Sunday, April 10, 2016

More is Less

The key to staying on top of the yarn stash is in the planning. It doesn't pay to think one-project at a time. It also doesn't pay to be too spontaneous about one's next knit. Cuz it's only when you plan that you will have the ability to consider how to use up the entirety of your newly purchased yardage.

My fussiness just gained a new dimension. Now, not only must I love the yarn (and must the yarn be gorgeous to the feel and having the appropriate drape) but I've got to be able to apply it to at least 2 projects, lest I get stuck with half a skein I cannot easily repurpose.

For example: Usually, when I want to make a pair of socks, I go for the wackiest yarn I can find. Sock yarn tends to come in 425 yard skeins. I never use more than 275 yards (and generally I use 250) to make a pair. That means I'm stuck with half a sock worth of crazy-coloured, variegated yarn that will sit there till I come up with some sub-optimal, stash-bust hat or mitt project.

Here's what I've learned from looking at 15 or so of these skein remnants:
  • I'm not interested in using the sock yarn for hats. It's a rare hat project that interests me, particularly in crazy colourways. 
  • I can't find sock yarn in 250 yard skeins. I've tried. I can find 175 yard skeins (Koigu - and they come in gorgeous solid colours, see that purple below) but even as I love Koigu, I don't find that it wears particularly hard. 
  • That's something that I'm going to have to try to get with because Koigu is awesome for other projects and - remember - I really don't want leftovers.
  • Solid colours are much more practical than variegated yarns because you can mix and match them (particularly if you're using the same brand/yarn in an alternative colour). Stripes are endlessly chic and they keep a project interesting. Furthermore, choosing your own colours to stripe is engaging and you get to make it up.
  •  Using 2 colours on a sock may be the way to go because it's easier to find 125 yard remnants than 250 - as long as the yarns coordinate.
  • Yarn coordination really is the key. So, my goal in the future is to either buy 3 skeins of Koigu KPM (to get 2 pairs of socks) OR to buy enough fingering-weight yarn for one project (i.e., a sweater) so that there's enough left over for another project (namely, a pair of socks). That's tougher than it sounds because sock yarn is generally superwash (pref. with a bit of nylon for strength) and I don't want to make a sweater out of superwash yarn, ever again.
In the end, I landed on this combo to make, first, another version of the tremendously enjoyable Foolproof cowl. :

I do love the colour contrast going on.

That's madelinetosh Tosh Sock (in Antique Lace) and Koigu KPM (in 5414). It's a spectacular combo - each yarn is 2-ply twist with more or less the same feel. They're exactly equal in girth and spring. The only discernible diff is that the Tosh Sock has more slip (it's a bit drapier). Both are 100% merino - not superwash but also no nylon.

The remainder of yarn from the Foolproof should get me, more or less exactly, a pair of socks. And then I'll see how well this combo wears (nylon-free and non-superwash). I mean, they're both designed for socks, after all.

Seriously, isn't this yarn gorgeous??

I also want to make another Circular Vest. This garment is so versatile and so complimented! But I want to make it with a drapier yarn than Lett Lopi, per my last post on the subject. I was considering Quince Osprey (I've never yet worked with aran-weight Quince yarn) because I need drape, but recovery. Quince has that in spades, at least in its lighter-weight yarns, in part because it's not wash and dry. Though I love Quince, and use it often, it's just not luxe in the way some other yarns are - the kind I'm craving right now.

Here's where this story gets kind of bizarre. A couple of years ago I bought some madelinetosh Vintage to make Miranda this scarf:

I had 140 yards left over that's been sitting in my stash. See that grey-mauve ribbing? It's a pretty accurate representation of the colour - a Tosh Vintage, hand-dyed shade called Tern. Vintage is a highly-spun worsted-weight yarn but it feels more like aran because it's very plump with twist.

Below, you'll find a photo, taken yesterday, of the Tosh (again, Tern colourway = the centre ball and the skein at the left side of the photo). It's accompanied, on the right-hand side, by another yarn altogether - Biscotte & cie in Solid Gris, also heavy worsted-weight.

This photo gives a sense of the lush, plumpness of the yarn and the sheen. But it makes it look much more grey (and much less mauve-undertoned) than it is
Don't these yarns look exactly the same???

You might be wondering how is it that I now have an unwound ball of the Vintage, in addition to the remant and the Biscotte & cie. Well, turns out there was one skein left of the Tosh in the Tern colour at my LYS (Eweknit). I'm sure this stray-ball from 3 years ago was waiting for me. But, even with the second ball, I was 200 yards short to make the Circular Vest. That's where the Biscotte came in.

Here's a shot of the Biscotte label:

This Quebec-made yarn is gorgeous and tightly spun - much like Tosh Vintage. It's exactly the same shade of hand-dyed grey meets mauve as the Vintage. I've never actually seen two yarns from different brands match each other so perfectly. The only distinction is in the texture. Biscotte yarn has a bit of cashmere and nylon, and isn't superwash, while Vintage is. (Yeah, I know I'm against superwash for sweater-like garments but the Tosh doesn't grow like other superwash yarns and it truly is amazing. Not to mention that making the vest with it will provide me with a great way to use my remaining Tern stash in a much more exciting way than otherwise I would have been able to.) The Biscotte is a bit firmer - it's got less drape -and very slightly slimmer than the Vintage but, visually, this is imperceptible. I wasn't thrilled to find my 115g ball weighed only 111g, but c'est la vie.

I intend to stripe every 2 rows to ensure that the yarns integrate seamlessly. Happily, the Biscotte should tone down any potential drape-drag of the superwash Vintage. And, with this project, every yard of yarn should go!

So, for 125 bucks (given a frequent-buyer, 20-dollar discount) I've got 3 projects planned with no remnants to worry about: a totally wearable vest, a great cowl and a pair of 2-tone socks. That's a sweet deal given that I bought very good yarn (Tosh, Koigu, Biscotte).

Alas, this isn't all the spending on yarn I did yesterday. The rest is the subject of my next post, still in keeping with my stash-busting ethic. Till then...

Saturday, April 9, 2016

It Ain't Finished Till It's "Finished"

I've been absurdly creative of late. I know that it's because I'm thinking about everything, all the time these days, like a machine. I'm so grateful that, in my 40s, instead of being overwhelmed by my brain state (and pace), I can apply it to the creation of beautiful things.

For starters, remember that vintage sweater I've had to finish (for 3 years)?? It's out of hibernation, peeps, and it's unexpectedly promising:

Mid-way through finishing - Fitted Vintage Jacket - Note how it's exactly the same colour as my just-completed Basic Pullover 2
The fact that this languished for so long has taken the edge off. I mean, if it's been sitting around for 3 years, what's another month as I work methodically to make it excellent? And, making it excellent is my mandate. Do you know how long it takes to mattress seam on a fingering-weight cardigan? Add some pockets and a collar and cut-on cuffs and it's a production. (This doesn't even move into the territory of finishing the front and hem with petersham ribbon and then machine-stitching in the buttonholes / sewing on a zillion buttons.) But who cares?

Moreover, given my current dimensions, I feel that a bit more length in the body would give this a firmer "tailored jacket" vibe. So, I'm going to use up my credit (on returned yarn to Quince) and buy yet another skein of Finch in Peacock. Then I'm going to pick up and knit from the cast on edge (the cuffs weren't knit on, but seamed, so I think the look will be consistent) and rib myself a couple of inches at the bottom. This will also take care of my concern that stabilizing the current stockinette hem would not skim my midsection in the way I'd prefer. Because it's easier for me to knit length, than extra width, at this point, I don't want to constrict the horizontal ease unnecessarily. And, you know, petersham is ribbon and it doesn't stretch.

Mercifully, I think the sweater's going to close alright over the full bust (this was my biggest fear given boobs and a cardigan and shape change) especially given the stabilization of that area with ribbon and the machine-stitched buttonholes, placed strategically.

You may know (or read my endless posts on the topic which you can access easily via my Ravelry index) that I messed with every element of fit on this project. I basically made up the pattern, design features notwithstanding. I have sheets of calculus to substantiate the altered sleeve curve. No wonder I put the blocked flat pieces in a bag for 3 years. And hilariously (ironically?), I think the shoulders came out a bit wide. What can I say, calculus isn't my core skill.

Don't panic. It's not a big issue because I have options. That's what happens when you realize that you've been doing something old-school style for quite a while and you have skills! I can either mattress seam the top of the shoulder curve a bit more closely (I'd likely not even need to unseam what's done already) OR - and this is a crazy idea - I might insert very compact shoulder pads. It would be totally in keeping with the era and it would provide more of a tailored jacket look while picking up a bit of the slack in the current fit.

So, next up, I have to order my yarn (and a new shade card from Quince) and, while I'm waiting for delivery, I'll keep on with the slow pace of finishing and other knitting projects. On that topic, tomorrow's post will talk about some new yarn I've bought in the spirit of my non-stash lifestyle. It took me 2 hours at the store to figure out how to purchase so that I could use up every yard. That's over and above the hours I've spent considering my next projects. The key is to think of multiple projects using the same batch of yarn, rather than little projects that odd lots of remnants.

At any rate, I'm vaguely amazed that I'm back to the Fitted Vintage Jacket (formerly named the Fitted Boucle Jacket). Are you??

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Bust the Stash: Finished Object 13 - Cutter Sweater (Custom Fit) and an Update on Bust the Stash

So it's minus 10 C again and I'm back to wearing fur. At least, today, it didn't snow/slush. And there's sun. But, man, when I consider how most people living in most places have better winter weather than we have in spring, well, it rankles. Fortunately, I haven't had much time to dwell on it. Work continues to challenge me. As previously mentioned, when I'm stressed, the methodical rhythm of knitting is meditative. (I actually meditate, btw, so I can confirm, anecdotally at least, that the activity works on the mind-body just like other forms of stillness and movement meditation.) It appears that the more stressed I am, the faster I knit. 

To wit: I finished a sweater in 9 days:  

Requisite disclaimer: The dress form is wider than me but this sweater is pretty stretchy.
It would not take a good picture, sadly. The light was bad this morning. This sweater, the Cutter, is longer than I would have liked by about an inch or inch and a half. On me, this falls firmly over the derriere and is practically tunic length. That's mainly because I used super wash yarn and it over-stretches when blocked (see freak out below). I also didn't get gauge (though I made a robust swatch and blocked it). As I made it, I had to renegotiate row gauge to get to the requisite length. Somehow I did a lot of paying attention but I didn't actually look at the length to ensure that I liked it.

Elegant, if simple, waist-shaping...
This is my second Custom Fit effort and it's designed by Amy Herzog, the Custom Fit founder. It's exactly the same (except for the rib pattern used on hems and neckline) as my other Custom Fit sweater - Kristin's Basic Pullover, formerly known as Kristin's Basic Cowl, which was legitimately my "invention" - albeit a very plain one. 

Here's what I'll say about Custom Fit this time around:
  • The pattern wasn't perfect. I encountered missing headings that would likely confuse a newish knitter.
  • This system excels at determining shoulder-width and vertical dimensions.
  • Amy's Fit to Flatter premise is somewhat different than mine. Hers is, dare I say, somewhat more suburban than mine. This time around, having learned from the relative looseness of the KPB, I actually altered the recommended dimensions even more substantively than I did last time.
Brief explanation of Custom Fit: 
  • You take a zillion vertical and horizontal measurements and input them into the CF system. 

  • Then you swatch to get the texture of fabric you desire. Then you apply the swatch to the sweater pattern you want to knit (either an Amy Herzog pattern, presuming that it's already in the system, not all of them have been uploaded yet - OR a design of your own based on available parameters). 
  • Mathy magic ensues and you get a chance, before the pattern is actually created, to go rogue with the proposed measurements. Last time I was conservative. I knew that I didn't want positive ease in the waist and that the hips would likely be too large, but I figured that, with all of my actual measurements provided - and having indicated my desire for CLOSE fit - that I would indeed get a pattern to reflect this. Instead the horizontal measurements were all a bit too big (with the exception of shoulder width). 
  • Then you click "ok" and you get a recipe or a pattern fitted to you. Note: the difference between recipes and patterns still eludes me so I can't really explain that part.
This time around, I entered my horizontal waist, bust and hip measurements incorrectly ON PURPOSE because I figured it would be the easiest way to get the degree of negative ease I desired. The finished garment is still a bit too big as far as I'm concerned. And I'm by no means in a slender phase. Note: This time, I attribute the size issue to my super wash yarn which, btw, I will never use again for anything other than socks and baby garments. Drape plus messed-with yarn fibers (to allow for machine wash and dry) produce an end result that's way bigger than whatever you can predict, even with a reasonable sized swatch. Yeah, it does shrink back as it dries but never quite as much as it should, particularly vertically. I'm going to have to put the air-dry, just-blocked sweater in the dryer to see if I can shrink it a bit more.

Here's my point. I've used CF twice now and I've had issues with size both times. 

I've also had issues with the patterns.

Last time I decided to knit using the CF "mostly seamless" instructions and ended up having to write out the detailed instructions for myself as they aren't overlaid on the main recipe. Basically, I had to mix and match, which means I had to create one doc containing all of the info (obliquely referred to in a tiny paragraph at the end of the pattern). That irritated me. This time I decided to follow the instructions exactly. I knitted flat and seamed and, man, gotta say I don't buy it. I've knitted sweaters in numerous fashions and it's a rare, plain pullover that needs side and sleeve seams for structure over and above what a seamless knit will provide. But it sure does add hours to the project.

First you have to block your pieces flat. That's a stress-fest when you're using grow-y superwash yarn (and you see your fit expectations vanish before your eyes). After 2 days, with no finished garment to speak of, you have to mattress seam the shoulders, the sleeve inset, the sleeve seam and the side seams. Yeah, I know you can seam other ways that are faster but they all look comparatively shoddy. Mattress seaming makes your seamed garment look seamless. Alas, it takes 3 hours to pull it off well.

I am much happier to block a seamless, finished garment such that, when all is said and done, and it's dry, I put it on and walk away. The last time I had a sweater to seam up it took me 3 years and it's still not done. Update: I've finally started putting this (relatively complicated cardigan) together, believe it or not. As I was waiting for the Cutter to block, I figured I had no excuse. I mean, if I'm willing to sew up one thing, why not another?

Even though I appear to be bitching about everything from instructions to sizing to yarn choice, it's likely that I'll get a decent amount of wear out of this finished garment because:
  • The colour and stitch definition are beautiful
  • It's clean and simple and it fits pretty well (if not perfectly)
  • It's warm but not stupidly so
  • Imperfect fit notwithstanding, it still fits better than my first Custom Fit pullover, so I'm counting this as progress.
Will I make another Custom Fit sweater? Probably. I see the potential in this system but I don't think it's through the growing-pains stage as yet. Will I make another one soon? Unlikely. I can actually sort out the math, for a simple sweater, fairly easily at this point and Amy Herzog sweater patterns (the only ones available using this system, other than those you make up for yourself) don't generally call to me. She designs exceedingly well and she has style, it's just not mine.

Point is, I can make a simple sweater more effortlessly when I do the thinking as part of the prep process than I can when I'm wondering about what might go wrong if I'm not controlling the full picture - especially given the outcomes I've experienced with CF to date. And when it comes to the complicated sweaters - those I might want to leave in the hands of a computer generated pattern - I'm not really motivated by the offerings available.

It just goes to show that a weird vest made on a stash-busting whim can turn into the most excellent finished object while, by contrast, a carefully prepared, custom designed item can be sort of dull on completion.

On another note, and not to bury the lede, I'm done with this phase of Bust the Stash. 

All I've got left to make is a bunch of hats and half-mitts which do not excite me at this time. Having said this, every yard of my remnant stash yarn is allocated to an upcoming project so the minute I opt to get back to it, I'll have Xmas projects ready to go. 

I've used up @6200 yards of yarn since December, 2015 (some of which I bought, um accidentally, after starting the stash-busting project) . 1800 yards of this was lace-weight, which you  know takes a zillion times longer to use than the same amount of worsted. My yarn box has more than enough space now to add in a few new skeins. The goal is to add these skeins intelligently - to recognize that I will have to use the remnants at the end. My stash is down to 3100 yards, in different fiber denominations of @100 yards each. I know exactly what I have to get through and I have a plan to ensure that my stash doesn't get out of hand next time I go through an acquisitive moment.

Moreover, I've learned a lot about what I like to knit:
  • Accessories
  • Unique, "odd" garments that nonetheless work in a wardrobe
  • Really well-drafted patterns
  • Garments with more spring than drape (no super wash!)
  • Really simple, eminently practical garments (that perfect simple scarf or vest)
  • Sweaters - in sport-weight yarn. Sport-weight produces the best fabric, having optimal ease and drape for size, with the least effort.
  • Simple stitch patterns. I'll take colour work any day over cables or whack stitch patterns. Mind you, working all in one colour in stockinette, garter, seed or rib can be extremely satisfying because they allow fit and fabric to shine.
So that's a lot to talk about. I'd love to hear your thoughts about my latest sweater - what do you think? How about Custom Fit? Do you like it? Have you tried it? And finally, whatcha think of my stash-busting exercise to date? Wanna try to convince me to keep on without buying new until every last yard is gone? Give it a go!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Lord, For A Second I Thought This Was Real...

And then I remembered today's date.

You really must check out this link to what I can only, sincerely, hope is a joke posted on the blog written by the peeps who run my cold-pressed juice outfit. It's all the more hilarious because this is the kind of shit that happens in Toronto all the time.

On the plus side, those dogs are spectacular to look at.