I attended a funeral for a lovely friend earlier this week. Throughout the service, her family members recalled the many things she had made for them through the years: scarves, hats, blankets, sweaters, all made with love, each one carefully selected for the recipient. It was humbling to see her work live on.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
A few overdue finished objects, in no particular order:
An Archer button-up in the same dotted chambray. I made a size 10 with slimmer sleeves. My next Archer (this is the second, and there will be more!) will be a 10 in the shoulders and the bust, grading down to a 6 for the rest, and with much slimmer sleeves. I love how adaptable this pattern is, and the instructions (including the sewalong) are phenomenal. Highly recommended.
I can’t show finished pictures of this one just yet, so here’s a peek at a Rock Island shawl in the world’s most luxurious yarn, Superior. Cashmere! Silk! Lace! It’s for a friend’s wedding, and (if the postage gods smile down on me) it should arrive safely next week.
A bit of blackwork (navywork?) embroidery on linen cloth. I have sixteen squares of different patterns, started on a whim. These might become a quilt, or maybe a pillow cover? I enjoy the process of needlework but never know what to make with the finished product.
It’s already been several months since I made this (a Purl Bee robe in a gorgeous linen from Tessuti) and I can’t believe how far I’ve come in my sewing already. This project (basically made up of rectangles stitched together) was positively daunting back in January, but I learned so much making it. It’s one of my most-used makes, and I’m already planning a cozy merino version for the upcoming winter.
I finally purchased a decent sewing machine a few weeks ago, after pushing the limits of the IKEA model I picked up two years ago. After a few cushions, pot holders and pillowcases, I finally made a garment — the ever-popular Scout tee in Nani Iro double gauze.
Setting in the sleeve nearly drove me nuts, but I got it in the end. Now I’m planning my next four or five projects. Not quite as portable as knitting, but so much faster!
I know it’s likely the same for everyone, but 2014 was a huge year for me. Settling into a new role at work, seeing that role expand midway through the year, a bit of international travel and a lot of goals met. Teaching knitting classes at the Woolarium, falling in love with the knitting community on Instagram, finishing more projects than ever before, and finally knitting some fun things for tiny people.
Here are some of my favourite projects finished in the last 12 months. Above, clockwise from the top:
1. Channel Cardigan in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. This was the thickest layer I needed during the chilly Melbourne months. It took forever, but the details on this one are incredible. Highly recommended.
2. Banana Leaf Shawl in Handmaiden Lino. Loved, loved this one… and then I lost it the second time I wore it out. Someone in Melbourne now has a lovely handknit linen/silk shawl!
3. Laminaria in Shibui Cima. Triangle shawls get me every time. They look too small, so I add another repeat, and wind up with something enormous. Totally worth it with this one!
3. Elijah in Debbie Bliss Rialto, made for a coworker’s baby. Awesome pattern, I already have a second one on the needles.
4. Hitofude Cardigan in Shibui Linen. The whole cardigan is knit in one continuous piece, with a single piece of yarn (this is where my beloved Russian Join came in handy). I learned so much while knitting this one.
5. Storytime Scholar cardigan in Spud and Chloe Sweater and Fine. Made for the lovely Clementine, to match her mommy’s sweater.
1. Garter stitch baby blanket in Debbie Bliss Eco Baby cotton. I love the colour range in this Debbie Bliss cotton.
2. Chance of Showers cardigan in Shibui Staccato. I knit most of this while flying to Los Angeles — so glad that knitting needles can (usually) make it through airport security.
3. Blocks of Colour scarf in Blue Sky Alpacas Metalico. The best kind of mindless knitting: uses one stitch, is delightfully soft, and looks way more complicated than it is.
4. Grettir in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. This one didn’t see much wear, unfortunately — it’s much too warm in Melbourne for thick turtlenecks.
1. Storytime Scholar in Spud and Chloe Sweater. A tiny one for my baby nephew Nolan.
2.Saco Stripes in Quince & Co Sparrow. Oh how I love this smooth linen yarn…
3. Camilla Blanket in Sublime Extra Fine Merino DK. This was a really enjoyable knit, very easy to memorise!
4. Improvised baby pullover in Spud and Chloe Sweater.
1. A summery version of Natsumi in Manos del Uruguay Serena. Meant to be knit in a fingering weight wool, I made it instead in a light fingering cotton/alpaca blend, resulting in a drapey, summery sweater, perfect for Melbourne.
3. Biston shrug in Brooklyn Tweed Loft. This pattern is a lot nicer than my awkward photo shows!
4. Hari in Malabrigo Sock. Loved, loved knitting this one. Super simple stitches with a huge payoff — look at those spikes! I’m already planning to knit another one this autumn.
5. Improvised top in Shibui Linen, held double. This has definitely been the Year of Linen, and I’ve learned to love linen’s simplicity and versatility.
I already have a long list of projects for 2015, including at least one cabled jacket, a few big lace pieces, and more baby knits.
What’s on your list for 2015? What was your favourite project last year? I’d love to know!
A quick update before Jared and I head out for New Year’s Eve! I finished this little bag a few days ago. It’s 33cm across, just the right size to carry essentials (small book, knitting project, wallet, keys) down the street to the cafe.
Both fabrics are linens from Tessuti, purchased two years ago when I made my first attempts at sewing. The project was inspired by two different posts over at Sake Puppets: her Sashiko for Spring bag and the Persimmon Flowers pattern.
This was my first sashiko project, and I learned a few things…
- I really need to buy a proper sashiko needle if I’m going to do this again! I used a long embroidery needle, with which I could pick up three or four stitches maximum. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you have to pull the stitches through so often.
- Marking the grid with chalk wasn’t terribly efficient. I wound up rubbing off most of the markings before I even started embroidering. Next up on my list of purchases is a water-soluble pencil.
- Since this was meant to be an easy, learning project, I made a wide grid (1/2 inch). In a typical embroidery project, I still would have made tiny stitches, but in sashiko you’re stitching from corner to corner. This means that the stitches are quite loose, and are already starting to catch on belt buckles, keys and fingernails (ouch!).
If the embroidery gets too ragged, I might end up pulling it out entirely — the bag would still look great with plain blue linen, I think.
A crazy thought came to me this week.
Remember George W. Bush’s paintings? Once he left the White House, Dubya took up painting. According to Salon he “freely admits the paintings aren’t especially good”.
I find that admirable *. I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel the pressure to only show my best outcomes: in craft, in fashion, in my work life, in my marriage, in the way our home looks (whoops).
How liberating would it be to say “eff that” and put something before the world that isn’t necessarily impressive? To freely make mistakes, create things without striving for technical perfection, to really show your work, not just a polished product?
I have conflicting feelings about this. On the one hand, I can completely, completely relate to Jerome on the Woolful podcast** when he talks about the satisfaction of making something the hard way: thin yarns, tiny needles, tightly-spun multi-ply fibre, detailed patterns. It speaks to a minimalist ethos that has always resonated with me: do less, do better.
Then again. I first got involved in the knitting community around the time when Wenlan Chia’s book Twinkle’s Big City Knits was published. I worked in a yarn store back then, and while some people were openly disdainful of the new knitters who came in, Twinkle book in hand, seeking big yarn and bigger needles, I loved the new energy these people brought to our craft. Knit quick! Make more! Have fun!
This was also the time when top-down, seamless raglans were starting to trend. Easy and practical, yes, but not the most refined, structured knits you’ll wear. So what?
There’s a place for all of these, and I’m not just being accommodating. I want to celebrate people making things, even when those things aren’t better than the factory-made goods we’re used to. It’s just not what it’s about.
Go at your own pace. Make what you like. Show it proudly. Celebrate it in others.