Sunday, December 14, 2014

not a dress for anya

Anya's seventh birthday is today. We're spending the day as a family doing what she likes, opening presents, eating her menu choices, and generally taking it easy. I feel a little guilty for not having invited her friends over for a party, but this close to the holidays I just couldn't get my act together. (We've had some illness here besides, so it's probably just as well.) When things calm down after the new year, we'll try to organize a sledding party with cocoa and treats afterwards.

One of the big events coming up for us is my friend's wedding next weekend. We're flying to a nice warm, sunny place in the southern U.S., which I am very much looking forward to. Anya has outgrown her dress clothes from last spring, so I set out to find her something new. 

Have I mentioned that Anya is extremely persnickety about what she wears? Not in the way lots of little girls are, either, where everything has to be pink or frilly. In fact, Anya is quite the opposite! No pink, no purple, no dresses, no skirts. She does not like people making assumptions about her just because she is a girl (we have this in common, she and I). I love this independence she has, and I don't like wearing dresses much either, so this is all just fine by me except that when we have a Fancy Event like a Wedding, there are basically zero options available in the stores. 

I offered to make Anya a top she can wear with black pants or leggings and plain flats, and this she agreed to. We chose a pattern and went fabric shopping. She wanted something shiny and red, so we got some red satin and even some silver-colored thread for embellishment.

Here is the finished top:

I used the Ice Cream Dress pattern from Oliver & S, which comes with instructions for a blouse-length version. I have come to appreciate how well-written these patterns are, and also how well they fit. I did a lot of careful measuring before deciding which size to make, and it paid off. The top fits her beautifully!

Ooh! The button is so shiny and pretty!!
While the pattern is fairly uncomplicated, sewing with satin is decidedly not. It's just so dang slippery! I had to cut out the pieces twice because the pattern kept sliding around when I tried to trace it; good thing I had the foresight to allow a bunch of extra yardage in case of screw-ups. What ended up working the best was tracing the pieces on freezer paper, then ironing the freezer paper on the fabric before cutting out the pieces. Also, the fabric slipping around made it difficult to sew. Even on my new machine with a built-in walking foot, some seams were so wonky I had to take them out and hand-baste everything together before sewing them up. (I know on my old machine it just would have ended up looking crappy no matter what!)

You know what, though? The effort was well worth it. Anya's new top fits and looks lovely on her. I haven't added any silvery embellishments, but I might do that yet. As pleased as I am with how this turned out, I think I'm done sewing with satin for a while! 

Friday, December 12, 2014

a tale of two cowls

A couple of months ago, my cousin Steph came to visit. She lives several states away, so seeing her is a real treat for everyone, kids included. This particular visit was because she was presenting at a conference in town and brought some friends along, so we got to meet them too, though briefly.

You have to understand that Steph and I are as close as sisters, though we've never even lived in the same state for more than a few months at a time (I think a year and half in college was our longest stretch, and I was going through a very prolonged and shitty breakup at the time, so I don't even know how much of that even counts as me being present anywhere...I survived, obviously, and so here we are.) 

My point is:  a friend of Steph's is a friend of mine. So when I met her friend - let's call her "A" - I was utterly charmed and decided she was knit-worthy and got it in my head to knit them both a little something. 

Cowls. You can't go wrong with a cowl. I believe a person can't have too many cowls and they are utterly superior to scarves in that they won't slip off your neck and drive you crazy or fall off and get lost. Cowls are the new black. 

So I made one cowl and then another and I honestly wasn't sure which cowl should be for who. But really, Steph knows her friend A far better than I do so I packaged them both up and put the decision in her hands. Here is the email I got earlier this week:

"So, I got this AMAZING package in the mail just gorgeous. Thank you! I'm bummed that A took off yesterday to spend Christmas with her partner and now I can't get this to her until January. But I'll send her a picture so she can decide which one she wants. Because honestly, I think they're both amazing and I have no idea which one to choose."

Yeah, I think both these fine ladies are knit worthy, don't you? 

Anyway, here are the cowls I made. The first is called "Jet Set", I knit it in about three days over Thanksgiving with my family, and it was the perfect sort of pattern for a family holiday: easy, repetitive, no problem doing while you're drinking a glass of wine and carrying on a convo about heritage turkeys and the perfect pie crust recipe.

I often look skeptical. It's a natural expression.
I used just under one skein of MadTosh sock in a color way I don't remember, but I know I bought it because it reminded me of Kentucky Wildcat blue.

The second cowl took a little longer. I started it more than a month ago and worked on it slowly up through the beginning of last week. The pattern is Tonic Water by babycocktails, and it's perfect TV knitting once you've done one or two repeats. (I knit this through several episodes of The Sopranos...I can't stand anyone in that show but I have to know what happens, so I keep watching - did anyone else have this experience?) 

This is such a weird pose.

The yarn is Cascade Venezia Worsted, two skeins that I had stashed forever. I don't remember why I bought the yarn or from where or for what project but it turned out to be perfect for this cowl. Once I wet-blocked it, the lace pattern just stood out. I'm tickled pink how well it turned out. The orange is a bit of leftover plain wool.

So it's up to Steph and A to decide who gets what. I'm glad she's pleased with the cowls and I hope A is, too. I'm looking forward to hearing who chooses what! 

I haven't done any holiday knitting otherwise. This fall has been brutally busy with my new teaching schedule and more playing work. Don't get me wrong; it's good to be working! Still, now more than ever I'm feeling my family responsibilities and professional responsibilities pulling against each other. Right now, I honestly wouldn't have it any other way, but it's really hard to keep everything in balance. (Then somebody throws up at school and my whole system goes out of whack! But that's a story for another day...)

What holiday knitting are you doing? What's your favorite quick project? I want to know! I'm also trying to destash some yarn so maybe I'll do a giveaway soon.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

going full tilt

This is one of those weeks. Anya has a cough keeping her up half the night, I have a lot of last minute piano work I probably should have said no to, we're leaving in just over a week for a wedding and then Christmas with Stuart's family (3 flights in 10 days), the basement looks like a herd of wild pigs stampeded through it, my teaching job has all of its end-of-semester demands, and I barely know what to make for dinner every night. No wonder I can't sleep and I've had a sore throat I can't shake since Thanksgiving.

I do have two FOs to show you, but not quite yet. Later this week, hopefully, I can tell you more about them, but I want to make sure they reach their destination first (don't want to ruin the surprise!)

Meantime, my knitting/sewing/making life is a little all over the place. I tried a little crochet, but my brain at its current stress level can't cope with learning a new skill, so after that first swatch and then a second attempt that just got narrower and narrower no matter what I tried, I set the crochet aside for the time being. I've done some sewing, a top for Anya she can wear to the afore-mentioned wedding, but it's not quite  done yet. I have some things I want to make with felted sweaters, but right now those projects are no more than a huge pile of sweaters on the floor of my basement (wild pigs, remember?) and a vague collection of ideas in my head.

I do owe Anya a sweater, though. She made a wish list a few weeks ago, and one item on it was: "a red sweater that fits," presumably in reference to the recital sweater I made her last spring, which she has since grown out of. I mean, how can I refuse a request like that? We looked through some patterns and she chose this one: Rhymes With Shawl. Her choice surprised me a little, but I'm willing to go with it. Then we had to pick out some yarn (because I don't have anything in my stash that would work, seriously) so I went to the Quince and Co. website (because it's entirely possible I was looking for an excuse to shop there, ahem) and she picked out shades of red and orange for the stripes and a bright gold for the collar portion. Personally, I had something a little more sophisticated in mind, less box-of-crayons bright, but this child knows what she likes and doesn't like, and if she will wear it, I will knit it.

This afternoon, Anya was helping me wind the yarn into cakes, and I couldn't help but notice that her clothes were nearly exactly the same colors as the yarn she had chosen. You can't really see it in this phone snapshot because by 4:00 when I took the picture it was nearly dark, but I'm posting it anyway.

I have no idea what I'll post about next! A knitting FO, a sewing FO, a WIP, the craptacular mess in my basement? It could be anything! Until then, readers, stay well and happy holidays,

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

something new

I'll have more knitting to show you shortly, but in the meantime, here's something new I'm trying to learn:

Yup, that's a crochet hook and a very wonky swatch that should at least come in handy as a dish scrubber.

Clearly, I have a lot of room for progress.

Friday, November 28, 2014


I finally (!) finished Chartreuse on Thanksgiving Day.

I used every last inch of the yarn I had. It was a little too close for comfort, and I even had to use something else for the pocket linings and stitching the collar to the shoulders, but I made it. I added a few inches of length to the sleeves, and I'm sure if I hadn't, I wouldn't have cut it so close.

I'll be honest with you, this sweater is not a quick or easy knit. The cables are tricky, the pockets and yoke shaping require concentration, and your gauge really has to be right for it all to work out. The result is beautiful, though, and totally worth all that effort.

I am so pleased with how the sweater turned out. It's long and comfortable and the tweed yarn I used is nice and light and doesn't weigh down too much. My only regret with the yarn is that it's such a dark color the cables don't show up as nicely as they might, especially in photos.

My brother took these pictures. We're all together in Kentucky for Thanksgiving, so I handed him my little P&S camera and dragged him out to the back yard for a brief photo shoot. (Note to self: time to start saving for a new camera.)

Pattern: Chartreuse by Thea Coleman
Yarn: Jo Sharp Silkroad DK Tweed , 10 skeins exactly, plus a bit of Cascade 220 for the finishing
Sticks and Gauge: size 6 needles, 5 stitches and 7 rows per inch in st st
Mods: none aside from yarn choice, and that was just because I wanted to knit from stash

Monday, November 24, 2014

felting fun

I have acquired quite the stash of thrift store sweaters. I don't buy them to wear myself, but to felt them and make them into other things. In total I've probably made a dozen trips to various thrift shops around town over the last couple of years, and after scouring the racks for felt-able items, I've got my method down and I've learned a few things: 
  • I can almost always tell by grabbing a sweater sleeve if it contains wool content or not. 
  • I recognize the cheaper brands (like the ones sold at Target and Kohls), which are almost always acrylic blends. 
  • Lands End and Eddie Bauer are fairly reliable sources of wool, easy to find on the racks, and the sweaters always felt nicely. 
  • I'm more likely to find cashmere sweaters at Savers than at St. V's. 
  • People offload a lot of cashmere in pastel colors like pale yellow, light blue and lavender.
  • Also - and this is odd, I think - there is almost no point in checking the racks of men's sweaters because you can rarely find wool or cashmere there. More's the pity, since men's sweaters contain a lot more fabric and you get more bang for your buck.
  • I used to buy everything wool I could find. I've got enough gray and black to last a while, though, so I've started putting those back unless they feel really good to the touch to begin with.

I found myself with a spare half hour today, and while I should have spent it cleaning up my house, I went to Savers instead and scored a huge pile of sweaters, a number of them cashmere. And why all the cashmere? I'm collecting cashmere to make scarves and a lap blanket.*

Here is a portion of today's haul.
What is my plan with all these sweaters?  Well, I like to felt them in the washing machine and then cut them up and make other things with the nice, felted fabric. So far I've mostly made mittens and potholders, and I've got a half-made hedgehog toy somewhere. I ought to finish that. I have been invited to sell some of these things at a local artists' studio downtown, but I have to make enough of them first. Making enough to sell takes time, and time for sewing is not something I have in abundance these days. I really didn't have any business shopping at the thrift store today at all, seeing as I have a healthy pile of sweaters to deal with already, and it wasn't really necessary to buy more. I'm happy with what I found, though, and it's inspiring to have all the colors to play with. I think in the back of my mind I was thinking that getting more supplies somehow makes up for not having the time to actually make stuff. (I am, by the way, completely aware of how irrational that is.)

Sometimes there are nifty buttons on the sweaters as a nice little bonus.

Shiny! And this one is Ralph Lauren, so you know they're good.

*I do have a problem with cashmere because of the way it is sourced. I am convinced that most cashmere sweaters are not being produced in a sustainable way. I figure, though, that once a cashmere sweater gets to a thrift store, the damage has been done and I might as well salvage it for another project.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

robbing peter to pay paul (almost)

It's a stressful time of year. I've bit off almost more than I can chew for the next couple of weeks, so I'll just have to buckle down and get through it. Thanksgiving will be a nice break from all the rehearsals and teaching prep.

Meanwhile, Thea released her new cardigan, Chartreuse, on Thursday. It's been a big hit, and well-deserved, too. What a beautiful design!

I test knit the smallest size, and I was hoping to have the FO to show you this weekend, but as it turns out, knitting all those cables eats up time like you wouldn't believe, not to mention yarn. I started off with what seemed like plenty - 10 balls of Jo Sharp Silkroad DK Tweed I've had stashed forever (I think I bought a bag of it on sale from WEBS long ago). At 147 yards per 50g skein, I had 1470 yards total, which should have been enough. More than enough, even.

It wasn't plenty. It wasn't even enough. Midway through the yoke shaping I cracked into the last ball and started to get nervous. I knit and knit, totally copping to the mentality that maybe if I knit faster I would somehow be less likely to run out. Or at least, if I did run out, I'd know sooner rather than later. I looked on Ravelry for someone willing to part with just one ball in the same color, just in case.

Thea lists 1450 yards needed for the size I knitted, and I'm not entirely sure why I didn't have enough. She suggested that even though my gauge matched the pattern (both row and stitch! how often does that happen?), sometimes lighter yarn like what I am using (the design calls for a worsted weight at 5 stitches and 7 rows per inch of st st) pulls in more with the cables, thus requiring a little more yardage.

She may be right, or it's possible that I made the sweater a little longer inadvertently. At any rate, last night, as I knit on the collar and that last ball dwindled and I scavenged the swatch I knit for a few extra yards (yes, I did actually swatch for this one!), I finally resigned myself to the fact that I would probably have to cut off part of the sleeves to have enough to finish the collar/back section. "That's like robbing Peter to pay Paul," my husband commented. I decided I'd rather reknit the cuffs in a contrasting yarn than have shorter sleeves (I like my sweater sleeves fairly long, about 2" longer than the pattern calls for...possibly another reason I ran out of yarn), and figured if I scored another ball from someone's stash, I could always reknit the cuffs later.

Before resorting to such a drastic measure, though, I thought I should knit to the end of what I already had and just see how much I was going to fall short.

And would you believe I ran out of yarn JUST as those collar pieces were coming together? It was so close I was starting to kick myself for leaving such long tails at the cast on edges. As it is, the pocket linings will have to be with different yarn. I'm okay with that.

I'm glad I didn't cut those cuffs off after all.

I grafted the back collar (no easy trick, mind you, with both knits and purls going on back there) and wet blocked the whole thing this afternoon, but I'm not out of the woods yet. I won't know if this sweater is a success until it's dry enough to stitch the collar down and hope it all lines up okay, and then try it on post-blocking. The other test knitters all have sweaters with a little more heft and drape than mine will have (several used the yarn called for: Scholar by the Plucky Knitter, and it looks just gorgeous) I hope I don't mind that. I was so tickled to have enough yarn in my stash, and such a nice tweedy blend at that, that I didn't want to buy something different, especially for a test knit. I have a lot to learn yet about yarn choice, but I do think this is turning out pretty nice.

With luck I'll have this done in time to pack for our trip to Kentucky over the Thanksgiving holiday. What's on your needles?