Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Never Done

For me, design is an ongoing process. I'm not one of those knitters who gets everything perfect on the first pass. After I complete a garment and wear it (sometimes for more than a year!), I frequently decide to make modifications/improvements. Such is the case with the tunic sweater I knitted around this time last year. I wore it all last winter, but never got around to publishing it. Last week, while waiting for some mail-ordered wool to arrive for Isabel's Xmas sweater, I took the plunge and frogged the entire body of the sweater up to about an inch below the underarms. I re-skeined the wool (Cascade Eco+), washed it to remove the kinks, then re-knitted and wet-blocked the whole thing. The goal was to shorten the front body to about hip length while making the back lower by around one and a half inches by means of short rows (German short rows, but that's a whole other post). I also widened the strip at the sides between the pairs of increases. It's not easy to make chunky yarn drape nicely, but I'm hoping to have achieved that. [As an aside, is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Cascade Eco+ doesn't seem as chunky as it used to?] To make a long story short, here's the result:

As for how this looks and drapes on a human body, you'll have to wait for more photos when I have a model available.
We're having a remarkably un-snowy winter so far, although there appears to be some threat of a return of the polar vortex later, apparently an ironic result of arctic warming. With the solstice happening later this week, I've really been enjoying the little spots of red in local decoration. Look at how these home owners have used red burlap to wrap their shrubs. So cleverly festive!

And last Saturday, while I was Xmas shopping on the main drag in Picton, the library was offering a venue for pet photos. So pretty and fun! (Take note, Melania, that spots of red are festive, while seas of red are just plain creepy.)

Isabel's wool has still not arrived, so this morning I might just cast on Churchmouse Yarns' men's necktie with a lone ball of Regia calling to me from the stash. The pattern is free. What about you? Any last minute projects?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Handmade Wardrobe: Knitting + Sewing

With my decision last week to delete my Instagram account, suddenly there was no place showcasing my knitting/sewing wardrobe makes over the last year. This post highlights some of my favourites involving pieces from Sonya Philips' 100 Acts of Sewing.

Colour palette chosen after reading Anuschka Reese's "The Curated Closet".
Modern Gansey + Pants No.1
Glenora + Dress No. 1

Cropped aran (unpublished) + Pants No. 1
Shirt No. 1 + Skein of hand-dyed destined to become a Fibonacci Neckerchief

Skirt No. 1 + 15-year-old velvet jacket + Cataraqui Scarf

Petrova + Skirt No. 1 made long
Buttonbox Waistcoat + Pants No.1
Dress No. 1 + Fibonacci Neckerchief

Perth Cardi + Dress No. 1

Front and back views of Audrey's Coat + Dress No. 1.
Links to all the knitting designs are in the blog sidebar (if you're viewing this on a mobile device you may have to switch to the web version to see). What you're not seeing in this collection is my latest "uniform" -- variations on the York Pinafore from Helen's Closet. That's a whole other story. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

When Things Don't Turn Out

It happens to every knitter. You spend hours, days, sometimes months on a garment only to try it on when it's done to discover that all your work has resulted in an utter disaster. You feel frustrated and even angry. Sometimes on the project pages of my designs I encounter a knitter who has experienced this disappointment. How does this happen? How can it be avoided? What can you do with a failed sweater? In this post I attempt to answer these questions. Sweater knitting involves a lot of time, effort, and often money. You want to get it right. Here are my tips for disaster avoidance and recovery.

Disaster Avoidance
1. Choose your project carefully, especially if you are a sweater newbie.
a) Visit your current wardrobe to get a clear picture of what silhouettes work best for you. If you have a lot of A-line tops in your closet, then you can be pretty sure that an A-line sweater will make you look great. If cropped, boxy silhouettes aren't your thing, then avoid a cardigan such as the Wolfe Island Gansey.

 b) Consider the weight of the finished fabric. A lightweight, drapey fabric will generally be more flattering to a wider array of figure types. Again, look to your current wardrobe to get a picture of what weights of fabric make you look and feel your best. I enjoy knitting with chunky wool, but I'm careful to use wools that are lightly spun, and I prefer to knit them at a slightly loose gauge to prevent any kind of stiffness in the finished fabric. Glenora comes to mind.

c) Compare your figure type with that of the model. For example, a sweater shown on a small-busted model may not work on someone who is very busty. The closure method in Brookline 

is best suited to those with a smaller bust. The corollary applies; a small-busted woman will look dreadful in something meant to be more filled out. And it's not just busts that cause problems. Use the project page of Ravelry to see how your chosen design works on a variety of figure types.

d) Make sure you choose the right size. Check the FINISHED SIZE. Is the sweater meant to fit with negative ease (closely), standard ease, or is it oversized? If the latter, make sure you read how much ease is intended, and decide whether you'll feel attractive wearing something significantly larger than standard sizing. Audrey's Coat, for instance, looks best when it's worn with about 10" of ease,

but I've noticed that a lot of knitters seem to be uncomfortable adding so many extra inches.

e) Check out the construction method. For the best chance of success, choose a design that can be tried on during construction. A seamless, top-down sweater such as the Modern Gansey 

is the easiest to get right, but sweaters constructed by other methods shouldn't be ruled out. Harriet's Jacket is a side-to-side construction in the bodice,

then top down for the "skirt", and easily tried on. Even a steeked cardigan such as Fusion

can be tried on, since the only steek is in the centre front. Of course, you'll get an even better idea of the final fit if you block as you go (see below). The problem with seams is that they make adjustments so difficult. Once a sleeve seam, knitted from the bottom up, is sewn, the effort required to undo the seam, then unpick the knitting and re-do everything is enormous.

2. Choose your yarn with success in mind.
a)Yes, those beautiful hand-dyed superwash yarns beckon, but superwash treated wools grow when wet blocked. You can throw them in the dryer for a few minutes to help bring them back to size, then lay flat to dry, but the end result is unpredictable. I restrict superwash yarns to scarves and socks and only use untreated wools for sweaters. You do not have to sacrifice softness. There are plenty of lovely untreated wools out there.
b) Keep in mind that superwash yarns will not hold their shape in the same way as untreated wool. You can easily bend untreated wool to your will. Collars (such as the one in Buttonbox)

 will stay in place and points on shawls and scarves (such as Wheatsheaves) willl stay crisp. FYI, we took the Buttonbox pics in a gale blowing directly off Lake Ontario. That's why one side of the collar is partially turned up!

3. Block your work in progress. I can't emphasize this enough. It may feel hard to let go of the momentum, but force yourself to do this. Many stitch patterns grow in length. The Perth Cardi is a perfect example of this.

In a top-down sweater like the Perth Cardi, I like to knit down to about an inch below the underarm, then transfer all the stitches to a length of waste yarn and soak the whole thing in a bowl for about 20 minutes to allow the fibres to fully absorb the water. I leave the ball of wool attached and outside the bowl. Then I gently squeeze out the water, wrap in a towel, jump on it a couple of times, and lay it flat to dry. When I try on the dried piece, I can get an accurate read on the fit. I repeat this process a couple of inches before the intended length is reached. No surprises!

Disaster Recovery Options
Take a breather. Put the sweater out of sight, go for a walk, and don't come back to it for a few months--or years! Absorb the lessons learned and cool off emotionally.

1. Give the sweater away.

2. If the yarn is very expensive, unravel, re-skein, wash to remove kinks, and re-use.

3. If the wool is suitable for felting, throw the whole thing in the washer and dryer, then cut up to make mitts, a tea cosy, whatever you want...

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Modified Dress #1: A How-To Tutorial

One of the things I really love about Sonya Philip's 100 Acts of Sewing patterns is the way they can form the basis for all sorts of mods. Sonya herself has introduced quite a few on her blog and in her classes on Creativebug. This one is all my own.

I've wanted a high-waisted gathered dress for a while. This one is made from Brussels Washer, a linen/rayon blend. I washed and dried the fabric on hot THREE times before cutting, and it still retains a lovely drapiness. Here's how I made it:

1. I tried on on of my regular Dress #1's and used pins to mark where I wanted the high waist to fall. Then, adding an extra inch of length for two 1/2" seam allowances at the shoulders and "waist", I cut out the front and back bodice pieces (I used Sonya's neckline template for help in cutting out the front neck).

2. Next, I tried on another dress I own to determine my desired skirt length (lower calf). As a knit designer, I know that using existing garments as templates is always a great idea.  Again, I added an extra inch to take the "waist" seam allowance and lower hem into account. I also measured the width of the front bodice. Then I cut the skirt pattern piece to that width by the length previously calculated. Basically, the skirt pattern piece is a big rectangle. I marked one side "PLACE ON FOLD". The final skirt is meant to be twice as wide as the bodice, but gathered at the "waist". I cut out two skirt pieces.

3. Finally I cut out two rectangles 7" x 9 1/2" for the pockets.

4. I began by sewing the back and front bodices together at the shoulders and sides, just as in the original pattern. I finished the seams (and all others) with the overcast foot on my Singer 4423 Heavy Duty machine.

5. I took time to add homemade bias binding to the neck and armholes as specified in the original pattern. I chose to do this at this stage because I was working with linen, which frays horribly. This way, the fraying was over before I worked on joining the bodice to the skirt.

6. For the pockets, I started by finishing two of the four edges. See diagram below.

Then I pressed those sides and the top under 1/4" to the wrong side. I turned the top down an additional 1 1/4" to the wrong side. I edge-stitched the top down (from the wrong side). Finally, I pinned the pockets in place on the skirt front with the unfinished edge right at the side seam. I decided that for me the top of the pockets needed to be 7" down from the high waist seam. I sewed the pockets to the sides of the skirt with a 1/4" seam. Then I edge stitched the other two sides to the front skirt, leaving the top open, of course. Pockets done! They really makes this look.

6. I sewed the front and back skirts together, then finished those seams.

7. Because I was confident that the length was right, I also finished the hem at this point to eliminate extra fraying. I made two 1/4" turns and edge-stitched the hem in place from the wrong side.

8. Now for the gathers. I made chalk marks 1" from each side seam on both front and back. All the gathering was done between those points, with the side seams left free of gathers. Using the longest stitch on my machine and not doing any backstitching at the beginning or end, I sewed two lines of basting on both front and back, at 1/4" and 3/8". In other words, I did not sew continuously around the entire skirt. There were thread ends left dangling at each of the chalk marks. I used my iron to press a line at the centre of all bodice and skirt sections to assist with spacing the gathers. I began by pulling on the bobbin threads from each end and gently gathering the skirt until it was approximately the size of the bodice. Then, with right sides together, I pinned the side seams and centre fold points together. Finally, I adjusted the gathers until the they were even and the skirt fitted the bodice. I anchored the long bobbin thread ends around the side seam pins, and tied the top threads into a square knot. Then I pinned the skirt at about 1" intervals. Carefully, and with the bodice on top and gathers on the bottom, I sewed a 1/2" seam around the entire skirt. I pressed the seam to set the stitches, then finished the edge with my overcast foot. At that point I pressed the seam toward the bodice and top-stitched it in place 1/4" from the seam from the right side. Yay, all done!

I expect to get four-season wear out of this little dress. It can be layered with leggings and boots with a cropped sweater (like my Perth Cardi) in winter, and worn with sandals and a tee in summer. So versatile.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Spring Sale: Surplice Collar Jackets

You'd think a collar that is basically a big band around the front opening of a cardigan would be simple to design.

In fact, it's anything but. A surplice style jacket can be graceful and feminine and, unfortunately, often lacking in proper fit. To work, the band collar requires some finessing at the back of the neck and around the shoulders. The two jackets above, Wheatsheaves and Frostfern, have strategic decreasing built into their collars to make them hug the neck and shoulders. They are among my favourite sweaters and, in the cool spring weather we're experiencing at the moment, perfect for casual or more dressy wear. Although they are shown with shawl pins, I'm thinking of adding a crochet loop and button closure to my next iteration, and I think I'll make it in a light and pretty pastel. What do you think? Both jackets are on sale from now until the end of April on my Ravelry page.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


My spring fling feelings of last post were unhappily premature. Winter is making a hopefully brief return. The wet, heavy white stuff began falling yesterday afternoon and although it is a nuisance, the roads are remaining thankfully bare and the walking is reasonably pleasant. And with daylight saving time, there seems to be more light. Here are some views from this morning of the apple orchard at Bellevue House, down the street from my place.

The ice has broken up on Lake Ontario. I'm always surprised at how quickly the break up happens.

I'm doing quite a bit of sewing just now, adding more linen things to my wardrobe. I wear linen year-round (by layering), but with new fabrics and colours coming into shops at this time of the year, it's a good time to expand my wardrobe. All the sewing means that my Perth Cardi is growing a little slowly. Nevertheless, I'm nearing the lower edge.

The colour is really more green than blue, a hue that is quite difficult to capture with my camera. I'll probably put everything onto waste yarn and wet block before I reach my desired length. This stitch tends to grow in length, and it's better to take the time to block and dry than expend the time and energy finishing the body, then having to rip back. It won't be finished in time for St. Patrick's Day, but at least I'll be working on something green. My usual Irish Soda bread, courtesy of the late James Beard, will be on the menu.
P.S. The eagle-eyed may notice that I have altered the seam line from the pattern. Instead of working it in purl, I'm working it in knit. Much easier, still looks great. I'll do the same on the sleeves, working SSK to the right of the seam stitch, and k2tog on the left (making the decreases lean toward the underarm).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Pembroke Scarf

When is a design free? When it's barely a pattern. My Pembroke Scarf is up on Ravelry this afternoon, and apart from thirty minutes (at most) of experimenting to get the selvedges just right, and fifteen minutes playing around to find the best way to make the two tips of the scarf symmetrically rounded (not sure why, when it's an ASYMMETRICAL triangle), the only effort involved was in the actual knitting. Even then, it wasn't exactly EFFORT, since there were only two rows, repeated ad nauseum infinitum. However, that's what makes this scarf perfect for "social" knitting -- you know, the type of knitting you do with friends when you actually want to have a conversation. Pembroke is also perfect in two other ways: it makes an incredibly useful wardrobe piece, and it uses up lone skeins of luxury fibre that are sitting in your stash. I'm already thinking about a linen version for spring and I have another on the needles in hand-dyed merino for when I'm watching Netflix.

To download, go here.

Friday, February 2, 2018

February Sale

It's February, the cruellest (at least in my opinion) month of the year. So, in case you're looking for a quick, soft, fun knit with almost NO FINISHING, Glenora is on sale for $2 for this month.


And yes, that's the marvelously talented Cheryl Toy modelling in the first two photos with such exhuberance. Thanks, Cheryl. To purchase, click here.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Passing of the Blog

Did you see this weekend's article in The Washington Post, "How the Mom Internet became a sponsored, spotless void"? The article's focus is on how "gritty blogs have given way to staged Instagram photos". The author, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, is writing about parenting blogs, but she could have been writing about knitting blogs, or maybe blogs in general, because the trend is obvious. You may have noticed that my own blogging has been dwindling in frequency. Good blogs are more than just collections of photos. They are mini-essays. Essay writing takes time and effort, which could be spent on doing the actual thing one is blogging about in the first place. Kate Davies is a good example of a knit designer who blogs less now that she is running a wildly successful knitting design and yarn business. While I always enjoy her thoughtful and well-researched posts, I have to admit that I derived more pleasure from her earlier, seemingly more spontaneous style. I still look forward to the Yarn Harlot's thoughts on knitting and life, but even she posts at most once a week and frequently less nowadays (admittedly she has sustained a stressful year). And it should be noted that the Harlot is a perfect example of a blogger who very successfully walks the difficult line between her public and private life.
Today, some of the most successful blogs have a completely different character from blogs of five years ago. Take Karen Templer's Fringe Association, which is published early in the morning every weekday. It's an example of the new, "influencer" style of blogging, full of highly "curated" (such an overused word!) photos and links to other websites on the subjects of knitting and handmade, sustainable clothing. Make no mistake; I find Fringe Association an incredibly useful resource. It keeps me up to date with all the latest trends. But blogs like it, albeit useful and beautiful, have a certain sanitized feel. They don't offer up the little slice of real life that was present in earlier blog writing. That personal connection to the writer was what brought me to blog reading in the first place. As to why I started writing my own blog, it was more or less required by the first magazine publisher interested in my work.
So, where is my own blog headed? It's hanging around, although I've definitely jumped on the Instagram bandwagon. Instagram is so simple. Just pick up your phone, click a photo, post it, and almost instantly you have customers looking up your Ravelry shop. Social media are constantly changing the marketplace. Ten years ago, the way to get noticed was to publish with an online magazine. Then, Ravelry became the way to go (and it still is a critical marketing tool). But now it's Instagram's moment in the sun. Who knows what's next.
In the meantime, expect to continue to see less frequent blog posts here. I plan to reserve the blog for important announcements, detailed explanations of technique, and anything else that I think needs putting into words, as opposed to pictures. Not that I don't love good blog photos. Here are a few from the past month.

Bellevue House, down the street from my place.

Close-up of the "tower" at Bellevue House.

The Tett Centre (left) and the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (right) with ice fog on Lake Ontario.

Launching into a new design, with inspiration from snips in my notebook from "Egg Clothing".

Pale hues intended for a couple of new cowls.
So, even if you don't see a lot of blog action, there's a lot going on. Click on the link in the sidebar to my Instagram account to stay abreast of developments. How many weeks (months) to spring?
P.S. I am frequently asked about Facebook. FYI, I do not have a Facebook account. Maybe I'm the only person left on the planet without one, but there you are.
Postscript (Nov. 26, 2018): With the purchase of Instagram by Facebook, followed by the departure of Instagram's founders and all the news about Facebook's ethical/moral transgressions, I decided this past weekend to delete my Instagram account. It means I will be a little less connected with the world, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Knitting, designing, and life will still proceed...