizz” from Hazel Knits.

Even though the pattern called for DK yarn, I struggled with getting gauge and eventually had to go down several needle sizes to get it right. That should have tipped me off that the number of skeins I had originally purchased might be not enough. But, at that moment, I was marveling at my knitting skills and the fact that I was making my first Real! Cabled! Sweater! I was doing it! It was all coming together!

The sweater is a bottom up construction with minimal seaming and shaping. There is a little shaping at the collar, but essentially, the sweater is a series of rectangular panels with the sides folded over and seamed at the shoulder.

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The two side panels fold over to form the front.

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I got so sidetracked by the sweater’s cuteness and my own awesome abilities that I didn’t pay attention to the amount of yarn I had. But by the time I had finished the body and the first sleeve and was starting the second sleeve, I began to sweat.

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This photo says it all. I was so close but close just doesn’t cut it.

I called Twisted, but they had run out of skeins in this color. Since we were heading up to Vancouver, BC for the holidays, I started calling yarn stores along the I-5 corridor to see if they had any in stock. No luck. Finally, someone at Fiber Gallery suggested I contact Wendee of Hazel Knits directly. Hazel Knits is based out of Seattle, and maybe, just maybe, there was a skein or two lying around.

My sad and plaintive letter to Wendee:

Dear Wendee,

I hope this email finds you well. I’m trying to finish a Christmas sweater and I’m 3 inches from finishing up the last sleeve and I’ve run out of yarn. I had purchased my Hazel Knit Lively DK in “Cherry Fizz” at Twisted, but they have sold out of this color.

I’m in Portland, OR and am driving up to Vancouver, BC tomorrow (Dec 22). I called Fiber Gallery in Seattle hoping that I could get some on my drive up through Seattle, but alas they are also out. The woman at Fiber Gallery recommended I contact you directly, and I was wondering if there was ANY way I could purchase one skein of yarn tomorrow. I know it’s a long shot, but I would so appreciate it!!!

Thanks so much, and I look forward to hearing from you.
She must have felt sorry for me because she emailed me back right away. Sadly, she didn’t have any of the Lively DK in Cherry Fizz left. She even called around to see if other stores had some. Talk about awesome customer service! None of the brick and mortar shops had any, but then Wendee recommended that I contact Melissa at Stick Chick Knits, an online store.
Melissa was just as friendly and responsive as Wendee. Within 24 hours, I had a hookup! She had ONE skein left!! Melissa was so sweet and offered to meet me at a cafe in Seattle. She said I could text her as we got closer and she would drive over and meet me there.

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Here is our meeting at Diva Espresso. What a superstar Melissa is! I gave her a big hug and bought her coffee. It was the least I could do. Check out that cute little paper bag with the elusive Lively DK in Cherry Fizz inside.

Without the help of all these wonderful people during the busy Christmas season, this sweater would have remained a one-armed wonder for who knows how long. And of course, a silent hero in all of this is my sweet hubs, V. He had to listen to me wail and whine the whole time and then drive me around Seattle looking for a cafe.

As with all Christmas stories, there is a feel good ending and an accompanying lesson. Usually it’s about the true meaning of the Christmas spirit and the importance of family and friends. In this yarnie Christmas version, I learned that extra skeins are not a waste of money! Buy an extra skein of whatever yarn you’re using, especially 1) during the Christmas holidays when inventory is low and you are under a time crunch and 2) if your yarn is from an Indie dyer. Inventory is already small and the holidays can make it even more difficult to find.

The fiber community is made of up incredibly sweet, generous and helpful people, and this Christmas sweater is further evidence of that. Thanks, Wendee and Melissa!

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Pattern: “Jones” by Tin Can Knits
Yarn: Lively DK in “Cherry Fizz” from Hazel Knits
Good Samaritan:  Melissa Goodale

Handspun Estuary

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Usually, I can’t wait to finish blocking a project, especially one that involves lace. It is so satisfying to watch the lace bloom in water, and for the knit to surprise me with its actual form and pattern. The past few months of living in limbo with our things in storage made it hard for me to block this shawl. I couldn’t find the blocking wires, and frankly, there wasn’t much space to properly lay it out. I finished knitting this Estuary Shawl designed by Tin Can Knits a while ago, and it’s been so long that I don’t remember what size needles I used and when I even started it. I do remember that the beginning wasn’t that intuitive for me and I had to unravel many times. But, look at it now. So totally worth it.

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I fractally spun this yarn, and the fiber comes from Hello Yarn. One of the things about fractal spinning is the way the colors become separated and then repeated. I divided the top into many thin strips and so the color shifts are more frequent.

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This lovely BFL and silk blend is “Slither” and is from the November 2012 club, and I was lucky to have purchased this from someone on Ravelry.  I love BFL and silk blends and spinning them finely to create a thin yarn with a soft haloed sheen. With BFL blends, I’ve learned to relax and let the yarn be loosely plied. It gives a lovely drape that is perfect for shawls.

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Here it is: BLF/Silk “Slither” from Hello Yarn. I love the little bits of light blue hidden in the vortex of this extremely poofy skein.

Little me

Hi there! Down here. IMG_5417

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I know I may not look like much, but I’m a momentous thing.

Don’t let appearances fool you.

I’m what you would usually call subpar merino. You know the kind: second cuts with lots of neps. But that also makes me the perfect kind of wool for experimentation. I’ve been dipped in an alum mordanted logwood dye from a natural dyeing class. And because I was in a pot with all sorts of other fibers, the excessive handling got too much and I closed in on myself and became resistant to drafting. A drum carder, recently purchase on craiglist, helped to revive me. I even got carded with some of my undyed merino friends. And after three passes, with neps and all, I became a fluffy rolag ready for spinning. Here I am, all two by three inches of me. IMG_5378

Look at my deep blues and my tweedy texture.

I’m becoming a natural dye convert. IMG_5395

Here I am with my yarnie. IMG_5411

I can’t wait to explore all the possibilities.

Kidlet Knit Part II (Or, the Gateway Sweater)

I’ve been lax in posting my recent projects. I blame the end of the term grading madness, the beginning of the term disorientation and the deeply satisfying and lazy holiday break in-between.

This project, which I made for a certain Little L, is made from my go-to-pattern. I’ve now made three of these sweaters, and it was also the first sweater I made that got me back and knee-deep into knitting. This is probably the easiest sweater to make for those looking to dip their toes into knitting garments. It’s a top-down construction, seamless and easily adjustable. Prior to making this, I was knitting scarves and all I knew were purl and knit. But the ease of the garment and the realization that sweaters need not be so intimidating hooked me in. If ever there was sweater that is the equivalent of a gateway drug, this would be it.

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And while comparing this sweet little sweater to banned substances might be a bit inappropriate, especially as I imagine adorable Little L, with her plump rosy cheeks sporting this sweater in the natural beauty of Vancouver Island, my husband V–in looking at our bank account, the neglected state of our home and my constant distracted state as I count my stitches–might find the comparison completely apt.

Now that I’ve taken up spinning, it’s opened up a whole new world of things to learn and obsess about.

Below is my first ever hand-dyed and hand-spun skein, which I used to knit Little L’s sweater. I’ve wanted learn how to dye fiber ever since I started spinning. In fact, that was one of the reasons we drove as quickly as we could to San Antonio last year. I needed to get there in time to take a percentage dyeing class for fabric (which was one of the most informative and amazing classes I’ve taken!). It was a nice bookend to our time in San Antonio that in the last couple of weeks we were there, we drove to Austin so that I could take a fiber dyeing class at Hill Country Weavers, an amazingly stocked yarn store.

This time, I got to just play with color and focus on how to prep my fiber so I don’t felt it. Luckily, I also had some blue-faced leicester top which doesn’t felt as readily. And so I just used whatever color combinations were provided. What I ended up with is the color of a Disney Princess, a connection I didn’t make until we went to Disneyland on our road trip back to Portland.

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Dyeing my own fiber has made me also realize the importance of color placement in a way that I didn’t quite appreciate. As you can see the dyed colors of the top are more distinct, and after I spun the top, the colors became slightly less vibrant. The fact that the yellow was next to the gray/blue resulted in a slightly green tint to the yarn. I am going to be more mindful next time about how I spin as well as what color combinations I will juxtapose against each other.

In any case, I can’t wait to try my hand at more fiber dyeing. Next up for me is working with natural dyes!

 

 

Storytime sweater

For the past couple of weeks, V has been reading Harry Potter to Little A and me. We started with The Sorcerer’s Stone and then burned through The Chamber of Secrets. Little A draws while I knit. I can’t imagine life being better than this.  And, if there’s one thing that V loves it is having a captive audience for his various British accents. He got into the character of Gilderoy Lockhart with a gusto that was both hilarious and slightly disturbing. After dinner, he would ask casually “So, shall we read Harry Potter?” so as to downplay the fact that out of the three of us, he’s probably J.K. Rowling’s biggest fan. He just happens to be very late to the party. (Those of you who have read more than a few of my blog entries will have noticed that we’re still living like it’s 1999.)

During our Harry Potter story time, I’ve been test knitting another pattern by Tin Can Knits, a lovely cabled cardigan that is full of texture and density. With its old school styling, this cardigan might easily have been a pattern from The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits. This is going to be a Christmas sweater for Little A.

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I’m really enjoying this knit, and this pattern is fun and easy to memorize. The moss stitches and cables are a nice change from the all the stockinette I’ve been knitting.  As much as I love knitting with handspun yarn, the ones that I’m often drawn to are colorful and barber pole-y, and they would have competed with the textures of a pattern like this.

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I’m using Hazel Knits DK Lively in “Cherry Fizz.” As you can see, it has wonderful stitch definition and lovely depth of color. Hazel Knits is based out of Seattle, and I found these skeins at Twisted. Little A chose the color. It is 90% wool and 10% nylon which I think will add durability and help retain shape, or at least I hope so. The sweater is going to be quite heavy because though the recommended yarn for this pattern is a DK yarn, this particular yarn is a heavy DK and I had to go down three needle sizes from the recommended needle size to get gauge. I have a feeling that this sweater is going to stretch and lengthen because of its weight, but I’m hoping the nylon will offset this a bit.