Monday, November 16, 2015

Theolie shawl

Thanks for the supportive comments, everyone. I really do appreciate it! I'm still thinking about what role I want this blog to play in my creative life, or at least the public side of it. Even though blogging can be rather time-intensive, I like the platform for digging into topics. Much as I love Instagram, it's really quite ephemeral. Post something, get a few likes, scroll through an interesting hashtag or the feed of someone you follow, immediately forget about it. That's how IG works for me, anyway. When I want to delve into something like slow fashion or document my process for working out a particular problem, blogging is the way to go.

I think one of my hang-ups is that it feels like most people's focus has shifted to IG, and the bloggers who remain are running creative businesses of their own. I think it's fantastic that the internet has made this possible for some talented designers...but that's not where I am right now. I write this blog purely for my own enjoyment and because I like to think a few people out there are reading it and enjoying it, too. I'm not selling anything; I'm just sharing this part of my life with the internet because...well, because I want to.

So I don't think I'll quit just yet. I guess I shouldn't even worry about whether anyone is reading. Clearly, I have an unhealthy need for external validation! Working on that (always). Meanwhile, thanks again for reading.

Now then. Onto knitting.

Here are some FO shots from a couple weeks ago. Actually, the FO is from June. Usually I'm more on top of these things, but I haven't been in the right headspace for it for months.

This is the Theolie shawl by Katie White. I started knitting it last spring and finished blocking it the day before we left for our trip to Scotland in June.

In October, I finally hid the ends and got some photos. It shouldn't have taken me four months.

Since these pictures were taken, all those beautiful golden leaves have fallen down. It's still unusually warm here, but the landscape has certainly taken a turn for the drab.

The yarn is 100% Suri alpaca I bought from the Alpaca Festival almost four years ago. It's gorgeous, gorgeous stuff from a farm near Mt. Horeb. The owner is a lovely woman and sister to a teacher at my kids' school. I believe the following year her animals won best in show.

It took me a couple years to start knitting with this yarn because it seemed so very special and I wanted to find the perfect pattern to knit with it. Then last spring I decided just to go for it, so after soliciting advice from here (thanks to those of you who offered your input!) I settled on the Theolie shawl.

The yarn is silky and buttery and feels wonderful to knit with. I have to admit, though, that I was skeptical that it would turn out well because it is also full of vegetable matter and shed like crazy all over me whenever I picked it up to work on it.

Truthfully, it still sheds when I wear it, but I don't care. It's lovely and happens to be one of the few alpaca yarns I can wear around my neck without the slightest tickle. It has amazing drape, too.

With Christmas coming up so soon, I wonder if I should put this lovely thing in the gift pile? Can I bear to? Or should I keep it for myself?

Saturday, November 07, 2015


Should I quit? I haven't had a comment in ages. It feels like everyone has moved on to IG (I'm there) or started their own podcasts.

Friday, November 06, 2015

a tale of two cowls

Remember my failed Kimmswick? I'm still determined to knit that someday...with better color choices. Over the summer, I put some of the frogged yarn to good use and made a three-color cowl.

It doesn't get better than red and neutrals, if you ask me.

I started it during my big road trip to Boston with the kids and ended up borrowing a needle from my sister-in-law because I didn't bring the right size along with me. The first one was so much fun to make, and so beautiful and fun to wear that I started another one right away.

I totally put those leaves there.

I think I could knit nothing but this cowl pattern and be happy. I think it would look fantastic as a sweater.

But to own two cowls so similar would be selfish of me, wouldn't it? Especially when there are lovely, deserving people in this world who do not have one of their own.

Anya took this picture, and it's the best one of me I've taken in a LONG time.

People like my sister-in-law, who so generously lent me her knitting needles and then admired what I was knitting.

I sent the second one with the green and deep teal colors, to her for her birthday. Her birthday was a very special day indeed, and I was glad to contribute to the festivities with this gift for her.

Pattern: three-color cowl by Joji Locatelli 
Yarn: Quince & Co. Finch in a variety of colors I don't feel like looking up and listing individually here. This yarn is perfect for the pattern, I have to say.
Needles: size 5 (circulars)
Mods: I played with using four colors on the second cowl because I was in danger of running out of the neutral shades. I love how it turned out.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


I have had a really frustratingly unproductive week. Work stuff I won't go into here. And now I just spent over an hour writing a post and BLOGGER ATE THE WHOLE THING, LINKS AND ALL. I'm so mad. 

So I'll just summarize quickly and go to bed.

Halloween happened. My kids are Minecraft characters. No picture from trick-or-treating because I was lame and didn't take one. This is from the school's costume dance last weekend:

It rained all day and made soccer games miserable, but that stopped in time for trick-or-treating and the neighborhood bonfire:

Slow Fashion October came and went and all I have to show for it this week is my worn shoes. Last week's prompt was WORN, you see, and my shoes are worn. I need new ones but hate shopping. So I keep wearing these.

Get it? WORN? OK. Moving on.

This week's prompt was KNOWN and I had this great thing written about yarn I have found locally at farmers' markets here and the yarn I bought in Scotland. And then I spent two months knitting a sweater...

...which doesn't fit well and is itchy, so I frogged the whole thing in one go after I took that selfie.

I guess it's somewhat metaphorical that I spent all this time on a post that disappeared, just like I spent all that time on a sweater I had to frog, and that I have spent a lot of time this past week working on projects that aren't going anywhere. Ugh.

It's too late for me to write anything more thoughtful or meaningful, but the last month at least has me thinking about longer term goals for how I dress myself and my kids (my husband can dress himself, obviously!), so I'll be sharing more about that in the future.

I sincerely hope next week goes better than last. Good night, all!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

in which I prove that I haven't just been TALKING about sewing, I'm actually sewing (a bit!)

There has been so much intense conversation and wonderful reflection around what we wear and how we come by it, thanks to people like Karen Templer and Helen Stewart. I've got so much swirling around in my head right now that I'm not even sure how to get my thoughts articulated here in a cohesive way. Fast fashion vs. slow fashion, handmade vs. practicality for busy parents, egregious work conditions vs. employment opportunities and lack thereof. There is just so much to think about for those of us privileged enough to do so in the first place. 

This month has been busy, all in good ways, but I have a lot of balls in the air and it's admittedly been really exhausting switching gears from work to kids to ongoing renovation issues (going well, but slowly, thanks for asking). It all leaves me in the rather difficult position of desperately needing time alone to create and decompress, and not really having that time. And then if I reach the end of my tether, I get all impatient and then feel guilty for being selfish and demanding. This whole cycle of mom guilt REALLY sucks but it's a hard habit to shake.

Yesterday morning, I found myself wide awake at 5:30 listening to rain pound on the roof and the wind whipping the Tyvek wrap (not yet under a layer of siding, I might add with gritted teeth), so I got up, crept downstairs, and finished the Marmalade Jacket I started in August. All it needed was the collar attached and the lining tacked down on the inside of the sleeves. I was able to work in 45 glorious minutes of solitude before Anya woke up and joined me, but she happily worked on a knitting project while I finished the top stitching on the collar.

This morning, I had a rehearsal canceled last minute, so I begged and pleaded with the family to take a walk to a nearby conservation park/prairie restoration for some photos. It was a bright morning, so a lot of the pictures were splotched with shadows (yesterday would have been better had it not been miserable with drizzle and wind), but the oak and maple leaves were stunning and the fresh air good for all of us. I wore my new jacket (and brought a few knits along, but I'll show you those later) and the kids were sweet and didn't throw sticks at each other. Take what you can get, right?

I tried so very hard not to squint.

I'm really, really proud of this jacket. It is by far the most complicated sewing project I've attempted  (that is, when I successfully block out a certain nautical-themed jumpsuit with trimmed collar and ankle cuffs from my days in 4-H in the early 1990s...but I had help with that one) and I LOVE it. I love the color (red!!) and the fabric (soft corduroy probably from Joann's but it's still pretty nice, plus beautiful rayon lining you can't see) and the gathers in the front are SO cool (though it would be nice if my boobs were bigger to fill it out - yes I said that) and the fit is perfect. Spot on. The sleeves are roomy and comfy and it's flattering and I can't believe I didn't totally screw it up.

That said, it wasn't easy. This pattern isn't for the faint of heart. There are lots of pieces to cut out and many, many steps in the instructions, and the lining is all separate, so there is a lot to keep track of. Plus, the instructions are translated (from Japanese, I think), so you have to know what you're doing and stare at the pictures for a while before it makes sense. It does, though, and as long as you trust the pattern and take your time it will turn out. I don't have the cajones to make a second one just yet, but I might. 

Aren't they dear? We tried to find places for photos that weren't too crazy bright or entirely shaded. Daniel happily wore the shirt I made him for picture day. He only has track pants to wear with it, but never mind. I'm happy he's so willing to wear it.

The fabric is some kind of shirting I bought on sale at The Sewcial Lounge a couple years ago, back when the shop was located on Monroe Street. I was going to make it into a top for me, but it's a perfect pale blue for Daniel.

The pattern is Oliver&S sketchbook shirt. I made a practice one out of different fabric and I'm glad I did, because the pattern as written is incredibly short. The neck and shoulder fit well in size 10, but Daniel's ribs peeked through the bottom. Not. Good. I added 3.5" (!!) to the length for this one, and it turned out perfectly. It's odd, because I normally find the proportions of Oliver&S patterns to work out very well, even if they run on the small side, but the sketchbook shirt was way out of whack. As long as I'm pointing out imperfections, I was completely befuddled by the yoke instructions. Again, so atypical of Oliver&S to have confusing instructions! Every other pattern I've made - including a complicated messenger bag from their book - has had crystal clear instructions, but I could not make sense of the yoke instructions, even though I think it's a typical construction. In fact, I know it is because I've seen it before, but I couldn't do it. It was like staring at a Rubiks cube and willing it to solve itself, with a similarly disappointing outcome. I am not by any means an experienced shirt maker (this might have been the first one I've ever made on my own), so I'm sure that was part of the problem. I ended up doing an online search and using this tutorial from Grainline Studio, which was a different approach, but worked really well for me.

The collar came out acceptably well, though I definitely have room for improvement there.

So that's it. I have actually been sewing, not just pontificating about it and wringing my hands about the fashion industry. I'm DOING. I'm MAKING. And I'm happy about it. Now it's time for me to publish this post, get offline, and get back to it. I've got a sweater to finish.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


All of two people entered the last giveaway, so I flipped a coin. The winner is donnaj! Donnaj, I need your address to send you the yarn, so send me a message on Ravelry (I'm madtownmama there) and I'll get the package in the mail shortly.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

SFO: loved AND another giveaway!

I've been wracking my brains on the latest SFO topic, LOVED. The full prompt is as follows: this week’s theme is LOVED, as in your proudest accomplishment / most loved item / most frequently worn item / thing you saved up for / investment pieces / thing you worked a long time on / oldest thing that’s still in rotation. 

That's actually several different prompts, and I'm not sure how to answer all of them, nor do I have pictures to share of everything. But here's a go anyway.

My proudest accomplishment might be a maternity dress I made when I was pregnant with Daniel. It was a fully lined wrap dress made out of beautiful navy crepe backed satin that was a bitch to sew because it was so slippery and frayed so fast. I hand-basted every blasted seam and still had to sew each one twice or more because I did them all backwards or inside out. I blame the hormones. I had to set up the machine on the kitchen table and take everything down every time I worked on it, and I was in the middle of my doctoral degree, so it took months to finish. In the end I only had a couple opportunities to wear the dress, but it was beautiful and I was very, very proud of it...even though I had to safety pin the top closed to avoid flashing the audience during the two performances I wore it for. Sadly, I don't have the dress anymore, or even a picture of me wearing it.

My most loved item is hard to say. I don't really love my clothes. I don't even need to love my clothes. Maybe the most loved item I've ever made is a sweater for my dad. It was his Christmas present in 2006, and one of the first finished objects I blogged about. That means I have been blogging for nearly a decade. Huh.

Let me skip around a bit here. I don't own any investment pieces and the only things I've saved up for are my winter coat, which kind of needs replacing, along with my snow boots, one of which is coming apart and I've patched up with duct tape for the past two winters. Living in Wisconsin, functional winter gear is pretty important but I'm making do for now. This renovation project is not. cheap.

Things I've worked a long time on...let's see. The afore-mentioned maternity dress took a while. I've made some complex sweaters that took a little while, but I've written about those and don't want a reprise.

What I do have a picture of is both my most frequently worn item and the oldest item in rotation. It's this gray fleece jacket:

I know this jacket isn't going to knock anyone's socks off, but I really love it. I bought this jacket in August 2002. That summer, my husband and I went with his brother to Colorado to hike up a mountain. The day before we left from Wichita to drive to La Junta, we stopped in an outdoors store. I don't even remember what we were shopping for originally, but when I saw a rack of Patagonia jackets hanging there, just then it occurred to me that even though it was 100 degrees in the shade at sea level in central Kansas, in a few days we would be hiking up to 14,000ft where there very well could be snow, and maybe I'd want an extra layer. So I bought the jacket. It cost $72, which felt exorbitant for a young graduate student. The hike was difficult and exhilarating, and while there wasn't snow on the top of Mount Yale, it was windy and chilly up there in the thin mountain air, and I was glad I had that jacket. As you can see, I still have it to this day. I wear it in fall and spring. It keeps me warm on my bike commute, even down to 30 degrees if I've got a wool sweater on underneath.

The jacket has held up really well for the last thirteen years. No pills or tears, no worn elbows. The pockets are starting to rip, so my keys are constantly getting tangled in the mesh lining. I wonder if I can fix that, or sew new lining in? Or maybe it's time to replace it...they make these things lighter and sleeker these days, with thumbholes in the sleeves, and snug pockets for smartphones, which of course did not exist in 2002.

All righty. It's giveaway time! Only one person entered the last one so I wasn't sure if I should do this again, but I made a promise so here we go:

The dusty rose yarn on the right is about 200 yards of hand-dyed 100% bamboo. It's beautiful, but it's not for me. The two skeins on the left are a test batch of sport weight merino, about 150 yards each. The color of those is a little lighter in real life than on the screen, kind of a grape red. Beautiful, soft, but again not for me. These are yarns I thought I loved, but I've had them a long time and I haven't knit a stitch with them, so they need a new home. To enter, leave a comment below. I'll pick a winner Tuesday Oct 20 at 9:00pm central time.