It makes sense that one of the earliest things I am tackling in the quest for peaceful simplicity is my wardrobe. I am a maker. If you are reading this blog, chances are you make things, too. I took stock of my closet and was appalled that, for being a maker, I had very few quality, handmade items. What I had was a collection of clothing I'd been dragging along with me since high school. (I am in my thirties now.) While my closet was fairly full, there really were only a handful of items I wore with any kind of regularity. And nothing in my closet demonstrated my love of handcrafting or brought to mind any journey that hand made items often document through their stitches. Like I said, I was appalled. I give away almost everything I make, and while I love making things for other people, maybe it is time I take a moment and make something for myself and share some of the love and value with myself.
I emptied my closet and only put back items that had extreme sentimental value or that I wore more than once in the past year. The rest of it went to Good Will. That is the start. The next step is the to begin my slow fashion wardrobe, created by me, one stitch at a time. A very important part of the journey for me is to use materials that are ethically sourced and sustainable. I have already selected some patterns and materials and have begun. I am both knitting and hand sewing items for my wardrobe and have this crazy notion I might even weave some cloth to make clothes with.
Another benefit to this slow fashion mission is that making brings me peace. In more ways than one, every article of clothing I make for my wardrobe is part of me that contains both joy and sadness. Each item, as with every item I make, is a meditation on my life. It is important to me at this juncture that I keep some of that mediation with me. It is important to me, as well, to show my children that we can make high quality, beautiful things that last and that we don't need to jump into the race of needing and wanting more and more with each passing trend.
Long story short, I thought this would be a wonderful place to document my slow fashion journey. As I begin my wardrobe and start to complete some pieces, I want to share them here. Maybe you can join in. I think we can all use a little self-love, so let's make a few beautiful things for ourselves that have meaning. (I say this, and I am starting this process, but of course I have three or four projects in progress that are still going to other people...I can't help myself. But that's okay, too. I just need to make sure I include myself.)
The blanket was woven using weft floats (which look like warp floats on the reverse of the fabric). Weft floats are when your weft thread passes over top of more than one of the warp threads at one time. As a general rule regarding floats, if you are creating something that is worn or handled a lot (like a towel or blanket) it is a good idea to keep your floats to something like an inch in size or smaller. Larger floats can get caught on things and can quickly become an annoyance if a fabric is handled frequently. I created a fabric with two stacked weft floats combined in an offset, all over pattern. I really like the affect it had on the fabric, these little oval shapes were created from the draw-in that I found to be very pleasing. The weft floats themselves were created using two pick-up sticks in the back of the loom to create faux shafts on the rigid heddle. (I actually used one pick-up stick and loops on a stick to create a string heddle as my second set of pick-ups. This was just so I did not have to keep removing a stick when weaving. It is a cool trick that I will do a tutorial on soon.)
It is a little hard to see, but there are subtle, thick, vertical striped in the blanket created by alternating between the ivory and maize colors in the warp. I used only the maize color for the weft. You can see these colors in the fringe of the blanket. It was purposeful that it would only be a subtle striping in the blanket itself, as the colors themselves were very close in hue. The photographs below show the blanket before it was finished with washing and a close up of the final texture after finishing.
This is a stroller blanket, measuring 25x40" (with the fringe). It was woven in acrylic, so there was really no shrinkage after washing, though there was a 10% draw-in from the weaving. I have two, well, maybe three comments about the yarn choice. First, as mentioned above, I raided my mom's yarn stash and was grateful for whatever yarn she was willing to part with. I feel I got lucky, these colors turned out great together and I am very pleased with the look and feel of the blanket. That leads me to the second comment about the yarn. I do not generally use acrylic yarn for my projects. However, for baby blankets I know will get a lot of use and abuse, acrylic is a great choice. It washes and dries well, it is easy to clean, and it is very strong. I do not like the feel of some acrylic yarns, they are sometimes stiff and almost plastic feeling, but these two yarns my mom had were very soft. Very soft. And it was great, after I washed and dried this blanket...they were even softer. That leads me to my last comment about the yarn. Acrylic yarns do not "bloom" when you finish them, but these yarns did feel even softer after I washed them. The blanket also seemed to fill in a little, mostly because the yarn was allowed to relax and re-distribute itself after I took it off the loom and put it through the wash. (And I literally threw it in the wash with a bunch of other clothes and dried it on medium heat in the dryer. Like I said, I show acrylic yarns no mercy.)
I love it when something looks a little more complicated than it actually is. I had some leftover yarn from a Christmas gift I had knit and I really liked the yarn too much to leave it in my bin of discards. (Who doesn't love Malabrigo, really? Can't leave that laying around.) Even though I have been warned against weaving with single-ply for warp, I decided I'd risk it and try out a houndstooth cowl idea I had bouncing around my brain. Rigid heddles are more forgiving of single-ply and handspun yarns than their shaft counterparts (though it's not impossible to use either on a shaft-loom...if it were, there would have been centuries of naked people in history). Rigid heddle looms put yarn under less tension and often, because of the plastic heddle, are a little less abrasive to the fiber.
I warped my 15" Cricket using the full width of the heddle. I warped a 2x2 color scheme, meaning I had two teal feather warp threads then two natural warp threads all the way down the heddle. Then, with the same two colors for the weft, I had a 2x2 scheme weaving, as well. Two picks teal than two picks natural. Because there was a color change ever two picks, it was not practical to cut the thread each time, so I carried the colors. (Sometimes, if you have more than a few picks, a carry can look messy or cause a loop that can get caught on things. I found that with the 2 picks, the float carried up the side for each color change was minimal.) Tip: Choose one color on your bobbin or shuttle stick to place "in front." For me, my natural color was always the shuttle closest to my fell line. When it was not in use, I rested it either in my lap or on my woven fabric. When I was done with the teal shuttle stick I always placed it behind the natural shuttle stick before picking up and weaving with the natural color. This created a consistent look with my floats along the side of my woven fabric because the carries always overlapped each other in the same way.
I am an advocate of hemstitching fabric. Even if I plan on doing a folded hem or seam later, a hemstitch at the beginning and end of your fabric really helps hold things together when you take it off the loom. For this cowl, I ended up sewing a zigzag stitch along the hemstitch and then completely removing any fringe before folding the ends under and sewing a hem with my sewing machine. Then, with both ends neatly hemmed, I used a tapestry needle and some extra Malabrigo to seam the two hemmed ends together mattress stitch style.
I am pleased with the results. I think it was a great use of extra yarn and I had no problems with the single-ply warp.
The hank featured at the top of the image was created from an art batt created by Purple Lamb. I had two "Anduril" art batts of approximately 2 oz each. It was my first attempt at spinning a mixture of fibers and decided to do a short forward draft from the fold. I spun two bobbins, one batt for each, and then plied them together. The result was a beautiful fingering weight yarn with a nice glossy finish and a lovely drape. I gifted all three of these yarns to my mom as stocking stuffers for Christmas.
Next up is my dive into some art yarn. With another art batt from Purple Lamb called "Rainy Day," I spun a rather careless single (intentionally...I wanted thickish parts and thin parts without a lot of organization.) I then took some commercially spun wool and make a super coil yarn by holding my "Rainy" single perpendicular to the wool running through the orifice. I allowed the "Rainy" to wrap around the wool and then pushed the resulting wrap up, making the coils tight and close together. I think this will look interesting in a weaving project I have in mind. I will say it is a little labor intensive for a very low yield of finished yarn, but it is very funky and fun. I do not have a picture here, but I also spun a true thick and thin art yarn with my thick bits being spaced at regular intervals.
Last up for today's post is my subtle gradient yarn, which finished at about a sport weight. I did a short forward draft on a 4 oz Malabrigo roving (merino) called "Glitter." (The name is a little deceiving, there is no glitter in the traditional sense to be seen in this colorway, but it does have nice metallic hues without the shine.) Before I began, I divided the wool up into color groups. The dye on the roving was such that there were no big sections of any particular shade (light, medium or dark) but I sort of went for averages. This meant there were some dark bits that got in the light, and vice versa. I liked it, though, it made for a dynamic and very subtle color shift. Once I completed the single I did a chain ply to create a very nice pseudo 3-ply yarn. In this way, I was able to maintain my color groupings without having to worry if separate bobbins of singles would line up properly. Even with the chain ply I was able to get 200 yards of yarn.
So...that's what has been coming off my wheel lately. Next up, I think, will be some beehives. Woohoo. I'm learning lots while having fun, and that's pretty awesome. I'd love to hear about what you're making!
All projects I knit are knit with love, but sometimes a project comes along that is extra special and seems to stitch in a little more of me than expected. Sometime last winter, I want to say February-ish, I started a sweater for my husband. I was so happy because he actually asked me to knit it- I wasn't inflicting my weird obsession with fiber on him, he really wanted a sweater and he really wanted me to make it. I am happy to report I finished it...before the new year, even. (Yes, yes, I appreciate it, but you can stop cheering for me now.) I am even happier to report that we survived the sweater curse. Apparently it's a thing- you knit a sweater for your partner and your relationship falls to pieces before it's done. But I will say, I think knitting something for someone so close to me is what made this project so special. My husband and I have had a difficult year; not in our relationship but more just life things coming up and slapping us in the face. And through it all I worked on the sweater. I look at the finished work and I see in the cables each of the trials we faced this year. Every section has some memories that are very specific to, let's say, just the left sleeve or the collar. With it all said and done, this 2017 sweater project makes me feel proud. Proud because all of those intertwined cables that represent our challenges have made us stronger and that despite some of the upsets we faced, we are together and we are strong. (Also, there is some personal pride because it was probably one of the more technically difficult knits I've tackled.) I love my husband and his sweater is filled with that love.
As for the pattern itself, it is lovely. I really like the cable work that Ms. Anikeeva includes in her designs. She does a beautiful job, too, of making lovely men's knitwear that is also masculine. While there are delicate components and a lot of pattern and interest, the overall appearance of this sweater is very "man." It is balanced, the cable work is not overdone. (I have seen some sweaters where the cable work is absolutely stunning, but there is so much of it crammed together that it makes me a little dizzy. This cardigan did not have that problem.)
I chose to use KnitPicks Wool of the Andes Tweed in "Flagstone Heather." It was a nice yarn to work with, but the main reason I chose it is because a sweater, especially a men's sweater, needs A LOT of yarn. I was trying not to make the first sweater I knit for my husband cost almost $300 in supplies, and the KnitPicks yarn was a nice option that was also economical. I am sure one day I will knit a $300 sweater, but this was not that day. I really loved the pattern in tweed, though. (I'm a sucker for sweaters in tweed.)
Summary: This cardigan has great cable work. It has a balanced appearance and the pattern is well written and clear. I even got to try some new techniques, like a tubular cast-on. The collar is also great, it is bulky and warm, worked in short rows to build height around the neck. I would recommend this project for someone who is comfortable with cables, patient, and has some experience with garment knitting. The difficulty rating on this pattern is "intermediate" and I think that's pretty accurate.
I LOVE (yes, all capital L-O-V-E) Melanie Berg's shawls. They are really beautiful. How she plays with textures and colors is really remarkable and the finished product is a sophisticated, modern wrap/shawl that is really easy to dress up or down. They are fresh and fun yet elegant and mature. Just as the colors often present surprising juxtapositions, so do her designs. LOVE them.
With that said...this shawl took me an absolute age to finish. I thought it was going to be one of those quick knits that take a casual month of knitting- I was wrong. I do not mean to scare away any tepid knitters out there, it is not a complicated pattern, nor would it take an exorbitant amount of time to complete if you were not working on twelve other things at the same time. It is actually what I would call a zen pattern- once you get the gist of what you are doing, you do not have to think about it too much; you can just enjoy the experience of knitting. However, it is knit in a fingering/sport weight yarn and it a full-sized shawl. Those two things made it take longer than I expected, but I just did not pay close enough attention and should have known better.
The construction of the shawl is really fun. With the stripes all being the same 18 rows but growing in length and the addition of the eyelet wedges, the shape is asymmetric and funky but the drape is very nice on the body. It has a natural curl to it that lends itself to wrapping around your neck and staying in place. The wedges are created with short rows, but they are the least fussy short rows I have ever seen. You simply knit to the indicated spot and then turn your work and knit the other way- no wrapping, no picking up stitches on your next pass. See, no fuss. Working a short row in this way would typically create a little hole or gap in your knitting, but since this is an eyelet wedge, the little hole created fits right in to the texture of the knit. Very convenient. Ms. Berg, you sly fox, you.
I made this particular shawl for my mother as a Christmas present, which is why I chose the green color palette with a splash of wintery white. I used the Brown Sheep Company Lambs' Pride Superwash Sport, which I reviewed some time ago, which can be seen here. I really like the finished feel of the shawl, it maintains the flow of the design but has a sort of durable feel to it that suggests it will last through many wears and keep my mom's neck nice and warm. (Bonus: It can be washed.) It might be a little scratchy for some people's taste, but it really softens after blocking. And when I say scratchy, I do not want to suggest it feels like someone's five o'clock shadow rubbing against your neck- it's just not as soft as, let's say, merino.
Summary: I really love this shawl. It was an easy and straightforward pattern with a great result. It is very appropriate for a knitter who has the basics under their belt and wants a new challenge. However, it is not boring for a seasoned knitter to tackle, either. I guess that's part of the wonder and miracle of Ms. Berg's designs. Do not make the mistake I made and think it is a quick knit, though!
This was a really fun project. I knit it for my mom for her birthday. The special part is that we were able to go to a yarn store together and she picked out the color she liked and saw a completed sample that she loved. It made me feel more confident that this was something she would like once I had finished knitting it. (I know people tend to appreciate receiving hand knit items and usually "love" them because you made it, but it is always nice to know when someone aesthetically likes what it is you've created.)
I had never heard of a ponchini prior to this pattern- and honestly I think they might be a wonderful original from StevenBe. However, if you, too, had never heard of this little beastie, I will try to describe what the garment is. Like a poncho, it can be worn draped over the shoulder with your arms still underneath (as shown on the dress form). However, it is not as large as a traditional poncho and it is shaped somewhere between a poncho and an infinity scarf. It is knit as though it is a scarf or wrap, but then the top end is seamed to the side of the bottom, creating a sort of triangular loop. Perhaps I have confused the matter more for you, and for that, I apologize. It is a unique garment that has a lot of flexibility in fit and is very flattering to a range of figures.
We chose a lovely purple color palette with the recommended yarn, going with the "Nightshade" gradient yarn from Cascade and the "Prune" mohair/silk from Ito Sensai. Both yarns are beautiful by themselves, but together the change is astounding. The drape and feel of the combination is really wonderful. The ponchini is so soft and touchable.
Now, I am a girl who loves to block. It's like magic to me- especially when I'm blocking lace or eyelets and you really get to see the "bloom." This project really came to life after the blocking, but it had to be steam blocked and pinned opposed to a traditional soak. Not a huge hassle really, but you do have to have an iron with a steam setting or a garment steamer handy. So when I say it felt like work, I just mean it was a little out of the normal way for me. But it was not difficult and the instructions in the pattern were very detailed for this important step. (The instructions for blocking were just about as long as the pattern instructions.)
Dyeing with Stuff in My Kitchen (and Backyard)
My end goal is to develop a palette of colors I like that I can grow, tend, collect in my own home. With a little internet research, there were three things I readily had on hand that I could start my dyeing experiments with in earnest. Those things were coffee, onion skins, and acorns. I will say, it was a lot of fun, but I definitely need to refine my technique when using these super raw and natural dyes. I'll take you on the pictorial journey first.
I feel delightfully like a witch with a cauldron when I'm trying out these experiments with wool and dye. This is not a tutorial page, so I will not bore you with too many details, but I will share some of the most notable discoveries I had. Also, I made sure to soak all of my fiber in a vinegar or citric acid bath prior to dyeing. I used heat with all of the dyes and with the acorns and onion skins I made what I like to think of as a "dye tea" by boiling the materials in water, then straining off the solid bits before adding my wool.
First, my coffee needs to be stronger. Also, we make cold brew and I had a bunch on hand that I used in my crock pot, but I think I need to go more of the hot steeped coffee for this one. I am not sure if it will make a difference, but I thought about it after I dyed my wool- cold brew has lower acidity than its hot counterpart. Worth investigating. I left the wool draped in the coffee for a gradient affect, which worked, but not as well as I wanted. More coffee, too? Not sure, but I'll do this one again and find out.
I need more onion peels. I realize I don't have a picture of my onion wool, and for that I am sorry. But I can tell you it was a very pale peachy color. It's nice in its own way, but I want more of the vibrant golden brown I know onion peels can produce. I exhausted the dye bath, so I worked what I had, but the color was not deep or golden. So...more onion peels.
Acorns by themselves seemed to produce an awful brown color. I like brown. Brown is nice. This brown was not nice. Then I read that adding iron oxide will get you the promised black color from acorns. So, halfway through the process, I tossed a rusty wrench in my pot. What did I have to lose? Not super precise, but I just wanted to see what would happen. Sure enough, it went black! Or dark grey, let's not exaggerate. I left my wool in the nearly boiling bath for a total of two hours. My Merino felted. Oops. Perhaps I agitated the water too much, especially after adding that wrench. However, the Corriedale seemed to make it out okay.
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I also purchased a starter kit of Greener Shades dyes. (I am trying to be responsible with my dyeing, though I know the process is not footprint free.) These were tons of fun and way easier than the dyes I was extracting from my own stuff. But that makes sense, right? Who would buy a dye kit that kinda sorta worked on your first try? Those Greener Shades people know what they're doing, though. I really loved how vibrant the colors turned out. Gives me something to strive for with my homemade dyes. (I do realize I have a long way to go.)
I tried a tonal green affect, which turned out great. And then I hand painted some wool with pleasing results. I haven't gotten to it yet, but next I will try a solid colorway. I am trying to keep meticulous notes, so recreation of these rovings is also a goal.
Needless to say, I am having a lot of fun tinkering with dyes. I've begun spinning some of my dyed wool, too, which I'm really excited to share with you. I want to keep improving with my home dyes, but I am very pleased with the results from the commercial dyes, too. The vibrancy is really great. So, until I get myself up to snuff with acorns and flowers, I will probably continue to use both.
I received my last YarnBox Luxe in September and it contained the beautiful thick and thin handspun yarn from Knit Collage. How perfect, right? I am currently obsessed with spinning and my last box of surprise luxury yarn is handspun! It made me smile in a way that only yarn can. Oh, squishy goodness, how I love you.
With this beautiful new yarn and some size US 15 needles, I got right to work making something. It was a great pleasure that I was designing what I was making, too. It is an ambition of mine to get serious about designing knitwear. I have all of these ideas bouncing around in my head and I know I can do it. (Whether anyone likes it is another issue, but I'm going to tackle one thing at a time here.) I started dabbling with design before my first son was born- but then loud, obnoxious screeching breaks were put on that I'm just starting to realize were a little (not completely, let's be fair) self-imposed. Granted, two toddlers do not leave a lot of time for anybody or anything else, but there are plenty of people with limited time that chase dreams. And part of this whole thing is because I love fiber and part of this is because I want to build a little something for myself that is not necessarily connected with me being a mother. I love being a stay-at-home mom, I feel lucky in many respects, but it is not a career. Eventually my children will grow up and start their own journeys away from the nest following their own interests. I want to start building something now that will sustain me and give me satisfaction and purpose beyond rearing children.
And I love fiber.
Lately, I've kicked my little butt in gear and I'm excited to start sharing with you some of what I've been doing. Like really excited. I have a lot that I'm working on to fulfill this ambition of mine and I'm loving it. I have to remind myself it is a slow simmer, and that's okay, as long as I'm still moving forward.
This was a nice confidence building project. It knit up quickly, it was funky, chunky and fun. I was able to write up the pattern, take some pictures (with the help of my littlest...perhaps I should invest in a tripod. I could put my tiny helper in charge of some other aspect of my project, one that is a little less dropable) and put together a completely finished product that I was proud of without feeling overwhelmed, drained, or defeated. All good things. I especially like the name of the cowl: "Through Thick and Thin." Yes, it's supposed to be punny, but it is also a good description of my relationship with fiber crafts. They get me through a lot. And now that this is done, I'm looking at my swatches and beginnings of other designs and a little voice in my head is saying; "You can do this," with a little more confidence. I've begun submitting ideas, too. I know there is a lot of rejection ahead of me. I can handle rejection, I just can't handle defeat. And for the past couple of years, I have been defeating myself just a bit. That's no example to set for my children.
So, tally-ho! Off I go. Chasing a dream, trying to build something and excited to see where it goes.
Confession time: I have entered into a new long-term relationship. It's all happened so fast. It's exhilarating, it's intense, it's scary at times but always fun. I have fallen deeply, passionately in love with...spinning. I just can't get enough of it. I feel it has deepened my understanding of my other fiber crafts and that it is elevating me as a fiber artist and, in a weird zen-like way, as a person. Intense, right?
Whew, it feels good to get that out there in the open.
Anyway, yes, I find that I enjoy spinning. A lot.
Oh, there's more. After this, I got some polworth combed top and tried a short-forward pinch and release. (I don't know if that is the official way to describe it, but that is what I did, so that is what I'm typing.) Then, just for kicks, I tried a chain-ply. I didn't actually produce a lot of yardage from this endeavor, so I thought a small project would be best. (Turns out chain-plying sucks up your singles like whoa.) I haven't started them, but this darling number is going to be woven into little mug-rugs with the help of my rigid heddle and some other yarn I have in my stash.
The amount of knowledge I have crammed into my brain in the last few months about fiber has surprised me. I never knew how significant fiber preparation was or that your drafting technique can affect the shine, drape, warmth and strength of your yarn. And then there is the art of balance. Who knew that was a thing? And then there is art yarn. Slow down there, Champ. I honestly am never going to be able to look at yarn the same way again...and that's okay. Yarn has become even more beautiful to me, if you can believe that's possible. I think I might be slowly inching my way into the "weirdo" category, so I will stop while I'm ahead and just give you the summary.
Summary: I like spinning.