It has been all knit, all the time in 2018. It has been a year of making, designing, selling, wearing, and learning about as many knit things as possible, and it is the most fun I've had at work in a long time.
One of my favorite Instagram discoveries of 2017 was Emily Felix's Unraveling Club, an affordable online course which breaks down the steps necessary to unravel old sweaters into fresh, recycled, knittable yarn.
I have been spending some time setting up my creative space due to our recent move, which has put me in an organizing mood in general. We are experiencing a loss of closets and storage in our new house, which is always challenging. Add maternity supplies, and a pile of breastfeeding-friendly clothing, a second young child and a tight budget to the household mix, and the result is me digging deep and getting back to basics when it comes to managing our stuff.
The newest member of our family is already five weeks old, and there is no doubt that despite my efforts to stay relaxed about everything, I am itching to get stuff done, and to get out and about more than I did when we had our first son.
As a result, when the baby refuses to sleep in the crib, which is common for most of his designated naps, I'm instead walking around with him slung over one arm, seeking tasks that can be accomplished while using the other available hand. I'm learning fast and sometimes take pleasure in this most supreme multi-tasking challenge.
My husband and I have been trying to find our happy place with regard to the holiday season, and it has been a bit of a struggle.
His family seems to under-celebrate, while my family shifts into over-the-top mode. I've seen him look physically pained during the chaos of my family's present-unwrapping free-for-all, while I have been nearly apoplectic at the idea that there is no Christmas Eve champagne-and-appetizer tradition on his side of the aisle.
I agree with him that financial hardship is no way to start the new year, and I am bad at moderation, so I vowed this year I would try harder. Instead of too many expensive presents, and fancy holiday cards, I tried to focus on the helpful and handmade. I did have a little bit of success, in the form of homemade cookies to share, and special but inexpensive gifts for my parents, but even so, the holiday sparkle I sought remained elusive.
I am almost certain that I have mentioned somewhere in earlier posts our family's failure to plan vacation this year. Prior to becoming parents, we did not take frequent vacations, but we did manage to get out of the country to do something interesting once every few years or so. Since becoming parents, we have utterly failed to get away from life, with or without the now-toddler.
After surviving the purchase of our first house, new parenthood, job changes, the sale of the first house and purchase of the second in another state, the cross-country move, and the acclimation of said child into three different daycares throughout that process, we are experiencing a (likely brief) lull in drama. We navigated our first northern winter in four years and it wasn't so bad, so around January or so, I felt that I could power through the rest of winter and be fine without getting away. I was wrong, and by the end of February, I was stir-crazy and in serious need of a change in the routine.
I dislike the phrase "I don't have time for...".
We all experience exactly the same number of hours per day. Every person on this planet. The people that designed Apple's new watch have the same number of hours as the mom who stays home with four kids and the attorney that never sees her kids and the twenty-something with a dream who can't seem to get her tush off the sofa to get started.
We are obsessed with handmade in recent years, have you noticed? I have been giving more thought to the intrigue of handmade, after having also come under its spell some years back. Recently, I have started to question how we instinctively put handmade on a pedestal.
I suppose it is not surprising...handmade necessitates (what we perceive as) luxurious amounts of time and effort. A person who has time to make by hand must have so much skill and so much available time! A person who can afford to pay the cost of handmade must have so much money! On some unconscious level, our brain makes these links. Our culture further propels these notions, as heritage brands and notions of authenticity have pushed to the forefront of trend.
I typically start the new year with optimism, a list of specific goals, and as much of a clean slate as I can create, but this year I just wasn't feeling it. Most of my free time in 2014 involved selling a house and disassembling our life in Houston, then finding a house and re-creating said life in Minneapolis. And while that project was a success, it felt like I had made very little progress on any other goal, which led me down the dark alley of why-bother. We've all been there, right? It's not that I was planning on giving up or anything, it was more that my plate is full of the leftover goals from the last couple of years. Also I can't shake the notion that even though things feel smooth this month, as soon as I commit to something, the universe will shake my life snow globe again, as it inevitably does. I don't mind the occasional curve ball, but 2015 doesn't feel like the year that I want to pressure myself and then feel bad when I need to rearrange and be flexible.
Sergers (also known as overlock machines) trim and finish knit fabrics using mechanics that simultaneously trim the fabric and enclose the trimmed seam allowance with thread. The result saves the sewer time by allowing her to not have to bind the seam separately while still giving the seam a clean look. Another advantage of this finish is that it allows stretch in the seam, which is crucial to the functioning of a knit garment (imagine a t-shirt or turtleneck which does not stretch at the sides or bottom or neck). Sewing knit fabrics with sergers also allows for flexible and comfortable fits, which is what people demand of late (consider how different a button-down shirt feels from a t-shirt, and how rarely people are willing to take time to iron shirts, and then you understand why sergers seem to have become the standard equipment used to make and/or finish garments.
Most t-shirts made these days are sewn with overlock (also known as serger) and coverstitch machines. They are useful for sewing knits because they sew in ways that allow the cut edge to be finished in a clean way and also to stretch. The stretch part is really important.
But can we talk about how annoying sergers are? I have mixed feelings about using mine, and habitually go to great lengths to avoid it. I have been working on a t-shirt pattern for long-sleeve winter layering tees, and I recently hand-stitched a couple versions of it, instead of using the serger. It was a project which absorbed several hours a day here and there, for a number of days per shirt. Cut the pieces, sew mindlessly, and a few weeks later, a new shirt. The sewing was quite repetitive, which gave me time to consider why I preferred this method, instead of using my sewing machines.
I prefer hand-sewing for the same reason that I prefer to explore a new neighborhood on foot instead of in a car: I get lost more quickly when I'm moving faster, so I don't have to travel as far if I have to turn around and go back. There is a lower risk of crashing. I notice more details and remember it better. Also it just feels nice and travels well, no expensive gear required. So yes, hand-sewing. But who does that now? Only machines make clothes now.
Here are the two shirts that I sewed entirely by hand:
One more reason that I enjoy hand-sewing sometimes more than machine sewing is that I find it easier to control the quality of the seams inside the garment. Better inside seams equate to a more comfortable wearing experience. My second hand-sewn long-sleeve tee is one of the most comfortable shirts I have owned, in no small part because of the smoothness of what I call my "hand-serge".
However, the slow speed of the hand-sewn tee shirt is just not always practical. While I believe in slower fashion to avoid waste, at the same time, sometimes you need a simple shirt without spending two weeks of your free time making it. Stay tuned for the machine-sewn versions of the same shirt.
When I first told my friend that I was learning how to sew, she said "Great! Please make the perfect t-shirt, because that is what's missing". I was a little taken aback, as I hadn't given t-shirts a lot of thought. This was in 2009, and knitwear had not yet evolved into the more fashion-forward category of apparel that we experience now, almost six years later.
I have set up my sewing and knitting supplies and machines in eight different spaces since meeting my husband and subsequently moving all over the place. In the beginning, there was not enough creating and there were not enough supplies to commit an entire room to these pursuits. However, since 2010, and the completion of a diploma in apparel technologies, the collection of materials and machines has grown.
Unfortunately, in spite of the increased space and supplies, I cannot point proudly to as many finished garments or illustrations as I would like. Moving disruptions, a new baby, and the general nature of creativity have resulted instead in a long list of half-completed projects. Every time I pack and unpack these bits of progress and effort, I feel renewed excitement at the ideas brewing, but also mounting frustration at what feels like a low completion rate. People ask me what I'm making and I feel shy because in the face of so many tangible examples of interruption, it feels like I am making very little.
So as we re-settle in Minneapolis, and I cement the post-baby-post-move routine, I plan to tackle these half-baked creative loaves. In this marathon of making, I plan to hone skills, add techniques to my repertoire, and clear the shelves for the next round of sprouting ideas.
I changed majors a couple of times in college. Ok, more than a couple. Towards the end of my junior year, I was browsing the course catalogue and a class caught my eye that didn't seem possible: "Pants Lab". I wanted to change majors, again, immediately. The fact that this could be an actual class for credit made me understand I had that I had not given my future enough thought. A class entirely devoted to the particulars of pants??? Impossible. Who knew that you could go to a respectable college and earn credit for making pants? Not me.
A friend of mine charmed me at dinner last weekend when he asked me about the half-finished projects I bemoaned in a recent post. I was pleased that in the course of his busy days he had not only read my blog, but had even given it some thought afterwards.
"What are you working on that needs finishing?" he asked. He had a plan: I would design and sew some garments for us to wear for a night out and we would set a deadline, in order to ramp up my completion rate and learning curve.
I liked the motivation and spirit of his plan, but the problem is that my type-A nature wants me to build my skills more deliberately than that. I don't want to rush another garment that technically works but that wilts upon closer examination (see exhibit A,
So, to answer his question, are some skill-building, smaller-size tasks I have prioritized before embarking upon new projects:
- vintage fabric projects: the elusive perfect nightie made from my grandmother's embroidered linen sheet (I have been working on a rough draft, but have a ways to go),
- ponchos and/or jackets made from lace and other vintage cloths from a flea market near my parents' home in northern Minnesota
- Alabama Chanin projects: a facet skirt, some rebuilt old t-shirts for summer, and hand-sewn flowers. I've started the skirt, see above photo...
- the disassembling of my wedding dress, and it's reincarnation into a new dress to wear to a wedding which falls on our fifth wedding anniversary this fall
- alterations on two vintage slips which are currently out of my closet rotation until I get them up and running again.
- zipper application practice, in the form of some small cloth bags for pencils and makeup
- soft home goods, including hand-sewn closet baskets, a leather phone case and knitting-needle storage
- deconstruction and reconstruction of old t-shirts into new, more feminine and heat-friendly shapes
- embroidery practice on samples for an eventual quilt or duvet
- designs and uses for the enormous drawer full of scraps acquired over the last few years of sewing...if I become a company, I will aim to be zero-waste, or as close to that as possible
- final projects and remaining homework in my classes: 4 inspiration boards, with fabric, and a final pattern to be graded into a full size run
- a tattoo design
- a business plan rough draft, including a logo, and more photography practice, just in case I really start a business someday (see I Believe in Making Goals)
And, I still have to scratch my knitting itch before it gets cold again (read: before I go somewhere cold someday)...I have poncho, vest, and arm-warmer projects all waiting in the wings.