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At the Craft Sessions

Spending a much-needed weekend in the Yarra Valley at my favourite event, the Craft Sessions. 

This is my second year, and it’s wonderful to see friends I made last year, and to finally meet in person some of the Aussie makers I admire most.

I’m teaching three classes this year (sock knitting, blocking, and introduction to lace), but have most of today off. Free time to read, knit, drop in on other classes, and think.

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Almost Spring

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It’s the end of winter. We’ve already had a few days of irresistible weather, where the sun rises unexpectedly early and stays in the sky up to cocktail hour. One day last week I stepped outside and felt warmth on my face. Australian winters are short, but spring feels just as good.

I’ve been all over the place lately — my body is inflamed and angry, my mind races, I can’t focus. I don’t feel balanced, there isn’t a ton of certainty about anything these days. Between work stress, ill health and immigration paperwork, I’m having trouble nailing down what I need.

I even doubt craft, the thing I come to again and again. I read Felicia’s blog post on how craft has centred her during challenges, and I can’t fully relate right now. I scan my Instagram feed (yeah, I know), filled with cups of tea and books, knitting projects and fabric, sighs of contentment at stealing a moment away for craft. That’s not where I am right now, and I don’t see my current state reflected anywhere.

Truth is, even with some beautiful projects on the needles, I’m having trouble getting excited. The relaxing moments just aren’t as soothing as I’d expect them to be. So what do we do with that? When normally all I need is a long walk and an afternoon by myself to recharge, I’m finding it hard to get my energy levels up.

Last year Belinda wrote about farming, and how she knew it was what she needed to do. Reading her words again tonight, I’m envious, not about the farm, but about the feeling. That’s what I want.


What do you do, loveliest of reader, when you’re stuck?


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Which Needles Should You Use?

I still remember the frustration of my first project on circular needles. I bought cheap-o needles from Zellers, and cursed them with every stitch. The joint between the needle tip and the cable was so jagged that every single stitch had to be pushed onto the needle with a fingernail or a tug at the project. Can you imagine what that does to the yarn? My project was already pilled and worn before it was finished. The cable also coiled on itself terribly. I tried all kinds of tricks to straighten the cables: ironing on a low setting (thereby slightly melting the cable!), hanging the needles vertically, twisting the cable in the opposite direction. Nothing worked, and the cables kept tangling. I couldn’t understand why anyone chose circular needles!
Then came my first experience with the wonderful Addi needles. They were still fairly new to North America then, and I reeled a bit at spending that much money on a single circular needle. But they felt so nice in my hand, and the cable was so flexible, and stitches slipped right onto the needle, with no tugging.

Since then I’ve built two collections of needles (one is in storage in my dad’s garage back in Montreal, and one is here in Melbourne), though it seems like I’m always buying more 3.5mm needles (where do they go?). I’ll occasionally pick up a pair of Clover wooden needles if I’m working with something particularly slippery, like silk, viscose or bamboo, but that’s it.

Lace, Nickel, Interchangeables?

I ask that students in my lace knitting workshops use Addi Lace needles. Learning to knit with small needles and tiny yarn is difficult, and new lace knitters really don’t need the added frustration of blunt tips or snagged cables.

Addi Lace needles have a sharp point and a long end, making it easy to insert into small stitches. They are also coated in brass, giving them a slightly stickier finish than nickel needles, without the risks of splinters from wooden needles. They can be a bit too sharp: these aren’t the best fit for splitty yarns like worsted-spun cotton, as the point can go through the yarn. I’ve also worn a hole in my index finger many times from knitting with these — if you have a habit of pushing stitches off the needle with your finger, using these needles might hurt!

The standard nickel-plated Addi needles are perfect for projects that don’t need a sharp tip, and for yarns that tend to split. I prefer them to the lace needles for working with wool, as the nickel plating is less grabby than brass, and stitches slide smoothly. I always buy needles in the longest cable available in the shop—usually that’s an 80cm or a 100cm cable— and use the Magic Loop method if I’m working in the round.

I love my interchangeables (I have two sets, one in bamboo and a set of the Addi short tips), but don’t recommend using them for fine yarns or detailed work. They aren’t usually made in the small sizes needed for fine yarns, and the cable join is never quite as smooth as on fixed needles.

That being said, the KnitPicks/KnitPro interchangeables do have a nice detail that is useful for lace knitters: there is a hole in the base of the needle (where you insert the key to tighten the needle). If you thread a piece of cotton yarn through it, then knit as normal, you wind up adding a lifeline to that row without the extra step. Neat!

Which tools have become indispensable for you? I’d love to know what I should try out next.

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Despite all the fancy apps that claim to improve the modern knitter’s life, this is still my favourite way to track rows and decreases. Paper, pencil. Measuring tape. A sewing gauge with a little red slider is about as fancy as my tools get.

I’ve seen countless iterations of basic knitting tools: measuring tapes shaped like sheep! Square knitting gauges, triangular ones, pink ones, wooden ones! Darning needles in glass tubes, in plastic boxes, in felt sleeves. Square needles, ebony needles, colorful needles, see-through needles.

I’m not competing for the title of least materialistic crafter of the year. When I see gadgets of all types being hawked to makers, though, it makes me wonder: who are these things for, and what are they for?

Surely not to make nicer things. That comes with time, patience, dedication, raw materials. Better tools, sure, but probably not cuter tools. Does a carpenter use a tiny hammer painted with hearts?

Is it for convenience? Oh. If convenience is the aim, I should probably set my knitting aside and head to Uniqlo instead.

Excuse the slight snark. I’m tired of seeing new crafters become overwhelmed by the plethora of tools they think they need, and by the useless, low-quality junk being hawked at them.

I work in tech, where the stereotype employee has every latest gadget and can’t wait until the next Apple announcement. What I’ve found, instead, is a group of people who are as obsessed as I am with craftsmanship, this time of hardware, code, pixels. I never expected we’d have that in common.

When I spotted an Apple Watch peeking from under a coworker’s sleeve, I gently teased him about his latest indulgence. “Yeah, I know, but yesterday, when it was guiding me through the city? It was awesome.” He had the dazed look of someone who lives in the future. The tool worked.

When a knitting novelty can do that? I’ll start buying. Until then, pen and paper it is.

Quince & Co Lark at 18st/10cm, 20st/10cm

A Few Notes on Swatching

It’s past 5pm and I haven’t left the house yet. I have slim hopes of making it out there, but on a cold and rainy Melbourne day, who can blame me? It’s a good day for swatching a new-to-me yarn, Quince&Co Lark.

I don’t understand the dislike for swatching. What could be more gratifying than getting to handle your new yarn right now, without worrying about making mistakes in the stitch pattern, or wondering whether you’ve chosen the right needles? Swatching lets me make all kinds of bad choices at the start: overly-complicated stitches with a multi-tone yarn, bulky cables when the fabric won’t be able to handle the weight, tension “experiments” I wouldn’t dare on a real project.

When helping new knitters choose a yarn, they’re often worried about tension and needle size. I’ve found this to be especially true in Australia, where yarn is sold as four-ply, eight-ply, ten-ply and so on (instead of fingering weight, DK, Worsted and Aran, as we do in North America). Worse, some older magazines and patterns teach that you should select your yarn based on needle size (and not the other way around)!

To a new knitter, swatching is slow. Every stitch takes several seconds, so why waste a decent chunk of time making something that will be discarded later? And why wouldn’t their stitches come out exactly the same as what’s on the label, for a given yarn and a given needle size?

Well, the beauty of knitting is that it’s hand-made, by humans, not by robots. Individual, ever-changing humans, who grip onto the yarn harder when they’re tense, make looser stitches when they gain confidence, and generally have their own way of doing things.

This means that my thirty-stitch swatch will look nothing like your thirty-stitch swatch. That’s especially apparent when working in a group. During my colourwork class, I like to have each person knit a tiny intarsia heart, then lay it next to the others. All different sizes, all different fabrics, each suitable for a different use.

A yarn might make a beautiful, cozy scarf at 18 stitches per 10cm. The same yarn could be knit at 20 stitches per 10cm for a structured pullover, or a tight 22 stitches per 10cm for a stuffed toy. It’s all about the intended use.

Here is how I like to work a swatch, and what I typically learn from them.

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WIP: Chevron quilt

On the blog: early morning sewing. #handmade #quilt #quilting

A photo posted by Ophélie Lechat (@ophelielechat) on


I love solid fabrics. While I can spend hours admiring the beautiful prints at my two local quilt shops, I always walk out with a few solids to add to my growing collection. Muted colours, dusty greys, monochromatic palettes. It’s become a running joke at the office that grey and blue are the only colours I need.

The palette for this project, a small quilt for a friend’s newborn, came from my memories of that friend’s college bedroom. Organic lines, natural wood, bamboo, muted greens and browns. The plan is to make two chevron columns, trim them down, and lay them on a white background.

I found pattern inspiration on Pinterest, in particular this beauty by Tumbling Blocks.

How good is Pinterest when you have a new hobby? I hadn’t used it for months, but now I can spend hours trawling through the various inspiration boards I follow. True love. I’m over here if you want to take a look.




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Finding a Uniform

Dream workwear uniform: Stella McCartney suit

Dream workwear uniform: Stella McCartney suit

At lunch with a friend yesterday, the topic of a daily uniform came up. This friend probably cares the least about his clothes out of anyone I know (and I work in the tech industry!), but the appeal of a daily uniform was clear.

My mornings are stressful. I’m pretty energetic after 9am, but the moments between first waking up and arriving at work are my least favourite hours of the day. This is only compounded by the daily task of picking something to wear. I have fond memories of my high school uniform: scratchy poly-cotton blouse, staticky skirt, polo shirts with curled collar points and baggy short sleeves. Okay, it didn’t look great, but it was so nice to simply pull a shirt and a skirt from the pile, smear on some sparkly eyeshadow and be done with it.

When this story made the rounds a few weeks ago, I felt like I’d met my style soulmate. Wearing the same thing, every day, even though I work in a creative field, even though clothing is meant to project something about my personality, my work ethic, my level of respectability. How refreshing.

Now, of course, comes the task of actually finding that uniform. And because I’m now reluctant to buy ready-to-wear clothes that aren’t of exceptional quality, I think I’ll need to make this uniform myself. So what should it look like?

One option is what I posted above: slim stretchy trousers, fitted blazer, silk crêpe button-down. I’d do without the heels, of course. I’ve always wanted to learn how to properly fit pants, and this sure would give me the occasion…

Black shirt, stainless steel watch, tan pants

Another option, much more casual: soft solid button-down, tan pants. This is perfect for most seasons in Melbourne, and would work well in my laid-back office.

I started sewing a cream silk blouse last night (a short-sleeve Aster, Colette Patterns’s latest!). Unfortunately, I was so distracted by thinking of pretty seam finishes that I stitched the side seams inside-out… with a tiny stitch length. While I brace myself for the unavoidable date with my seam ripper, I’ll start thinking about the next few versions, and maybe about finding that elusive pattern for perfect trousers!




Morris Blazer x2

Grainline Morris blazer in black ponte, by Ophelie Lechat.

Grainline Morris blazer in black ponte, by Ophelie Lechat.


Oh, I love this one.

This is my second Morris blazer in a month. The first one, in a blue merino-nylon sweatshirt blend ($8 a metre!) is in heavy rotation in my autumn wardrobe. I’ve been meaning to make a matching skirt, to complete the comfiest suit in the world. Stretchy fabrics in pulled-together shapes are perfect for my casual office.

Zero alterations to the pattern.  Made in black ponte knit from Tessuti, worn with StyleArc Elle pants in the same fabric (more on those later). I didn’t interface the front facings. Had I had lightweight knit interfacing on hand, I probably would have, but after tearing out the interfacing from my first Morris (it made the lapels stick straight up!) I opted for a simpler, softer shape. I cut a size 10 (my standard Grainline size) and the fit is perfect.

I’m already dreaming of a third Morris: longer, in a hunter green woven viscose or cotton blend, with either in-seam or patch pockets. I’ve worn a similar Club Monaco blazer into the ground (the pocket seams are fraying apart!) and it’s time for a me-made replacement.

Worn with a handknit ribbed cowl in Shibui Knits’s gorgeous, amazing Maai.