Archive | February, 2012

Just another red sweater

29 Feb

…in what seems like a long line of them.  “A red sweater” seems like my default knitting project, but red is my favorite color, so voilà.
In a yarn store, I am statistically more likely to fall for a skein of red than any other possibility, and that is what happened in this case.


I made this pattern up as I went along. I was tempted to write I “designed” it, but to me, “design” indicates some forethought, some planning. What I did was start a top-down in-the-round pullover, and then every few inches I tried it on, and then ripped out what I had knitted if I didn’t like how it was working, and then re-knitted it.  It went through a lot of changes. It had panels of lace, at certain times. The shaping grew and changed. I probably knitted the equivalent of three of these sweaters by the time it was all over. It’s so different from my original “design” that in fact, had I made it as first conceived in my imagination, there in the yarn store…it would have been a hat and mittens.

I even purchased the buttons with the brim of a hat in mind.  Get a look at these buttons, they’re one of my favorite parts:

In the spirit of “why buy it when you can make it yourself?”, these buttons are handmade by a local woodworker, from a stick.  I love how the wood is a different shade toward the center, and the raw bark edges.

Other features of this “design” include…

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Crafting Repetition

27 Feb

Knitters talk about “Second Sock Syndrome”, where, once one sock is completed, you just don’t feel any energy or desire to work on the second, and the one sock is left there, forlorn, the pair incomplete. I have Second Sock Syndrome pretty bad, myself. It also manifests as “Second Sleeve Syndrome”.  Many of my sweater projects are short sleeves, to allow for my sleeve impatience, and for my “Que Sera” sweater I compensated by knitting both sleeves at the same time, from two separate skeins of yarn.
The reason, for me personally, is that one of the key things I enjoy about knitting is the process of discovery along the way: this  is how this stitch motif works up, here is how you adjust it for decreases, here is how you bring the shoulder together with the sleeve. It’s like a puzzle, and once I’ve uncovered the process, the puzzle is “solved” in my head, and to repeat it all over again, stitch for stitch, seems as appealing to  me as working the same crossword puzzle twice to a crossword aficionado. I already know how it all fits together!

I know there are as many ways to think about knitting as there are knitters, but for me, the puzzle component is essential  to my enjoyment. I rarely knit the same thing twice, and if I do, I make dramatic changes–a completely different fiber or weight, or adding in new details to the design.
Now, I’m discovering that this need for a puzzle and the “Second Sock Syndrome” is extending to my sewing, as well.  Yes, I made five different versions of my Wear the Shift pattern. But each one was a variation on the theme, and that amplified the “puzzle” rather than diminish it: how does the pattern work, on a stretch fabric? How does it work with this sleeve, with a back zipper, with a collar, with different darts?  The puzzle was ongoing, and intrigue built into the process.

Where SSS affects my sewing most is with muslins. I understand, intellectually, the usefulness of mocking up a pattern before cutting into your good, expensive fabric. I particulary think it’s good when venturing into whole new realms of garment construction, and I have two underway, right now: one for my blazer project and one for my cape jacket.

And this is where my sewer’s “Second Sock Syndrome”  kicks in full blast.  I’m puzzling through the process, and rather than a finished item to be proud of, all I end up with is a muslin pattern with marks all over it. And while it may be nice to take that pattern and find good fabric to make it in, part of my brain has already galloped off singing “Tra, la la, what ELSE might I make today? Something new and exciting, that I’ve never made before!”

When offered the choice between finishing up that muslin for once and for all, and then making the entire thing over again one more time, or finding a brand-new pattern and starting afresh on something undiscovered, my personality is such  that I will choose the new thing, nearly every time. So my muslin blazer mock-up lies partially finished in a laundry basket, like so many singleton socks in my collection.

Yes, my real blazer muslin has only one sleeve, too. It’s as if my “Second Sleeve” problem from knitting crashed my sewing party with a vengeance. Usually by the time I set the sleeves into a sewing project, I’m rolling down the home stretch in my mind, envisioning wearing my garment out in the world, happily anticipating the conclusion. But for the muslin, that first sleeve loomed so large, the first of four I would have to sew before I would ever have a wearable blazer, that I haven’t yet even been able to move on to the second.

Maybe there is no cure. It’s possible that this is just part of my crafting personality that I will have to perpetually take into account when lining up new projects: I have a limited attention span, and little patience for repetition, and that will shape my sewing projects as much as it has always shaped my knitting.


American Craft Favorites: 2

26 Feb

Nichole Deponte‘s work is not for shrinking violets. She makes statement piece accessories from men’s neckties–are they scarves? Are they necklaces? I’m not sure, but they wrap around your neck, and they’re beautiful.

It’s funny, because the first thing I thought of when I saw Deponte’s work was this pin, that I’d pinned on Pinterest:

It showed how a simple necktie could be turned into a feminine, ruffled, neck piece. And yet, what I love most about Deponte’s “Lilian Asterfield” line is that although it stems from a common cultural meme, it takes the common idea and pushes it further than anyone else has done and does it elegantly and with great workmanship. Again, there’s that push-pull relationship of competing thoughts: “It’s just neckties, you can do this yourself” and then, as you peer closer and see what’s really going on, there, “No, way, look what she’s done with those neckties!”
The more you look, the more you see.

I’ve done work with upcycled men’s neckties, myself (more on that later) and again, Deponte’s art stood out to me because it was not easily duplicated. For starters, she uses really nice ties. They’re good quality, and she uses a lot of them: one ruffled neck piece might have three ties in it, but when they’re all the same color, you don’t notice at first. And then she puts them together. I’m sure it’s fun to fold and ruffle ties, but I also know from looking that it’s going to take a lot of time before I  could ever “fold and ruffle” to the extent that she has. So many quirky variations! And then on top of that, she adds bits of lace and buttons and other embellishments, and they’re all sewn together quite well. These ties are flashy and fun, but they’re also well-made down to the details.

I think this product line is a good illustration of how, as crafters, we often have a choice: we can wrap our arms tightly around our ideas defensively and say “I thought of this, first!” or, like Deponte, we can rework ideas, improve upon them, and get so deeply rooted into the artistry of it that we run, leaping and skipping ahead of the pack, making with pleasure and wild abandon until what we’ve created has value far beyond that of the original idea.  She hasn’t “inspired” me to make a tie scarf, myself, or copy her idea (no, I want one of hers, preferably one of the striped ones that look so very modern-Downton Abbey) but Deponte has inspired me to look farther than just follow-the-directions when I see an intriguing idea, lying around.

American Craft Council Favorites, 1

26 Feb

My hands-down favorite clothing vendor at the ACC show was Teresa Maria Widuch.

Widuch makes jackets in wool felt and ultrasuede: simple, sculptural jackets with crisply cut raw edges of fabric stiff enough to stand up like paper. Indeed, at first glance one might have thought the booth held paper cut-outs  of clothing. The colors were pure and vivid: fuchsia and citron, smooth, even colors that let the shapes stand out  and highlighted the three-dimensional forms by emphasizing the cast shadows across the surfaces.


They look, at first glance, deceptively simple: a raglan sleeve here, a rounded collar there. But this is yet another instance where a “simple” look comes from a myriad of perfect details, all lined up to deceive the eye into reading the whole, “simplicity”, rather than each of the details on their own.


I’ve never seen anything like these.  I’ve never seen anything constructed quite like them, either–the pieces are put together like sculpture, not like clothing. And there are no two alike. I don’t know how many I looked at (nearly every one there, I think) and each one offered a slightly different shape or variation from all the others. Some (like the red example, above) had an inner part that serves like a vest, under the opened petals of lapels. Many had asymmetrical collar lapels, wrapping differently on the left than on the right.  Some had decorative design details cut out, some had toggles or closures and others just fall open smoothly. All of them are based on traditional jacket forms–blazer, kimono, cape, etc., but none is quite straightforward. This is a great example of how, crafty and clever as I might think I could be, I know that I could not duplicate this effect in my own workroom, for any amount of trying, at least not without spending far more for materials and effort than the finished jackets themselves cost. (You see, I’ve tried ultrasuede!) And I think it’s because I sew, myself, that I appreciate this all the more.  Because I know where the seams usually go, on a blazer or jacket, that I notice how the traditional seams are moved or missing, and  all the different variations Widuch has made to design a garment that looks like and yet nothing like what we expect from a jacket.

There’s something almost existential about these that I love. They’re sculptures: art pieces that comment on the “essence of jackets”, perhaps. Sculptures about clothing that double as actual, wearable clothing.  And they’re quite chic when worn, as well: they have their own dimensionality and stand out and away from the body, and yet their  shapes are as conscious of the shapes of human bodies that fill jackets as they are about jackets, and thanks to carefully angled darts and seams they look quite gracious when modeled.

One day, perhaps, when I return to buying clothing that other people have made, I may find that it takes something this dramatic, this chic to make it worth my while to go shopping. And wouldn’t this be a handsome acquisition, to a handmade wardrobe?


The Art of Handcrafting

25 Feb

This weekend I was fortunate to attend the American Craft Council show. Because of this project, I paid particular attention to the textile artists, clothiers and designers.

I am tempted to call it “inspirational” but what I felt most, looking at the fine handcrafted work of others, was quite different from inspiration. I think of “inspiration” as when I feel the need and impulse to run home and try out something for myself–it’s what I feel, often, when looking at pictures of runway fashion shows, for example. Or knitted items in retail stores. What I felt, however, looking at the work of these artists was quite different from that. So often, whether it was a craft I can do myself (like sewing) or one I’ve never tried (like furniture making), what I felt was more like awe. Awe and admiration, that someone had thought of this. That someone had tried it with this twist, or had perfected it to that level. And rather than wanting to run home and try out each process myself, I found myself feeling grateful, instead: grateful that someone had demonstrated that this could be done, and done so beautifully. I realized that while I do want to make a lot of things (like my clothing), I don’t need to make everything and yet, fortunately, for many things I really like, there is probably someone making it by hand, and making it very beautifully.

Teapot by Michael Scarborough

Teapot by Michael Scarborough

The craft vendors that I loved the most were the ones to whom I wanted to say “I couldn’t possibly make this, myself–but wow, you have done it, and done it so splendidly, I will never need to.”

I like to say “the world is full of beautiful things”, and this weekend I feel overstuffed with beautiful things. I will post a few of my favorite “finds” from the show, to share with you, here.

Pants, Pants, and more Pants

21 Feb

I don’t wear pants very often.

It’s not a rule, per se, or a thing that I do, intentionally, wearing only skirts (although I’m a great fan and admirer of the No Pants! blog.)

I just figured out a while ago that in all photos of me taken anywhere, I prefer the way I look in skirts and dresses to pants, and since then, I’ve tried out various theories, in the following progression of thought:
1) Pants are particularly difficult to fit on MY body, and I just need to find the right styles and stick to those.

(and I drew this little sketch to illustrate it.)
2) I’m actually not really sure how to fit pants, and many of the ones I buy simply don’t fit very well, and I just squeeze myself into them, not knowing the difference, having quite likely spent my entire life thus far in ill-fitting pants.

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Life’s too short for “hum-drum”

19 Feb

This is my new kimono-styled jacket, made of fabric recycled from other garments I owned, and then chopped up into pieces:

I finished it yesterday, after a week of sewing, and today I wore it out and about into the world. A woman commented “You clearly have a very unique taste.” I laughed. “Unique”, along with its partner “interesting”, is one of those words non-crafters often use to politely say “Good god, what are you wearing?”
But this time, the compliment was sincere. The woman continued “You don’t see things like that, very often. Mostly you see the same old hum-drum grey and tan and black, over and over again.  It’s so nice to see a departure, for a change.”
My jacket is certainly a departure from the “hum-drum”, and making it has been a delightful, although sometimes trying, process.

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Sewing vs. Knitting

16 Feb

(Not that it’s a competition, because both are so fabulous.)  But they are not interchangeable.

And they are completely different exercises to undertake.

At first, when I started knitting, I thought it was so much more tedious than sewing. After all, sewing is relatively quick: If you have the right piece of fabric, you can often turn it into a three-dimensional garment with the addition of a few well-placed seams. Whip, whip! You have a skirt. The fabric does most of the work.  Whereas, with knitting, one builds the fabric stitch by stitch. And when you have built it and built it, stitch upon stitch, you then have…pieces of fabric, which you still get to sew together to create a garment.  All that work, and the knitter ends up with another version of what the savvy seamstress cuts from a bolt in a fabric store.

But then I kept knitting….and knitting, and knitting. And I learned that what knitting has going for it is that it doesn’t require such focus. I can knit and talk at the same time. Knit in a moving vehicle, knit and watch a movie. I’ve even knitted at poker games.  I’m not saying that it can’t be done, setting a sleeve or inserting a flat-fell seam while playing Texas hold’em…but, well, I’ll say it can’t be done by me. Most parts of sewing require a fair bit of mental attention–and sewing projects are often less than portable. The actions of sewing take up space all their own. I traipse from cutting table to sewing machine and then back out into my hallway, where I set up my ironing board, to press the most recent seam.  It’s hard even to have someone in the room to carry on a conversation, while I’m turning this way and that, walking about, running the sewing machine and mumbling around the pins in my mouth.  Hence, sewing’s comparatively asocial.  It likes a room of its own and some good music in the background.

As I balance the two, I notice it becomes a question not of what project is most alluring to me on any given day, but of what structure my day has. Do I have some free time to spend alone, in my home, trotting back and forth from pressing to stitching? Or am I on the move today, with only moments free riding the bus? Or maybe, today, my real focus is spending time watching Downton Abbey, and “creativity” of any sort will be only my secondary pastime.

Because when I’m busy, and the time for crafting happens only on a train going here or there, or overlaps other activities, I find that the stitch-by-stitch method of production in knitting sometimes make for craft projects that get finished much quicker, in calendar time, no matter how much more labor-intensive they may seem.