Tuesday, September 20, 2016

testing, testing...

Yes, I'm here. And yes I'm knitting! I'm knitting so much, actually! But it's all socks and test knits so either 1) boring, or 2) secret.

Actually, Thea just launched a whole collection this morning, so I can finally share one of the test knit projects I've been working on. This took me a good chunk of the summer, but it shouldn't have. The Roxborough sweater knits up quickly at a fat aran gauge (4st=1"), but I made a lot of really stupid mistakes (like STOOPID, as in, I had to cast on three times before I got the right number of stitches) and summer is hot and sticky, so I wasn't motivated to have a pile of hot wool on my lap, either. It was slow going. 

But so worth it. Look at the final sweater! Comfy, classy, and with just enough detail to keep it interesting:

Unfortunately, it's still hot and sticky and buggy outside. I was sweltering when we took these pictures last weekend, and Stuart got a whole bunch of mosquito bites.

I also need a new top to wear underneath this sweater. It's a dark purple color and I have nothing to wear under it. The top I wore for these photos is the first Beatrix top I sewed, and while it worked for photos, it's not really wearable otherwise. The double gauze fabric really sags and I totally missed the boat on matching plaids. It's pretty sad.

Clearly, I was happiest with the photos that show a close-up of my shoulder and not so much my face or tummy. I blame the heat, but it might be that I'm uncomfortable with how I look as I age. Interpret that as you like.

Thea used O-Wool for this collection, and I kind of wish I had, though I didn't want to buy new yarn for the test knitting. I'm trying to use what I've got and reduce the stash a bit. So I used Valley Yarns Greenwich, a wool yarn that was discontinued a while ago. I have enough in a different color to make another sweater, but I might destash it instead. Greenwich is pleasant to knit with and nice and soft, but I'm afraid it's going to pill too quickly, and it doesn't quite have the beautiful stitch definition as Thea's sample. It's still warm and cozy, though. Eventually, "warm and cozy" will be attractive qualities in a sweater, but not yet. It still feels like summer and I wish it didn't.

Fall is ostensibly here, and even though the weather didn't get the memo (we had this crazy wild storm here yesterday, with 1" hail and terrible winds and everything) I'm getting in the mood for knitting warm wooly things. I think it's also time for another stash toss so I can clear my storage space and my conscience for the things I truly want to knit.

Check out the rest of the Roxborough collection here on Ravelry. There is some good stuff there! I think I might need the hat. One can't have too many hats.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

snapshot: flashback tee for school

School starts this week (hallelujah) and my growing kids need clothes. Anya still likes wearing handmade things, and the Flashback Skinny Tee is a guaranteed success. I've lost count of how many I've made. Sometimes I think I should branch out and maybe try another top pattern I've got sitting in my electronic library, but why mess with a good thing? (Actually, the Rowan Tee might be a good choice for Daniel because of the looser fit and I bet he'd like the hood...but he's ten and entering 5th grade so the whole handmade clothes thing is difficult territory...)

Anyway, here's Anya modeling her latest Flashback Tee. She actually did a lot of the sewing on it and is very proud of that. I had to baste/pre-sew the sleeve caps in but she really wanted to put the whole thing together, so I let her have a go. I also had to attach the neckband (seams with stretching are extra tricky) and do the twin needle hem because she was losing interest. 

Cooler weather will arrive soon enough, and then she can actually wear this! I have several more cut out that are just waiting to be stitched up. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

summer brain

I have summer brain. Is that a thing? I don't even know, but I have it. Every knitting project I've started this summer, with the notable exception of mindless socks that are so boring I haven't even taken pictures,  has been pulled out and redone multiple times because it's like I'm suddenly stupid and can't cast on properly or even count to 50 without messing up. I have a test sweater for Thea I should have finished a month ago, but I can't seem to do anything right. And her pattern is perfect, no errors!!

Sigh. I blame the kids. They are with me always, and because they are still young enough not to mind, I love them all the more for it. And yet even though they, at ages 8 and 10, are old enough to entertain themselves or go to the park on their own for a period of time, I still don't get more than a few minutes here and there to get anything done. I have a professional website to update (this has been on my to-do list for over a year, there's no excuse anymore, really) and classes to teach and papers to edit and networking to do to make sure the freelancing gigs don't dry up this year...and I just can't. I can't. I think about that stuff and my body and brain just shut down so I can't move.

Dinner gets made and the rug gets vacuumed and I've organized outdoor workdays at the school and managed to start my teaching gig without too much trouble, but that's it. Bare minimum. My knitting projects this summer have been a string of mistakes, my sewing room is neglected, and any aspirations I had to further my professional life have remained just that: aspirations.

I don't even know if this is a problem. Am I well-rounded? Unambitious? Depressed? Completely domesticated? Or just ready for school to start? 

Well, I can't afford a shrink, so I'll go for the latter. Just under one week to go and then my delightful offspring will be out of my hair, at least for a few hours a day. Then maybe I'll be able to accomplish something. This parenting thing, it's a lifelong commitment, did you know?

Meanwhile, here's a photo of the yarn I dyed with Queen Anne's Lace:

I don't know that it's a color I would choose on my own, but I'm pretty tickled that I did this. I'm inspired to try more now with other plants I'm growing or can find in the neighborhood: marigolds, jewelweed, brown-eyed-susans, goldenrod...here I come!

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!