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

I won’t bite. IMG_5387

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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.