I've always had a complicated relationship with shopping for clothes. There's the whole body image thing, for one, and then there's the fact that I rarely fall in love with clothes designed by other people. The print is perfect but the cut is awful. Or vice versa. Or my favorite colors aren't "in fashion" for the season.
Then there's the whole issue of quality - my mother, the sewist, taught me to look at the construction of a garment before even trying it on. In the last twenty years, clothes have gotten a lot more affordable - at the expense of quality. And then there's the fact that I feel a real sense of distress when I see so many clothes lining the racks of a store. Who made them? What conditions were they subjected to? Taking a step back from that, how did the fabric get produced? What is the environmental and human impact of this shirt I'm about to buy?
Most people would just shrug it off - working and environmental conditions are worrying, but we all need clothes, right? Sure, they don't make 'em like they used to, but this is reality, sister. Get over it.
Only, instead of "getting over it," I've been getting more and more concerned about it. In 2015, I was totally on the bandwagon with Slow Fashion October. Since then, I haven't shared quite as much as I did that first year - instead, I've been taking a hard look at my wardrobe. As a knitter and spinner, my knits are in a pretty happy place - I have a pretty solid collection of sweaters to get me through the winter.
As a less intrepid sewer, though, my shirts/tops collection has been looking a little sad. I don't have much in my closet after several moves helped me winnow my wardrobe down to (mostly) only things that I actually wear or really really love. It's amazing how long clothes can actually last - there are a couple of garments in my closet that are starting to show their age.
And since making the transition to self-employment, I'm not needing to dress up every day to look like the boss lady. A special privilege, I know, but more than anything, it's meant a delay in me actually figuring out how to solve this problem. I buy most of my ultra-basics (tank tops, leggings, and a couple of tees, as old things wear out) from Pact Organic Clothing. Beyond that, I've bought a grand total of three shirts, one pair of jeans, and one pair of walking shoes in the last year.
Enter the Willow Tank. I purchased the pattern on a recent trip to Fancy Tiger Crafts. I'd seen the pattern online before, but balked at the price. I didn't want to wait for it to be mailed to me, and no way was I going to print out a pattern to have to tape it all together. No way, no ma'am. I've tried other tank patterns in the past from Simplicity and others, and been terribly unsatisfied with them, but everyone online seems to love Grainline patterns, so I wanted to give it a shot.
The fabric, by the way, isn't from Fancy Tiger, but an old old purchase from Organic Cotton Plus. It's a double gauze in a dark navy.
I made the size 10, even though according to the pattern I probably should give the 12 a go. The 10 fits, but with zero ease at the bust. It's not uncomfortable, and it doesn't have those telltale puckers across the bust that say it's too small, but for my next iteration I might just give the 12 a try after all. I do like how there's not a ton of positive ease in the 10 at the hips, so in the future I might do the 10 at the hips and the 12 at the bust.
I loved Grainline's tutorial on how to do the bias facings - it's something I've done before, but with varying levels of success. I still have room for improvement, and after doing it on this top I feel a lot more confident. The only thing that puzzles me is the dart placement. It seems a little low, but I like the overall fit and shape of the shirt. Does this mean I should keep the dart as it is, or move it about?
On this top, I fudged the length of the hem a bit, and am very pleased that I did. I didn't do any shortening/lengthening in the pattern, but when I got to the hem, I realized that doing it according to the pattern would make the top about an inch shorter than I'd like. Next time, I'll lengthen the pattern by an inch and do the hem the way the pattern calls for, with one exception - I did an extra row of topstitching at the very bottom of the hem. I like the way this looks, and will most likely do it again.
Now the only quandary is this: how do I keep myself from ordering too much fabric and making a dozen of these?
Well, this sweater has been on my "want to knit" list for quite a while, and it wasn't even really on my radar for February projects. And here it is, all finished and wearable and cozy. So much for planning!
I was getting ready to meet up with my mom in Denver, and feeling a little out of sorts about my wardrobe options, when I came down with what I lovingly call "Easter Sunday Syndrome." My mom, an incredible sewist, always had to have a new dress to wear for Easter, Christmas, and other big events. And, like any good procrastinator, she often started the project a little late, and would be putting the finishing touches on her new garment as the rest of us were ready to walk out the door.
I always thought it a little silly when I was a kid- why not wear a perfectly good outfit you already have instead of stressing out so much? Of course, such a thought is a wicked invitation for karma to turn the tables on me.
The Sunday afternoon before my trip, I found myself between projects. Waiting on freshly dyed yarn to dry, without the time to dye more, and not wanting to do anything on my actual to-do list, I pulled out this yarn from my stash. I've had this sweater in my mind for ages, and figured it would be a good practice project for my knitting machine.
I started with Melissa Leapman's new book, 6,000+ Pullover Possibilities. I faithfully took my measurements, swatched, and figured out the pattern. Over the next few days, I made each piece of the sweater. A couple of days before my trip, I seamed the sweater. I was in good shape. All I would have to do was knit the edgings, and I'd have a brand new sweater to wear.
Then I tried it on.
It was huge. As I'd steamed the pattern pieces, I'd thought, am I really that big around? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding no. The sweater had completely left the realm of flattering positive ease, and was positively sacklike. And of course, that natural camel color didn't help.
The only thing to do was rip it out. I re-skeined the yarn, and steamed it on the swift. Then it was back to square one.
This time, I used my actual body measurements in combination with my gauge swatch, plus the measurements from an existing sweater. And, more than a little frustrated by the first book, I turned to Sally Melville's Knitting Pattern Essentials to fill in a few gaps. The second version ended up taking a whole couple of skeins less than the first, and looked much closer to what I expected when I finally laid them out on the blocking mats.
So instead of packing a finished sweater, I was packing freshly-blocked sweater pieces to take with me (after staying up late and waking up early in the race to the finish). At least I had eight hours on the train instead of driving. By the time I got off the train, I was almost done with the ribbing on one sleeve, and picked the sweater up every now and then over the next week.
I'd toyed with the idea of doing brioche or some fancy cables at the cowlneck, but as I got started on it, I was away from my library of stitch dictionaries, and ended up with plain old 1x1 ribbing. Which is just as well, since I've always thought of this sweater in my mind as a super-basic piece. Which is what I have now, just a little bit later than I'd originally planned!
Above is the original sweater I was trying to imitate - a cashmere sweater I bought on sale in college that was mysteriously sized as "one size fits all." It did, in fact, fit me, and I still wear it, though it's a lot tighter around my middle bits than it used to be.
For the camel version, I opted for waist shaping - a little wider at the hips than at the bust, since that's how I'm shaped - and for the back neck to come up a little higher. I'd intended for the camel version to be longer on me than the original, and so I was a bit surprised when I laid one on top of the other. The camel version is actually an inch shorter! The armholes are a bit deeper, and I suspect that I feel like the pink cashmere sweater is too short because it's getting stretched out around my tummy.
This camel sweater is really all about the yarn, and what yarn it is! I used 6 skeins of "Clever Camel," a 100% baby camel yarn. I originally bought it in April of 2016, spurred on by Karen Templer's Channel Cardigan and the promise of 10% off. I bought 10 skeins, thinking the Channel Cardigan or something like it would be luscious, but I'd just finished spinning the yarn for a Corriedale cardigan, and the colors were just too close. I knew I didn't need (or particularly want) two very similarly colored cardigans, so I came up with the idea for a knockoff of my beloved pink cashmere cowlneck tee.
I dutifully made a couple of different swatches, and was amazed by how versatile this yarn is. It looked great at several different gauges, and all were still lusciously soft and pliable. Plus, I carried one of the swatches around with me for several days, subjecting it to all kinds of abrasion, and it wore like a champ. Just the slightest halo and no pills. Part of this magic is because the yarn is composed of 6 plies, which any spinner will tell you helps to reduce pilling.
Of course, the journey from swatch to sweater is filled with many twists and turns, and my initial attempts at this sweater were less than exciting. So really the yarn has been sitting in my stash waiting to become something for at least a year and a half now.
When the thought occurred to me that it would make great practice for the knitting machine, I felt a little sacrilegious. I spent all that money on this soft and smooshy yarn - shouldn't I spend lots of time knitting with it by hand, feeling that sweet baby camel hair slip through my fingers? In the end, I decided it was worse for the yarn to keep sitting in the stash, and that I'd get plenty of time enjoying the yarn when it was made up into a sweater that I could actually wear.
Ironically, the 6 plies that make this yarn fabulous for its anti-pilling properties made it a little bit of a challenge to knit on the knitting machine. There are a couple of snags where stitches split that I need to go back and repair. But overall, I'm thrilled to add this sweater to my wardrobe, and I'm looking forward to more adventures with my knitting machine.
January was both fast and slow. It's a long month, and yet I sometimes find myself wondering where all that time went. As always, lots happened, and the keeping the to-do list under control is an adventure, to say the least.
First, here's what I managed to cross off the January list:
So, with all that done, here's what's on the list for February:
I noticed that the projects I got done in January were mostly for my guild and the blog, and that I didn't do as much on the dyeing front as I would have liked. I'm hoping to course correct for that in February. Luckily, I'm not in charge of putting on any programs this month, so that should help out a bunch, especially since I tend to overprepare!
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