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.

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

That’s it. Come closer. IMG_5404

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I’m so glad to be here. IMG_5390

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

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I can’t wait to explore all the possibilities.

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.

 

Pulling out the knits

We had a nice sunny but cold spell in Portland recently so I took advantage of this anomalous weather to take photos of knits I finished back a while back. (As a side note, we’re back to wet, cold and grey so everything is right in the world again.) I tried cajoling Little A to stay still. Taking photos of this little ham is a crap shoot. One minute she’s smiling, laughing and pulling out her moves. The next minute it’s meltdown. IMG_4725

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The top-down cardigan, Hibbis, is a test knit, but the testing process was less about pattern modification and suggestions so much as it was about identifying grammatical errors in the translation from French to English. I was really drawn to this pattern because I liked the simple lace flowers at the yoke. But now that I’ve knitted it, I would definitely recommend modifying this pattern. The collar is too wide and keeps slipping off Little A’s narrow shoulders. Not only would I cast on fewer stitches for the collar, but that would have allowed me to raise the collar and give me space to have another row of the lace pattern. For Little A’s sizing, there were only two rows of this lace, which which seem a bit off balance to me. I like my patterns to fall on odd numbers. Despite the loose collar, Little A loves this sweater, which is knitted in Cascade 220″Fuschia.” This just goes to show at the end of the day, the wearer’s opinion counts the most.

The squishy cowl she is wearing is knitted from handspun superwash merino from Nest Fiber Studio. The colorway is “London Jupiter.” This was a fun and easy knit to show off handspun yarn. It is an easily adaptable pattern for children and adults. And as the name of this pattern highlights, it is really squishy. I got these darling buttons from Mom’s Buttons.

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What can I say? I love Nest Fiber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could totally knit that…

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Ever since I started knitting more regularly, my relationship with store-bought knits has taken a nosedive. We were already having some communication issues, namely their refusal to be loose in areas I need them to be loose and tight in areas I need them to be tight. Now that I have more in my knitting repertoire beyond stockinette and garter stitches, we are no longer on speaking terms.  Whenever I see knits on display, my smug response is, “I could totally knit that.” Mass-produced sweaters seem more flimsy and poorly made. Plus, they’re cold and impersonal. Why buy something I can make myself? I could totally knit a warm, colorful and durable sweater that has the distinction of being made with love. Yes, I could totally knit that and do it better.

This attitude, however, does have a down side.

The truth is, though I have the ability, I don’t necessarily have the time. Now that the weather is colder and V and Little A are forced to venture out hatless or mittenless while awaiting prophesized knits, my DIY, anti-consumerist, mother-earthing ethos is starting to look like stubborn idiocy and misguided cruelty.

I have been promising V a hat for weeks. He walks a good mile from the bus stop to work in the chilly morning hours. But, with my current piles of grading, I have only been able to knit a few rows or inches a night. I had bragged that I could finish this brier toque in two days. Caught up by my over-confidence, he even assured his bus driver, a sweet maternal older lady who pays attention to these things, that he will be warmly dressed soon. And yet, each morning, when she pulls up and he comes running up into the warm belly of the bus, she asks, “When is this hat going to be ready?”

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There’s nothing like the mild disapproval of a bus driver to spur on your knitting. All I can say is that this hat is going to get done. Even if it kills me a little.

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The other day V asked about mittens, but I told him that he was going to have to wait. There’s a queue. My fingers are freezing.

Fiber: Nest Fiber Club, “Fernweh” October 2014 (organic polwarth), worsted spun 2-ply.

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.