Finished (Sorta) Object: Alder Dress #1

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Well folks, here we are, my first finished (sorta) sewing project of the year – my first Alder dress! Not only is this my first Alder dress, this is also the first dress I’ve ever sewn, and it’s definitely not the last! In fact, a big part of why I wanted to learn to sew is because I love to wear dresses, but it can often be difficult to find any that I like in the stores. They either don’t fit right, aren’t the right color, or are made from awful fabrics (and that’s before we even get to how they were made and all the issues there). But before I dive into sharing my experience sewing the Alder, I want to address the “sorta”.

I’m going to start by saying that I did not make this dress entirely on my own. I had some help from the most talented seamstress I know – my mother. When I was at her house last weekend, she graciously put in the buttonholes, and reattached the collar so that it would lie flat. It was my first time attaching a collar, and my machine won’t do button holes (more on that later), and I was grateful for her help. However, it appears I’ll be needing her help one last time. After sewing on the buttons this week, I gave this beauty a wash, and was sorely disappointed to pull it out and realize a good two inches of the button band had pulled away from the dress. I must have sewn too close to the edge of the fabric, and I have no idea how to go about fixing it myself without messing the whole thing up! Thank goodness I’ll be in California for a good chunk of the summer, because this baby needs more TLC than I can give it before its ready to be worn.

So that’s it. My Alder dress is entirely finished. Sorta.

I won’t lie, it was super disappointing to pull this out of the dryer and realize what had happened. Not only was my heart set on wearing it, but I was so proud of my handiwork. Pulling it out and seeing that I had done something so wrong that part of the dress detached was a real punch in the gut. But that’s making, and that’s life. I had to remind myself that I’m still incredibly new to sewing, and this is the first time I had made such a complex garment without supervision. My sewing machine isn’t the greatest – it’s an ancient Singer, and something is off in the tension, and I have no idea how to fix it (another Mom project!). I did my best with the tools I had, and I learned a lot of new things! That’s something I can be proud of.

As for actually making the Alder dress, oh boy did I have a good time! This is the second Grainline Studio pattern I’ve made, and I must say, I love how easy those patterns are to follow. They’re clear, concise, and the details are always just so. I followed the Alder make-a-long that’s up on the Grainline blog, which further added to the clarity of the instructions. I highly recommend using it the first time you make an Alder.

I made version A, which has a waist-less, A-line silhouette, and decided to do a mandarin collar instead of a full shirt collar. Partly because I wasn’t quite ready to put together a full shirt collar by myself, and partly because I felt the mandarin collar went better with the clean lines of the dress. Alder had a lot of firsts for me. This was my first time doing a button band, a collar, pockets, and bust darts. None of these things were as difficult as I thought they would be, and I’m delighted to have added them all to my repertoire.

This will absolutely not be the last time I make an Alder dress. Not only am I itching to try version B, with its lovely gathered skirt, but I’m sure I’ll be putting together repeats of each version. That’s why I got the pattern in the first place. Alder is a beautiful garment that fits perfectly into my wardrobe. Different fabrics are going to bring this pattern to life in different, beautiful ways. I can’t wait to have this sorta finished piece become a fully finished piece so I can put my first Alder dress into the wardrobe rotation. And I can’t wait until I put together my second Alder, and all the ones that will come after.

Have you made the Alder dress? Did you like it? Do you have a sewing mishap where you thought something was completely finished, but then realized you had made some kind of mistake? Share in the comments below!

Finished Object: Yellow Polwarth!

During the course of my first Portland winter, I came to the realization that I needed more layering garments. Due to the drought in California, this had been my first winter in about 5 years. Over the course of those five years, I had gone through about six moves, and several wardrobe purges, which had somehow resulted in a closet that was short on layering pieces (but heavy on sundresses!). I realized that I needed a few lightweight pullovers in my closet, and I needed them badly. The sort of pullovers that could go over a shirt, and under a jacket. The sort of pullovers that could be thrown on over anything, and stretch through several seasons. Fortunately, I had just the thing queued up in my stash!

When I first saw the detail shots for Ysolda Teague’s Polwarth sweater, I knew I needed to make it. I bought the pattern as soon as it came out, and the yarn not too long after. Then it sat in my stash for about a year, waiting for the right time to be cast on. That time came a few weeks ago, when I decided that Polwarth was exactly the wardrobe staple I was missing. And boy was I right! Since finishing this sweater, I have worn it almost non-stop, with all types of outfits, in all sorts of weather. This has proven to be exactly the laying piece that I needed, and I am so happy to have it in my closet!

Polwarth was a simple knit, with just enough interest in the design details to keep me engaged. The brioche triangle detail on the collar was my favorite part of the design! I haven’t done a lot of brioche before, but the instructions were so clearly written, I found it very easy to follow along. Likewise, the subtle curve of the raglan seams – achieve through strategic increase row spacing – were fun, and engaging to create.

After splitting for the sleeves, I set aside the pattern and took some creative liberties. I omitted the waist-shaping, opting for a boxy shape that I find is perfect for layering. The most noticeable change I made is the split hem. I have been wanting to incorporate a few split hem pieces into my wardrobe for a while, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to make that happen. I also went ahead and lengthened the back ribbing about an 1″ more than the front ribbing, and I love how it turned out! It came out exactly as I wanted, and it looks perfect over all of my split-hem shirts.

Lastly, I knit the sleeves the flat, instead of in the round, and opted for 2×2 ribbing on the cuffs instead of brioche. I also lengthened the cuffs to 5″ so that I could fold them in half. Again, I love how the sleeves came out! Folded sleeve cuffs may be my new thing!

The last thing I want to say about this sweater is the color. I have always loved this rich, golden yellow, but it can be so difficult to find. Brooklyn Tweed’s Hayloft colorway knocks it out of the park! I am so glad I chose it for this piece, and am eager to use it for other projects. For a girl who primarily ears greys, blues, creams, and other neutrals, this rich yellow is just the pop of color I need to increase the richness of my wardrobe palate without wandering too far out of my comfort zone.

I would definitely call this sweater a great success. It’s exactly the layering piece I was looking to create. It’s lightweight, warm, goes perfectly over several of my shirts, and fits snugly under jackets and cardigans. The details make it interesting to look at, but the shape is simple enough to make it perfect for the every-day. The yarn is soft yet sturdy, which makes it comfortable while greatly reducing the chance of pills. And above all, it was fun to knit! I would absolutely recommend this pattern for your own lightweight pullover needs!

Have you made a Polwarth? What did you think about it? Do you have another favorite lightweight pullover pattern? Share in the comments bellow!

Pattern: Polwarth by Ysolda Teague
Yarn: 5 skeins of Brooklyn Tweed Loft in Hayloft
Size: 37 1/2″

 

Wardrobe Building: The Sock Drawer

This past week I did something I haven’t done in a long time – I cast on a pair of socks. When I first started knitting, socks were my ultimate goal. I wanted to be a competent enough knitter to manage their tricky construction. Though I no longer remember the first pair of socks I knit, I do remember feeling immensely proud of my accomplishment, and eager to move on to my next pair.

For a few years, knitting socks was my jam. I loved everything about them, from their interesting construction, to how amazed non-knitters were when I pulled out my double-points. I almost always had a pair of socks going, and was constantly endeavoring to try new things – lace, cables, heel construction, I wanted to try it all!

The past two years, I have moved away from socks, and concentrated all my efforts on sweater-making. Its been ages since I actually had a pair of socks on my needles, and perhaps even worse, its been ages since I’ve had any handmade socks in my sock drawer. Most of the socks I knit during my sock phase were either experimental (and therefore didn’t fit quite how I wanted or didn’t work with the yarn I had picked) or had been knit for someone else (usually my boyfriend). As a result, I have a dearth of handknit socks for my own feet. This is a situation I felt needed immediate rectifying, so after casting off my latest sweater, I dove into my carefully curated collection of sock yarn and cast on.

As I started knitting this sock, I began to think about my pledge for the year – that I would only make new clothing, not buy any. I had intended that pledge to extend to my entire wardrobe, but I hadn’t given any thought to whether underwear – as in socks, bras, and panties – would be included in that. “Wardrobe” is a broad term, and taken at its broadest, all types of underwear should be included.

This is something I feel doesn’t get a lot of air time in the conversations surrounding slow fashion. Certainly disposable socks and undergarments are just as much a product of fast fashion as cheap jeans and blouses. Making it a goal to knit all of my own socks is just as important as making it a goal to knit all of my own sweaters. So, in addition to one day wanting to be able to have all of my outer garments be handmade or otherwise sustainably produced, I want to be able to have all my under garments be created in the same way.

At the moment, I am nowhere near being able to sew my own bras or underwear (although the underwear thing is probably way more likely to happen since there aren’t any underwires involved), but I do have the ability to knit my own socks. So, in keeping with the promise to make all of my new clothing this year, I will be making all of my socks in 2017.

What about you? Are you a sock maker? Are you also working towards making your own undergarments? Or do you do so already? Share in the comments below!

PS. – Wanted to share this article on the environmental impacts of fast fashion. I thought it was a good overview of some of the ills associated with the fast fashion world.

Slow Fashion October: Handmade

It is no secret to anyone in my life that I love making myself handmade clothes. I love the process of production, I love putting on something I created, and I love when people tell me that they love something I’m wearing, and I get to tell them that I made it. There is no doubt that I absolutely adore making clothing for myself. What I am still struggling to fall in love with is producing handmade clothes for other people.

My slowest piece of fashion is, hands down, the sweater that I have been making for my boyfriend. At this point, I actually don’t really know how long I have been working on it. It was supposed to be a 21st birthday present for a man who is now 23 years old, so officially, I’ve only been working on it for about two-and-a-half years, but due to planning, pattern choosing, yarn selection, and general discussion, this sweater has been in production for far, far longer than I’ve been knitting on it.

My man and I started this project with a very specific vision in mind. We had particular ideas in regards to style, fashion, and fit. Due to this fastidiousness, I have changed yarn selection for this sweater twice, pattern three times, and started over at the beginning more times than I can count. It is only now, in this past month, that I am finally on the right track, and am geared up to finish the sweater by the end of the year. But I would be lying if I said that the procrastination is all down to a commitment to perfection. Mostly, the delay in finishing this sweater has been because of me!

You see, as much as I love knitting, and creating things for myself, I have essentially zero interest in making for anyone else. Every time I cast something on for someone else, I can feel all of the inspiration drain out of me, and an activity that I love suddenly becomes a chore. I don’t know if I could pinpoint exactly why this is, but I do have some theories. While it would be easy to write it off as simple selfishness, I think the reason why I shy away from creating for others is that it limits what I perceive as my freedom of artistic expression, and my freedom to fail. When I am making for myself, I don’t mind if there are a few mistakes, or if it takes a while to get a project to the finish line, or if the finish line is never reached at all. When I’m making for myself, I can improvise, embellish, add, or subtract anything that I see fit. I don’t have to check in with anybody to get approval of my decisions when I make for myself – rather, I am completely in charge of my own work. In a world in which I am rarely in charge of anything, this complete autonomy is a rare treat.

However, this lack of a drive to knit for others out of reluctance to limit myself is, in itself, a limitation. I remember, as a child, whenever my mother made me clothing, I felt so special wearing it. It was something that my mother had made just for me, something that no body else had, it was a gift of love from my mother that I could wear as armor against the world. I want to be able to give that same gift to the people that I love. I want my man to put on this sweater and feel how much I care for him. I want him to feel special knowing that no one else has this sweater, and that no one else ever will.

Handmades have the power to connect people to each other like no other thing has. I am determined to push past my own limitations, my false sense of lost freedoms, and tap into that power. I want to love my handmades for more than what they mean to me, I want to love my handmades for what they mean to others!

Slow Fashion October: Long Worn

I have had this phrase, “long worn”, percolating in my head all week. Through lectures on torts and civil procedures, through contracts readings and memo writings, during lunch breaks, and coffee runs, while making dinner, and getting dressed, I have been turning over in the back of my mind what long worn means to me, and how it fits into my life. At this moment, there are two concrete ways I see this concept operating in my world: (1) the clothes that others have worn before me, and (2) the clothes I make to last.

I have been a life-long thrifter. My mother is a public school teacher, and with three kids, thrifting was an easy, and fun way to keep us on budget, and fashionable. As a child, and a teenager, I just thought of second hand clothes as a way to find interesting pieces that were different from what everyone else was wearing. I loved thrifted clothing for what it could do to set me apart. While I still value that particular aspect of buying second hand, I have lately come to realize the value of reuse of clothing. In a world where trash is produced at an alarming rate, and our society’s relationship with the wardrobe has changed so drastically, so quickly, thrifting can be a radical way to remove oneself from the cycle. To wear second hand clothes is to give a garment new life, spare it from the dumpsite, and release oneself from the hectic world of fast fashion.

At this point, I would say close to 80% of my wardrobe is thrifted, and nearly 100% of my hardest working garments come from my second hand selection. Pictured below are two of my most favorite, and longest kept thrifted finds.

The jeans are high-waisted Levi’s, found a few years ago, and they fit like a dream. I have a body that is often hard to fit, with short legs, and wide hips that make correctly fitted pants almost impossible. Those jeans are like the Holy Grail to me, and up until recently were the only pair of jeans I owned. The knees are starting to thin, but these babies are long from retirement. I’m looking forward to the future rips and mends that will continue to tell the story of this incredible pair of pants.

The sweater was a gift, purchased at a thrift store by a friend who saw it and instantly thought of me. It is 100% cashmere, soft, warm, and light as could be. It has served me well as a layering piece through several Northern California winters, and will doubtlessly continue to soldier on through many Portland winters. When this sweater came to me, it had a few small holes in the sleeves, which was doubtless the reason why it had found its way into Goodwill. It took me only 5 minutes to fix the holes up so that no one could ever tell they were there. After I had mended the holes, and was wearing the sweater, I couldn’t help but reflect on the previous owner. Did they know that the holes would have been so easy to fix? If they had known, would they still have donated this sweater? Were they sad to see it go, did they wish they could have kept it, but feared that the holes meant it had outworn its use? As a knitter, I obviously have a bit of an advantage when it comes to repairing knit fabrics, and yet I still feel (perhaps wrongly so?) that learning to mend is not so hard a thing to do. In an effort to truly value our clothing, knowing how to make our garments last, being able to fix them so that they continue to wear, is of the utmost importance. This is the first way that the concept of “long worn” fits into my life – preserving garments deemed useless by someone else, giving them new life, and new purpose.

The second way “long worn” factors into my life, and my wardrobe, is in my handmades. When I first started knitting garments, I, like so many others, was attracted to the soft, gushy yarns that feel incredible against your skin. I wanted super soft merino sweaters to cuddle with all winter long. The only problem with those snuggly, marshmallow yarns, is their lack of longevity. They pill, they shed, they lose their shape, and what began as an impeccable finished object quickly becomes a frustrating chore. I had made these sweaters in the hopes of placing them permanently in my wardrobe, and it was a defeating feeling to realize I wasn’t reaching for them for fear of wrecking them. That’s when I started turning away from merino wools, and looking for fabrics with a bit more tooth to them. Now, when I knit a handmade garment, I give careful thought to whether or not the fabric will stand up over time. Will the wool pill too quickly? Will it keep its shape? Will the color fade? I have come to discover that choosing a soft yarn in a pretty color isn’t enough. When knitting a garment that will remain in a wardrobe for years, thought has to be given to whether or not the material will last. This year, I focused on knitting sweaters out of sturdier yarns, like Brooklyn Tweed, Lettlopi, and Imperial Stock Ranch, and have been delighted with the result (the two pictures at the top of this post are a couple of this year’s successes). I have built sweaters that will last, sweaters that will tell stories, and I simply can’t think of anything better than that.

In all truth, considering this topic of “long worn” this past week, has got me thinking about so much more beyond this blog post. I am thinking about concepts that are hard to pin down (particularly when exam prep is vying for top billing in my brain space), like how the clothes I currently have will last, how the clothes I add to my wardrobe in the future will fit with what I already have, how to determine whether I actually need a particular piece, and so much more. But that’s the beauty of this slow fashion movement, it leaves you questioning what you thought you knew about clothing, fashion, and style, and pushes you to create something new.

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!