Skip to Content

What we (don’t) wear.

After this past weekend away, I am more engrossed than ever by our relationship with our clothing.

Having the ability to use merely two sticks and a piece of string to create fabric is almost magical.

4049396835_1bbec1c3ac_b

Fashioning that fabric into a garment is even more so.

We spend hours, weeks, months putting love and care into our hand knits.  And more often than not we are willing to accept a finished object that we never wear.  The fit may be wrong, the fabric may be wrong, the colors may be not what we expected seeing those lovely hues all jumbled up in the skein…

I wonder if we accept these piles of unworn hand-knit sweaters because so many of our purchased ready-to-wear clothes are never quite right either?  Let’s consider the fact that knitting patterns are essentially instructions to make ready-to-wear clothing, designed for a size chart determined by industry standards.

Let’s also consider the fact that most of us have never actually worn a piece of clothing that fits us so well that our body feels “right” in it.  A garment with no tugging, no drooping, no falling off the shoulders, no buttons straining at the bust.

I wonder if we don’t consider our hand-knit sweaters as clothing because we don’t think our bodies are good enough to be worth the time and effort to craft something perfectly for it.  We get the message every day that our bodies aren’t good enough for our clothes, each time we put on a cute top that doesn’t fit quite right.

2006-06-12 16.33.03-1

(Sweater-in-progress circa 2006.  Guess how often I wear it.)

When long-sleeved shirts are designed to a standard measurement chart with an arm length shorter than yours, we tend to say “my arms are too long” not “all the sleeves on every shirt in the world are too short“, right?

I wonder what sort of sweaters we’ll knit when we begin to understand that our bodies are good, just as they are, and that it’s worth spending the time to make clothing for ourselves.  That it’s worth understanding where our materials come from, and how they affect the finished garment.  That’s it’s worth taking the time for proper finishing, even if it takes an hour or two (or four), because it’s something that we’ll wear for years to come.

2013-10-23 09.51.45 HDR

(Still working on the finishing bit.)

Even in the last month, now that I know I can consistently achieve a sweater that fits me and that is worth actually wearing, I find myself considering my projects differently.

I find myself evaluating a design based on its potential for clothing, rather than as a knitting challenge.  I’m researching my yarns.  I’m thinking about my swatches not as a harbinger of gauge counts, but as a test fabric.  How will it wear?  What sort of sweater does it want to be?  Do I actually want to clothe myself in it?

It’s kind of shifted everything for me, in a rather profound way.

How do you feel about your hand-knit sweaters?  Do you wear them?

Do you think of them as clothes?

 

 

CustomFit 3 – Emma

I acquired this beautiful yarn at our retreat in September:
2013-11-06 12.26.46
Details:

Yarn – Woolen Rabbit Emma (DK Polwarth/Silk blend)

Colorway – Pussywillow

And knew immediately what I wanted it to be – a shawl collar, 3/4 length sleeve pullover, with an accent button worked into the shawl collar fastening somewhere:

 

emma-sketch

(Cool new thing I learned: I used Sketchpad Pro on my iPad to create a personalized croquis for myself.  I traced an outline of a picture of myself wearing a sweater, and then deleted the picture layer of the file.  Now I have a general representation of myself to draw my sweater ideas.  LOVE.)

Once I had that down on paper (or whatever the digital equivalent is) I swatched, put my inputs into CustomFit, and got started!  I’ll have to work out the shawl collar myself, as that’s not one of the options in CustomFit yet, but it’s a pretty straightforward change.

One sleeve down… back, front, and 2nd sleeve to go.

Amy and I will be at Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Review retreat this weekend, and I expect to make large chunks of progress on this sweater.

Later this week I’m going to talk about the fabric of this sweater, and how my my improved knitting technique results not just in faster knitting, but better quality fabric.  I can’t wait to talk more about it!

 

Grandpa Cardigan

jackie-grandpa-5

So.  Last night my mom said:

Hey, I really like that sweater.  Where’d you get it?

A year or two ago I would have bristled a bit.  (Can’t you tell that I made this with my own two hands!?!)

Now, I couldn’t be happier.  I want to make clothes.  Clothes that fit beautifully, and are exactly what I want to wear, in colors that I love.  And I can now, which is cool.

The fact that my mom saw this sweater as clothing… clothing that she wanted maybe to go out and buy herself… is a pretty damn good sign that I’m doing exactly that.

jackie-grandpa-18

It’s a pretty awesome feeling.  Also? I never want to take this sweater off.  It’s like a warm soft hug that fits me perfectly, and yet doesn’t look like a sack.

On with the details!

jackie-grandpa-11

Yarn: Quince & Co. Osprey, Colorway: Storm

Osprey is a soft, aran-weight, 100% American wool yarn.  (It knit up like lightning on size 9 US needles.)  It was very, very pleasant to knit with.

Purchased at KnitWit, a lovely yarn shop on the main drag in Portland, ME that also has the distinction of being the Quince & Co. flagship store.  Behind me in many of the pictures is their Wall O’ Quince, which I dare anyone to try resisting.  (You will fail.) That yarn is perfect for making beautiful clothes, and KnitWit has a wonderful warm atmosphere that makes you dream of knitting all the things.

jackie-grandpa-14

(Awesome buttons purchased at WEBS en route to Rhinebeck)

Pattern:  CustomFit

Size: Mine!  Everywhere!!

My CustomFit choices:

Relaxed Fit
Sleeved cardigan
Long sleeves, 5” of 1×1 rib edging
V-neck – 2” below armhole
Low-hip hem, 2” hem height, 1×1 rib
1” button band allowance
1” button band height, 1×1 rib
7 button holes

 

jackie-grandpa-8

I manually added 1×1 rib detail on back by:

  • When back decreases were complete, on next row work until 1st marker, begin 1×1 rib to 2nd marker, work in stockinette to end.
  • Continue as established until back increases begin, approximately 1 inch of ribbing worked.

Surprising thing about this sweater:

That I can have a relaxed fit sweater that is definitely roomy and comfortable (I could fit another layer in addition to what I was wearing in the pictures, no problem) without it looking boxy, droopy, or “boyfriend-ey” and I mean that in the literal sense.

So, CustomFit the second is down, and my third has been swatched and started.  I’ll tell you all about it later this week…

(I have my next 4 or 5 already planned out in my head.  The past couple of weeks I have actively sought out learning how to knit faster, because literally I can’t knit them fast enough.  I want them all.  Right now.)

Technique Lessons (what I learned this year at Rhinebeck)

This humble swatch is what I brought home with me from Rhinebeck.  Not the yarn, per se.  But what it represents.

Technique_Swatch

It represents a lot.

I grew up a “maker” in a family full of “do-ers”.  My family never sat still enough to make anything…

…it was bunches of people playing H-O-R-S-E on the driveway, competitions of hitting golf balls into the back woods, my father rounding up the entire neighborhood for epic games of Capture the Flag.  It was fantastic, and I loved every second of it.  But I also desperately wanted to make things.  And no one else around me really wanted to.

I made little potholders on peg looms.  My mom had me sew on every button that fell off a piece of clothing, because she hated it, and I was eager.  I begged for a sewing machine (I wanted to make clothes!!) and my grandmother bought me one.  Then my father threw it away while cleaning out the basement a year later.  It was an honest mistake, he never saw it used and honestly couldn’t understand someone wanting one.  He thought it was clutter.

This is all to say, I didn’t have anyone in my family to teach me how to do all this stuff that I had a strong, but vague, desire to do.

Then I grew up.  In my early twenties, I thought, hey, there’s no reason I can’t teach myself to knit.  I drove myself to a Michael’s, bought a Susan Bates Knitting Starter Kit ™ that contained a big ball of acrylic yarn, a set of aluminum straight needles, and a pamphlet with instructions on How to Knit.  I then stumbled across the first Stitch N’ Bitch book, which I revered.  Compared to the Susan Bates pamphlet it was maybe the best knitting thing ever made.  Then I stumbled across blogs (the first of which was Steph’s, which exposed me to KALs and knitting as sport) and there was no turning back for me ever.

This has to sound familiar to a big chunk of knitters.  I was part of a giant wave of people who came to knitting in the early- to mid-oughts through the Stitch N’ Bitch book and the internet.  I thought I could learn everything I needed from those things.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve slowly come to appreciate the other side of it.  How much I learn when I’m with other knitters: in yarn shops, at festivals, at retreats.  I love how accessible the internet has made knitting.  It’s powerful and it’s important.  But it’s also not a substitute for learning from other people.

The internet cannot look at how I’m holding the yarn in my fingers and tell me why I can’t knit and talk at the same time. (Which is what I learned from my people at Rhinebeck this year.)  I also benefitted from discussions on setting in sleeves, sewing on buttons, and watching someone steam a re-knit piece of fabric to un-kink the yarn.

So, now I know a much better way to hold my yarn and needles.  It not only economizes my movements, but makes it so that my brain isn’t wondering where the needle is every 3 seconds and then literally rendering me unable to speak.  (Honestly, I thought it was a problem with my brain.  Turns out it was a problem with my knitting!  I can’t tell you how awesome that is.)

The swatch above is for nothing except re-learning how to knit, which kind of reminds me of when I took piano lessons as a child.  Half of my time was spent playing actual songs, and half of my time was spent on technique lessons: exercises focused solely on the fingers learning how to move in a way to play the piano better.

So that’s been my knitting this week.  It’s not a song in and of itself, but my songs will be more beautiful for it.  And I don’t think I could have ever learned that from a book or the internet.

 

 

Rhinebeck Sweater: Minimal Viable Product

The last you heard from this intrepid knitter was the sound of a gauntlet being laid.  I had 2 days, and half a sweater to knit and finish.

I knit the left cardigan front on Wednesday.  I felt good.

I knit the right cardigan front on Thursday.  I felt good.

I soaked and blocked all pieces at 1am on Friday.  Things were getting a little hairy, but the spin cycle and an optimal combination of fan and space heater ensured the pieces were dry by 7am Friday, at which point I had to leave the house.

I still felt pretty good.

But this, my dears, is where life gets in the way of knitting.  Friday was an epic day.  Amy and I met up, drove out to Northampton, and bought all the buttons from WEBS.  We had a lovely and leisurely lunch with friends at Paul & Elizabeth’s.  (Where a little old lady stopped and observed how adorable we all were with our little knitting club.  It was both odd and hilarious.)  We hopped in the car and made our way toward Rhinebeck.

And the black hole time warp thing happened.  We got to the house at like 8:30pm.  There was unloading and settling and checking in at the computer to do.  There was some other, more pressing, knitting.  I was up until 2am, and the sweater was only partially seamed at that point.

That’s when I thought, uh oh.

The whole weekend was like that.  At the fairgrounds early, seeing people, walking the booths, arranging the meet-ups*, post-festival socializing meant loooong days, and not a ton of time at the house to sit and knit (or seam, as it were), even with going to bed in the wee hours.

rhinebeck-31

(Oh Rhinebeck… you are so good, and oh so bad, for my sweater knitting.)

By Sunday it was seamed, and had button bands, but only 2 buttons and zero ends woven in.  I tried it on.

And that was my fatal error.

You know what happens when you try on a sweater that isn’t finished enough to wear in public, but is finished enough to wear?  Especially when it fits you perfectly, and is warm and cozy and is exactly what you wanted it to be?

This is what happens:

2013-10-23 09.53.02 HDR

You can’t take it off long enough to actually finish it.  This is basically what I’ve looked like the past 3 days, when not in public.

It’s pathetic.  But I don’t want to take it off, and right now, it’s good enough for my office.  I’ll have to buck up and do something about it soon, but today is not that day.

(I cannot be the only one who’s done this, right?)

—–

* By the way, it was AWESOME to see all of you at the CustomFit meet-ups.  There were some beautiful sweaters, and I met so many wonderful people while taking measurements.  Thanks everyone for coming!  I cannot wait to see everyone’s sweaters!

Rhinebeck: T minus 2

On the way up to the retreat last month, Amy and I stopped at Knit Wit in Portland to visit with Suzie and ogle their beautiful wall of Quince.

(It was a good day.)

I walked out with an armload of Quince Osprey (colorway: Storm) to re-make this:

JCrew Cardi

using CustomFit.  It’s a beloved Grandpa Cardigan from J.Crew that I have literally worn holes in, I wear it so much. (You can even see one of them on the front right panel, by the pocket.  So sad.)

I really, really want to wear it to Rhinebeck.

As of this very moment I have the back and both sleeves knit:

Grandpa Cardi Pieces

And I’ve begin the ribbing for Cardigan Right Front:

Grandpa Cardi Front

Still to do:

  • Cardigan Right Front
  • Cardigan Left Front
  • Blocking
  • Seaming
  • Buttonband & Collar

(that seemed way more reasonable before I typed it out)

Things in my favor?  Bulky gauge.  No plans to go out the next two nights.

Things not in my favor?  I still have roughly half the sweater to knit & finish.  We just opened CustomFit to the public, so I’m spending a lot of quality time with the computer.  (Quality computer time is not quality knitting time.)  I’m leaving for Rhinebeck in about 20 hours.

Soooo….. I’m going for it.  Let’s see if I can pull it off.

If you’re going to be at Rhinebeck this weekend, please do come say hi!  Amy and I are organizing some get togethers, and we’ll post the details on the CustomFit Ravelry Forum tomorrow.  (And hopefully I’ll be wearing my shiny new sweater.)

 

 

 

CF2: In which I swatch. (and win.)

I used to greatly dislike swatching.  Swatching was not fun… swatching was stressful.

It took me a long time to identify the knot in my stomach:  I got it every time I sat down to swatch.  I would knit for an hour or so, wait for the swatch to dry, and the whole time a little voice in my head worried that it might be “wrong”.

That it might have been pointless.

That no matter what needle I used, I wouldn’t get gauge… because even if I got close enough on stitch gauge, I rarely matched row gauge too.

And those gauge uncertainties added an element of unease to my sweater knitting.  I spent most of my sweater knitting (you know, like hours and hours of my life) worrying about whether…

…was I adjusting my lengths properly to account for my row gauge difference?

…should I add a stitch or two here or there to account for my slight stitch gauge difference?

…should I knit a little looser, a little tighter?  Has my gauge changed?

Blocking my sweater was always an exercise in “holy god why doesn’t this match the schematic – tug, tug, push, push, fingers crossed please fit!”.

NOT fun.  Worth it for a great sweater, but not fun at all.

I didn’t realize all that, until I swatched without those pressures. First for my Alpha sweater, and now my for second:

2013-09-02 07.06.56

(Yarn: Foxhill Farm Cormo Cross 2-ply)

This time, I just got to take my yarn for a test spin.  See how I liked it.  It was really kind of cool…

I have been waiting to knit this up for 4 years now.  This swatch may look boring, but it’s some pretty special yarn: a Cormo cross from Foxhill Farm I bought at my first Rhinebeck post-kids.

I was home with the baby, I had only a small yarn budget, and I spent almost all of it on this yarn.  The deep natural chocolate is *perfect* and the unique fiber content makes it extra special.

This yarn is sproing-ey and soft, and produces a uniquely luscious but structured fabric.

(I know this now, because I swatched.  This makes me feel smart.)

Also purchased that Rhinebeck, to go with this yarn?

2013-09-02 07.07.36

(Buttons: Shipyard Point Glasswords, from Rhinebeck 2009)

The most fabulous buttons ever.

I have been wanting to knit this up for, well, forever.  (If you define forever as: almost 4 years now.  I do.)

2013-09-02 07.08.55

But this unique yarn, purchased at a festival from a small-scale producer, has limited pattern support.  I haven’t had the head space to retrofit an existing pattern for this yarn, or design one from scratch for myself.  So it’s been sitting in a drawer, slowing turning pleasure into guilt…

It was another big revelation that came from using CustomFit, that hit the core of what I knit and how I knit.

Everything that made it hard to use this yarn? Hard to swatch? Gone.

Swatching was fun.  I got to watch the fabric unfold and daydream about what sort of sweater it wanted to be.

I could use the yarn I love.  I’m not blocked from using festival yarn from an indie producer because of the lack of pattern support.

It was easy.  The only effort it required was knitting up a square, and then making the design choices.  (More on those this week.)

So.  As Michael Scott said best: It’s a Win, Win. Win.

Easily Perfect

Like pretty much everyone, my life is pretty darn busy.  I’ve got a husband and two energetic young boys.  I have work that I love, but that takes up a lot of head space.  Like everyone, I’m juggling to maintain a home, a family, work, and friends.

I want to MAKE.  I love to make great food for my family.  I want to cover my people and fill my home with things made with my own two hands.

And, of course, I also like to knit.  I really, really like to knit.

But right now in my life, my favorite sort of knitting is the kind I don’t have to think much about.  Last winter I whipped out a baby blanket for the first time and thought, holy god that was amazing!  I didn’t have to worry about getting gauge.  I didn’t have to worry about it fitting.  I could just knit.

I brought it everywhere with me (because I COULD!  I could knit it anywhere, because I never had to THINK about it) and I finished it in less than 2 weeks.

I’ve been working with Amy on CustomFit, and last month I knit up my test sweater.

jackie-alpha-8

(This is me, giddy about my sweater.  Can you tell?)

So, we’ve thought for a while now that CustomFit was going to be pretty awesome.

But knitting my test sweater was a revelation:  it was as easy as knitting a blanket, with the reward of knitting a sweater you actually love to wear.

jackie-alpha-9

I made a few simple decisions.  (Here’s my swatch!  I want a v-neck pullover!)

I knit to my own gauge.

I didn’t have to make a single modification.

I just knit.

jackie-alpha-3

And you know what?  I’ve never had a better fitting piece of clothing.  I keep thinking, it’s like it was made just for ME!  But really it’s more accurate to say… it was designed just for ME.  All the thinking had already been done.

I just knit.  And in less than 2 weeks, I had made the best sweater I’ve ever worn.

(Of all sweaters – hand-knit or store bought.  EVER.)

And it was the easiest too.

I’m swatching for my second one right now.  Whoo!

Summer: A Summary (with knitting!)

It’s been a crazy awesome summer.

Shortly after returning from TNNA, I went to Seattle for the wedding of an awesome friend, watched the 4th of July fireworks from the shores of Lake Washington:

(…while knitting on my CustomFit test sweater, naturally.)

We marveled at the glories of nature:

Snoqualmie Falls

We danced barefoot in the grass at a Yacht Club (you’ll have to imagine the dancing part – it commenced shortly after this picture was taken):

(If you imagine the dancing correctly, it was a bunch of thirty-something parents and pregnant women dancing our hearts out to Macklemore and Daft Punk, while a cardboard cutout of the groom crowd-surfed.  Amazingly fun time… and probably hilarious to watch.)

We visited the market, of course.

Obligatory Pike Place Photo

A couple of weeks later we traveled to Florida with a large chunk of extended family, lived poolside while the kids swam like fish, and had an enchanted time at Disney:

At risk of sounded like a sap, my 4 year old was perfect age for it.  He *believed* he was in space on the Star Wars ride, and could not contain his excitement when he got to hug Pluto or stand next to Lightning McQueen.

On Monday of that week I felt like Disney was the worst place on Earth.

By Friday it had completely won me over.

The week we returned, my brother Tom accomplished something he’s been working toward for almost 10 years, and as a family we enjoyed a celebratory dinner in a private room with one of the best views in Boston.

The only thing better than the view was the company.

All the while I’ve been working with Amy on the testing and pre-launch work for CustomFit.  Needless to say, it’s been a pretty fabulous mix of insanely busy and incredibly fun.

I’m SO CLOSE to having a sweater to show off here:

I’m so happy with the way the body fits, without any thought, or manual modifications on my own part.  I can’t wait to show you all a finished sweater.  Soon!

 

Big Plans

Woolen Rabbit Worsted, in Blue Moon.

 

DSC_0132

I bought it at Squam, and I’ve got big plans for it.  Stay tuned.  :)

DSC_0128

 

In the meantime, Eric and I are headed to Seattle for a wedding over the holiday weekend.  Catch you all next week!