Saturday, October 15, 2016

Finished Project: Sweet Jane Pullover

My Sweet Jane Pullover is finally complete:

Disclaimer: As per all plain stockinette garments, the beauty is in the hand and in how it fits and wears. I can't say that these photos show off this pullover to its best effect. And while it was carefully blocked, it hasn't been worn, which is why the sleeves look vaguely wonky. I did a bit of assertive blocking in the upper arms and you can still see the pin points. They disappear completely when worn, of course.

So, what can I say about this knit?
  • It's not difficult but you have got to like short rows because they're everywhere (hem, shoulder shaping, sleeve head).
  • It's boring knitting. So, so boring. One perks up at the thought of the short rows, if only for novelty.
  • Amy Miller, the designer, most definitely has the tightest gauge on the planet - if her pattern recommendations are anything to go by. As mentioned previously, I had to go down 3 needle sizes and I still obtained a gauge that would produce a finished sweater many inches too large. I think her patterns are quite chic, well-instructed and innovative, but we're at opposite ends of the gauge continuum. As a result, it's unlikely I'll knit one of her patterns again soon. There was too much math and near-constant sizing consideration to justify the simplicity of the end result.
  • A propos of the bullet above, there's a point to be made that, if you have to go up or down by more than 2 needle sizes, you're going to have to work hard at reproducing the pattern - unless it's something unfitted, like a scarf, and you like the fabric produced by working with the proposed needle size.
In terms of sizing:
  • You must fit this perfectly for you, or it will look hideous. Pay careful attention to the shoulder width - which must align with your shoulder tips exactly. The arms should be fitted too - though perhaps not as extensively as mine are! Note: My Quince Chickadee is very yielding (if springy), so blocking achieved my objective. But I would give myself an extra half-inch of circumference in the upper arm next time, if only to avoid having to assertively block.
  • If the length isn't also perfect, you'll look wide or boxy. I blocked the short side to 16" of length, and the long to 23", and I might have gone a bit longer (by an inch) on either side. I actually undid the finished hem at the end - such a pain in the ass once I'd bound off 200 plus stitches in rib - and I added another 5 rows to the rib because it really was shorter than I liked. I'd add another inch still, above the hem short rows, were I to make this again.
  • Obvs, this garment has no waist shaping but the pattern instructs A line shaping under the bust. I opted to go straight down from the bust (i.e. 38" all the way) and that toned down the volume. If you are a waif - or you have a small bust - then the true A line may flatter. If you have proportionately large breasts, I suggest you tread carefully with the dimensions. I'm still on the fence about whether I love the fit through my mid-section but I'll have to see how my opinion changes with wear because, one thing I've learned: My relationship to my handmade clothing changes as a garment becomes familiar. I become less critical (and often more pleased) over time. Unless I never wear it, that is.
  • I always find it ironic that the hardest sweaters to size are the ones without shaping. Remember the 80s, peeps...
  • Unless you have very long arms, you're going to want to cut a number of inches off the length. If I'd worked as the pattern instructed, the ribbing would have covered half my hand (and the instructions are for a 3/4 sleeve?!) Others have corroborated this on Ravelry.
In terms of the yarn (which I've written about many times before):
  • Quince Chickadee is a very springy plied yarn. It manages to walk an usual line between "nice" and budget - almost like Cascade, but of somewhat higher quality (not that Cascade is in any way low-quality, but it is mass-produced at a certain price point). This makes it quite a good choice for projects requiring lots of yarn. Quince colours are infinitely better than Cascade's, IMO, and the post-blocked hand of the fabric is firmer. There are no synthetics added to the wool. There is no super washing. Quince holds its shape. It's durable. It's doesn't stretch out notably after blocking. In fact, it tends to shrink a bit. I really love whatever sheep are used to produce this yarn. Unsurprisingly, it has a more Northern feel than a Peruvian yarn. There's nothing halo-y or drapey about it. But it isn't at all like that woolen-spun, toothy/crunchy thing Brooklyn Tweed's got going on. 
  • Quince works well for many of the kinds of patterns that appeal to me. It's entirely soft enough to wear against the skin but it doesn't bag out. It's particularly good for cowls, mitts, gloves and hats, btw, because it keeps its shape, it's got great stitch definition and it's warm.
  • What I don't love about it is that it's quite robust for weight. The fingering feels like sport to me. The sport, like DK. The DK is almost like worsted. And because it holds its shape and springs back - it's not delicate. It can seem a bit thick. You might wonder why I don't just size down when I use it and, you know, I've considered it. That's probably what I'll do next time. If it were easier for me to buy (I have to order it online), I'd experiment. I wish I didn't have to purchase in large batches to justify the cost (which is still acceptable to me, even with the exchange rate). America-dwellers: You can often find it in store - or with very reasonable shipping - and the price point is fantastic. For you, this yarn is a terrific bargain and I urge you to support your economy.
  • Never put this in the dryer unless you want a child-size result at the end. You can machine dry it briefly, when almost air dried (to block it to a smaller size) but be careful.
What I did differently this time:

Usually, when I knit a sweater, I weave in the ends before wet-blocking, because I want a finished garment as soon as its dry. But, as you know, I really don't wear any of the dozens of sweaters I've made (some have been given away, 10 sit in my closet). Once you weave in the ends, unraveling a sweater becomes a very unpleasant and challenging task - like it wouldn't be already, what with undoing a hundred hours of work?! This time, I wanted the option to just rip it back immediately, if the fit wasn't right or if I felt I'd never wear it. Then at least, I figured, I could restash the yarn.

Alas, I have issues with this concept. Even more depressing than sacrificing time, unknitting a newly-complete garment is not appealing on other levels. It feels like mending / alterations to me. Or like watching reruns. I don't like to revisit the past, even if it is ecologically-minded. How can I buy NEW soft, delicious, addicting yarn if I still have masses of it in unwound projects? I mean, if I just unravelled the sweaters in my closet (some of which I do have a strange, sentimental attachment to - if only as learning experiences), I'd have so much stash yarn, I wouldn't know what to do with it. And part of my issue with some of those sweaters is the yarn itself! It may have knit-up nicely but I didn't like working with it.

I recall reading about some guy who actually unravels his latest garment whenever he wants to make a new one, because one is enough. Who has this kind of fortitude and obliviousness to novel tactile experiences?

I did opt to weave in the ends, in the end, because I do think/anticipate/hope this pullover might be worn semi-regularly - not in spite of its plainness, but because of it. It's a neutral-toned, blank slate with interesting lines. Which is generally what I wear. What I can't say is whether my perception of its chunkiness (you know I wear FINE denier, RTW cashmere most of the time) will preclude me from choosing it. And if that happens, really, I'm not making any more sweaters. Not until I get a knitting machine and teach myself how to use it (and given my current lifestyle, this may be many years hence). Famous last words, I realize. But let's see how this goes.

I was concerned that blocking first would produce more visible woven-in ends that wouldn't stick as well (given that water and drying didn't integrate them into the main fabric). I needn't have worried. I actually think it was a bit easier to weave in this order - and the final ends are completely invisible / stay put.

So that's everything I have to say about this project. But what about you? Do you like it? (Feel free to be honest - I mean, I'm not the designer! :-)) Would you wear it? Have you made it? Any thoughts on Quince yarn? Let's talk!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bra Review: Unlined Piper Longline by Cleo

That unlined Cleo Piper longline I've been waiting for just arrived and it is ALL that:
I mean to take my own pic but I cannot say when that'll be. In the interim, please enjoy this photo from Dreams and Underthings.
No question, it is a rare, as-yet released bra that raises this degree of expectation and lust. Most who wear full bust/small band sizes have felt terribly neglected when it comes to unlined longlines because, well, they simply haven't existed till now. Sure, about 5 years ago, the regular full-bust players started producing seamed (but lined or lightly padded) versions. Note that those don't play nicely with projected breasts. Moreover, having tried them, I find that the engineering isn't noteworthy - the bands are wussy, too short and incline to buckle.

I've read a number of reviews of this cobalt-shade, unlined Piper (not that there are tons of them because this bra is newly-released). It would appear to fit a broad variety of different breast shapes - tall roots, short roots, wider or narrower breasts, full on bottom (everyone agrees it excels for this subset), a bit full on top (but not overly). It's odd to hear of this degree of modularity in a bra.

I'd read one review and think: Phew, this one's going to work well for me, I know it. Then I'd read another and start feeling concerned. But I needn't have been.

I can now corroborate that this bra also works for the even/full bust (that which is equivalently both lower- and upper-cup "full", having considerable projection). My bust is high-set on my chest, but my roots are short. This gives me functionally even root-height and I do not find this too high at the underarm. The wires may be a bit wide, but there's enough depth in the cups to avoid shape-distortion. There's also enough centre-projection (and dimension to the outer cup piece) to allow for projected breasts to sit front and centre. The gore's a bit wider than the close-set might prefer, but my boobs are very close together and this gore tacks without issue.

So let me tell you why, IMO, this bra is so easy for so many:
  • The band of a longline, when it really fits the person who's wearing it, provides an optimal amount of support. This support is not only flattering (and tends to improve the lift-ability of the cups given that wider bands distribute weight over a broader surface area), but it's good for those who may experience back or shoulder pain due to bras that are too loose in the back (or too flimsy of fabric) and too small in the cups. This band's robustness, in addition to its deep cups (see more below), make for a bra that's very comfortable.
  • In full disclosure, the cups are constructed in such a way that generally doesn't work for me as there's a reasonably horizontal seam (not as diagonal as I prefer) delineating an upper cup from the under cup. What saves the day, IMO, is that the under cup is actually 3 pieces, vertically seamed). This construction provides a lot of volume for full on bottom breasts. 
  • Moreover, the horizontal seam is set above the bust apex, to diminish the cup shallowness which this sort of seam tends to produce. Also, because the lower cup is so volume-friendly, those who often use the volume of an upper cup to redistribute full on bottom projection (and most full on bottom peeps who wear the wrong size do this) are able to use the upper cup volume for its intended purpose. That's why those with projected, even, or slightly functionally full on top breasts, who also have lower fullness, can wear this without feeling like the upper cup is too closed.
  • Finally, back to the band: It's the perfect length for me, a short-waisted gal, and the plastic boning is adequate to keep things in place. You could replace the plastic with metal, easily enough, but unless your ribs flare or you have some strategically-located, flare-producing torso flesh, I don't think it would be necessary. Because it has 5 hooks/eyes, it doesn't need to be overly snug to provide optimal support. But I don't find this band particularly snug.
 Now let's talk about how it looks:
  • This bra is much more luxe-seeming than any other Cleo bra I've come across. The fabric is great. The eyelash lace is soft and delicate, but not weak. The colour is as delicious as everyone else says. The Cleo Piper is gorgeous - and really sexy - and it's a great foundation garment under slim-fitting clothes. I actually think it's a steal at the cost, which is one of the reasons I bet it'll be very popular - and one of the reasons why it's selling out fast.
The bottoms, an adequate, plain brief in matching fabric, are in no way up to the standard of the bra. A high-waisted, lacy number - or even a good thong - would create a more attractive set. These undies are merely passable. And they fit on the loose side. I hope that if this bra sticks around that Cleo will up its game, on this account, to perfect the finished look.

Today's questions: Have you tried this bra? Did it work? Do you want to buy it? Think it's overrated? Let's talk!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Structural Stability

The amazing thing about taking forever to start something one is conflicted about doing in the first place (mega-expensive and extensive renovations, anyone?), is that it allows for the most pervasive - dare we say, totally absurd - scope creep.

In the time that we've taken to nail this reno down (i.e., figure out the nature of the structural challenges, come to terms with it emotionally and financially, consider the alternatives, arrange financing, vet architects and design/build firms and contractors and just about everyone else on the planet, close pre-existing permits, get new permits, deal with stupidities in the municipal system requiring super-human approvals (designed to provide the City with cash), clean out our fucking fire-trap of a basement (this is ongoing) etc.), most of the like-minded people we know have done their entire renos and had a few new-home holiday dinners since.

No one's going to accuse us of being proactive.

Let me clarify - the reason that this has taken so long is, in part, because Scott and I have been at odds with the process in one way or another. He doesn't want to start because he's the designated hands-on project manager and he knows what he's in for. (Note: even though we have a project manager on the job, you know - one we're paying, this ain't our first time at the rodeo. We get that we're the ones who will manage the outcomes, when all is said and done.) And it's not like Scott doesn't already have a full-time job.

My conflict arises from my perpetual anxiety about destruction of this place (before reconstruction). Order is my salve. How will I handle the chaos? Just the chaos of preparing for a reno fills me with dread.

Allow me to remind you that all of this started cuz I wanted some fucking French doors.

The most recent turn of events isn't about timing - this thing is on schedule for a March-April start. It's about scope. For a variety of complex and boring reasons, the proposed price of this upgrade has skyrocketed still further (like by another 33 per cent) and we'll be tearing down still more of the house. At this point, the only part of the ORIGINAL house that will remain is the front third - the part worth salvaging. This consists of an entrance hall, stair case, dining room, living room, upstairs hallway and 2 bedrooms. Given that I live in a row house (which is attached to our neighbours at both sides, at different places on either side), one set of our neighbours will have an interesting summer along with us: We're tearing down part of our house that is currently attached to theirs. Don't worry - they know about it, it's entirely legit and our builders are insured up the yin yang. Also, apparently this happens with extensive row house renos. Not that I've ever seen it.

At this point it's firm: we're going to have to move out because there won't be any accessible bathrooms. Or much of a house to speak of. (On the plus side, we'll have 2 new bathrooms at the end of the day). Just the thought of moving out temporarily fills me with horror. And what does temporarily even mean? Goddamn it, I'm going to be back in this house by this weekend next year (Thanksgiving) because that's my non-negotiable end date. Have you ever tried to find a new house in an appropriate neighbourhood of an absurdly expensive city for some period of time that you cannot predict? Seriously, just that is enough to throw me over the edge. More to the point, when does one just say fuck it, and move elsewhere permanently??

We've had that discussion too, btw. And given my love-feelings for this home (which, frankly, have eroded over the past 3 years of increasing decrepitude), it's pretty shocking that we did.

But this is what we keep coming back to:
  • We love our location and that's the one thing you can't create after the fact.
  • To move, even down the block, would likely cost us (in the end) about as much as doing this reno - even after all of the scope creep. I'm not going to move into a place that isn't completely "done" and, downtown, those places are like unicorns that generally sell for 300K above asking.
  • Even if I were to move, I wouldn't know what elements of that new house are destined to fall apart or under-function once I take ownership. We spent our first 10 years in this house fixing it foundationally. In fact, this next reno is as much about structural improvement as anything else. I don't want to go somewhere new and then have to spend time and money fixing the things that can't be revealed at a showing or a cursory inspection.
  • When this is done, I will have EXACTLY what I want (well, within the limits of my budget and general floor plan). Exactly what I want probably looks like a 3 million dollar place in Summerhill Gardens, but that's not in the cards. My house will still be 15 feet wide and attached to its neighbours, but man, those 15 feet are going to be chic (and over multiple levels).
  • This renovation will structurally stabilize a piece of history for another 125 years and I am a steward of this home. When I sell it, it's going to be worth that much more because it will be a) gorgeous, b) functional and c) stable. Houses that fit this bill, in central TO, are pretty rare. This is going to form a relevant portion of my retirement fund so I need to invest in it now to recoup the benefits.
  • And on that topic, now's the time when I have as much disposable income and financing credibility as I've ever had. I also have the energy (well, this is debatable but I'm not seeing my aptitude for major reno increasing as I age). If this is going to happen, let's get on with it.
But honestly, it's taken me more than an hour to write this little update, because finding the words means I have to accept what's coming. And I don't know that I truly have. When you find out someone you know is going to have a first baby, there's that moment when you feel happiness for her, but it's quickly followed by a fast (almost panicked) thought about how it is impossible for anyone to understand the magnitude of what she's set in motion. Let's face it, the transition to first-time motherhood is beyond the comprehension of anyone who hasn't lived it. In some ways, and I don't want to overstate this, of course, it's as destabilizing to one's foundation as war (sleep deprivation of epic proportions, constant screaming (everyone's), endless effort just to function at a baseline level, the loss of control over daily life, the loss of basic impulse to preserve identity, potential damage to one's body, potential financial hardship, damage to the primary relationship). Yeah, I get that procreation is a human drive and that many people don't struggle to this extent - probably because they're too tired to feel anything or their oxytocin is high-grade - but I did.

In truth, I'm afraid that this reno - in its massive scope - is going to destabilize me as new-motherhood did. And, Lord, I'm not up for that. Yeah - I get that I became a mother in my late-20s and now I am an emotionally mature woman (most days), almost 17 years older. I have much more life experience than I did back then. I survived the descent into parenthood. I learned from it. I re-emerged. I also understand my triggers now, in a way that motherhood clarified like nothing else. And I have systems to manage anxiety, systems that have been years in design and application. Furthermore, one imagines that I have some sort of fucking perspective, at this point, yes? But I do crave order in my environment. It symbolizes my mythic internal order. It makes me feel like everything's ok.

You can see why I'm freaking out.

Any perspective you might have is so welcome -whether you've done a reno, had a baby, gone through both or neither. We all encounter ourselves at the edge for one reason or another. I'd love to hear stories about how the hard work was doable (if legitimately hard) and nowhere near as punishing as expected. I'll also take stories about the end supporting the means. And if there's someone out there who feels that tearing down and rebuilding a house was rather easy by comparison with new motherhood - please, leave a comment! I want to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Slow Fashion

Brief update: Somehow I wrote this entire post without realizing that it's "Slow Fashion October", as defined by Fringe Association. I must have been subconsciously absorbed into the hive mind?! On the plus-side, it reminds me that this is a concept I have taken ownership of as it's something I've been grappling with for quite a long time. Slow fashion is a journey - just like developing sewing skills or transforming the shape of one's body. It doesn't happen overnight. It comes with obstacles. It requires intensive consideration, and then pragmatism. And it's often the purview of the privileged. 

It's all well and good to talk about spending one's income intelligently, on clothing that will last many years - ensuring quality and supporting one's national economy and being seriously chic in the process. But it does smart momentarily.

To wit: this fall I've bought 4 things*
  • A black, crew-neck bodysuit in miraculous fabric from Kit and Ace of which I cannot seem to find a pic. It doesn't get more neutral - or easy to tuck - than this.
  • A navy pair of cropped pants (link is to pic of me wearing them) that are basically lounge wear that looks like work wear, also from Kit and Ace. I wear these once a week. Alas they are now sold out:
  • And, as of today, this cashmere blazer from Black Goat:

Note: I've had my eye on this jacket since I bought the world's luxest scarf...
While I absolutely love these purchases, I've sure as hell spent more money on them than I would have, on the same sorts of garments, high-street style. In fact, I spent more money on these 4 garments than I would have, 5 years ago, on all of my fall purchases put together.

Only one item was on sale - the pants - and they still cost in the neighbourhood of 200 bucks. Note to reader: Spend on the freakin' pants! Cheap trousers are easy to spot a mile away.

The bodysuit was definitely a stretch (pun intended) and I bought it entirely because I'm at the whim of awesome fabric. It was stupidly expensive for a glorified T shirt though, in my experience, Kit and Ace stuff wears awesomely (in true "technical fabric" style - whatever the hell that means). Also, if it shows the slightest bit of wear and tear, for 200 bucks, I will return it, for a refund, without a second thought.

However, I truly had to check my anxiety at the door when I bought the boots. I mean, you never know if boots are going to work until you start wearing them and I've made enough shoe-fitting errors, over the years, to be appropriately gun-shy. Particularly given that my shoes are my car. And, as a person managing early-onset osteoarthritis (the original wear-and-tear condition), I am not fucking around with the footwear.

Here's what made me take the plunge: I do already own these boots in the suede over-knee version (not practical peeps) and those fit well. The style is flat but utterly chic. The leather drapes perfectly. They're excellent for the thin-calved among us. They go with everything. They're wearable in winter (though not so much in snow). Furthermore, I am not prepared to buy another pair, in this style, made of plastic-covered fabric, designed to represent leather. (I think we call those "vegan".) On the plus side, those plastic-wearing years taught me that the style is eminently useful in my wardrobe.

I have one complaint about these boots (having worn them daily for the last couple of weeks): Initially, they smelled strangely like chemicals (vaguely vomity, to be honest) when they came out of the box. In truth, the entire Stuart Weitzman store smells that way so I think it has something to do with how they treat the leather. But I seriously considered returning them on that basis. I left the boots airing in my house, for 2 weeks, before determining that the smell had faded adequately. I still catch a hint of it occasionally, while wearing, and I am not impressed. For 900 bucks after tax, is perfection too much to ask??? I do believe, however, that the issue will resolve itself in the near-term.

All of this brings me to today's purchase: The cashmere blazer of my dreams. It's far less mumsy looking on me than in that photo (above), in large measure because I have boobs and a waist. The notched collar is chicness personified. This is the perfect garment to wear with work-appropriate denim (or basically anything else). It is timeless. The colour is rich, but neutral. The fabric is indescribably luxurious but oddly durable-seeming (for cashmere).

Intriguingly - I could wear all of these purchases simultaneously and they would all work together exceedingly well. Don't the fashion beings suggest that you buy such that everything in your closet is wearable with everything else?

Here's the thing. I need very few upgrades, on a seasonal basis, to keep my wardrobe running. I make a lot of my own clothing (if not recently) and those items are replaceable at a very reasonable monetary price (though at a rather steep cost if one considers the value of my time). I work my ass off and I've hit a point that I'm earning enough money to afford a semi-regular splurge. Moreover, those splurges become ever less necessary as I stabilize my wardrobe with timeless purchases which reflect my (fairly stable) style. I'm not buying to scratch an itch. I'm buying to meet a wardrobe need - and I intend to do this as sustainably, and elegantly, as my means permit.

So that's how I'm handling mid-life fashion these days, not that you asked...

But what about you? Does my system resonate? Do you spend to save? Do you shop for other reasons? Do you think I'm insane? Let's talk!

*Just FYI, lingerie doesn't count.