Thursday, June 23, 2016


Thea released her newest sweater pattern today: Greenbriar.  I was one of the test knitters, so I get to share my photos on the release day!

Greenbriar is an open front cardigan with a cool lace panel running down the back. It's top-down construction with set-in sleeves knit contiguously. This means that there is a lot to keep track of when you start knitting, with increases at different points for shoulders and sleeves plus the lace charts, so I would give it a medium difficulty rating. 

That lace, though! It's fun and kept my interest the whole time I was knitting. You're never stuck doing long rows of plain stockinette until nearly the bottom, and by then motivations is strong to finish.

Thea used Green Mountain Spinnery Mewesic for her design, but I'm really committed to reducing the stash (I know, I always say that, but it's true) so I used Cascade 220 in a light heathery celery green color that I've had several years. I must have really been on a 220 kick in the late oughts...

I had Stuart take these photos while we were in Minnesota doing some hiking along the Lake Superior north shore. It was downright chilly and I actually wore this sweater most days to stay warm.

I get a little frustrated when I ask my husband to take photos because, well, he just doesn't have an artistic eye. We got about a half dozen shots, and when I checked the camera to see them, they all sucked. The sweater was bunched weirdly on my butt, or I was leaning towards the camera too much so my arms looked disproportionally long. We got some good ones in the end, but I've learned not to trust him to notice things like wardrobe malfunctions. Sigh.

Now we're back home in southern Wisconsin, so it's safe to assume I won't need a wool sweater for a few months yet. I should wash it (again) and put it away until fall.

I do like this style of top-down sleeves. You have to be very careful about row gauge, but in the end, the fit is much better than a straight up raglan.

That's all from me today. What are you working on?

Monday, June 20, 2016

post vacation funk

Lake of the Clouds viewed from the Escarpment Trail in the Porcupine Mts state park in the Michigan UP

The last several years we have managed to schedule trips as soon as school is out, which postpones rather than alleviates the post-school summer vacation funk when the kids (and, by extension, I) realize we have two and a half months stretching ahead of us with lots and lots and lots of together time and not a whole lot of structure. We will, eventually, find our groove. We'll make jam and go to the library and start swimming lessons and find new parks to explore...but today was long and hot and boring. Daniel didn't even put clothes on until mid-afternoon. Way to herald in the first official day of summer, huh?

We were up north last week. Stuart's parents drove up from North Carolina (yes, that's a long way) to take charge of the kids so he and I could take a trip ON OUR OWN (first time EVER since the kids came along) to the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. It was glorious and beautiful, and then we all met in the western part of the Michigan UP to spend a few days together in the Porcupine Mountains. Gorgeous and wild, that place. It almost makes me want to try backpacking in the wilderness, if it weren't for the bears.

I finished a sweater and wore it more days than not because it was actually chilly in Minnesota. I got some nice photos, too, but I can't post them yet because the sweater is a test knit for Thea and the pattern has yet to be released. I finished socks, too, but didn't get pictures because they're just socks and not so interesting, though I do look forward to wearing them.

And now we're home and everyone is sluggish from heat (which isn't even that bad, compared to, say, Arizona) and boredom. Also, while we were away I was able to push all the awful news of the last week out of my mind, but now that we're home, I can't stop thinking about the terrible things we humans do to each other and how terribly we deal with it. We have mass shootings so often we shrug it off, we're on the brink of a presidential election where one of the candidates likely has a bona fide personality disorder, the southwest is burning up thanks to climate change, and, well, you get the picture. It's hard not to feel paralyzed with helplessness.

Last night around bedtime I heard a terrible, wild noise. At first I thought it was the TV from downstairs (Stuart's been catching up on Game of Thrones, but I can't stomach watching it since whatshisface was beheaded early on, like season 1), but then I realized it was coming from outside. There was some kind of feral throw down happening right in my backyard - screeching and yowling and rustling and scratching. It sounded like something was being attacked and dismembered. I couldn't see much, but I could see the shadow of a large spruce from the neighbor's yard and the branches were shaking. This went on for minutes. I realized eventually (actually, I did a google search; YouTube answers all queries) it was raccoons fighting, which is vicious and violent and sounds awful, but this morning there was no evidence anything had been amiss. From the sound of it, you'd have thought there would be bloody patches of fur and parts strewn about but there was nothing. I had dreams, though, dreams where I was angry and screaming and out of control. I blame the raccoons.

What does any of this have to do with knitting or sewing or any of those other things I write about here? I'm not sure. I'm in a funny spot with that stuff anyway. I'm fairly productive these days, in part because the musician-work part of my life slows way way down with 24/7 parenting during the summer. At the same time, I am struggling with feeling like I should be productive All The Time and that sometimes takes the joy out of making. And joy of making is the whole point, right?

I think I just need the right mindset: I need to take a step back from the beautifully curated, mindful blogs that set my own expectations too high; I need to use materials from my substantial yarn and fabric stash and make what I want; I need to avoid self-imposed goals and deadlines; I need to get out of my head.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

great wardrobe basics: flashback skinny tee

A few weeks ago as part of Me Made May, Libby (of Truly Myrtle) and Ioana started a hashtag on Instagram, #greatwardrobebasics. I've contributed a few snapshots, not in any particularly organized way, but when I've made and shared something that feels like something that could be worn every day, I slap that hashtag on there. 

Case in point: the Flashback Skinny Tee. I've sewed up this shirt more times than anything else for both my kids, though Anya is more likely to wear fitted tees by this point than Daniel, so she has gotten more of them lately. (I'm currently exploring options for sewing patterns for 10yo boys that will actually get worn. Suggestions welcome.)

I feel like I've made about a thousand of these shirts, and could happily make a thousand more if they would be happily worn.

Anya seems pretty happy with hers, don't you think?

This is the pattern that helped me finally, finally get over my fear of sewing knits. There were failed attempts, to be sure. Once I used recycled jersey from Stuart's old t-shirts, and the fabric wasn't stretchy enough so the seams popped and the shirt felt too tight. I had to experiment with stitches and stretch thread and nearly gave up completely in frustration. I feel like I should do a whole post about what I've learned about sewing with knits, but I would have to take pictures and spend a lot of time trying to recreate those mistakes and I'm not sure it's worth all the effort.

I can, at least, share a few things that work for me, and if you're interested in more details please let me know in comments and I'll write up a longer post about it. 

  1. I don't use the serger. Frankly, I'm just afraid to. If anything goes wrong, it's virtually impossible to undo a serged seam. Also, my serger is a cheapo one from Joann's I bought in the early 2000s. It functions fine, but changing the thread is a pain in the ass, and it's hard to do anything nuanced like a tight or curved seam (like attaching sleeves) so I just avoid it.
  2. After messing around with zigzag on my regular machine, I found a stitch called "tricot stretch" and it's amazing for sewing knits. That stitch is virtually indestructible (and virtually impossible to unpick if you do something wrong like attach the waistband instead of a cuff to the bottom of the leg of baby shorts....ahem).  It also eats up thread like crazy but I don't care.
  3. I use special needles, like ballpoint, or jersey, or stretch needles. I honestly don't know what the difference is between all those, but they all seem to work so it's fine.
  4. After much experimentation (and frustration), I figured out that Maxi-Lock stretch thread is a wonder for sewing with knits, but ONLY IN THE BOBBIN. If you use it in the needle it turns into a knotted mess. 
  5. Hems are tricky. Sometimes I skip them completely (like on the sleeve in the picture at the top of this post). If not, I used a double-sided fusible tape to stabilize the edge of the fabric before sewing. 
  6. I use a twin needle for hemming, and also for stitching around the neckband and cuffs (if I have cuffs around the sleeves). In this gray shirt for Anya, I even used the twin needle to stitch along the shoulder seams, both for stability and because I thought it would look good.
  7. Laguna jersey knit by Robert Kaufman fabrics is perfect for this pattern.
  8. I don't usually use different fabric for neckband and cuffs, mostly because it's hard to find 2x2 rib that matches perfectly whatever jersey or interlock fabric I'm using for the main pieces. Anyone else have this problem? It's kind of annoying. At least when I'm using stretch jersey, I can just cut the cuffs and neckband on the bias or along the stretchiest part and it works out fine.

What about you? Do you have any basic patterns to share? I'm working on some things for myself, but have yet to find THE perfect basic pattern, mainly because I keep getting sidetracked with knitting (yes, this is mostly a knitting blog) and making things for my new baby niece, who I swear gets cuter and chubbier by the day. I miss her.


Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Finished! Meditate cowl for Stephanie

My cousin Stephanie's birthday was a few weeks ago. For a while I was knitting her a pair of socks every year, even though wool socks are about the last thing anyone wants to wear in summer in Kansas. Then last year I stepped it up a bit and made her a sweater to celebrate not only her birthday but the completion of her PhD in American Studies.

This year I started a pair of socks for her, but I was afraid they were coming out a little tight. I am LOATH to reknit socks if they'll fit somebody so I finished them up and squirreled them away in my own sock drawer (hopefully I'll get FO pics of those eventually, as they are neon pink and very fun, but I'm pretty lazy about photographing plain socks) and started hunting through my stash for more sock yarn.

When I knit socks for Stephanie, I like them to be crazy and bright. Who need dignified socks? Alas, none of the yarn I had readily available was speaking to me as being just right for her. Sure, I could have used that as an excuse to shopping for more, but that wasn't particularly appealing either. 

In my search, I came across a large wound skein of double gradient merino/silk fingering weight I picked up at Knit Circus last summer (they have a B&M store here in Madison, yo, and it is really best if I go in there with CASH ONLY!!) and it hit me: this would be a gorgeous scarf. And the colors are really perfect for Stephanie.

Before I even started browsing on Ravelry, I knew what pattern to use: the Meditate Cowl by Elizabeth Doherty (of Blue Bee Studio).

It really is quite meditative to knit. The pattern is simple enough to memorize easily and works for a variety of yarn amounts. You just keep going until there is a little bit left to finish up the i-cord bind off at the end.

Then you sew on some buttons and voila! You have a scarf or a cowl, however you choose to wear it.

My photos are kinda boring because I was a little late mailing it off and had to snap them quick before mailing the package.

Anya made her a coaster using a variety of embroidery stitches on my sewing machine.

This is kind of what the skein looked like before it was knit. 

I'm not sure if I have a whole lot else to say about this one. It was such a nice knit. Soothing, easy, repetitive, take-anywhere, and I think the end result is really quite sophisticated and unfussy, much like Stephanie. She might get neon orange socks from me next year, but for this birthday, I went the classier route.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


After several years of knitting and [more recently] sewing clothes for myself, I have finally realized that just because an article of clothing is well-styled and beautifully photographed on The Internet doesn't mean that pattern is a good choice for me. This seems pretty obvious now, but it's taken me a while to learn. 

My body type and personal style are unique to me. I'm small-boned and not particularly curvy and I spend most of my time around kids and musicians, so my style is mostly messy-casual with occasional concert black thrown in the mix, but never dresses. Once in a great while I'll wear a skirt, but only with running tights underneath because I commute by bike most of the time.

So when I first saw the Luna Pants over on the MBR blog, I thought they weren't for me. Sure, they looked comfy, but I generally like my clothes a little more fitted - even comfy clothes - and my first impression was that they kind of look like cuffed sweatpants. Definitely not my thing. 

But the sample Rae made for herself were actually pretty cute, as were the test samples she featured (click here to see all the posts tagged "Luna Pants" on the MBR blog). Adorable, right? I could feel my resistance breaking down.

Still, I wasn't sure about them. But then I scored some Cloud9 double gauze on sale at Joann (I know, Joann=ugh, but the fabric is nice and it's organic cotton don't-judge-me) in a print that is anything but subtle. And soon after, there was a one-day pattern sale over at Indie Sew, which carries the Luna pattern and I figured what the hell, I'm in only about $30 for both pattern and fabric; I'll try these out and if nothing else I'll have something comfortable to wear around the house.

So I made these crazy pants. And I love them.


I actually finished the pants a few weeks ago, but it wasn't until one day last week I finally got some photos outside. We took an evening walk and brought the nice camera. 

Here is a butt-ful outtake. You're welcome.

I love the secret, ancient playground equipment you can find hidden in our neighborhood. Here is a lopsided, rusted, charmingly re-painted old spinning gate thingy.

We saw a whole bunch of wild turkeys...

...which we tried to imitate. 

I mean, sometimes it's good not to take yourself too seriously. That's the lesson here.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

sewing for kids

Since my last post, I have been sewing up a storm and knitting a bit, too. Unfortunately, I've had very little time to devote to photographing my projects (aside from some hurried snapshots on Instagram here and there), so you'll have to wait for the eye candy. To give you an idea of what I've been up to: I made some crazy pants and knit some crazy socks, sewed a few summer basics for Anya, knit a hat I won't need for months, started more socks that are rather boring me to tears, printed out a stack of pattern PDFs from Seamwork Magazine to make someday (I'm a subscriber!) and bought a jeans pattern (a couple, actually - this one and this one and this one and I also really want to try this one but I think some self-restraint is in order) that I do not yet have the gumption or brain space to start. But I will very soon, I think, perhaps as a reward to myself for turning in grades next week (just in time for hot summer weather, ha!)

In the meantime, I've had a lot of thoughts about sewing clothes, specifically for kids, and I wanted to write some of those thoughts down here. I have such mixed results when I sew clothes, and thus, I have a lot of mixed feelings about doing it in the first place. Once you throw in opinions and social pressures of the young people in your family, the whole picture gets a lot more complicated.

Let's back up for a minute. Those of us who sew garments for ourselves do so for a variety of reasons: it's fulfilling to make things, it feels good to make an article of clothing that looks and fits just the way you want, you can at least partially avoid taking part in the unethical practices of the fashion/textile industry. I fully admit to having jumped on this bandwagon for many of the same reasons.

I have found, though, that it's all too easy to get swept up in the romantic ideas of a handmade wardrobe, only to be disappointed when something I've spent time, money and effort making doesn't turn out right. I'm slowly getting better at choosing fabric and refining my technique, but I've had several things end up with a goofy fit or sloppy finish or odd buttonhole that I'll only wear as PJs or for garden work. I know that to get better, I have to keep practicing, or possibly even break down and seek outside help (like from a class, gasp). I'm too proud for that.

As frustrating as it can be to botch a project, it's pretty damn rewarding to have a successful garment. It's why I keep doing it. I wear those crazy pants with pride! I know you can't wait to see them in detail.

Here's a preview of the crazy pants. I totally love them.

Back to sewing for kids...I have a 10-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. A lot of kids' patterns only go up to size 6 or 8. A few go up to size 10 or 12, and it's rare to see any that go beyond. I used to wonder why, but now I understand. I made a couple things for Daniel recently and I have noticed that he rarely wears them. And by rarely I mean never. This morning he tried on a pair of shorts I made him and commented that he might wear them on the weekend, but not to school. This does not really hurt my feelings. After all, most 10yo kids do not want to wear something made by their mom, boys especially.

What do most 4th grade boys wear anyway? My kid lives in nylon mesh basketball shorts and jersey t-shirts. Ask me what garments I'm least excited about sewing, and my #1 answer is nylon mesh basketball shorts. Actually, my true #1 answer would be my own underwear (I know it's a thing, but thanks) and my #2 answer is nylon mesh basketball shorts.

It's different with Anya. She's still young enough - just - that there's not the stigma of wearing something handmade. I also think girls have more leeway in some respects when it comes to clothing choices. This can be both good and bad, of course, but it means that she won't stick out if she goes to school in a pair of handmade city gym shorts.

This evening I decided to make a plain black t-shirt for Daniel using my serger. I've had that serger since I saved up and bought it cheap at Joanns in 2002 or 2003, but until tonight I had only ever used it to finish seams, never to stitch together knit fabric. The t-shirt was an experiment to see if I could sew knits on that machine and I made a black one because black thread was in the machine and damned if I was going to re-thread it (fancy pants sergers thread themselves and I want one, but $$$$ so it's not happening). I used my tried-and-true Flashback Skinny Tee pattern (that one goes to size 14!) and some plain black interlock knit. The thing about sewing with a serger is that the seam is pretty much permanent so there is no chance to fix mistakes.

Since the whole thing is jet black I didn't bother with any close up pictures. Nothing will show up anyway.

Miraculously, I did not screw anything up and the shirt turned out okay. Daniel tried it on and says he likes it. He even wore it to bed, bless his heart. But I dunno...something about it just isn't quite as perfect as it could be. The fit of the sleeves (a tad tight?), the size of the neck (a tad loose?) that would be fine on a younger kid, but not so much on him.

He is such a goofball.

My whole point here is that I'm still undecided on whether it's even worth sewing for kids or not. They grow out of sizes in a flash, they don't always like or agree to wear what you've made (often for legitimate reasons, in my case!), and it just seems like a whole lot of effort and not much reward. It certainly doesn't save any money, especially when half the things I make are duds.

Do you sew for kids? What do you think?

Monday, April 18, 2016


Today I booked a flight to Boston for a long weekend in May. I'll be visiting my new baby niece, Violet, who is four weeks and a day old as of today, so I'll get to meet her when she's two months old. I can't wait.

This baby girl already has several aunts on her mother's side, but I'm the only one on this side of the family, so it's my job to dote. And dote I shall. I already knit some things I gave my brother and SIL at Christmas time (see this post to refresh your memory!). My parents were visiting us here in Madison when we got the call that V had made her way into the world, so my mom and I put together a care package for them with cookies and soup mix, and I also knit a hat that I'm sure is way too big, but should fit in the fall.

But now that spring seems to have arrived (I say this with caution, because even though it felt like summer today, it was still snowing last week), my craft of choice is sewing. I've got enough planned sewing projects to last me 'til Christmas, but at the moment I just want to make All The Outfits for this baby girl. 

What is it about sewing for babies that I find so irresistible? That they're too young to express opinions about what clothes they're wearing? That everything is so little and cute? That a piece of fabric leftover from another project is enough for a whole outfit because the human who will wear it is smaller than a house cat? That I'm making up for when my own kids were babies and I was far too busy and overwhelmed with new motherhood to sew for them and now I'm making up for lost time?

I'm thinking it's probably all of the above, at least to some extent.

Anyway, now that this post is a few pictures in already, I'll share some details. I bought the Lullaby Layette pattern from Oliver&S and I've made three things from it so far, the first being this purple onesie.

I did French seams throughout except for attaching the sleeves. As you can see, I love my new baby niece, but apparently not enough to change serger thread for sleeve attachment purposes.

I also have some things to learn about installing snaps. I bought the snap setter tool from Oliver&S and even after practicing on scrap fabric, I still screwed up a lot on the actual project. Despite double and triple checking, I put on a whole row of them upside down on the purple onesie and had to pry out a couple of them with my teeth (my parents were horrified when I told them. Mom and Dad, MY TEETH ARE FINE.) 

I didn't get the snaps lined up perfectly, either. But it's in the crotch so the first time it's covered with a diaper blowout I don't think anyone will say "tsk tsk! those snaps don't line up quite right, now do they?"

On the next little onesie I made - this time using double gauze by Cloud 9 Fabrics leftover from another project I will blog about once I have photos - went much faster than the first one. I was still scratching my head over the placket, though, and if you look really closely at the finished object, the pleat there is a little messy.

For this one, I eliminated the sleeves completely and just put a bias edging around the armholes. I love the feel of double gauze, but it does fray something fierce, and I didn't want to deal with hemming those tiny sleeves with such delicate fabric. The gray fabric I used for the bias edging is quilting cotton, so it's more stable and easy to work with.

As you can see, I didn't learn my lesson about the snaps with the first project. These are totally backwards. I didn't want to pry these out, not because I'm worried about my teeth (MY TEETH ARE FINE) but because I knew the fabric wouldn't survive the procedure. 

Three's the charm, right? This last set is a little different. The fabric I used for the top was leftover from a dress I made for Anya when she was 2? or 3? or 4? (I thought I blogged it but I can't find a post in the archives) - anyway, it was a long time ago, back when she tolerated wearing dresses. There wasn't quite enough for the whole onesie, so I made the shirt version and dug up some knit fabric for a matching pair of shorts.

The shorts are a pattern from Brindille and Twig (cuff shorts, found here). This was the first time I'd bought a pattern from there. They do have quite the selection, and these went together pretty fast, but I wouldn't recommend them for someone new to sewing. My main complaint is that when you print out the pattern from the PDF, it's really hard to tell how the pages fit together, and then on top of that, it's really hard to tell which lines to trace for each size. Also the instructions are for using a serger, and I don't use mine for knits (I'm scared to!), so I just used the stretch stitch with a 1/4" seam instead. This actually came back to bite me in the bum when I accidentally sewed the waistband onto the leg cuff and had to spend 45 minutes picking it out with a seam ripper. That stretch stitch is practically indestructible.

In any case, the shorts turned out really cute in the end, I used up more scrap fabric, and I am especially pleased with how well they match the top.

These three outfits are the 3-6 month size, and should fit Violet over the summer. 

The funny thing is, I have a whole pile of fabric I bought brand new just for this baby when we found out she was a girl, but I can't bring myself to cut it up just yet. It's fun finding bits and pieces from other projects, and those new fabrics are big enough cuts they can even wait until next year when she's a toddler (hard to imagine right now).