Sunday, August 14, 2016

last minute summer projects

I have figured out, finally, well into my 37th year of existence, that looming deadlines inspire lots of creative activity on my part. Like when we're mere hours from leaving for vacation and I suddenly feel the urge to cast on three new knitting projects, or when I have finals to grade and Christmas is a few days away and I decide to make everyone in the family felted potholders or reusable shopping bags for stocking stuffers. This has become a pattern with me. I'm under pressure for some thing or other, whether it's work or family related, and I want to Do Everything and Make Everything. It gets so I can hardly sleep.
The zinnia is irrelevant. It was just showing off.

This weekend, for example. Yesterday I had a gig that wasn't especially high pressure or high profile on my end, but it was stressful anyway (because I only got the music in mid-July right before having guests from out of town and then going away on a trip and no extra childcare whatsoever at any time during the last three weeks). It went reasonably well, but I was just so relieved when it was over that all I could do was sip a glass of wine and watch my husband make dinner (which he volunteered to do, thankfully) and knit on a test sweater project that should have been finished last week. Ugh.

Now with the start of school drawing near I should be tweaking my syllabus and lining up gigs and sending out feelers to the people I worked with last year. Instead, I'm knee deep in online research about foraging wild plants for natural dyes, scouring thrift stores for old stock pots and perusing The Modern Natural Dyer for ideas. By the way, that is one beautiful book, totally worth owning even if you never plan to dye anything ever. 

This creative mania, left unchecked, often leads to lots of ideas and unfinished projects. I am more mature and focused now than in the past, at least I hope so. Curb your enthusiasm, Susan. Still, for some reason, I am gripped by desire to try collecting random things from outside and dye yarn and fabric. There are a lot of potential dye plants blooming right now, which is contributing to this inspiration. 

This morning I found myself at the park around the corner with an old shopping bag at my side, plucking blooms from Queen Anne's Lace growing wild by the drainage ditch.  The intended purpose is to make dye with it and dye some yarn. (All the resources for foraging for natural dyes say to be MINDFUL about collecting wild plants but Jesus, this stuff is so prolific it's actually considered a noxious invasive weed by the state DNR, so really I was doing everyone a favor. I probably should have picked more.) Anya went out with me and helped a little bit, too. She is an old soul, I believe, and interested in anything related to being outdoors.

I brought home a bag full of blooms and seed heads and then panicked a little because it turns out Queen Anne's Lace looks an awful lot like hemlock, which if you remember anything about Socrates, is extremely poisonous. WHAT IF I PICKED THE WRONG THING AND I PUT IT IN THE POT TO BOIL AND POISON US ALL??  So I watched several YouTube videos and read a bunch of stuff about how to tell the two apart. I did get the right thing. Thank goodness for the internet, right?

I wasn't able to find a stock pot secondhand, but Stuart got one for me at the hardware store. I rinsed the blossoms and put them in the pot with a bunch of water and simmered it for a good two hours. (It smells like carrots). I plan to leave it to steep overnight and I'll strain out all the plant matter tomorrow. 

I'm kind of doing everything backwards and by the seat of my pants here (another indication I'm feeling stress, I'm getting sloppy). I didn't weigh the plants. I'm not taking careful notes. I don't even have a real plan other than to find some natural colored yarn in my stash (I'm sure I have some; in fact I know I have a big pile of alpaca I've had listed on my Ravelry destash page forever that hasn't sold, so I might just use a skein or two of that) and figure out the scour and mordant process as I go. 

Who knows how this will turn out? It might be gorgeous, it might be a bust, it might be sort of okay. If I don't like it, I can always over-dye with Kool-Aid. Or with the onion skins I've been collecting. Or the avocado pits I've had drying on the counter for two weeks. Or the marigold heads I plucked this evening. 

And did I see some goldenrod growing among the other weeds at the park?...

I'll let you know how this goes.

Friday, August 05, 2016

school clothes

Signs that it is late summer:

  • We're bored.
  • We have approximately 2-3 fewer minutes of daylight every 24 hours.
  • We're bored.
  • Judging by the feeding frenzy on my neck and arms and face and all exposed skin every time I visit my garden, the mosquito population appears to have multiplied exponentially in the last week. And taken steroids.
  • The tomatoes in my garden are ripening just enough for the chipmunks to nibble them, the little fuckers.
  • We're getting emails from the school district about online enrollment.
  • We're bored.
  • We've gone to the public pool enough times that now I realize I should have bought us pool passes at the beginning of the summer.
  • We're bored.
  • Unsolicited catalogs featuring "back to school" clothes and uniforms are arriving in the mail.
Ugh. Yes, Lands End, I'm talking about you. Now, I was never a big LE shopper for myself (preppy, suburban, boring) but for a while I was a fan of their selection of kids' stuff. It does hold up better than what you find at Target and I found the designs marginally more appealing. They do have their fair share of pink for girls and blue for boys, but I used to be able to avoid the more obnoxious gender stereotyping in their clothes.

Notice that phrase: used to. The last couple years I couldn't help but notice that LE was trending like every other major retailer by featuring almost exclusively tough, rowdy, adventurous sporty graphics for boys and cute, sparkly ponies for girls. One shirt I bought for Anya had a picture of Saturn on it in sequins. I mean, yes, it was kind of adorable but really, MUST we have sequins and sparkle on every item of girls' clothing that doesn't already feature pink or a unicorn? It seems so.

My frustration with LE and their options for kids' clothes continued to build. A year or so ago when I was flipping through a catalog (their marketing is so aggressive I get daily emails despite the spam filters, and catalogs arrive in the mail every few weeks whether you want them to or not), I noticed that they had several pages of activewear for boys, but none for girls. Presumably, boys run and jump and climb and need stretchy clothing to wick that sweat, but girls do not. Annoyed, I sent an email to customer service:

I just received your LE Kids' catalog in the mail and I'm disappointed to see a 4-page spread featuring boy's activewear and no such category for girls! Surely you know you by now, the year 2015, that girls are active, too. How about some balance in your styles for kids? How about acknowledging girls as strong and independent just like boys by including activewear for girls and styles that aren't all so frilly and cute? My daughter rejects most of the stuff in the girls' section of your catalog because it's too, well, girly.

I received the following reply:

Dear Susan,
Thank you for contacting Lands' End regarding our Girl's offerings. 
We would like to apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause you.  In order to address your concerns, we have to reach out to our product team to provide you with the correct information for your inquiry. This may require a day or so to research, and your patience is truly appreciated.
We value your business, so be assured, you will receive a reply as soon as possible.  In the meantime, should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us again.   

Cheryl P.
Online Customer Care

Thanks but no thanks, Cheryl P.

It took four whole days for Lands End to come up with this response that supposedly actually addresses my concerns:

Dear Susan,

Thank you for taking the time to write and share your concerns.  
I’m sorry that we disappointed you with the description of our Boy’s activewear. I do understand and appreciate your concerns. I will be sure to share your comments with our creative team and I’m sure they will keep your disappointment in mind.  
Once again, thank you for writing to us and giving us the opportunity to respond. Your business is valued and we look forward to serving you in the future.

Jodie M.

I mean. Seriously??! Did they read the message I sent in the first place? Clearly not. I didn't have a problem with the description of Boy's activewear [sic] (Aside: Jodie M. needs a tutorial on appropriate use of capitalization and apostrophes, but whatever, I'm not going to get even more pedantic here). I very much have a problem not with product descriptions, but the complete lack of activewear for girls in the first place. 

The sad thing is, as maddening as this whole situation is, it's not surprising.

I read the email, rolled my eyes, and went on with life. It's just clothes, after all.

But then there was the whole thing with Gloria Steinem and that officially ended my shopping relationship with Lands End forever. (Briefly: LE featured an interview with feminist icon and activist Gloria Steinem in a catalog and were somehow surprised when they managed to piss off a bunch of close-minded conservatives. Then they apologized for running the interview and pissed off a bunch of people like me.)

Look, it's essentially impossible to be a truly responsible clothing shopper. I'm not really taking the moral high ground here because I can't possibly clothe my entire family in ethical fashion without spending either a fortune we don't have or spending an absolutely absurd amount of time hand making our entire wardrobes from the ground up. I'm all for the handmade movement and careful consideration of where our clothes come from, but frankly, most of the people who write those blogs don't sew for anyone but themselves. When you take preteen stylistic taste and your own limited time into consideration it's simply not feasible to make everything like Ma Ingalls.

But the Gloria Steinem was the line in the sand for me. I just can't buy from Lands End anymore. They do insist upon sending me catalogs every few weeks, though. It's getting so tiresome. The latest one had the following highlights:

...becuase what girl doesn't like to get all dressed up every once in a while?

Their whole life is a cardio class. They need gear that keeps up with them.

When you say your "toughest customers" you obviously mean only the ones with penises.

Le. Sigh.

Daniel and Anya are completely aware of this problem. It's nearly impossible finding clothes for Anya because she is particular about what she wears, and the stuff she doesn't like is 95% of what is available for purchase (no pink, no purple, no dresses, no skirts, no leggings, no ruffles). Daniel is less picky but he is newly indignant about gender stereotypes and has declared pink to be his favorite color. 

I'm just so sick of this, in part because despite my having this whole blog dedicated to stuff I make and wear, I don't really like thinking about clothes so much. I want to live my life and raise my kids and grow my tomatoes and do all of that comfortably dressed, that's all. I actually find wardrobe planning to be quite tedious. But the kids are growing and will need new things to wear very soon when school starts and the weather cools down and the very limited choices available make it hard to do that without spending a lot of time and energy finding or making acceptable clothing.

So what do I do?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

summer adventures in sewing

My mom and I embarked on a rather ambitious adventure this week: sewing jeans. She and my dad drove up to visit this week. Luckily, the summer heat took a reprieve for the three days they were here. They had some quality time with the kids, we ate dinner outside on the [brand new!] patio, and then mom and I holed ourselves up in my sewing cave with a pile of denim, a couple of sewing machines, and the Ginger Jeans pattern.

It was an adventure, let me tell you. Cutting out took forever because there were so many pieces, and then my mom decided the size was wrong so she cut hers out again (good thing I have a big stash of denim!). We both got confused by several steps in the instructions (I thought the Ginger Jeans were supposed to have such great instructions, and that's a big reason I chose that pattern, ugh) and did a lot of head-scratching to figure them out. That zipper fly is still a big mystery to me; the only reason I got through it was that my mom has done those before and could help me out. I did a lot of seams twice. For every stitch of topstitching that I kept, I did at least three that looked like shite and had to be ripped out. And then most frustrating thing of all was when my serger - a White Speedylock I bought for cheap on sale at Joann in the early 2000s when I was a grad student on a shoestring budget - suddenly became possessed by the devil. Thread broke, needles broke, the cutter kept slipping out of place. More than once I seriously threatened to take it outside with a sledgehammer Office Space style.

Seriously, I nearly cried. But we got through it somehow, and by the end of the day yesterday, I had a nearly finished pair of jeans!

Please excuse the clover clips and flour stains.
After all that effort, I hope I like these jeans when they're done. They're snug, almost too snug, but that's better than baggy. The rise is a bit low. I made the low rise version because I HATEHATEHATE high waisted pants and find them very uncomfortable. That said, these would be better with an extra inch of rise so I don't show me undies every time I sit down. I guess I'll try and modify that on the next pair. Yes, there will be a next pair! I'm not giving up yet.

Let's do a quick throwback to last week now, shall we? Fancy Tiger Crafts recently released a basic tank top pattern, the Adventure Tank. It just so happened that I'd been thinking of trying to self draft a racer back tank based on one I wear as PJs because I like the fit but not the fabric (it's cheap from Target, not proud I get clothes from Target but I can't make everything, yo) and the timing was just too good.

I love this tank. I actually made a practice version out of black rayon spandex that isn't going to hold up, but once I knew it would fit, I pulled out some organic jersey I've been hoarding for a while and made another one.

This is "light jersey" from Organic Cotton Plus and it is lovely and soft and drapes beautifully. The bias of the fabric was quite pronounced so I had to adjust where I cut the pieces out, but fortunately I had plenty of extra to do that. I could probably make myself a short sleeve tee or something for one of my kids out of what's left, in fact.

I made the smallest size and lengthened it by 3", and it's perfect. I do find the original to be a bit short for my taste, but I like most of my tops to cover my hips. I also bound the neckline and armholes rather than just narrow cuffs, and then topstitched with a zigzag. I was nervous it wouldn't work out, but it turns out I was nervous for nothing.

Now, I obviously need a new bra!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

FO: winter wander shawl (in July)

We've hit the dog days of summer, y'all. My husband and son were both home all day feeling lethargic and run-down, either from the heat or some low-grade virus or a little of both. It's hot and soupy outside, the kind of weather where you feel yourself wilt just from going out to get the mail.

The FO I have to show you today isn't particularly seasonally appropriate. It's a lovely shawl, specifically the Winter Wander Shawl by Helen Stewart

This project includes so many elements that aren't typical for me. For one, it's a shawl. I don't knit many shawls because I don't often wear them, nor do I have recipients for them, were I to knit shawls as gifts.

For another thing, did you notice the little shiny things? Yes, this shawl has beads. Beads! I have never knit with beads before. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn't. A bit slow going and laborious, but not hard.

Also, lace. I love to look at lace, but I'm not particularly into knitting lace or wearing it. Mostly, this is because lace tends to be too fussy for me. If you make a mistake, it's slow and painstaking to fix. And the finished product, while lovely, is often too frilly for my taste.

Something about this design, though, hit the spot for me. It's simple enough to knit, with garter stitch and increases for most of it, with that beaded section to keep things interesting. And the finished item is lovely and fabulous while being rather understated, which is perfect for me.

I would give it a medium difficulty rating, even though it wasn't at all complicated, because if you screw up, it's nearly impossible to go back and fix. The increases along the edge are difficult to go back and redo (the designer explicitly states this in the pattern) and if you messed up the beaded section I don't know how on earth you would be able to fix it. 

In fact, I accidentally dropped a couple stitches in the middle of the beaded part and thought the whole project was done for. I said a few choice words and stormed off - it was very immature of me - before calming down and picking at it very carefully with a tiny crochet hook. The fix isn't perfect, but I can't even find it now on the finished shawl, and you wouldn't see it from a galloping horse, as they say. So I'm good with it.

I bought the beads from the Wisconsin Craft Market just for this project, but the yarn is from stash. I used Trekking Pro Natura (wool/bamboo blend) sock yarn - now discontinued - for the main section and KnitPicks Alpaca Cloud for the beaded strip. I've had both of these yarns for several years and never meant to put them together until I started looking for something for this project. I like how they go together. The sock yarn is a heathery navy blue, while the alpaca is more of a teal color.

Helen Stewart uses a percentage checklist system in her designs, where you can mark off every single row as you go, and keep track of how far into the project you've gotten along the way. It's so handy to know just exactly where you are in the pattern, even if you've put the project down for a few days, as I did several times while I was knitting this.

I knit this shawl in between other things - plain socks (not blogged yet, but I'll get there), the most recent test knit for Thea, and several sewing projects (again, not yet blogged), and having that checklist was quite reassuring. I always knew just exactly where I'd left off, and since it's in garter stitch, knowing when I was on the right side vs. wrong side was especially useful.

Pattern: Winter Wander Shawl by Helen Stewart, from the Knitvent 2015 collection
Yarn: Trekking Pro Natura and KnitPicks Alpaca Cloud, about 1/2 skein each
Needles: size 6 circulars (I used Addi Turbo lace)
Crochet hook: tiny one for beading
Beads: size 6/E something or other from Wi Craft Market, nothing special. They come in a tube, and I have a bunch leftover!

Monday, July 11, 2016

snapshot: FO post(s) coming soon...

Y'all, this is what happens when you try to do your own FO shots in a hurry after dinner with greasy hair, exposed bra straps and the camera propped on the patio table (aside: we have patio furniture now, which makes me feel sooooooooo suburban housewife only I don't have a minivan and never will). Stuart took pity on me and came outside to get better pictures of not one, but two finished objects, one knitting and one sewing, both of which you can see a glimpse of here. More on those soon.

Friday, July 08, 2016

I can't help myself

It's been nearly two months since I got to meet my new niece in Boston. Her mom and dad are pretty good about posting pictures and videos to a shared folder for far-flung family to ooh and aah over, but of course that's just not the same as seeing her in person. I miss her. 

Lucky for us, we will all get to see her at the end of this month at a family reunion, but until then I could not resist making her another little outfit.

Quite honestly, a new set of clothes is about the last thing little V needs. My brother and SIL were inundated with presents of baby clothes when she was born, both new and handed down, and even with the frequent changes required, they have more than enough to go several days between loads of laundry.

That said, she only has a few handmade outfits from Auntie Sue-Sue (note: I most definitely did not come up with that nickname but it seems to have stuck for the time being. V has another aunt Susan, so this is one possible way to avoid confusion, I suppose. Obviously, the other Susan is more sophisticated than I am or she would have a dorky nickname too...) and seeing as it is my duty to dote, I made her another one.

The designs should look familiar (re: I'm a broken record when it comes to choosing sewing patterns). The red top is another from the Lullaby Layette from Oliver & S, and I scavenged the fabric from a failed tank top I made myself. That particular fail was disappointing because this fabric is so nice (a lovely voile by Anna Maria Horner that I bought several years ago) but at least the whole thing didn't go to waste. 

I sewed the entire top with French seams, even the set-in sleeves. BOO-yah! Using the serger just didn't seem right for this beautiful, light fabric, and I'm pleased that the effort paid off. 

The front closures are supposed to be snaps, but I have a lot of trouble with those. The first set of outfits I made, I got the snap setter tool to work okay (not great, but okay), but this time around, it just wasn't happening. I ruined two snaps trying to get it to work before I gave up and just went with tiny buttons and buttonholes because I was afraid of bolloxing up the whole garment. I ordered that snap setter tool from Oliver&S as well because the pliers-like tool I had tried using in the past didn't work either. Now I'm at a loss; how the hell do you get consistent results with snaps? Arg.

The shorts are another pair of cuffed knit shorts from Brindille and Twig. Unlike the first time I made this pattern, I attached the pieces together correctly on my first try and thus avoided picking out triple stretch stitch. Booyah again. The fabric is red interlock I bought for $1 at a yard sale and made into some shorts for Daniel. There were just enough leftovers for this little pair. I love that baby clothes don't take much fabric (and that the baby doesn't have any choice about wearing them, mwahahaha).

I sent this outfit off earlier this week and it should arrive today, so hopefully this post isn't a spoiler for anyone. 

I've been sewing for myself, too, and have plans for more, but getting photos is the hard part. I guess I could rope my kids into taking pictures, but that might involve bribery (re: ice cream) of some sort. I'll do my best, though. Summer is flying by!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

snapshot: new shorts

Anya is quite pleased with her new shorts that we made together this weekend.