I don't need another lace shawl...but this just *fell* off the needles. It's the Lucca Shawl, designed by Jared Flood, in Brooklyn Tweed's Vale. The color is "Barberry." I bought 4 skeins, intending to make a lightweight wool tank out of it, but after swatching, I realized I wouldn't have enough yarn.
Then some unexpected travel came up, and I didn't have any travel knitting. A quick browse through Ravelry told me that I could knit the large version of this shawl with the number of skeins I had, so out came the needles. I was able to get the fiddly bit of the cast on done before hitting the road, and this shawl kept me company through the whole week that I was traveling.
I wanted to get it finished before I went to YarnFest in April, but only managed to get the body of the shawl finished before leaving - there was still the border left to do. That bit dragged on for several weeks - at one point it felt like I must be almost finished, but every time I counted I was only 2/3 of the way through. As these things go.
The interesting thing about this pattern is that there is a small size and a large size - and the only difference is the gauge. The small size is knitted on 3 mm (US size 2.5) needles, and the large is knitted on 4.5 mm (US size 7) needles. Looking at the yarn, I felt like the 4.5 mm needles would be ridiculous, and scaled back to a size 4 mm (US size 6). This ended up using just shy of 3 skeins of yarn, and makes me sneakily suspicious that the "large" size was engineered to sell an additional skein of yarn. Regardless, I enjoyed working with the yarn immensely, as I always do with Brooklyn Tweed.
I took the extra skein and overdyed it - but that's a different post entirely.
Ravelry project page here.
I want to say that it's amazing when a project goes from idea to finished object with little to no effort. I mean, I guess it is amazing, and I'd love for it to happen all the time, but part of the process is all that effort. And we have to be open to changes to our ideas.
This ruana started with a photograph last fall:
I'd been walking along, loving the fall colors, and looked down to see all these leaves at my feet. Originally, I'd thought these colors and shapes would make an excellent colorwork sweater. Then I started my stash sweater, with a very different concept, and this photograph has been sitting on my phone ever since.
Sometime in mid-January, I had a lightbulb moment and realized I could dye all the colors I needed. You know, cause I sell my own hand-dyed yarn and all that. In retrospect, it seems obvious, but it was a lightbulb moment at the time.
Anyways, I was a bit daunted by the sheer number of colors in this photograph - they're more or less analagous, but there are so many different shades. Which ones to choose? I launched a couple of different free online color palette generators, and picked my favorite set of colors. I like the generators that give you a bunch of colors, not just three to five. With a swatch printout of 15 colors, I circled my favorite 6. At this point, I was still thinking I was making a sweater, and I tried to get a range of values so there would be enough light/dark contrast to make the colorwork visible.
I started guessing at dye recipes, aiming for a gold, a brown, and a red. For each recipe I used, I dyed at DOS (Depth of Shade) 2, 1, and .1. Then I evaluated the colors I wound up with - some were surprising to me in a wonderful way, and others made me wonder "what was I thinking?"*
All of my samples were 10 grams - enough to get a good picture of the color, and a usable amount of yarn, but not a waste if I hated it. All were dyed with combinations of Greener Shades Blue, Flame Red, and Yellow. Each color has at least a little bit of each.
My decision to do this was based on a natural dyer who told me that no plant dyes are one pure color - they all contain a little bit of all colors, which is why most natural dyes are harmonious with each other. Since my original inspiration was plants, I figured I might as well see what happened. Many dyers are obsessed with pure, bright colors these days, but I was trying to get a deep and nuanced color.
As you can see above, my first round of dyeing didn't yield all reds, golds, and browns. Looking back at the dye recipes I used, it now seems obvious that green or purple would have been the result, but I had plenty of surprises coming out of the dyepot.
I pulled together the colors that were what I was aiming for, with a printout of the original photograph for reference, and decided that a gradient was the way to go. It was somewhere around here that I got the idea to weave a ruana, with the lightest colors at the center, and the darkest colors at the outside.
With the shift from colorwork sweater to gradient weave, though, I felt there were some gaps in my color gradient, and set about to dye some more colors. In the end, I used 14 different colors for the warp.
I also decided that there would be main colors and intermediate colors - not every stripe is the same width, and even among the dominant/supporting stripes, very few of them are the same width. I felt like this would bring an organic quality to the progression. I made a loose plan for how many warp ends each color would be, mostly so I wouldn't waste yarn during the dyeing process.
Then I set about to warping my loom, and only loosely followed my warping plan. My original warp was 23.5" wide in my 24" wide table loom. I dyed my weft yarn (which is slightly thinner than the warp). The warp was sett at 12 ends per inch, and I wove the weft at 12 ends per inch as well. I wove off a sample piece of fabric and wet finished it to make sure everything was perfect.
I mean, I loved the fabric. It did almost exactly what I thought it was going to do. But the colors...Can you see where the yellow/orange meets the beige? There's a pretty distinct stripe there. And at the far right, where the dark brown meets what looks like black. Everywhere else, the gradient fades in and out of itself. On the loom, it was harder to see. Off the loom, I felt like it stuck out like a sore thumb. I sat with this piece for a couple of weeks, knowing that I'd need to dye a few more colors to even out those spots.
Plus, I was a little bit worried that the weft was too orange/yellow for my face. I asked at a guild meeting and got split responses, so I decided to ask my mother, who was conveniently in town. You know, for such a major design choice!
Anyways, I dyed the in-between colors, and inserted them into the warp, which involved a little bit of surgery - my final warp ended up using the whole 24" reed, instead of just 23.5", and I had to move a bunch of the taupe warp ends over. But, it was definitely worth it to get an even color gradation.
Then it was time to weave. Based on how long my original warp was (6 yards), the length of my sample, the shrinkage in wet finishing on my sample, and my estimate for waste, I was operating on a pretty tight margin. I played with the calculator (again and again and again) and decided that I would weave 70 inches, leave 10 inches unwoven for fringe, and then weave another 70 inches.
Honestly, it was a bit of a nailbiter...As I finished weaving the first half, I thought I'd have plenty of yarn...and as I came to the end I worried I wouldn't have enough. As luck would have it, I had just enough. The last few inches were tricky, and I did end up switching to a damask shuttle to make my life easier, but there was enough left over that weaving the last few inches wasn't terrible, and not so much that I felt like I should have woven the piece longer.
After hemstitching and cutting down from the loom, it was time to fix mistakes. There weren't that many, but there were a few, and I've learned that it's better to look for them early on in the game rather than after everything is wet-finished and the mistakes are harder to fix.
And after fixing the mistakes, it was time to seam down the back and twist fringe. I decided to make the fringe in the back longer than the fringe in the front. The fringe in the back was basically the waste yarn from tying on to the front and back apron rods, and the fringe in the front was the unwoven gap between each piece.
Anyways, to decide where the seam should end, I folded the pieces in half, with the edges of the fringe matching up to each other, instead of the edges of the cloth. Then, I started the seam about an inch below where it would end, seamed up to the end, and then worked my way back down. That way, the part at the neck opening had a reinforcement that will hopefully protect it from wear and tear.
Twisting fringe was an epic odyssey that felt like it was going to last forever. (In reality, about 5-6 hours.) But once that was done, it was time for wet finishing. I put the ruana in a tub of warm water with a color catcher while I went off to my Tai Chi class. When I came back home, I toyed with the idea of wet-finishing entirely by hand, but the weight of the thing was intimidating to me. I swished it through some hot water again with some woolwash, then threw it in the dryer for about 20 minutes with a dry towel. After 20 minutes, it needed about 5 more minutes until it was the size and texture I was expecting.
Once I took it out of the dryer, I gave it a bit of a press with my iron, set to wool/silk with no steam, to get some of the extra moisture out. I let it sit overnight to dry fully, and then trimmed the edges of the fringe.
I'm super pleased with the result...and I think there might be a few more ruanas in my future. It would be easy to say that this piece practically made itself, but that wouldn't be true. There were lots of design choices and little hiccups along the way. What matters is that the whole process was enjoyable and that I have a finished product that I know I'll enjoy.
*I've since found a much better way to figure out a starting point for dye recipes. Alanna Wilcox describes it all here.
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.
Four years ago, I lost this shawl. This is the last picture I have of me wearing it. I suspect I lost it getting off a tour bus somewhere in Tuscany.
I've been trying to replace it ever since.
It was my first experience in charted lace, and it was a lesson in how much lace expands when you block it. It was huge, and I loved it.
Of course, being the overachiever I am, I want it to be the same but different. Mostly, I want the same colors, a blend of browns, greens, and aqua that reads as mostly dark green.
When I started spinning, I decided I just HAD to handspin the replacement yarn. I started with this yarn, loving the colors in the braid but thinking the colors were just too light in the finished yarn. Then I tried again, plying a darker green with a merino/silk combination. It was darker, but I had long bright green stripes popping up all over the place, even though I tried to blend the colors together while spinning. It just wasn't what I was going for.
This time, I decided to try something different.
I took ten one-ounce braids of combed BFL top and blended the colors together. The colorways are "Mallard" and "Outlaw" from Greenwood Fiber Works and purchased at two different fiber festivals over the last year. After I bought Mallard, I did some sampling with "confetti" spinning and realized I would be getting much more color differentiation than I wanted. Later I bought Outlaw, and decided to comb the two colors together.
I used my wool combs because I find them faster than hand cards. Even though I usually spin with a woolen draw, I love spinning combed top because it's so smooth. I made sure to leave the combing waste at the back of the combs - maybe it will be incorporated into another project, but not this one. And, of course, I pulled the top through my very favorite Sheepy Diz.
Since that bright green was the offending color in my second attempt to make this yarn, I paid close attention to what it was doing as I combed the colors together. Ultimately, I chose to use about half of the bright green, so that it stands out much less in the final yarn. Plus, as I was spinning, if I came across a section of the bright green that I determined to be too big, I pulled out a big section of it.
Spinning took me several months and lots of bobbins. When each bobbin was about half full, the wheel started to protest. I was using my fastest whorl on my Ashford Traveller, and when a bobbin starts to get heavy, it takes a lot more effort to turn. So I wound onto storage bobbins (with the wonderful help of electricity!).
I had been hinting and hoping for an electric wheel to help me with plying, but one has not materialized in my house yet. Wanting to cross another project off the list, I decided to face the music and just do it the old-fashioned way.
And here it is - 9 skeins, 7.5 ounces, and roughly 2,000 yards.
Maybe I should have knitted a swatch before I spun so much to see if I'd like the final yarn, but I do think this is much closer to what I had in mind than any of my previous attempts. There's only one way to tell. On to knitting!
Ravelry page here
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