Friday, November 25, 2016

Wee Owligan

My family is here for Thanksgiving, including my 8mo niece, who is just charming the socks off of everyone. Of course I had to make her a sweater.

I bet a lot of you recognize this pattern:

Wee Owligan (Wowligan!) by Kate Davies!

I used organic cotton yarn I bought in 2015 at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool festival.

I also used 37 buttons! That's 14 pairs of eyes plus 9 down the front. (The buttons were purchased at the Wisconsin Craft Market, which by the way has really expanded the yarn selection of late. If they didn't pipe Delilah's radio show in there so much I'd probably go more often. Delilah is seriously annoying.) Sewing on the buttons took two evenings of TV watching.

Every minute I spent was worth it and then some.

She is 8 months old and the 12 month size fits her perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that I'll need to make her something else pretty soon for when she grows out of it. I've told her parents (my brother and SIL) that I'll take requests.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

not okay

Dear readers,

I'm still going about my daily life, but it doesn't feel normal. This is the case for many people around me, too. I work with college students, some of which are devastated and frightened.

I've still been knitting, though I swear I might scream if I read one more blog post from far away corners of the country and the globe about how we can find solace in stitching. That's fine for my own personal therapeutic benefits, but I don't think starting another sock - though I did just that today - is doing anyone much good besides just me. I keep my hands busy so I don't lose my grip, that's all.

I don't hide my political opinions here, nor do I think I should. In fact, I can't stand it when someone claims to be "apolitical" because the truth is, public policy affects every single damn one of us, and anyone who claims to be apolitical signals to me that he or she is a person privileged enough to ignore it. Which is infuriating.

The president-elect is a horrifying man who represents the worst of America. I will not accept his rhetoric or his policies and I will do everything I can to fight them. Shame on everyone who voted this racist into office and don't even try to tell me it's the economy. The only thing Trump has ever been consistent about in his decades of public life is his disdain for women, minorities and immigrants; a vote for him was a vote for institutional discrimination no matter how you try to spin it.  (I have yet to see a black analyst try to explain away Trump's racist comments, and that should tell you something.)

Thank you, Jamelle Bouie, for putting the above into words so much better than I can.

Thank you, Van Jones, for calling out media pundits for their complicity in this whole mess.

Thank you to Whitney, whose eloquent, beautiful post inspired my own clumsy one today.

Thank you to every citizen who will stand up tall and refuse to accept Donald Trump as normal.

This is not okay. Will we be okay? Perhaps, but only if we face the road ahead of us and know that there is a lot of work to do.

I'm still angry. And if you're paying attention, you should be, too.

Gritting my teeth in solidarity with the struggle,

Saturday, November 12, 2016

new shirts

I really like sewing for my kids when I know they'll wear what I've made. I have learned (the hard way) (more than once) that surprising them is not at all a good strategy. It's much better to present them with options for patterns and fabric/yarn, or at least color choice, and go with what they want to wear, which may or may not align with what I want to make. In the end, we're all happier that way.

Daniel has had an especially noticeable growth spurt in the last six months. I just bought him new tennis shoes THAT ARE TOO BIG FOR MY FEET. Sniff. He is 10 and in the upper half of the growth charts for his age, especially for height. There is no way he could possibly squeeze himself into the shirt I made him last fall. He needed a new one for picture day and piano recitals and whatnot this year. I had already made the biggest size available for that particular pattern, but I figured I would just find another one that comes in at least a size 12. 

Given the plethora of patterns available for what feels like every conceivable garment style, I assumed that finding a sewing pattern for a plain old simple button-down shirt for a tween boy would be relatively easy. No big deal, right? Wrong. Not a single pattern I could find online or even from the  Big 4 pattern companies went up to the size I needed. Most stop at size 8, though some go up to size 10. (The Sketchbook Shirt I made him last year ostensibly goes up to size 12, but I find that most O&S patterns run awfully small and I'd already made the biggest size and lengthened it by 3" to fit Daniel a year ago, so there was no way I could get it to fit him now.)

That's a whole post I need to write, about the sewing and knitting patterns available, who they're for, and how they're marketed. Some other time, perhaps.

Anyway, I poked around online and posted an inquiry on a Ravelry forum for people who sew, and a very helpful person sent me an eBay link to an old McCall's pattern that is no longer in print. Thank goodness she did because it was exactly what I was looking for.

Now, I've had plenty of complaints about the Big 4 pattern companies, especially when it comes to wonky fit and sizing, especially in kids' patterns. But this was my only option and with shipping it was still only about 10 bucks, so I figured I didn't have much to lose other than my time and less than 2 yards of fabric.

Luckily, it worked out.

I was a little out of practice with attaching a collar, but the instructions were clear enough, the pieces fit together, and I took it slowly and carefully enough that I didn't botch anything too badly. Fortunately, Daniel wanted short sleeves, so I was able to avoid messing with cuffs and plackets.

Believe it or not, I sewed most of this on election night. I was glued to the news and had to keep busy.  This shirt was one small good thing that came from me on Tuesday. And good thing I didn't have to do sleeve plackets or I might have come undone for sure.

Because I used black fabric (it's Cambridge Lawn by Robert Kaufman that I had on hand) and don't have close up photos, you can't see these details, but I used flat-felled seams to attach the sleeves, and French seams along the sides. My top-stitching on the pocket and collar was about as good as I can get, too.

He'll probably grow out of it by January.

Anya also got a new top! I made her a Mini Sutton Blouse, pattern from True Bias. She approved the pattern and chose the fabric (Robert Kaufman again, this time Radiance in the color "slate"), and is thus pleased as punch. I love that color on her.

My sewing on this wasn't quite as stellar, though it'll pass. Radiance is a lovely cotton/silk blend that feels so light and soft, but is a bit slippery and tends to fray. It also wrinkles. When I took the picture above, Anya had only been wearing it for a few minutes and it's not like she was doing somersaults once she put it on. 

The buttons are fancy.

The French seams are acceptable.

This picture below is where you see the real innards of the shirt and how I kind of had a hard time with sewing it. I had to serge the edges of the fabric down the sides before sewing the seam. Because there is a split hem, flat-felled or French seams weren't an option. My serger frustrates me and I want a new one but something like a new serger is cost-prohibitive so I'll continue to fight with my old one for now. Even changing the thread is a huge production, so I left the black thread in that was there from my jeans-making experiment over the summer, and made due with weirdly rolled edges it created. It's not perfect, but I can live with it.

Sewing comes in fits and starts for me. It's just not an activity that is easy for me to pick up and put down like knitting. I'll go weeks between projects and then slam out two or three things in succession in a spurt of energy. 

Garment sewing is stressful, though. I'm thinking my next project might be placemats.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Rob Roy

Thea released a new hat design today in conjunction with Magpie Fibers and y'all should go buy this pattern and some yarn to make it, not just because this hat is buckets of fun to knit but also because 20% of the pattern and yarn sales will go to Women of Tomorrow, an organization that supports young inner city women heading to college. I had never heard of this particular organization, but it looks awesome. 

In times like these, education matters MORE THAN EVER am I right?

My wonderful daughter agreed to model this hat for a minute before going to school so I could get a couple photos. I think she looks better wearing it than I do. 

Seeing my children smile and carry on with their days helps keep me going. We are in for a long four years and there's no telling how long the ramifications of a Trump presidency will last. But I love my country and I love my family and I am not going to give up hope that enough of us working hard to make things better will make a difference in the end. 

Do not give up. Do the right thing, even when it's hard. Support organizations that matter. That's my plan, anyway. 

I'll spare you the rest of my quasi-inspirational soapbox speech (I think we're all exhausted from the past 48 hours of THAT) and give you the deets on this hat:

Pattern: Rob Roy by Thea Colman of BabyCocktails
Yarn:  Domestic worsted from Magpie Fibers (so generously provided for the test knit! and it's really really nice) in the colors "Alloy" (main) and "Drops of Jupiter" (for the pom)
Sticks: size 8 circs and DPNs for most of it, plus size 6 for the ribbing

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

the day after

I'm still reeling and functioning on only a few hours of sleep. Around midnight when things were looking really bad, I gave up and went to bed, but I kept waking up and panicking. 

After watching state after state turn red on the electoral maps as the night wore on, I began to wonder what I'm going to tell my children in the morning. Bullies win. Experience and expertise don't matter. The American electorate is desperately short-sighted and uninformed and frighteningly okay with racism, misogyny, bigotry and threats of assault from its own president-elect.

I can also tell them this: take nothing for granted. Take one day at a time. And - as trite and cliché as this sounds - be the change you wish to see in the world. Today, I would expand that to say don't depend on others to do that for you.

Well, that's democracy. Knit on? I'll try.

Friday, November 04, 2016

snapshot: pile o' knitting

Last night was Explore Art Night at the kids' school. I actually co-coordinated the event this year, which wasn't so bad until this week with all the last minute emails and checking off all the minutiae on the to-do list. Every year I host a hands-on exhibit with knitted samples and bits of yarn to teach finger knitting. This is from the pile of samples I brought last night. I have a LOT of knitted things to choose from, mostly hats. Can one have too many hats? I hope not, because I cast on another one last night before bed.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

SFO Week 4: Known Origins (part 2)

Well, if I wrote a Part 1 in response to the Slow Fashion October Week 4 prompt, I owe you Part 2 before the month is out! 

I'll try not to make this too long. (It did get long. Sorry.) I know y'all have Halloween to prepare for; whether it's finishing the last minute touches on a costume, buying candy, carving that last jack-o-lantern or figuring out the best way to hide from trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood and avoid the whole thing, it makes for a busy day. 

Me? I'll be cramming as much work into a short school day as I can before my usual Monday afternoon running around, and then throwing some nutritious-ish food at the kids before getting ready to take them trick-or-treating in the evening. I have a love/hate relationship with trick-or-treating (so much sugar, so exhausting), but my kids really love it and it's fun to see them get so excited about putting on costumes and going out after dark.

This year I even have a costume. I found a pants suit at the thrift store and pinned a "nasty woman" name tag to it. 

In fact, Halloween is relevant to this topic because when it comes to known origins of materials used for Halloween costumes, you can't think too hard about what you're using without being consumed with guilt. Whether you buy or make Halloween costumes, they are more likely than not to be material that was once raw petroleum deep under desert sand before it was sucked out of the earth at great environmental, military and monetary expense, only to be molded into masks and props or spun into fabric, all of which will end up in a landfill by early November. It's awful. But what can a parent do? Cancel Halloween? Impossible. Insist that our costumes be fashioned from ethically produced materials? Often impractical.  Or let it go for this one holiday? Uncomfortable, but the only good option for me right now. 

I mean, you might get lucky and your kid will want to dress up as something that works with clothes and accessories you already have on hand or can make out of cardboard and leaves you collect outside. Or you might not. You might have to order a plastic wig with Vulcan ears and a foam Lady Liberty tiara on Amazon because your kids have their sweet little hearts set on being Spock and the Statue of Liberty for Halloween and you do not have extra hours or energy to figure out how to do it with organic felt. 

I do not like ordering plastic shit on Amazon. But every once in a great while, I do it because I'm not sure what else to do. It's that or my kids will be Those Kids who aren't allowed the Halloween costume they want because mama's a hippie.

For Halloween, the best I can do is try and minimize the waste and find or make costume parts that can be worn as regular clothes or repurposed for something else later, but that's about it. 

A few years ago I read the book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell (that link is to the NYT review from 2009). It's a good read and I recommend it. Shell's overall premise is that anything that is cheap for you has to be paid for by someone else, and that someone is the poorly paid retail worker in the chain store or online warehouse from which you are buying, along with a farmer or factory worker far away whose livelihood and local environment is being decimated by our demand for ever lower prices on goods we don't even really need. She has several examples in the book, and the most vivid ones have to do with shrimp farming in Asia and the shady business practices of IKEA.

Yes, IKEA. How many people do I know, how many friends do I have, who buy all their storage units from IKEA? Who bought their kitchen cabinets from IKEA? Who buy their beds and chairs and end tables from IKEA? Because it's cheap and it's Swedish (and therefore it must be okay) and besides, that clean Scandinavian look really is quite appealing. 

I have bad news for you, though: IKEA is the worst. The. Worst. They have admitted to using forced prisoner labor (in the late 1980s in East Germany), are dishonest about their responsible forestry claims (to put it very mildly), and have worked very hard to make sure the workers in their American factories can't unionize. Now, I know those articles I linked are a few years old, but IKEA's business is booming and their furniture is still impossibly cheap, so I doubt they have made significant changes to how they source their materials or treat the people who work in their factories. 

I also just started reading Empire of Cotton by Sven Leckbert (there's a link to The Atlantic review) and it's rather dense, but fascinating. I'm not too far in, but I'm getting a sense of the big picture, which is that ever since cotton became a commodity crop in the 16th century (I think?), it has been at the center of a lot of human misery: exploited labor, slavery, war, oppression...and yet despite its ubiquity in our lives most of us have no idea about any of this. Organic vs. non-organic cotton is just the tip of the iceberg of questions of ethical origins when it comes to cotton. 

Here is my overall point: IT IS EXHAUSTING WHEN EVERY PURCHASING DECISION IS FRAUGHT WITH MORAL COMPROMISE. There is a human and environmental cost to everything we consume and while we absolutely need to take that into consideration when we make purchases, I believe it is a little bit dangerous to attribute too much to our own individual buying power. I wish that a personal resolution never to buy anything from IKEA or Amazon again would make a difference in their business practices. I wish that buying yardage from Organic Cotton Plus (I do like their fabrics!) would encourage large clothing and fabric manufacturers to switch to more sustainable practices. But it's me and maybe you and a few others against the entire global system of trade and manufacturing. Daunting.

Just this weekend Stuart and the kids and I spent quite a lot of time furniture shopping (not at IKEA, obviously) because we are finally ready to upgrade from the kitchen table and chairs and couch we got as grad students in the year 2000. I'll be honest, we did not base our buying decisions on where the items were made or what they're made out of. Fortunately, most of what we chose is made in America, though the upholstery is polyester. I don't think there is any other practical option for upholstery aside from leather (which I can't stand.) While I would certainly prefer to have everything American made out of natural materials, that option was just not available, not in our city and not with our funds. Maybe there are bespoke wool-covered sofas out there but I don't know where to find them. What we chose that was made elsewhere, we chose because we like it, and it will fit best in the space we have. 

I don't have a conclusion here. I could say something pseudo-inspiring about how we are all making a difference in our own way but I'm not even sure I believe it makes a lot of impact.