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.

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.

 

Top down handspun

I’ve been trying to figure out how to knit a V-neck cardigan from the top down by reading Barbara Walker’s Knitting From the Top. I wanted to design and knit my own cardigan, but I couldn’t figure out crucial steps in the construction process. While her book is brilliant in presenting the structural formula of top-down knitting, for someone like me who has not done a lot of sweater knitting, it was a bit too abstract; I needed a more detailed step by step explanation. In looking for a simple V-neck cardigan prototype, I found exactly what I was looking for: Audrey’s First Day Sweater designed by Elizabeth Smith. It’s a great pattern to start learning about top down raglan cardigan construction. And what’s even better is that it’s free.

I finished this cardigan in a couple of weeks, despite a very hectic schedule. And it’s thick and warm–just in time for fall!

(This toque, which I spun and knitted in San Antonio, has been getting a lot of use recently. Little A and I both take turns wearing it.)

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The yarn is spun from two 4 oz bumps of  Spunky Eclectic falkland that I had purchased from a Ravelry destash. The yarn is worsted weight and I had a little less than 400 meters so I knew that I couldn’t have long sleeves.

I spun the two bumps slightly differently to give some variety in the color shifts. One bump I split in half cross-wise and spun each half across the top. The other bump is fractally spun. I split it in half cross-wise and spun one half across the top but split the other half into 8 strips lengthwise. You can see the different effects in the two halves of the sweater. The top half, which has thinner band of colors, is knitted using the fractally spun yarn. As with my previously spun sweater, I’m partial to having striping changes.

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Given that this was a top-down sweater, I wanted the sleeves to be knitted with the fractally spun yarn so to match the upper body. Shortly after I knitted the yoke, I decided I had better save the rest of this yarn for the sleeves so I set it aside and then continued knitting the body with the other skein. I then weighed the yarn I had set aside and divided it into two same-sized balls to make sure that my sleeves would be roughly the same length. I knitted the sleeves till I ran out of the fractally spun yarn. If I had initially spun this 8 oz with a plan to make a sweater, I probably would have probably followed this awesome PDF explanation from Gizometer on Ravelry. Though the instructions are for a gradient sweater, I love the breakdown of the ratio between the amount of fiber needed for sleeves and the amount needed for the body. These instructions present the division of fiber and colors with easy to understand diagrams.

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I modified the sweater a bit so that as Little A grows, it can be worn as a bolero. It’s cropped and wider around the chest. I added four extra stitches under each arm.

Spunky Eclectic “Field of Screams” (May 2010 club fiber) waiting to be plied.

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Knitting for kidlets (the first of many…)

Last year, I didn’t get very far with my Christmas knitting. Two measly handspun hats were all I managed.  I’m again behind, but this time it’s for a good reason: Babies. And tons of them. I don’t know what was going on last fall, but I’m surrounded by little babes right now. And all of them too cute to go through life without handspun.

Work has been intense, and so I’ve been spinning and knitting when I can–spinning during late night episodes of The West Wing on Netflix (yes, I’m not just behind on my Christmas knitting) and knitting while Little A takes swimming lessons. Needless to say, it’s been a slow-going process.  I’m knitting larger sizes so that the little tykes can still fit them by the time I am done. This little cardigan is sized for a twelve-month old.

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I’ve admired this pattern, Kina, for ages. It’s darling and simple, and it is a great pattern to show off colorful handspun yarn. The gathering at the collar give this sweater some visual interest, but it is a very simple top down sweater. There is also the option of making this with long sleeves. I think more designers out there should design for these kinds of colorfully dyed fibers, patterns that allow these handspun yarns to shine through. I’m still on the lookout for more hat patterns for my Christmas knitting that would work well with the barber pole color shifts of my handspun yarn.

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I love how the color transitions turned out. I divided the long strip in half cross-wise and then divided each half into eight thin strips. I did it mainly to speed up my spinning as I only just realized that when I spin across a wide top, it is a much slower process, especially if you’re like me and use the short forward drafting method.

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You can see the effects of these thin strips then plied together, creating thin bands of color that radiate from the collar. The larger bands of pink and green at the body are completely accidental, and I like the slight pattern shift because it keeps the sweater from being too visually busy. There are three little button holes at the top, but I was too excited to share and couldn’t wait for buttons. I think little pearly off-white ones would really look great here but I haven’t had time to shop.

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The superwash merino fiber is dyed by Ceylan of Two If By Hand, and the color is “Relationship Agreement.” I wish I had taken a photo of this fiber before I spun it up. I worried that the colors were a bit too dark for a baby sweater but I think it really turned out well.  This is a two-ply and I managed to get 375 meters out of this 4 oz bump.

Little A has already named this little sweater “Jummit” and she likes to cuddle it as if it were a doll. There is something too adorable for words about teeny sweaters. I am going to have to spin and knit one for Little A so that she can have her own little Jummit.