Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Design Lessons from a Pro


A fashion article in the Washington Post yesterday caught my attention. Yes, that's right--the Post. Now, having lived in DC, I can vouch for the fact that the region isn't exactly at the centre of the fashion forward universe. It has a pretty boring  conservative attitude toward dress, at least compared to a lot of other places. So, the story about Nina McLemore's jackets was interesting.
Ms McLemore has discovered a niche market--powerful women over 40, including Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Gwen Ifil, and Janet Yellen--who want practical, good fitting clothes that send the right message of authority. While McLemore's jackets aren't the sort of style I would wear, I admire her approach which involves:
1. A fit that works for real over-40 women. That means narrower shoulders, wide backs, waist shaping, extra width in the hips, and collars that can be turned up or worn down. There's a lesson here for knit designers, one that you will notice in my own work. All of us want to look long and lean, and these shapes help.
2. Sleeves that are meant to be worn turned up. Not only does this convey the message that these women are ready to get down to work, but it's also a bit more casual and less starchily formal than a classic suit. At the same time, it means that the jackets can be worn off the rack, without the fuss and time involved in having alterations done.
3. Fabrics that are both comfortable and easy care. They are meant to travel well. Enough said.
4. A price point that is well below that of typical international designers. Now, I'm not saying that these jackets, which go for US$700-800 are super affordable, but they are in a price range that executives and women in the higher echelons of the public sphere can afford, without the charge that they are living in the fantasy world of couturier design.
I also like the bright, clear colours of the jackets. If you visit McLemore's website, notice how they are meant to go with her "essentials", pieces like black skinny pants and skirts and white blouses. I, too, ascribe to this sort of dressing, even if I prefer pieces with a bit more ease and flow.
Lots of lessons here for all of us.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solstice Knitting: Using Ravelry's Project Pages

It's time for some Zen knitting. What is it about the first heat of summer that encourages the desire to relax with a glass of ice and a pot of hot tea (the ONLY way to make truly great iced tea)? When I was growing up, and I spent the summers at our family cottage, iced tea was invariably served with cucumber or tomato sandwiches, crusts removed of course. Mindless knitting is also a requisite accompaniment to lazy afternoons. Hence, the Fall Coat from Anna and Heidi Pickles. Yes, I know it seems crazy to feel like making such a large, warm project in the heat of summer, but the mindless nature of it appeals just now, and come October it will be ready and waiting when I'll want to live in it. Before embarking on the coat, however, there are some important decisions to be made. This is where the Ravelry project pages come in handy.

1. What yarn(s) should I choose for the coat? The Pickles Tweedy and Silk Mohair have a beauty that can't be matched, but aren't available here and would be fairly expensive to mail order. (Our dollar discourages this sort of importation, unfortunately.) Besides, I have a large stash and want to use some of that. This is where the project pages come in. A short perusal of what other knitters have used, together with their comments, leads to the following conclusions:

(a) the yarn(s) chosen should be light and airy, not dense. The versions of the Coat made with heavier yarns at a tighter gauge just don't have the drape of the original. The Coat looks best when it has some drape. So, I think about lightly spun wools and mohair, not alpaca, which is a heavy fibre and stretches. I don't want to choose Ultra Alpaca Chunky.

(b) tweedy is beautiful, but heathery is nice too. The coat has a rustic quality (echoed by the photography) which will be enhanced by a yarn that isn't flat and smooth. Not suitable for Quince's Lark, for instance.

(c) although a rustic quality is desirable, the yarn(s) should also be soft and cozy. This rules out Icelandic wool, which is perfect in appearance, but sadly causes my skin to itch (even though most wools don't bother me).

(d) I admire the version of the coat done up for Espace Tricot's store model. The combo of Cascade Eco+ and Rowan's Kidsilk Haze is readily available. Then I knit a swatch from my stash and discover a problem. While lovely, this combination does not lead to a Zen knitting experience. The Kidsilk Haze is very, very fine and it requires a certain level of concentration not to leave it behind now and then. When I look at the reverse side of the swatch, I see that I've missed scooping up the Kidsilk a couple of times. If I were to knit in low light conditions, i.e. the evening, or in a social situation where my attention might not be at its full, problems would arise. Not relaxing. I scrap that option.

(e) I recall that when I knitted Glenora, I used Cascade Eco+ on its own on a size 6.5mm needle to get the same gauge as is required for the Coat (3 1/2 sts per inch) and the result was a delightfully airy but stable fabric. I decide that one of the heathery natural colourways in the Eco line would be perfect for the Coat. I happen to have some in #8400, Charcoal, and decide that is an excellent option.

(e) my stash also contains some Sandnesgarn Mohair and Silk in dark grey along with some Wool of the Andes in Opal Heather. Some more swatching leads me to conclude that that combo is also quite lovely and works out to gauge on a 6mm needle. Mmm, I REALLY LOVE this. I do some calculations and figure that I've enough yardage. Still not decided, though.

2. Which size should I make? This is where the project photos are critical. The Coat is meant to be quite oversized. Notice how the Coat hangs loosely on the model. It's that oversized quality that gives it such appeal. You can imagine yourself throwing on the Coat as you head out the door on a crisp fall afternoon, woodsmoke in the air. I don't envision the Coat as a sophisticated city knit, although clearly some knitters have had that view. Some knitters have made the Coat to fit quite closely, even belted, and while they look good, it's not the the feeling I have for this piece. Even though the XSmall size is eleven inches larger than my bust measurement, I nonetheless choose the Small because I want this Coat to flow behind me as I walk.

3. What sort of edgings do I want along the fronts? The front sections of the Coat are in garter stitch. The pattern calls for the last stitch of each row to be slipped, yarn in front, and then the first stitch of the next row to be knitted through the back. I try this on my swatch. It's OK, but I decide to look at what other knitters have done. A lot have opted for built-in I-cord edges. I'm not nuts about that for this Coat. Again, it results in what to me seems a too "citified"  or tailored look. I think I might prefer to give my Coat the "Einstein Treatment", from Sally Melville's Einstein Coat. -- knit the last stitch of the row as usual, then slip the first stitch of the next row with yarn in front. It makes for a slightly more twisted, slightly neater edge than the original.

4. Are there any other mods I want to incorporate? Several knitters have done interesting things with colour, including colour gradations and stripes. Unfortunately, my yarn choices don't lend themselves to either of these approaches, although I like the former. I notice, along the way, that there are a few projects with pockets. These I love; they add to the relaxed feel of the Coat, especially when it is photographed with the wearer's hands in said pockets. I think about using EZ's "pocket trick", the one where you knit in a length of waste yarn to be removed later to reveal live stitches to be picked up for the pocket linings. Pockets are a "yes", provided there's enough yarn. I suppose I could even knit the linings in an alternate yarn if necessary.

This project seems like the perfect one for a knitting group to embark upon over the summer. Everyone could choose stash yarns and get together for coffee now and then to check on each other's progress. As for me, I've just downloaded Season 1 of "Poldark". Ready, set, go! I'll leave you guessing about my final yarn pick...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bucking Convention

Barns, if they are painted, seem to be usually red in this part of the world. Not sure why, but that's the way it is. So, on our trip to Prince Edward County today, it was lovely to see a lavender barn.





We had pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven, with salad at Norman Hardie's vineyards. Bill had a bit of wine with his. Perfect day.
P.S. Appropriately, I was knitting with purple too--the Fusion cardigan in "Frank's Plum"--for Isabel.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

An Environmentally Friendly Wardrobe

According to a PBS Newhour report, 13 million tons of clothing goes into the trash in the U.S. every year. Americans are said to be addicted to cheap, disposable clothing, and unlike Europeans, they prefer to have lots of cheap clothing rather than fewer high quality wardrobe pieces. I have no idea where Canadians fall in this spectrum--probably somewhere in the middle, since we exist in a sort of cultural halfway house. The Newshour report focuses on what is being done to improve the recycling of garment fibres. But what I'd really like to see is a move toward less disposable clothing altogether, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.
If you are a knitter who makes sweaters, you already know the value of beautifully made clothing. A well made knitted piece can and should last for decades with proper care. That means retaining leftover yarn and buttons in your stash for future repairs, regular washing and proper storage out of season (no dark cupboards or drawers if you want to avoid moth holes!) Go here for some recipes for moth-proofing sachets.
Now think about what you can do with the rest of your wardrobe to move toward fewer and longer-lived pieces. Here are some suggestions:
1. Choose pieces that can be worn year round. For instance, I have a linen knee-length dress which I wear in fall, winter, and spring with leggings, a T-shirt, and a sweater. In summer I wear it as a dress, sometimes with a tank underneath.
2. Re-think what fibres you can wear in each season. The above dress is an example of how heavier weight linen can be worn year round. It all depends on how you layer it.
3. Choose classic (but not boring) pieces in neutral colours. My current fave is a slim, long knitted black skirt. I wear it in winter over leggings and at this warmer time of the year I wear it with a tank and a loose A-line grey linen shirt.
4. If you're going with neutrals, the focus shifts to the silhouette. The grey linen shirt just mentioned has a beautiful flaring A-line shape. A loose top like this looks fabulous with slim bottoms.
5. With classic neutral pieces, details become more important. The above shirt also has eye-catching unmatched buttons.
6. Pay attention to construction. Look for properly finished seams, seams where patterning is matched, and hems that don't ripple or pucker. Also go with natural fibres.
All of this means that in many cases you'll end up buying clothing NOT manufactured in sweat shop settings. It's often (but not always) pricier, but worth it. Look for clothing like that sold by companies like "Cabbages and Roses" (much favoured by Kate Davies) and Cut Loose.
You already know that most wool is an environmentally friendly choice for knitting. Check out companies like Green Mountain Spinnery or Custom Woolen Mills, where efforts are made to engage in sustainable practices.
Finally, when it's time to say good-bye to something that has truly worn out and is beyond repair, consider whether you can re-purpose the fabric by cutting and sewing it into something else. Remove and retain the buttons for future projects. 
So, what are you doing to keep your clothing out of the trash?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Fashion Evolution

Readers of this blog know that I enjoy historical romance novels--not the trashy throw-away type, but the witty well-written ones that you come back to re-read again and again. Think Georgette Heyer and Loretta Chase. The latter has a blog, in conjunction with fellow authoress Isabella Bradford. It's called "Two Nerdy History Girls", and I check in with it several times a week. Totally fascinating, especially when it comes to historical fashion, from the 18th to the early 20th centuries.
Today, I've been sorting through family photos and enjoying my own version of fashion time travel. Here's my great-great-grandmother as she appeared in various decades.


(Girl on the right, back row.)

Aren't you glad you don't have to contend with with the hair and ruffles, not to mention the undergarments of 150 years ago?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Spindles Available

Knocked out half a dozen top-whorl suspended (drop) spindles this morning, from Lee Valley components.


This batch is heading to Purlin' J's Roving Yarn Truck, where they will be for sale over the summer. To my amazement, they work better than any of my other spindles. Who would have guessed?