Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Sweater Is Blocking Is Blocking*

There are red-letter days: When, as an adolescent, you go out shopping and for lunch with friends for the first time. When you kick ass in an interview and they offer you the job on the spot. When you make a fancy meal for your new boyfriend and it's totally awesome (and then, 5 years later, you get married).

Today is a red-letter day.

Today is the day that I can finally say I have made myself a "vintage", slim-knit, 100% pure cashmere sweater. For some, that might be simply an interesting occurrence. But for me it is a culmination of so many loves: knitting, fitting, cashmere, ultra-soft textiles, an era gone by.

In truth, I finished it yesterday and it's still blocking (drying in shape). Apologies for a horrid blocking photo, but one that shows you that a) I really do wear shearling slippers all the time and b) I seem to be getting a lot of use out of those much-maligned, handmade socks.

What are my final thoughts about the Princess Jumper?
  • It's a very nice sweater that shouldn't be too onerous if you don't decide to fuck with the armsyce length.
  • I made the 34, though that was designed with the appropriate ease (so says the designer) for a slim-fit on a 36 bust.
  • It would have been way too big in the bust if I'd made the 36 - probably the more "accurate" size for my 37.5 inch full bust circumference.
  • Once again, if you're narrow, I have to recommend that you go for a minimum of 4 inches of negative ease in the bust.
  • The shape of this sweater is beautiful and the sleeves are surprisingly easy to insert (once their length is determined).
About the seaming?
  • I recommend that you find some Knit Klips (which are no longer manufactured, but still able to be found on sites like eBay) to facilitate set in sleeve sewing. Apparently they keep everything together with precision and easing is much easier. Can't confirm that yet, but I have bought a packet for the next time.
  • I know that many knitters back stitch when they do their final seaming. Gotta say - and it took me 7 hours to finish this thing, so maybe you want to reconsider my advice - but mattress stitching the seams together (vertical i.e. side seams, horizonal i.e. shoulder seams and combination i.e. sleeve curves) creates a beautiful finished product that, due to the thread weaving, has a maximal amount of structural integrity.
  • I'm always amazed to read about the unwillingness of knitters to mattress stitch at the end of a project on the basis that it's too fussy or scary or hard. I can assure you that it is fussy - but in a fun way that will appeal to your OCD, it isn't scary - once you make your peace with it and you set up the seams carefully before beginning and it's sure as hell is not hard. If you can knit a freakin' sweater, you are more than up to seaming it well.
  • Seriously peeps, there are SO many free online resources to get you through the finishing phase that you will be amazed. If you've been a back-stitcher to date (and I do know there are times when that stitch is the most appropriate one), make this the year that you switch it up.

About the yarn?

  • Oh, cashmere, it is a wonder to touch. Alas, 2-ply yarn, knit on US size 1.5 or 2 needles is a challenge. I'm not going to lie.
  • Fingering weight projects take too fucking long, IMO. I can assure you, after the 6 weeks I toiled away on this, I'm going for something worsted next :-) Or at least DK.
  • The Jade Sapphire 100% cashmere is delicate. It does develop integrity via knitting, but it's very easy to break it with a wan tug. If you are a tight knitter, I don't think this is your best choice.
  • Happily, there were no knots in the yarn so I didn't have any mid-knit joins for that reason.
  • However, somehow there were so many loose ends, it took me an hour to weave them in. And that was not easy given I was working with soot-coloured yarn having teeny-tiny stitches.
  • I recommend this yarn and I think the finished garment will be greatly enhanced for it, but I don't think it's necessarily worth the expense if you knit tightly or don't adore cashmere.

This marks the end of the Gauge the Situation knitting series, in which I discussed the merits and detractors of knitting 5 sweaters in 4 gauges (fingering, sport, DK and worsted).

I do intend to summarize my findings of this experiment - which weight was my fave, which sweater I like most, which I wear most, what I learned etc. But for now, let's just be grateful that I have finally completed a daunting - if utterly educational - task, with some fabulous wearable garments. Is is scary that I can't remember, off hand, what they are??

Here's hoping you can :-)

Today's questions: What was the subject of your last, crafting "red-letter day"? Which weight of yarn do you prefer to work in? Do you always knit sweaters in the same weight?

I'm so hoping that this will dry by tomorrow - it takes a while in the cold - so that I can wear it in the world for the first time. No doubt, photos are to follow. I'm psyched about this one.

*Props to those of you who know this reference on another red-letter day - that in which 30 Rock's last episode will air.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Strong Arming

Lord. This weekend will, no doubt, go down as a cross between Survivor and Project Runway and, seriously, my brain hurts.

Of its 48 hours, I spent a full 24, not crafting (as such), but working out the math that underpins the complicated garments I'm constructing. It was Kristin and geometry and crazy-ass angles from dawn till night.

In truth, it was Kristin and knitters from around the world and S from around the block. Did I mention that I could barely move my head this morning when I awoke to go to work? That I went for an emergency massage?

I wish I could immerse you in my consciousness for a few minutes - like those scenes in creepy sci-fi movies - so that you could feel the jolt of all the things I've learned (or been massively overwhelmed by). I can't begin to tell you all the tales, though I imagine they'll come out as they take word-form.

Briefly, I believe I figured out the sweater sleeve. It looks barely like a sleeve but it basted into the sweater armsyce's very nicely.

Have you ever seen a set in sleeve that looks like this??
I'm working on the second sleeve now. I've sewn the sweater shoulders and will insert the sleeves before sewing up the side seams - after ribbing the neck.

Ah, and then there is the tailored jacket muslin. I wouldn't have imagined that anything could test me more than that freakin' knit sleeve. But that's the beauty of complicated garment-making. There's always something exponentially harder around the corner.

All I can say is, thank the universe for S. Perhaps now is a good time to remind you - though I'm quite sure most PhDs out there couldn't begin to fit a tailored jacket - that she's so freakin' smart, she has a PhD. Honestly, I spent half of the 4 hours that it took to mark the 80 trillion muslin changes onto the paper pattern, simply trying to keep it together. I think it's safe to say that I am a fine fitting apprentice. When I'm not hysterical.

I came up against so many of my challenging qualities this weekend: impatience, hyperness, ignorance, the inability to stop thinking long enough to assimilate new learning. I really must step back before I write more about the jacket muslin experience. It was seminal.

I will tell you that it blew my mind. My shape is SO fascinating :-) and so unique. S has convinced me that next time I will need to make the size 10 (not the 14). I don't think I can wrap my head around anything smaller than the 12, but she's got a point: You can resize a waist and a bust in a snap. Reworking the armscye and sleeve is a fucking production. Really, arms and armsyces - for S and me - are like the leg and hip complexities that torment certain pants-makers. It's all "one tube, fitting into another", requiring maximal range of movement.

I wonder how I will possibly help S to the degree that she's helped me. I mean, I am learning a lot, but I'm learning about managing curves, not angles.

Last night I had a nightmare about how to reflect the jacket muslin changes on the paper pattern to the NUMEROUS underlining, interfacing and lining pieces (that we haven't even touched). Really, it's hard to grasp the wonder and novelty of draping. I'm always worried about the next thing.

Today's question: What's the coolest or hardest or most meaningful craft thing you've learned about recently? You can keep it high-level or dig in. I want to know!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

(Almost) Wordless...

...and how often does that happen?

I'm getting somewhere, slowly. At least I think I am. But I cannot write about it because it's too nascent and my brain needs to process the meaning of things. I'm not sure if you get headaches when you think too hard? I actually sense the gears of my neurotransmitters grinding. It's bizarre.

Anyway, here's the (quickly) basted sweater. I'm using it to compare to the altered sleeve as I knit it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Net Effect of Changing Length Above The Armscye (When You're Knitting Flat a Bottom-Up Sweater) with Set In Sleeves

You know I'm all about the fit and the fittedness. You may also know I'm making a retro-sweater that's supposed to fit slimly. And you can't help but to know how I'm really short in the waist and particularly from above my breasts/armsyce to the shoulder. 
Princess Jumper and Photo by Susan Crawford
Perhaps, from the pic above, you will agree that the fussy stitch pattern (let me assure you, it's fussy), which starts above the breasts, must be the perfect length or the sweater's gonna look all kinds of amateur. (One risk is that the stitch pattern could encroach towards the full bust in a kind of visual reverse of an empire seam that doesn't actually fit under the bust at the rib cage).

Which leads me to the part of this post wherein I tell you how I - when first I began knitting this - deliberately altered the length above the armsyce on the front and back pieces of this sweater without adequately considering (until I started knitting a sleeve) the shaping alterations it would require in the sleeve cap. Oh my.

Quick info: The sweater calls for an armscye depth of 8.25 inches to the shoulder. My dimensions require 6.75 inches (at the large end). 

Let's start by thanking Gail, the knitter who is metaphorically holding my hand while I figure this out and who also happened to be able to direct me to this shockingly fantastic post, even though I searched via 63 different terms to locate something that might have been half as useful, only to come up with zilch. I warn you. It's a pretty scary article. (Note: You have to understand the Pythagorean Theorum which, let's face it, I can barely spell.)

Very, very briefly, the concept is that:
  • The required size and shape of a sleeve cap is entirely - and utterly irritatingly - contingent on the length of the armhole. (Sewists, you know that.) 
  • Furthermore, the width of the sleeve (specifically its angle), just below the start of the sleeve cap, is mysteriously related to the shape and depth of the armscye and this is one of the many factors that determines how you shape said sleeve cap. 
  • Pivotally, one must determine the angles, altitudes and lengths of the front and back armscye curves and then mathematically reflect them in the shaping of the sleeve cap. The cap is made of concave, moving into convex, curves on either side of a bisecting line (which we can view and calculate as straight edges of triangles, hence Mr. Pythagoras). Until you've calculated one element, you can't determine the other. And till you've determined the other, you can't exactly knit it.

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Take a moment to absorb that info, assuming it's never occurred to you either. Then be very glad you're not 3/4 of the way through this sweater having just come to the realization.

This, my friends, is the reason that picking up stitches at the armhole and knitting sleeves in the round (with sleeve cap short rows!) was invented. But it's not the best method when you're working with a vintage design because it doesn't look particularly vintage. Note that the article I've linked to above gives you all kinds of mathy tips to short row when a pattern calls for the flat, sleeve cap method (but you've got to be careful or you'll get a dreaded short-row poof - like you find in a heel or a bust curve).

In truth, aside from my utter confusion, I'm in just about the best position I could be in. Why?
  • I've knitted the body in 2 separate pieces (as the pattern calls for) and all of the stitches on the front and back pieces, at the shoulder (this is bottom up, flat knitting) are on stitch holders. (Side note: Due to other math glitches, I appear to have too little length at either side of the back at each shoulder. But I can adjust this easily before moving forward with the sleeve.)
  • Mercifully, I figured out I was going to have an issue before I started knitting the sleeve cap on the first sleeve so it's likely that I won't have to rip anything back.
I'm  having difficulty absorbing the complexity of the trigonometry and calculus involved in adjusting the shape and height of my sleeve cap to suit the changes I so innocently made on the front and back pieces. Note: Yeah, I was cavalier, but I did measure the bodice pieces to fit my body. And, after that, I did undertake the significant work to reorg the crazy stitch pattern to reflect the changes I needed to make. Point is, cavalier does not equal lazy (just stupid, in light of the fact that I've already dealt with this situation on a tailored jacket or two).

I'm sorting this out, she says like a deer caught in the headlights, and I will post on the details of my corrective alteration, as soon as I come up with it. (That statement fills me with hope.)
In the meanwhile, have a look at the pretty bodice pieces, such as they are at the moment:
Today's questions: Have you ever knit flat sleeves in a bottom up, flat pattern, and determined that you needed to change the length of the sweater above the armscye? How did you deal with the resulting change in sleeve cap shaping i.e. scary math or winging it? How did that work out for you, either way? If you've got any words of encouragement, I'm happy to take them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I Don't Know About These...


So, I wore my handmade socks today. And I have to say, I'm not convinced. For starters, they're hideous. I'm trying to get with their variegated-laide but really.

On the plus side, with utterly no trying, the stripes more or less align between the two socks. And they're slim, I'll give them that. They also fit very well and they're extremely warm. I know. Today was -16C.

But I can feel every little waffle-y stitch on the bottom of my feet. Seriously, it's like they're wacky "massage" socks. Only I'm not sure I actually like feeling the stitches of my socks on the bottom of my feet.

And, also, I think I may have mentioned, they're kind of ugly.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Meet My New Hand Sewing Kit (Or Some of It)

You know, I am not a collector. Scott buys me really nice bottles of wine to keep in the cellar, and I somehow manage to drink them in the month. Someone once referred to my habit of getting rid of August's magazines in July. (What, you get them when they hit the newstand. Read and recycle.) I cannot stand tchotchkes that take up valuable space. Cuz really, that's what I want. Space.

S, fantastically, assisted me in Craigslist-ing my scraps and today some nice lady came to get the bag of them on the porch. (Oh, how FREE I feel. And yet how unwasteful!) Honestly, if it were wartime I'd have done my part.

But I have an ugly secret (no, not the 3 lingerie drawers - those are neither ugly nor a secret!): I cannot resist sewing ephemera. OMG, now that I've found Etsy which, let's face it, is like my own personal, nicely-curated lawn sale, I'm veritably addicted to searching out the whackest olde-time sewing lure evah.

There is something compelling about beautiful, half-full mending cards and old spools of thread that you know have been around since the 1930s. The slightly musty smell of vintage yarn... The colours (mauve, air force blue)... Old needles, when they aren't rusted - hand-stamped! Weird darning patches that are supposed to iron-on but, really, I don't know if one should trust that technology...

Seriously, I could direct you to a zillion pages I have favourited but I don't quite want you to know about them because one day I just might cave and buy that French cashmere mending thread, for quite a lot of money given that it's ancient and I don't actually have any clothing in that colour.

It's been tough keeping things to one mending kit. Note: My darning egg still hasn't arrived and I'm beginning to fear it will not fit. Other note: If you include the vintage button collection, it's 2 mending kits. Sue me.

Here's a little peak (it's not all in there, the mending threads hadn't yet arrived):

I actually found 2 mending cards having thread (more or less) the same colour as 2 sweaters that have holes. Alas, I can't say that all of the properties align. Will the thread be too shiny? Will it matter if it's not adequately stretchy (just for a little hole)? All I can say is that I'm going to have to give it a go cuz these booboo-ed sweaters aren't gonna get any less hole-y while I wait around indefinitely.

Of course, I continue to source new colours and fibres. Perhaps I should start sewing in the palette of my mending kit...

Today's questions: Do you have a mending kit and, if so, what does it contain? A darning egg or mushroom? Vintage threads? What's the box made of? Biscuit-tin? Wood? Wicker? When you use it, do you channel a sassy, take-no-prisoners wartime lass (who wears tweed jackets she's had to reline twice in crochet squares)? Are you good at mending? Do tell!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Spring Suit: An Update on Muslin 1

Oh, my pretties, this is a serious project. S and I intended to come armed with pre-made muslins and to work out all the kinks, but it didn't go that way. Instead, we spent the better part of 8 hours making and reviewing and pinning our partially-complete muslins 1, observing where markings aligned and where they didn't (even in this beautifully-designed pattern, we found some notch misalignment in both of our sizes when we "walked the pattern*").

Here's what I can say so far:
  • We both have finished muslins that, for the most part, align at all of the notch points or which are knowably discrepant at some (but which we've accounted for in terms of overall fit).
  • We have the sleeve muslin sewn, but not inserted as first we need to sort out the bodice.
  • Intriguingly, though we have very different body types, when first we tried on our finished shells, they fit us both, in broad strokes, very gracefully. Of course, we're going to need to adjust each, but this is a beautifully drafted pattern. 
  • I'd tell you that the pattern is drafted for a curvy shape, what with how it practically fit, out of the envelope, in the bust (unheard of for me!) but it also fit S's bust quite elegantly and she has but an inch of difference between her under and full bust dimensions (compared to my 7"). We were both amazed by that. On her the jacket is quite equestrian, IMO. On me it's kind of 50s-lady.
Here are a few pics on the dress form (yeah, yeah, inaccurate, but the muslin doesn't fit me either at this point):
You can see how we've already opened up the princess seam to allow for a bit of extra full bust ease. Note that the amount it opens, on me (narrower and having more projectile breasts than the dress form) is about 0.25" on either side. Not a lot. What we intend to do next is to slash above the HBL (that horizontal line above the bust) to allow the fabric to drop slightly which will account for the extra length I require over the bust...

I have to resew this seam because, as you can see, the pieces do not align. (They did on the other side, intriguingly, so it's likely my sewing that's at fault here.) The seam lines - that black pen on the underside of the pieces, should be matching up.

The waist HBL is totally level (my dress form is a bit askew here) and the waist of the pattern fits beautifully. I've got the centre fronts pinned here.

Waist HBL on the back is also level.

Observe how the waist of the jacket does not sit at my waist (or that of the dress form). I will need to shorten all of the pieces above the waist by 1.25 inches - not as much as I usual...

Adjustments to follow on muslin 1:
  • Shorten all pieces at lengthen/shorten line by 1.25".
  • Increase full bust at princess seam (the one currently open) by approx 0.25" on each side.
  • Slash above the bust to allow the fabric to fall. In the top pic you can see how the HBL (horizontal balance line) is not level. It arches up toward the centre front on each side. Allowing the fabric to fall should mitigate that. In an irony, that means we'll probably add back the 1 inch we've removed above the waist on the front. This particular alteration will be a wedge alteration, unlike the shortening above the waist which is a tuck. Wedge alterations start at a seam (where they're closed) and end at another seam (where they're open) but they aren't even at both sides, like a tuck.
On S's muslin, which is all around 1 size too big as she accidentally ordered the 12-14-16 when she really needs a 10:
  • Take in every seam by 0.25".
  • Make an SBA at the princes seam. This will likely be the exact opposite of my alteration i.e. we'll subtract fabric at the princess seam and then shorten the bodice above the bust.
  • We may or may not require an alteration at the upper back to account for breadth there.
Seriously, that's not a lot for either of us, in the scheme of things - though marking up the muslin and then altering the paper pattern is SO not intuitive for me (aka the most painful and confusing part of this entire process, IMO). Thank goodness for S who will work with me to make the adjustments on the pattern piece from the once-altered muslin. She has a really strong grip on the technical elements.

When we've got the shells working, then we'll insert the sleeves. We've read a variety of reviews of this pattern which indicate that inserting the sleeves can be tricky. In certain instances puckering has ensued. Since I haven't read the sleeve insertion instructions in detail, as yet, I don't know if Claire Schaeffer suggests the bias strip easing method. If not, that might be a way to mitigate challenges. However, if she suggests that method and still people have had issues, we may have to consider altering the shape or rotation of the upper sleeve. Mind you, that's a concern for another post!

*What's walking the pattern? This is simply aligning the edges of the seam allowances (on the paper pattern) of adjoining pattern pieces. For example, your side seams on your actual garment, will need to line up when you sew that seam. Perhaps you take it for granted that this should automatically occur. However, some patterns contain drafting or grading errors.

All you do is stabilize a knowable intersection point of both pieces, one on top of the other, and then move the pattern pieces over one another, to the next intersection point i.e. a notch (noting whether it lines up). Start at the hem, move to the underarm. It's 2 parts engineering, 1 part intuition. Sometimes it doesn't work on the first try so you try again, factoring in ease, maybe sewing up the muslin (which is easier to ease than tear-able paper), and verifying how accurately the pieces come together.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Spring Suit: Muslin 1 and Why It's Good to be Short

Today is muslin fitting 1. Tabula rasa, as it were, for this season's tailoring project. To prep for this, I've cut the muslin fabric and carefully marked it up with just about every conceivable line. 

Yeah, this was as painful as it looks - and I haven't even sewn the fucking thing.
I even added additional lines, which will facilitate reflecting alterations from the muslin to the paper pattern: a horizontal balance line (HBL) above the bust, an HBL above the waist and the 5/8" stitching line. S and I are using, among other methods, the Sarah Veblen "fitting axis" approach. The idea is to ensure that the HBLs, drawn onto the fabric before sewing, are rendered perfectly level during the fitting process (whatever alterations are required to obtain the fit). The lines highlight drag or pull (which can occur for any number of reasons and which, therefore, must be carefully considered before applying a correction).

If I sound psyched about this, it's only the hummingbird-like frequency of my anxiety taking centre-stage. I'm afraid, even as I'm excited by the process. What if this pattern treats me like the last one? I mean, I know I'm working with a design that's tried and true and written by an expert. Frankly, merely if the notches align, I'll be 100 per cent ahead of the game over last time. But I know I'm multi-sized in a fitted, tailored jacket. I mean, seriously, body-types such as mine are the reason that knits were invented! (Look, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

In the construction of the last jacket, you might recall we needed to shorten the waist, increase the full bust AND decrease the upper bust (you heard it right - I had to do an FBA and an SBA in the same freakin' five-inch zone), plus adjust the sleeve to account for shoulders that rotate forward slightly. And those were simply the big ticket alterations!

And never mind me - this time I've got someone else's body to consider! I mean, people, it's not like I've got a degree in fashion design!

This is as good a time as any to touch on the concept that becomes ever-more apparent with each passing project - and especially as I learn more about my tall sewist friends. I am 5'3" with a curvy frame. By that I mean my breasts take up a lot of circumference (relatively) but my shoulders and my waist are narrow. Effectively, I'm a short and narrow person and my shortness is all in my torso (but I'm not that tall so my proportionately-long legs are still not tall). 

S is a tall, very slender, person. She's 5'8" with a straight frame. By that I mean she is willowy, but with width in her upper back. She is also long in the torso. And she has net long legs given that she's reasonably tall.

Guess who needs more fabric to make a suit? Um, that would be the exceedingly slender one. 

Generally, I can get away with removing at least 3/4 of a yard of fabric from a suit pattern: jacket and associated bottom (either pants or skirt). We measured my neck-nape to waist and, seriously, it's so short, it's not even on the Vogue chart (13.5 inches). Think about it: When you cut fabric, you generally have enough width - especially if the bolt is 60 inches wide - to cut far more widely than you need to. Hence, all of those crazy selvedge-side scraps. My boobs are the beneficiary of that! On the flip side, what are you most concerned about, tall ladies? Not having enough length for that hip-length jacket or that pair of pants! Sorry, tall girlz. Those pants just kill the budget with the extra yardage you require.

Where's the justice in that? Well, technically, you have height so I find it hard to feel bad for you. But next time you're feeling sorry for me, just remember I save the cost of a sweet little shirt with every suit. Now if only I could figure out how to fit it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

An Update on Intarsia

Well, here I am, still in January, and somehow I've crossed off the sock-making goal and I'm moving forward, if slowly, with the knitting colour-work one. What the hell is going on here??

Anyway, as luck would have it, I got a gift card to the book store for Xmas, so I decided to buy this:

Photo from Chapters-Indigo
Then, I got one of those newsletter emails, in my inbox, from Knitting Daily that directed me to this. Sure, it's very simple, but for those who want a very basic article on intarsia, it does the trick.

I have so many things on the go at the moment - and I'm the self-professed, one project-at-a-time woman. I'm making a suit, socks and a fingering-weight cashmere sweater. Having just written this down, I might actually start breaking out in hives.

Point is, no more new projects till I get those done. But I'm going to do my homework in the hopes that I can start a sweater with colour-work in the spring.

So, today's questions are: What are your thoughts on knitting colour-work? Which kinds have you tried and which do you prefer?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mea Culpa

Never let it be said that I don't admit when I'm wrong change my perspective based on new information.

People, I take it back about making socks.

I can't, in good faith, continue to let you think that I hate them. In fact, having just completed the first sock of the second pair, I actually appear to be enjoying things.

A few moderating details:
  • This time I modified a bunch of free, online patterns to suit my needs. The result: I'm knitting a stockinette sock with some cuff ribbing - aka as simple as it gets - in a circumference of 56 stitches rather than the standard 64. Better for my twig ankles, and I might, in future, scale down to 52. Note: Socks seem to work in repeats of 4 stitches, in my limited experience.
  • I also went from using a slippery, spongy yarn with a needle having lots of traction (bamboo) to using a dense yarn with a (metal) needle having lots of slip. Repeat this mantra (at least if you're using magic loop and you're me): Less grip, more slip. 
  • It's official. I hate silk in yarn. I loathe how it makes it all floppy and drapey. In a sock, anything but strong, dense and close-fitting is untenable. No joking, as I write this, my daughter is wearing her new hand-made socks and saying: You need to make more in this yarn. It's so springy and soft!
  • The Regia, however, is work-horse. It barely stretches, much less grows! The stitches are so tight and tiny and I love them.
  • OMG - I finally understand the appeal of variegated yarn! It's so exciting to see, with each little round, what splotch or stripe or stray little pin-prick of colour will appear next. It's like magic colouring! Is it ugly? Hell yes! But it's so unrepentant, so jubilant in its ugliness that it's hard not to forgive and forget.
  • To wit, I somehow managed  to buy this:
More Regia variegated Color Twin sock yarn
  • Trust me. It's a whole new level of ugly. And I'm vaguely psyched.
I can't say that many socks are in my future, but I am going to give it 3 pairs before I make up my mind.

Given that I'm half inclined to do a Sock Week series - in which I talk about various sock-related things and tell you how truly doable it is to knit a pair of them in a week - something tells me I may not be done with them. But I've accomplished this year's goal, thank you Gillian, and that's all I set out to do.

What do you think of my new yarn? Is it not 110% insane? Let's talk about what you like in a sock yarn. Variegated pattern? Cashmere? Machine-washability? I want to know!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Spring Suit: What Cost Beauty?

You may recall, when I offered up a bit of "sewing advice" a couple of weeks ago, I suggested that using good fabric is worth its weight, literally. That's a lesson I learned long ago, when it comes to buying RTW clothing, but one I struggled with in my first year or two of sewing.

I don't struggle so much anymore. In truth, it's always a bit of a moment right before you cut into your fabric, whether it costs $3.99 a yard or $39.99. It's that point when potential becomes reality. Sometimes cutting is an easy affair. Sometimes it's a bit of a challenge. But I can't let that dictate the quality of my fabric because, really, I'm gonna have to wear that thing. More to the point, I'm gonna have to sew it for 2 months and then I'm gonna have to wear it.

Furthermore, as I've discussed in the past, making a suit is not a cheap project (particularly), though it's much more cost-effective (if not time-effective) than buying one. To buy a RTW suit of good quality, you're likely to spend at least 800 bucks (full price). Here's what I've spent to make this suit (you can find some photos of the fabrics here):
  • 3 yards of merino faille suiting at $25.00/yd
  • 3 yards of silk charmeuse for lining @ $18.00/yd
  • 1 yard of hair canvas and 1 yard of weft interfacing - already purchased for last suit but would be $8.00 each
  • 2 yards of muslin for toiles (in addition to the yard I already have) @ $4.99/yd
  • 5 Self-fabric-covered buttons (sending these out to be made, approx 20 bucks)
  • 2 yards silk organza for underlining @ 15.00/yd
  • Notions (shoulder pads, thread, stabilizing tape etc.) $10.00
Presuming I'm not leaving something out, which is entirely possible!, my total cost to make this suit will be $215.00. That's actually slightly less costly than the last suit so I guess I'm making progress :-)

No, I didn't need to spend 18 bucks a yard on lining. That price is vaguely high on drugs (till I wear the jacket, that is). (Brief sidenote: I ended up using the most beautiful silk to line the Tailored Jacket, gifted to me by Mardel. That's when I knew I could never use anything else again...) The organza was not on the cheap side either, even in this market. However, the suiting was very reasonably priced at $25.00/yd. It's just beautiful and I suspect/hope it's going to drape beautifully (but maintain its shape). Sending out to have the buttons made, which I did last time, is a totally smart idea, and really, quite worth the expense.

I suspect you could (in America, where shopping is less expensive) make this suit out of these materials for @ $125.00, but that's not the reality here. I also know you could make a suit for closer to 100 bucks in Canada, but (unless you seriously luck out with some crazy sales the likes of which I've never seen in TO) you won't get to work with quality materials.

So... today's questions are these: If you've made a suit, what was your budget for materials? Did you stick to it or spend more to find more desirable fabrics? On that topic, do you generally budget for projects or do you let your fabric passions guide you? Have you ever regretted spending lots on fabric? Have you ever regretted not spending enough? Let's talk!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Spring Suit: My Work Plan

Last time I made a suit, I started with a work plan. I made the suit in 6 weeks, which shocks the hell out of me, because that was a fuck of a lot of work to do in that period of time. I lived and breathed The Tailored Suit project. Every waking moment at home was spent on it (sorry, family). I worked on math elements over my lunch hour. I considered its numerous, convoluted elements as I walked to and from work. Often, I couldn't sleep for problem-solving. Seriously, at a certain point, I started dreaming about it.

It was a creative and structural undertaking of the first order and, even as I was constantly trepedatious and hateful, I LOVED it.

Last time I had an online course to see me through. Alas, it was a suboptimal course (though there was a lot of good information contained within it), but it was organized in very knowable segments. This time I'm working with a pattern having 106 steps (for the hand-tailored version S and I will make) - the fusible version has less than half that number of steps - and there are no clear segments.

Having perused this pattern, which is to say studied it with my eyes glazing over, I can see that there are some new learning opportunities:
  • A notched collar - which is apparently "easy"
  • Pockets (I omitted them from my last suit, but these pockets seem more in keeping with my style)
  • Hand-worked buttonholes - egad?! What is it with clothes and buttons?? Mind you, I've decided, having done them in 3 projects, that I really don't like bound buttonholes. I mean, I don't like making them but, more to the point, I don't like looking at them. They're fussy, IMO.
  • Slightly different construction techniques than those I've used before aligned, one supposes, with Ms. Schaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques "bible".
So, how best to plan things out?

I don't know that I want to give time lines this go round. The part of me that is so outcome-focused bristles at the thought that I might work without an end date. But the part of me that's been pretty kicked around in the last 6 months, between reno and sickness, doesn't want to be all crammed into a box.  So here's what I'm going to say right now: It's a suit for the spring. Spring, in these parts, doesn't start till April (at the earliest). So I'm aiming for an early April completion. That's 11 weeks. If it gets done sooner, well won't I be fab. If it doesn't get done on April 1, by noon EST, then I'm not going to stick my head in an oven.

And, with small amount I know of a) tailoring and b) V8333 - here's how I imagine things might break down:

1. Buy all of my materials, review the pattern, cut the pattern, prep all of my fabrics.

2. Cut the first muslin, assemble, begin the fitting excitement.

3. Spend as long as it takes, with S, to fit the muslin optimally. (Please muslin goddess, be kind.)

4. Cut the fashion fabric, lining and other materials for jacket assembly.

5. V8333 Steps 5 - 14 - Tailoring the front jacket up to pad stitching

6. V8333 Steps 15 - 24 - Tailoring the front jacket, pad stitching and other tailoring elements

7. V8333 Steps 25 - 33 - Side front tailoring and pocket insertion

8.  V8333 Steps 34 - 42 - Facing the front

9. V8333 Steps 43 - 49 - Side back, back and hem tailoring

10. V8333 Steps 50 - 62 - Constructing and tailoring the collar

11. V8333 Steps 63 - 67 - Set the collar into the jacket

12. V8333 Steps 68 - 77 Sleeves

13. V8333 Steps 69 - 81 - Sleeve lining

14. V8333 Steps 82 - 84 - Setting in the sleeves

15. V8333 Steps 85 - 88 - Shoulder pads

16. V8333 Steps 89 - 98 Lining and finishing the lining

17. V8333 Steps 99 - 105 Buttonholes and buttons

18. V8333 Step 106 - Final finishing of the jacket

19. Make a skirt or pair of pants to go with the jacket. That comes with its own 18 steps, I'm sure.

Presumably, I'll write about these steps in some kind of excessive detail, potentially with vitriol, as they occur. BTW, thank you all so much for your feedback on the question from my last post. Now I can say with confidence: You asked for it! :-)

OK, gotta go take some pics of fabric to update my last post. If only it weren't pouring with rain and approximately as dark as dusk. I'll have to make do with some serious flash.

Next post will talk a bit about my fabrics, how I chose them (rationale), how I'll deal with buttons, costs of things and I know I've got to follow up on the "Short Girlz Who Sew, Win" topic. Sorry, tall peeps, you'll just have to find your primacy in the rest of the world :-)

Today's questions: Have you made this jacket and, if so, what are your thoughts about this breakdown? If you haven't made it, what are your thoughts about this break down? What part of the jacket-making process seems most fun to you, even as a casual observer? Which part has you running for the hills? Let's talk!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Updated with Pics: Time Well Spent

Just a very quick post - as I am exhausted having started the sewing and social excursion at 10 am and finishing at 6! (I am hardcore, people.)

We had such a fun and profitable day. All fabric and notions are purchased and you know what an extensive list that is:
  • UTTERLY GORGEOUS fashion fabric (3 yards of 60 inch wide as I'll be making pants or a skirt in addition to the jacket)
  • underlining (silk organza, 2 yards)
  • lining (silk crepe, 3 yards)
  • hair canvas interfacing (1 yard)
  • shoulder pads (2)
  • thread (lots)
  • new needles for hand sewing
Photo Update: OK, here are some pics but pls. note that the colour is not so accurate given the fact that it's January in TO and there's basically no natural light.

It's merino faille suiting- so drapey (but not too drapey to hold it's shape in a jacket). In this photo it looks slate grey. In fact it's a blue with grey undertones, not a grey with blue undertones. You can't see the depth of colour, the richness, here.
This gives a slightly better sense of the blue, if your monitor cooperates, but it still misses the depth of colour...

The lining is silk charmeuse (the other side is matte but I'm showing off the shiny) in the most bizarre shade - like green meets sand. My mother says I must have a hankering for the seaside right now, given this combo of fabric and lining. This is where I kind of broke the bank, but in keeping with my resolution when making the last suit, I will only use silk as lining until I find something I like better. It has much more integrity than bemberg, IMO, which frays like a bitch.

This isn't something you'll see, it's the underlining of the fashion fabric - some silk organza. I just think it's so pretty in this shade, so I'm showing it off...
Of course, I also had to get some denim and wool jersey while I was at it but, Lord, it seems I have stash issues cuz when S very graciously helped me to reorg the fabric cupboard to make more space for new stuff, I discovered I already had a yard of that wool jersey. Happily it's fantastic.

I also had to buy a sewing box (interesting birch stacking boxes I found at CB2) for all of my new darning supplies (on their way from various parts of the world):

Then I had to buy frames for the new pics I bought myself a while back.  Throw in some lunch and I've come to realize I am not safe with a credit card. I am such a capable shopper, it's sick.

Did I mention how useful and excellent everything all of these things will be?

OK, here's tonight's question: When organizing my fabric, it came to light that I have numerous scraps that are too small to make something with and too big to throw away. Serious fabric users, who abhor waste, would no doubt piece these gorgeous textiles together, but that's not my scene. S mentioned, as I was bemoaning half a cupboard full of unusable (really beautiful) material, that she always buys enough to make a garment twice or to get 2 items out of one piece i.e. 4 yards, on average. So she never ends up with quarter and half yard ends in weird shapes, though she does - she concedes - have lots of fabric she's not using on second garments.

What do you do? I know this is an age-old problem for the average sewist, but it's kind of a bummer either way.

As it happens, S, a font of helpfulness, assisted me by setting up an anonymous Craig's List entry so that I can, hopefully, give the bag of scraps - which includes a few full pieces of fabric I just don't like - to someone who will be able to use them. For free, of course.

In the future, I think I'm going to adopt S's strategy, if for no other reason than that my own is not working, and buy twice as much fabric as I need vs. just a bit more, so that at least the ends will be big enough to re-purpose on another garment.

Next post will contain some fascinating, IMO, musings on the benefits of being short (especially short-waisted) when you sew your own stuff. You don't want to miss that one.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tailoring: The Spring Suit

So, my friends, the time has come, once again, when I will undertake a tailoring project aka the only thing I'll likely sew for a couple of months and which will probably test my resolve in numerous, skill-building and life-improving ways.

Lucky y'all.

I've been thinking about how to chronicle this journey, one which will be more exciting because S, my fitting friend, will make the same jacket at the same time - in something like 18 sizes smaller than me?!? - and then I'll be her fitting friend. Now S is a private person, unlike (ahem) some other people we know, so it's likely any specifics will centre on me. Happily, that works with my solopsism.

Because I did with the last suit, I don't want to drag you through the metaphoric mud. How much appetite, really, do you have to hear about a muslin, much less 3 (or 7)? And yet, as you may know, when one embarks on a tailoring activity, it is a) intense b) labour-rich c) frequently repetitive and d) requiring feedback, love, support, commiseration.

First question of the day: Do you prefer the blow-by-blow or the high points? Note to reader: I may be incapable of doing anything other than what appeals to me in the moment. I'm kind of known for that. But I would like to start this off with your perspective.

Let's get the high-level details out of the way:

The Pattern: Vogue 8333

The Claire Shaeffer Custom Couture Collection Single-Breasted Jacket
As luck would have it, my link feature is once again fucking up (why does this happen on occasion, I wonder??) so you'll have to navigate free-form, sorry.

This weekend, S and I are finally going (this has been planned for months but we have been derailed) to get all of our supplies. Do you know how long it takes simply to figure out what you need to buy??

Having done this before, I will now remind myself of the following important considerations:
  • I've done this before, and I'm doing it again, so it's probably not as bad as I'm going to think it is in a month.
  • I have a very short memory for project-pain.
  • Beginning a large-scale project - of any description - is daunting. Trust me (she says to herself), I've planned many a complicated project in my career, in my life and when crafting and the first moment is scary. It's the point at which everything is everywhere. But my job now is to herd the sheep.
  • What the fuck does that mean? It's my fancy way of describing that I need to corral my mental processes to gain my clearest awareness of all of the elements. That's how I can a) demystify them (to make me calmer) and b) work methodically to address them.
  • You can't know all of the elements. Just most of them. The others you can fear quietly or wait for with the hostess spirit.
  • Tailoring is alchemy and starting with a bunch of bits which turn into a finished jacket is a fine magic.
  • I'm on a trajectory of skill-improvement.

Keep in mind, if you want to exercise fiscal restraint, then complicated projects are the way to go. For starters, they take a long time, so your output goes a long way. But they also tend to produce garments that would be expensive, were you to buy them, due to the workmanship that goes into creating them.

My fingering weight cashmere sweater? Still in process! A tailored suit? Merely cutting out the pattern pieces takes a week :-) I choose to view this as an example of the financial prudence I'm, no doubt, known for in these parts. :-)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Lingerie Shop Along: The End.

Guess it’s time to close the loop on the online lingerie purchase disaster of 2012. It doesn’t end well, but I’m officially done. 

The Fantasie Smoothing Balconette bra arrived – it’s the right model – but the size is off. Based on the horrifying bigness of the full-cup version (see post linked to in the para above), I opted to order the balconette version (purchased many times in the past) one size smaller in the cup, and one size smaller in the band, than that which I usually wear.
Though that's worked before, this one is too small, if just barely. What I mean is that it fits in the cup but the back is leaning towards too tight and it pushes the flesh up under my arms and at the side of the bra. To qualify – the underwire fits and the cups fit, there’s just not quite enough corollary fabric at the side band. It will probably stretch and be just fine. Or maybe it won't. I don't care.
I’d cry from frustration if this weren’t sort of funny.
I’m not returning it. I’ve already spent twice the amount the bra cost on shipping alone (6 returns?!). At least now I know for sure what size to order in this bra should that occasion ever recur. Note to self: Write it the fuck down. Along with the model number (vis a vis this wise comment).
I’m changing gears. Next time I order bras – when discretionary spending is back on the table - it will be to test for a new basic. (Pls. recall that I intend to write about the process, it just hasn’t fully come together.)

Point is, I had a hideous online shopping experience but I'm happy to move on. I mean, it's the only one that's ever fit that description. I won't let it deter me in the future.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mending My Ways

Circumstantial convergence really is the strangest thing. To wit:
Last night I watched this fascinating TV program on TVO which profiles the real experiences of some modern people who live as if in wartime (WW2), farming in the English countryside, conserving to protect their resources and to promote their country’s ability to beat the Nazis. (Note: This is the third in a series, the other 2 timeframes covered were Victorian and Edwardian – which is all a bit gaslight and misery for me.)
Then this morning, when I got to work, a colleague pointed out that my (expensive) super-slender, machine knit Ca Va de Soi cardigan had some little holes. Perhaps they're the result of moths – we don’t have a big moth problem and I do use cedar in my sweater drawers, but occasionally these holes appear. (Sidebar: These holes appear less and less now that I’ve stopped going to the drycleaners. Hand washing all sweaters of all yarns in Soak with a few drops of lavender or eucalyptus essential oil in is a fantastic way to a) actually clean b) reduce chemical exposure and c) protect from bugs all one’s much loved knits.)
You’ll recall, on the weekend, I swore never to darn anything – which seemed a bit brutish to me, even as I wrote (and meant) it. I’ve lingered over the claim ever since.

Today I found this (fab and very inexpensive) pdf for download on Etsy. And this darning egg. And this thread.
Here are a couple of links that show you how to darn knitwear and other garments, I found online in 30 seconds:

So, it seems, I take it back. (Man, I’ve been wishy-washy lately.) I’m going to darn things (maybe even homemade socks?!?!) rather than taking them up to the seamstress or letting them languish.

It occurs to me that the biggest limiters of all activity are lack of knowledge and the proper tools. Why have I threatened never to darn a hole or build a telescope or reupholster a couch? Sure, there’s a part of me that hasn’t the time or interest. But there’s a much larger part that hasn’t the knowledge. I wear sweaters every day of all gauges and many textiles. Why the hell can’t I spend a few minutes – which is really all it will take once I know the method and have all of the materials ready and waiting at my access – to protect them for future generations. Isn’t this ground zero for environmentalism (about which I am hardly extreme, just ask the people who know me).

I wonder if, were we find ourselves (horrifically) in another wartime scenario, could we manage with the grace and capability that so many of the English did during the second world war? Sure, there was much less industrialism at that time – so a large part of the general population had actual subsistence skills. But that aside, citizens attended government-organized classes about the conservation techniques they’d be required to know and apply. They learned so they’d have the means to undertake risk and to function in circumstances we likely cannot imagine. An entire country came together in, perhaps, the most organized, large-scale show of community that ever there was, and it thrived. Would we?

Five years ago I had never heard the term Make Do and Mend. (I know! I lived in post-war England and I studied history in high school yet I’d never actually heard it said. Really, I am a child of the 80s.) When I started reading blogs, particularly the craft ones, the culture of self-sufficiency amazed and, truthfully, amused me. How crazy, I thought, that people make stuff and then they fix it. To add to this rich mix, my husband has always been profoundly "handy" (his people are engineers) and he’s a first-wave environmentalist of the most irritating order. As a result, I’ve had 20 years to acclimate to a philosophy that seems increasingly second nature: How can I respect and protect what I have because it’s worth having?
I guess I can learn to darn a freakin’ pair of socks.


Monday, January 7, 2013

In Which I Unwittingly Convince You of My Insanity

Oh Lord. There I was all sock-hateful and then something happened.

It might have been the (fortuitous, apparently) 2mm needle breaking - which liberated me to move to a 2.25mm needle. It might have been the moment when I actually stopped caring and gained a rhythm. No doubt it had everything to do with your chorus of comments - each of which gave me key information in moving forward.

Sock 1 took 20 hrs. Sock 2 took 10.

Here's the result:

Yeah, they're really blue...

Yeah, I realize these are not the best socks in the world. They don't have the smoothest stitch, the yarn (I now know) is suboptimal for socks; it's too spongy. I don't much like the pattern.

But my kid took one look at these and it was like someone gave her a puppy for Christmas. OMG - she LOVED them. I made her an entire freakin' sweater and I got a respectful thanks. These socks, I sense she would have cut me for them. What with my not liking them particularly, it was a win-win. :-)

Then it occurred to me that if I'd never made another sweater simply cuz I didn't like the pattern, outcome and process (each of which has occurred at times) then I'd never have got anywhere!

So, grudgingly, here's to the merits of socks:
  • What appeals so much - I suspect - to so many people is the formulaic nature of sock-knitting. Don't get me wrong. You can make super-complex socks in zillions of ways. But once you've cracked a code, you can make them again and again and again and again with nary a second thought. My own disastrous first sock experience followed by a relatively smooth second sock experience proves that point - and I've only ever made one pair.
  • They really are much beloved. You sock-makers are like a cult! :-) And you've somehow inculcated my kid! There's got to be something to these "handmade socks". I owe it to generations of wonderful sock knitters - and my excellent commenters - to investigate further.
  • Can't get more practical than a pair of socks, no? And I am a pragmatic woman, after all...
  • Apparently - and I can't defend this yet - they last way long and keep you toasty warm.
Moreover, here are some things my excellent readers have recently taught me:
  • The best sock yarn is 75% wool and 25% nylon.
  • 10 stitches per inch (horizontal gauge) will knit an optimally strong fabric, though anything above 8 stitches per inch is fairly strong.
  • Regia is a very respected sock yarn brand, from Germany. It's not exciting, particularly, but it makes the most durable yarn and the first-wave knitters really appreciate it for that reason.
  • Plain is good. I mean, if ribbing seems too showy, maybe I've got off lucky. Cuz stockinette socks are much easier to knit than crazy patterns. That's ok.
  • Variegation (and patterns) keep the project interesting. I want to say they're the only thing that keeps it interesting, but I don't want to incite mutiny! I suspect, if I get to watch some kind of colour-work emerge, I'll be more excited to go from beginning to end. And, who knows, under boots I may just wear them even if they're not black!
Which is why, crazy-compulsion style, I went out and got new yarn and needles.

Here's a (somewhat wan) pic of the yarn, which is actually pretty snappy in that crazy variegated way I don't understand:

Photo source: Mariannes Wolle
The new needles are another set 2.25mms - this time pointy Addis. I know that some say one should avoid metal with socks and magic loop at all costs (Katy I hear you), but I worked the other pair on bamboo and, with the gauge of the needle paired with the loop, I just found it all too much effort to go from one stitch to the next. I think I need the slip to get a groove. Which, let's face it, is the primary thing that makes the process of knitting fun. We're about to see...

I don't want you to think I'm a sock convert. This may well be the last pair I ever knit. But at least I'll have given it the college try.

So, what do you think of my new stance? Am I seemingly schizophrenic, what with the sock hate and then the sock acceptance? Do you think the new yarn is utterly hideous - no leading questions here, the photo really isn't flattering. Let's talk!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

It's All Temporary

I didn't realize that my parents spend all summer indoctrinating my daughter about the evils of tattoos (we call them tattoons here cuz that's what a little kid who lives here used to say). Apparently, every car trip was laden with parables about how they look bad when you're 80 and they prevent you from getting a good job. (Given that the parents are free-spirited hippie-types, I'm kind of surprised (but not).)

What's ironic about this is that, totally in the dark about those conversations, I recently bought M these:

WhitneyJane Temporary Tattoos

C'mon, who doesn't love woodland creatures??

Note to my parents: You've somehow managed to make M more determined to get a tattoo than ever she was before. Let's call these, in your language, "damage control".

Note to M: Wait till you're 25 and you have your tastes figured out. Tattoos aren't for the young and capricious. And then consider a woodland creature.