Friday, February 05, 2016

FO: Plum Wine test knit

Would you mind indulging me for a bit? Because I have a new sweater and I'm pretty happy with how these photos turned out, considering we had five minutes to snap them in shitty weather.

The sweater is Plum Wine, by Thea Coleman of babycocktails, and I was one of the test knitters. This woman is prolific and has already released a pullover (go ogle it here, and you're welcome) that I want so bad I can taste it, but I'm behind on another cardigan for her to be released later this month. So it's all about patience and self-control and discipline right now. It's not easy.

I made the smallest size and used five skeins of Cascade 220 I'd had in the stash for a while. I actually love the sweater in this yarn, though I have to admit I was pretty tempted to order some 13 Mile (what the pattern calls for) when I saw it on the Tolt Yarn and Wool website a few weeks ago. If it weren't for this astronomical remodeling project that will wrap up in two weeks (we're perpetually two weeks away from being finished, it seems) I might have caved but self-control won out (this time.)


This might possibly be the best fitting sweater I own. If I had to do it over I'd have made it an inch or two longer, but then I definitely would have lost that game of yarn chicken, so it's all good.

I love the short-row top-down sleeves (a first for me) and the sloping shoulder detail is perfect.

OK, more pictures.

In case you're at all curious, some of these photos were taken inside by our new bay window, which was finished up recently. The outside (less yellowish) pictures were taken outside on the new porch, which still needs a railing, permanent steps and a landing...but at least there's a roof on it and a doorbell button instead of exposed wires (no actual doorbell yet, alas).

In sum:

Pattern: Plum Wine Cardigan by Thea Coleman (test knit)
Yarn: Cascade 220, 5 skeins in "light teal" (discontinued color) from fairly deep stash (I think I bought it to make a sweater from the very first edition of Twist Collective, if you can believe)
Size: 32" bust
Sticks: size 7 circular and DPNs
Mods: None, aside from adding the same ridge detail to the sleeves as you see on the body above the ribbing and on the yoke
Rating: awesome. Go make one. You'll be happy you did

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Gift bags and hashtags

Maybe you remember (but probably not) about a year ago when I knit a little sweater and finished up a cozy flannel quilt for a newborn baby boy. Well, that baby boy is now a chilled out chubby little one-year-old cutie pants, and we were invited to his birthday party last weekend. Though Stuart knows the family better than I (the mom and dad are co-workers of his), it was up to me to buy the birthday gift. In fact, it seems that the vast majority of the gift choosing and buying falls to me, even in situations where he knows the recipients better than I do. (I could make a snide comment here about the assumption that women are somehow predisposed to shopping and are better at this sort of thing...but the reality is that of the two of us, I was the one who had a spare 45 minutes to run to Barnes and Noble to pick out some board books. Of course, the reason I'm the one who can do these kinds of errands in the middle of the day is that I'm not working full-time, but I digress. The other reality is that I'm finally writing this blog post as a way of procrastinating actual work I need to do tonight.)

So where was I? Oh, yes. Birthday gifts. I picked out board books of some of our favorite stories from when Daniel and Anya were very little (The Napping House, Going on a Bear Hunt, Sheep In a Jeep) and instead of wrapping them in something that would get tossed in the trash right away, I made a gift bag for them.

The bag took less than an hour, I think, to sew up on Saturday morning. I used some UW Badgers fabric and a bit of ribbon, all from my stash. (Why on earth did I have Bucky fabric in the first place? Don't ask.) The design is simple, but I wanted it finished as neatly as possible. I don't think anyone is likely to inspect the details, but I'm enough of a perfectionist that I care, even if no one else does.

I sewed French seams:

I attached a separate strip of fabric with three rows of top stitching for the drawstring casing and added buttonholes for the ribbon.

The books fit in very nicely, and I'm pleased with how it turned out. If everyone and their mother weren't selling stuff like this on Etsy these days I'd probably give it a go. 

When I posted this picture on Instagram, I used the hashtag #stash_less. Stash-Less is a concept discussed in depth by Felicia of The Craft Sessions (click here for all of her posts on the topic) to encourage makers to be more mindful of how they consume craft supplies. I have mixed feelings about my own stash. I know I have enough yarn and fabric to make lots (and lots) of beautiful things for a long time. Years. 

On the one hand, I do feel some guilt and shame for having too much because excess in general really bothers me, and I know that having a large stash is, in some ways, another form of consumerism and materialism. These are not personal attributes I'm proud to possess. On the other hand, I wonder if the negative feelings are in no small part because I live in a culture where women are supposed to feel guilt and shame about nearly everything. Maybe my stash is bigger than it needs to be, but it's a collection of beautiful supplies and materials I've accrued over several years, paid for with my own hard-earned money (mostly - I mean, there have been lovely and thoughtful yarn gifts here and there), and I use those supplies to make beautiful, useful things, many of which I give to others. Why should I feel guilty about that, now?

If I were buying for emotional reasons, or spending money I don't have, this would be a completely different issue. 

So I've decided that while my overall goal is to use up my fabric and yarn faster than I acquire it,  I'm not going to agonize about what I've got. Yes, it's a lot, more than I need right now. Yes, I need to reduce the volume for the sake of storage space. Yes, I ought not pledge not to buy anything for a long time until I can use it up (no promises...someone gave me a lovely gift card to a LYS for Christmas!). But I'm going to actively work against feeling guilt or shame, or even overwhelm, at the amount I have. It won't spoil, after all (unless the m**ths get to the wool.) I'm going to use it, and love it, and maybe give away or sell some things I no longer want. Stash-Less is a good idea, after all!

Now, I really need to get back to work. Freelancing, like using up stash, takes a fair amount of self-discipline.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


We are in the final few weeks of the house renovation. It's exciting to see everything come together, but everything is still in complete disarray. In fact, this week is almost the worst of it because the painter did the living room/hallway and Anya's room, ceilings included, which means we had to get everything but the large immovable pieces of furniture moved out. There isn't a room in my house that isn't piled with boxes, reeking of paint, or covered in two layers of sawdust. It's basically impossible to get anything done and there's nowhere to escape except the bathroom...and I don't particularly want to hang out in there.

I just need to hang in there for another couple weeks for the work to wrap up, and then we can put everything back into place and return to normal life. It will be great.

With the house in general upheaval, it's been hard for me to concentrate much on making. I did finish that Plum Wine test knit and it turned out really well, but I don't have good photos yet. I have another test knit to start that I'm pretty excited about, but I just don't have the brainpower for it this week. For one thing, I've spent every spare minute staining and varnishing what feels like a thousand pieces of trim for the house (wood finishing is the one thing I can do to contribute to this remodeling project). For another thing, the local colleges/university started a new semester this week so I'm back to work, sporadic though it may be. And for another thing, I am the sort of person who has a hard time engaging in the creative process when there is mess and clutter all around. 

Somehow, despite all the mess and distraction, I did get a pretty nifty sewing project done earlier this month. I alluded to it in that Snapshot post from last week, so I thought I'd share a few more details now while I'm waiting for my mojo to return.

The kids have a piano recital in a few weeks, and Anya needs something fancy to wear for it. If you know Anya at all, you know that she is singularly uninterested in the dressy clothes generally available for girls. She won't wear pink, purple, dresses, skirts or anything with ruffles. Right. So that eliminates about 98% of what's out there, and that's fine with me because I also don't much like pink (though I think purple is ok if it's the right shade) and I rarely wear dresses or skirts and never ever ruffles. 

But Anya does want to be fancy for the piano recital, even though it's a fairly low-key affair (see what I did there? yuk yuk), so I said I'd make her something. Last time she needed something fancy, around when she turned 7, I made her a red satin top that she wore with black pants, and she really liked that. We had a look through my patterns and this time, Anya chose the Sailboat Top from Oliver & S. When we went fabric shopping I kept thinking "please don't choose satin, please don't choose satin, please don't choose satin" because man alive, is that stuff a pain in the ass to sew.

So of course she chose satin. No pink, no frills, but this child likes her fancy clothes to be shiny!

Considering that this was a pattern I hadn't made before, and that I was working with pain-in-the-ass tricky fabric, it went together pretty well and quite quickly. 

But see how pleased she is? Totally worth it.

Anya wanted to help with the actual making of the top, but I had to tell her no. The fabric is just too hard to work with. She was allowed to choose the pattern, the fabric, the buttons and - most fun of all - a decorative embroidery stitch on the machine to embellish the cuffs and make this top extra special. (I had silver metallic thread leftover rom the last time.)

A few comments on the pattern itself: as always, the instructions were clear and easy to follow. I personally think the instructions alone on Oliver & S patterns make them worth the money.

Even so, I somehow got the overlapping of the front and back shoulders mixed up; I think the front is supposed to overlap the back and I did it the other way around. 

Oh well.

There was one relatively minor problem with fit, and that was that the sleeves were a little too short, or would have been once they were hemmed. In fact, I had to add cuffs to the ends of the sleeves instead of a regular hem. The extra fabric and interfacing I added to the cuff helped stabilize for that dense embroidery stitch, so it was just as well, but this is at least the third time I've had strange fit or size issues with an Oliver & S pattern, so that's a little frustrating. I know that we picked the right size because the top fits her perfectly in the shoulders and overall length; a bigger size would have been a sloppy fit.

Following up on this project, I have a couple more posts brewing. I realize that I have learned a lot about sewing in the past year, and along with that I've learned about my habits and tendencies as a person who sews. I think I will write a longer post on that topic another day, but suffice it to say here: A little self-awareness can go a LONG way in preventing frustration. I have also figured out a few tricks for staying sane while sewing with satin, and while I'm far far from being an expert, I should share a few of those things here once I can take pictures for demonstration. I thought about it while working on this top, but the messy basement and poor lighting were not conducive to picture-taking. At all.

I know I might sound a little discouraged here, and I'm actually not. I am a bit overwhelmed, but mostly I'm really looking forward to everything being done so I can put things away and have my workspace back. This has been going since the week school started, so I think I can find a bit more patience and ride out the rest!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Instead of knitting...

I've been finishing wood trim for the house. It feels like a never ending project. Maybe it's the oily fumes or maybe it's the binge-listening of knitting podcasts I listen to while I'm working, but I just can't wait to get back to the button band on my Plum Wine test knit. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Anya wanted something fancy to wear to an upcoming piano recital. Not pink, not a dress, not frilly, but fancy. So I obliged and made her a blue satin top. I think she likes it!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tips on picking up stitches for a button band

I am happy to announce that I won the game of yarn chicken after all. I am a tad embarrassed at having made such a fuss over finding an extra skein of yarn when I turned out to have enough in the first place. (Calling to cancel that order is first on my to-do list for tomorrow morning). We're having a cold snap here, so I spent most of the day inside, knitting and ignoring the football playoffs, even though Daniel insisted on telling me about all the big plays. 

My finished sweater has been blocked and is drying on a stack of towels in the basement. Once it's dry I need to sew on buttons and hide the ends. Fingers crossed I can get some modeled FO shots next weekend.

I understand that some knitters are apprehensive about button bands. It's one of the fiddly parts of knitting that can make or break a sweater, and I've heard that some people never knit cardigans at all just to avoid the bands!

So while I wait for this puppy to dry, I thought I'd share a few tips on picking up stitches for the button band. It's not hard, but picking up stitches can be a rather tedious process, especially on this sweater since you do the whole thing in one go by picking up stitches up one side, around the neck and then down the other side. How do you know you're getting the right number, and picking up at the right rate?

Rather than just guessing, I did some measuring and a bit of math to make sure I got it right from the beginning. Actually, I started just picking up without counting but realized that was not going to turn out well, so I did some simple calculations and started over.

The pattern says to pick up a certain number of stitches per inch, so first I measured the length of the whole band. Then I multiplied the number of inches by the number of stitches per inch to get a rough idea of how many I should have total. Next, I took some clips (the red ones on the right half of the picture below) and marked off every 5" along the edge. As I went around the band picking up stitches, I placed a stitch marker every 30 stitches (the white markers on the left) so I wouldn't have to recount from the beginning every time I checked my stitch count.

It worked out quite well. I picked up exactly as many stitches as I calculated I would need. Now that the sweater is wet-blocking, I do wonder if I have too many. If the band doesn't shrink back a bit and lie flat when it's dry, I'll have to redo it with fewer stitches or a smaller needle, but I'll still use the same basic method. I'm so relieved I don't have to buy another skein of yarn for it, I wouldn't even mind.

The teal and orange removable markers, by the way, are for buttonhole placement. I noticed after the first row that they are on the wrong side for the actual buttonholes, but I moved them to the other side before I made that mistake.

I'm looking forward to wearing this sweater, as well as getting going on a new project. I will be starting another test knit for Thea very soon (this week, hopefully) and I've got a couple of quicker projects on the needles in the meantime.

What about you? What are you knitting? Are you afraid of button bands?

Saturday, January 09, 2016

buk buk buk bagok!

This morning I tried explaining to my kids about "yarn chicken." You know what playing chicken is, right? They nodded. Well I'm playing yarn chicken with this sweater. I'm trying to knit faster in the hopes that I won't run out of yarn. They looked at me, confused. How does knitting faster help, mom? 

Knitting faster does not help. It just speeds up the inevitable. In any case, there's no denying it: I am definitely going to run out of yarn before this sweater is done.

I haven't revealed this project on the blog yet because it's a test knit and had to remain Top Secret until the pattern was released a few days ago. Do you recognize it? Plum Wine by Thea Coleman of babycocktails. You can see all of her patterns listed here. She is prolific!

Obviously, I'm not quite done. I did finish all the parts that test knitters needed to check, so I was more or less on time for the pattern release. As you can see, I have the finish the second sleeve and do the button band. As you can also see, I do not have enough yarn!

I used Cascade 220, color 8404 ("light teal" though I wouldn't call it "light"), five skeins from my stash. I think I bought this yarn at Lakeside Fibers (now out of business) at least 6 years ago, maybe longer. I thought five skeins would be plenty, but as I knit down the first sleeve and saw how much yarn it was taking, I started getting nervous, and by the time I started the second sleeve, I knew I wasn't going to make it. 

I went to Wisconsin Craft Market yesterday because they stock most colors of Cascade 220, and I hoped they would have it, even though there was no chance I could find the right dye lot. Nothing came close, however, and when I asked for help, the lovely employees who found the company's color card for me said that color has been discontinued.


In a fit of optimism, I wandered into the Hancock Fabrics next door and bought buttons for the as-yet nonexistent button band.

I know I have enough for the sleeve, so it's just the button band that is the issue. I can live with a different lot for that, but a different color? Not so sure. I searched destash pages on Ravelry, made three inquiries, and haven't heard back. Thea is checking at WEBS (she's got connections, yo) to see if they have any lurking in the basement. After I posted a desperate plea on IG, someone found an online shop that has a few skeins of the LIGHT TEAL 8404 in stock, so I'll order one from them if WEBS doesn't come through by tomorrow. I figure my last option would be to do a subtle stripe in the button band using the last few bits of what I have and another shade of blue/teal that doesn't clash too horribly.

A few yards here, a few yards there...

I thought about leaving the button band off completely, since there is already a nice edging knit into the main part of the sweater, but I really do want to be able to close it, and I want that extra couple inches of ease as well.

One way or another, I will finish this sweater! And it will be so fabulous. I've already tried it on and it's a beautiful fit with some lovely details. Depending on how and when I acquire the yarn to knit the last bit, I will soon have an FO to share.