Some KAL Love…

I love knit-a-longs. I love the challenges they offer, the opportunity they provide for engaging with the broader knitting community, and the oh-so-helpful deadlines that mean I actually get things finished in a timely manner. This year, I decided to actually get myself in gear to participate in two annual KALs who’s hashtags I’ve been admiring for some time, Andi Satterlund’s Outfit-a-Long, and Karen Templer’s Fringe and Friends KAL.

This year’s OAL just concluded, and I am very excited to say that I finished on time. This was a big deal for me, because it was the first time I had sewn a garment. I’ve been wanting to branch out, and start learning to sew for some time, but due to time constraints, lack of space, and my own fixation with having someone around to actually teach me, I hadn’t been able to get going. By deciding to participate in this year’s OAL, I was making a promise to myself to stop putting it off, and actually get sewing. I chose the Zinnia Skirt by Colette Patterns, since I had already purchased the pattern in the spring. I was also lucky enough to have a friend who is a talented seamstress offer to help me put it together. We took two days, and about twelve total hours, to put my skirt together, and it was such an amazing feeling to slip into that skirt, pull of the zipper, and have it fit like a dream!

And of course, the knitting was fun too! Zinone, the knit pattern Andi had designed for this year’s OAL, was one that I had been wanting to knit since seeing her teaser pics for it earlier this year, and it certainly did not disappoint. I’m not much of a lace knitter, so doing the lace back, and shoulder details was a bit of a challenge for me. It isn’t often I find myself having to go back several full rows to fix a mistake, but when I was getting started on the lace section of this piece, I felt like all I was doing was frogging and re-knitting. However, it was all worth it for the finished garment! Seriously, if you like to knit summer tops, this one has to go on your list. Not is it immensely adorable (seriously, how cute is a cropped, lace back top?), but knit out of Quince and Co. Sparrow, it is practically weightless, making it ideal for oppressively hot summer days.

I had a blast participating in this year’s OAL, and am so glad that I rose to the challenge of learning to sew. I had let that keep me from participating in last year’s, and know that when the 2017 OAL rolls around, I will be eager and able to join right in.

 

With the OAL behind me, I’ve now got my eyes on this year’s Fringe and Friends KAL. Karen Templer always manages to come up with such exciting subjects for her annual KALs, and this year is no different. The challenge this year is so knit a top-down sweater without a pattern, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what people come up with, and to get started on my own.

To be perfectly honest with you all, when I first saw that a free form top-down sweater was the subject of this year’s F&FKAL, I almost thought about sitting it out. After all, I have already knit several top-downs, using either my own design or heavily modifying someone else’s, so I couldn’t really see what knitting another one would do for me. Then, in a moment of clarity, I had a vision of the sweater I wanted to knit. Snuggly, grey, long, with deep pockets, and a vertical brioche band, the exact sweater that I have been wanting in my wardrobe, but haven’t been able to find a pattern for, and I realized the genius of a top-down KAL. The best part about creating a handmade wardrobe is the freedom it gives you in creating clothing that perfectly suits you. What better way to knit a sweater that fits perfectly into your wardrobe than to design one yourself? This KAL gives us all a chance to flex our muscles as designers, and to really think about the sort of sweaters we want to add to our closets.

Does anyone else have a favorite KAL, one that you did in the past or an annual that you try to do every year? Is there a KAL that you’ve been wanting to try, but haven’t been able to yet? Share in the comments below! I’d love to hear your KAL stories.

Also, as a small side note, I have recently moved to Portland, OR. So if anyone has any recommendations-food, drink, activities, stores, ect., let me know!

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Marathons vs. Sprints

Wow! It has been a while since I’ve updated here! Don’t let anyone fool you, blogging is hard! Not only do you have to have something to say, but you also need to have the time, energy, and proper style in which to say it. And while I’ve had a lot to say, time and energy have not been on my side these past few weeks. I have been busy choosing a law school to attend, beginning to plan my move, working four days a week, and of course, knitting constantly through it all!

Last month, I had posted a roundup of all my current projects on the needles. Some of those projects, like my grey Vianne, have made it off the needles and into my wardrobe, but several others remain unfinished. And what’s more, my inspiration to work on them comes and goes. I have been struggling with that recently. As someone who revels in order and organization, it frustrates me that I can’t seem to keep my number of projects on the needles down to two or three. I want to be able to finish things before casting on something new, but as anyone who keeps a close eye on my instagram knows, I frequently fall victim to the impulse cast on, and end up completing something new while old projects languish.

In order to help resolve this issue for myself, I have started to think of my projects as either marathons or sprints. Marathons are projects that end up taking a long time to finish. Whether its because they require a lot of work or desire to work on them comes and goes, these kinds of projects can take us months or even years to finish. They are in the background ofnour lives, worked on slowly and deliberately until they are, at last, finished.

Sprints, unlike marathons, are projects that take practically no time to knit up. They are cast on, and knit through at a break neck speed, taking only a few weeks or months to complete. Sometimes these are planned projects that are just too enticing to put down, and sometimes they are unplanned, and simply impossible to say no to.

Both marathon and sprint projects occupy my needles, and while I will work to my finish my long term knits, I won’t feel guilty casting on newer, quicker ones in the meantime.

Anybody else have any long term projects on the needles or struggle with casting on a new project before finishing current ones? Share about it in the comments!

 

Making Lemonade

 

Today, I would like to talk about making lemonade. Not actual lemonade, mind you, but rather, the things that we do when we make a mistake.

I think that, as artists, none of us are unfamiliar with the feelings that occur when a piece doesn’t come out quite right. As knitters, we know the disappointment the comes with spending all kind of time (not to mention money) on a project, only to have it come out less than expected. We have all, myself included, experienced this.

Most recently, I experienced this with a cardigan. I had picked out some of my favorite yarn, a local line called Twirl, and was so excited to create something with it. I was so looking forward to adding a garment made from this amazing stuff into my regular wardrobe. I spent time carefully picking a pattern that would show off the rustic quality of the yarn, and took a little over a month to knit it up. My initial doubts began after the cast off. It looked a little longer than I thought I wanted, and the stitch definition was less than stellar. But I went ahead, weaved in my ends, and blocked it out.

After blocking, my initial doubts fomented into the knowledge that I had absolutely made a mistake. The sweater had grown in length, and the fabric was far too drapey to support the structure of the design. I was heartbroken. I knew I would never wear the sweater, and set it aside for nearly a year while I ruminated on what to do. For a while, I thought that maybe my mind would change, and I would pull it out one day and find that I liked the fit. However, that kept not happening, and I had to face the facts that I simply didn’t like the sweater.

That was when it occurred to me that I still liked the yarn, and I could still use it. So I plotted out a new plan for the yarn. A sweater still, but a pullover with minimal structure, and a colorwork yoke that would show off the body, and rich color of the yarn. Last week, I embarked on this new project. I ripped out the cardigan, and began to swatch.

My point of this story is this–it is okay to make mistakes in knitting. I work in a knitting store, and too often I hear knitters worry over whether they should attempt this pattern or use that luxury yarn for fear of messing up. But everybody messes up. New knitters mess us, experienced knitters mess up, all knitters mess up. And that’s okay! Mistakes are great! They provide valuable learning experience, and can almost always be corrected. You can almost always rip something out and begin again. You can always make lemonade.

Have a tragic, knitting-gone-wrong story? Share it in the comments!

Progress Report: March ’16

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Ah, March! There is so much to love about the third month of the year! Spring is just around the corner, flowers are blooming, the air is warming, birds are starting to sing. The beginning of any month is a great time to take stock, but to me, the start of March always feels like an especially ripe time for self-reflection. So, in that spirit, I am using the start of this month to begin a new series called Progress Report, in which I’m going to take the time to check in with myself about projects that I currently have in progress. By taking the time at the beginning of each month to do a check in, I’m hoping to encourage myself to finish the projects that I have started, really zero-in on the sorts of projects that I like to do, and keep track of what I have done for future record. And with that, let’s dive into March!

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Leonie: Last month, I started yet another Leonie. I made 3 of these last summer, and with spring already looming large in Northern California, I felt compelled to start something out of anything other than wool. This is one of the very few patterns that I have made multiple times, and I imagine I will make it many times more. It is super easy to wear, and provides opportunities for lots of fun yarn combos! This particular version is combining Habu Cotton Gima, and Shibui Twig.

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Vianne: I started this a couple of weeks ago as part of a project I undertook at the beginning of the year to shore up the sweater holes in my wardrobe. Along with two pullovers and another cardigan, I started on Vianne to create something I found myself reaching for, but not finding. I’m super excited to have this one off the needles!

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Ashland: I cast on my Ashland last fall, out of love of colorwork, and the desire to tackle some of the new techniques (steeking) that this project presented. I stopped working on it when I needed to wind a new skein of yarn that I never actually got around to winding. Since then, I have acquired a swift and ball-winder set-up of my very own, so its time to pick this cutie back up!

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Top-Down for Ed: Out of all the projects in this month’s Progress Report, this is absolutely the piece that has been in development for the longest amount of time. I started this as a present for my boyfriend’s 21st birthday, and he will be turning 23 next month. I have had some up’s and down’s with the piece! If I’m being honest, the biggest challenge that I have run into with this sweater is lack of interest. Maybe its selfish, but I always have a harder time getting excited about things I’m knitting for other people. Outside of that, this sweater is being knit on MadelineTosh Merino Light on size 3’s, so it has been slow-going. On top of this, there was a set-back last October when, almost ready to bind off, Ed and I decided that the fit wasn’t quite right, meaning I would have to rip back most of the body. However, I am determined to get this one finished! Ed has been incredibly patient with me through this process, and he is so excited to wear it.

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Nell: I got the pattern and fabric for this in January, and am finally sitting down today to cut out the pieces for my Nell shirt. This will be my first ever, grown-up sewing project. I must admit, I have been putting it off because I am massively intimidated by the machine. As a knitter, I am much more comfortable with doing things with my hands, and giving control over to the sewing machine is rather frightening for me. But sewing has been something I’ve been meaning to conquer for years now, and I am ready to dive in!

I’m looking forward to seeing where I am with all of these next month!

Top-Down Raglan vs. Top-Down Set-in-Sleeve

In the knitting world, one doesn’t need to travel far in order to stumble upon the virtues of top-down sweaters. They are quick to knit, can be done all in one piece, and are relatively easy to troubleshoot. Since top-down sweaters are knit from the top down, you can try it on as you go, and make any adjustments to fit, shaping, and length as needed. Though it can become cumbersome to carry around a top-down sweater towards the end of the work, the fact that it is knit in one piece eliminates the seaming process. Sweaters with a top-down construction are excellent for knitters who are just starting out on sweater making and want to knit something easy, and for more advanced sweater knitters who want to knit something quick, with lots of fit control. However, after deciding to knit a top-down sweater, the question then becomes will you knit a top-down raglan or a top-down set-in-sleeve? In my experience, both methods of construction have some pluses and minuses that are good to be aware of.

set-in-sleeve (left), raglan (right)

For the most part, top-down sweaters are made with a raglan construction. It is easy to see why, when you consider that they are simple to knit, require little shaping, and figuring out how to set one up is easy enough to calculate at home. Because of these benefits, I typically turn to raglan construction when I need to churn out a sweater fast or if I’m making a sweater for someone else and I’m not going to be getting super precise fit. That is where the minuses come in. Though there are so people who look fantastic in raglan construction, there are those, like myself, who don’t find it as flattering. I have a large chest, and if I want to knit a more fitted sweater, raglan construction just won’t do. Since a raglan sleeve is a straight line, it has a harder time conforming to the natural curvature of the body. Therefore, when I try to make a fitted raglan, I find that the raglan line tends to pull and stretch out of place. While raglan sweaters are easy to set up, they don’t always fit well on every body.

Set-in-sleeve top-down sweaters tend to fit much better than raglans. Because a set-in-sleeve follows a curved line, they can be easily adjusted to fit the particular sculpture of the intended wearer. For this reason, I have started knitting almost all my top-down sweaters with set-in-sleeves. They just happen to fit better on my shoulders without tugging at my breasts. However, they simply are not as simple to put together as raglans. I have yet to find a “plug-and-chug” method for top-down set-in-sleeve construction. Though I have found multiple raglan methods where all you have to do is plug in your gauge and measurements into an easy equation in order to figure out how many stitches to cast on, and which stitches will be your front, back, and sleeves. Set-in-sleeve construction is just not (as least at the moment!) quite so approachable. It also happens to require casting the back on first, shaping the shoulders, and then placing the back on hold until the front is constructed and ready to be joined with the back at the underarms. In contrast, a raglan can be cast on and knit straight through from top to bottom.

What about you all? Any preferences when it comes to raglan vs. set-in-sleeve? Anyone found a great set-in-sleeve “plug-and-chug” that they’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

For anyone looking to try out either a top-down raglan, I highly recommend checking out Hannah Fettig’s Lesley or looking at Karen Templer’s series on Fringe Association about how to improvise a top-down raglan.

And for anyone interested in trying out some top-down set-in-sleeves, I suggest checking out Elizabeth Doherty’s Clarendon (really her whole book on the method), and Andi Satterlund’s Plain Jane.

Lessons From 2015

For me, 2015 was the year of the sweater (at least the first half of it was!). I was on a sweater-making binge this past year, racing gleefully through five woolly numbers, and several linen tops during the summer. However, come 2016, I can’t actually say that I wear any of them. It is disappointing to look back at the work I have done over the past year, and realize that little of it will actually make it’s way into my wardrobe. What is the point of doing all that knitting if it’s only going to sit in a cupboard?

The good thing to come out of all of this, is that I learned a hell of a lot. Despite having been a knitter for ten years, and having worked in a yarn shop for the past two, last year was the first time I ever did a gauge swatch, adjusted a pattern to fit me better, and by making mistakes with my sweater ventures, I discovered what would work, and what wouldn’t work going forward.

The first sweater I completed last year was the Praline sweater by Gudrun Johnson. I started in in December 2014, and finished it January of last year. All in all, I would say it is probably my favorite sweater I made last year. I used Madelinetosh Pashmina in the colorway Tart, which had been haunting me for months. The color is gorgeous! It shimmers, and the red is so rich and bright. The fit of my Praline is absolutely perfect. No other sweater (handmade or store bought) has ever fit me so well. And yet, despite all these good things, I never wear it. I realized too late that, while I am head-over-heels for Tart’s rich red, I prefer looking at it to wearing it. For me, that was lesson number one. If I wanted to knit for my wardrobe, I would need to make sure I created garments in colors I would actually wear regularly.

The rest of the sweaters I made in 2015 were almost all in grey, a color that frequents my wardrobe. However, each of those had problems too. One cardigan I made in a stunning dark grey, in yarn that I loved, but the pattern and the yarn just didn’t agree. After blocking, the yarn grew, and the structure-less sweater design just wasn’t enough to reign it in. This one I plan on frogging and re-knitting into a different pattern sometime this year, because I really do love the yarn.

The other misbegotten cardigan I knit was done out of a soft, snowy grey alpaca, that, though beautiful, suffered from being made out of a material that pills and stretches. After a few wears, it would no longer stay on my shoulders, and the arms were pilling rather badly. From both of those sweaters, I learned a lot about choosing yarn appropriate for your pattern, and yarn appropriate for wear. Perhaps alpaca would work for a fancy, dress-up sweater, but not for hard-working daily wear.

With 2015’s mistakes fresh in my mind, I am proceeding more cautiously into 2016. I want to produce garments that will fit seamlessly into my wardrobe, and also fit me well enough, and wear in the way that I want them too. This year I am looking at sturdy wools, patterns with fit and structure, and picking neutral colors that will pair with my more basic aesthetic. The challenge for 2016 is to look critically at my wardrobe, assess the holes that are there, and knit to accurately fill them.

I’m still in need of a basic, sturdy, every-day grey cardigan that I can throw on over jeans or a dress. Pullovers are lacking in my closet as well, and I would love to have a couple that could easily be paired with pretty much anything. I have plans for knitting up Hannah Fettig’s Lesley in a light grey Imperial Stock Ranch yarn, and am visualizing pullovers in cream and black as well. I have a few coat-like cardigans in the works, that should come in handy when it’s too warm out for my heavy wool coat, but not yet warm enough for just a shirt. That is where I’m starting 2016, we’ll see where I end up.

Northward Ho!

I am at a sort of crossroads in my life. Or rather, I am on the road to the crossroads, and I can see it up ahead, but still have a ways to go. I just finished up my undergrad career this December, and am about to begin applying to law school, which I plan to attend this fall. In the meantime… here I am. After working and going to school the past four years, it feels immensely strange to suddenly be doing, well, nothing. I’m still working, but three days at the local knit shop is still so much less than what I was doing before. I feel almost lost in this interim period, where I have few responsibilities, and a massive amount of free time, more than I’ve ever had in my life.

However, instead of becoming mired and listless, I have decided to use this time to my advantage. I plan on committing myself wholeheartedly to my creativity. I plan on knitting with purpose, finally learning to sew, giving my wardrobe a long, hard look so I can get a better handle on what I need it to be, going on as many quiet bike rides as I can, and most importantly, I plan on documenting as much of it as I can to keep myself motivated and interested. And I plan on sharing all of that here.

I have no idea where this will end up, but I do know that it is starting here, and it is starting now.