Yesterday, I took a nap.
A small triumph.
Back in the New Year!
It was stormy here on Sunday morning.
and thus a quiet, indoor kind of a day.
Yesterday, however, was a bit of a frenzy.
It was not my intention when the day began,
but as the sun hit the trees I simply had to sweep away
the the inches of fir needles and branches that had blown onto the deck outside my studio,
and that meant dealing with the geraniums, which were almost buried,
which reminded me that it was past time to cut them back and move them inside
(they apparently thrive on neglect so live for years in my careless care).
and that meant I needed to clean "their" corner of the the sun porch,
which led to tidying the whole thing,
which in turn led to window washing,
and then to planting narcissus bulbs for indoor winter blooms,
(though while outside collecting pebbles for the narcissus I got distracted and
cut back a pick up truck full of lilac branches so I will have a place to put snow this winter),
I boiled some water for a cup of Earl Grey
and sat on the newly swept deck
but sipping and soaking up the golden light,
noticing all the other chores that would just have to wait,
that I had been doing all my
sloppy, messy, dusty, snippy, ladder climbing rushing about
while wearing my brand new and possibly not quite finished skirt.
"Well," I thought, "so much for taking care of my new clothes!"
-- so what?
This gusset skirt, like the one I made last week,
is so comfortable that I didn't really notice it was on and thus
quite perfect for outdoor work on an autumn day.
The skirt is thicker and longer than the the first,
a slightly different design,
and, to my eyes, a touch more formal than its predecessor.
But it is just as stretchy and easy to wear.
all the parts have already been immersed in water ,
steamed with a hot iron,
and generally manipulated in ways that the wool seems actually to like.
And I'm always happy to throw things I make in a tub of hot water.
If purchased form a catalog the skirt might say, "dry clean only,"
"Perfect for visits to your bank manager."
It might also have been lined
to make sure it didn't ride up anyone's tights,
(or pantyhose -- do people still wear those?)
even though it doesn't.
Ride up, I mean.
But for me, it turned out to be the perfect thing to wear
just because it happened to
This is not the project I thought I'd dive into when I returned from my travels.
It was not even on my radar.
But a few days ago,
there I was,
cutting up an early backstrap experiment,
knitting short rows panels with leftover bits of the same walnut dyed yarn
(Brown Sheep Nature Spun Fingering used double),
and sewing them together.
I have long clung to a belief that I am an organized person
(at least in the realm of my textile work),
a planner who spends months on tapestry cartoons,
and years bringing ideas to fruition.
But apparently, instead, I am a slave to the thrills and chills of
Another early backstrap experiment --
linen paper yarn from habu textiles that I'd had for years and years and years,
then wove and indigo dyed last summer--
turned out to be the perfect thing to fold over the top edges of the woven fabric
both protecting the cut edges of the woven cloth
and giving the knitted sections sufficient structure to prevent the skirt from falling down.
And when I ran out of the walnut dyed yarn a few inches shy of making it around my butt,
the idea of an indigo button band became a reality.
The buttons themselves are a mixed bag,
though most are all that is left of a beloved dress I wore till it was compost.
Along with my sense of myself as an organized person,
I've also nurtured definite ideas about mixing woven and knitted structures --
NOT in favor.
But changing my mind has not been as painful as I might have thought.
Just a couple of leg lunges
while taking unintentional and rather grim selfies when trying to show...
...how the woven panels over my butt will (hopefully) prevent that "cling and sag" effect of so many purely knitted skirts,
made me reassess all my 'never mix never worry' prejudices about knitting and weaving.
Which reminds me of yet another assumption with which this garment has forced me to contend:
that I am not the kind of person who wears short skirts.
But just because I have not done such a thing in the past
does not mean that today,
a couple of months shy of my 57th birthday,
is not a fine time to start.
I mean -- what the heck?
Happily, it fits!
kind of garment,
I kind of lucked out.
The yarn was sitting in my cabinet -- in the weaving stash no less--
and is Brown Sheep Naturespun fingering dyed with walnut in a range of values.
Some of it went into this tapestry:
It probably breaks some kind of rule to use the same soft yarn for tapestry and knitting,
but this stuff (in lieu of or with handspun), is lovely.
I started with three partial balls.
Cast on with the dark brown and knit till I ran out.
Decided it was long enough.
Separated front and back for the armholes.
Switched to the next value.
Knit till the armholes were deep enough (with a little neck scoop on the front),
Grafted front to back.
Divided remaining yarn into two equal balls.
Picked up sleeve stitches and knit till I ran out.
Divided the last ball of yarn into two equal parts.
Knit till I ran out.
It has edges but no borders--a style I love
both because and in spite of the ridiculous easy pleasure of making and wearing.
I'd probably like it just as much if the sleeves were longer,
but at 175 grams (6.25 oz),
it's an ideal garment for the 'cool' mornings of HOT summer days.
I bet I wear it a lot!
After seven years of hard wear and two cuff mends,
the bottom of my son's sweater had begun to fray.
Shoulder to cuff is my preferred way to knit sleeves, which makes cuff mending a simple matter of unraveling a few rows and re-knitting (with other yarn if necessary).
The cast on edge of a bottom up sweater is not, however, made for unraveling,
so I went up an inch or so, snipped a strand of yarn, and pulled out one row all the way around, leaving a nice row of stitches to pick up and an inch of sweater to unravel for re-knitting (discarding the yarn from the bottom couple of rounds which was too weak and worn to re-use).
Foolishly, I picked the row right after a cable turn to snip to separate the two sections, so the unraveling was more awkward than it might have been.
But eventually I got it all sorted and reknit and cast off. Starting an inch up means that next time I can unravel right from the cast off end which will be much simpler.
The only drawback to picking up the stitches and going in the opposite direction is that the loops are half a stitch off, but with the cables this really isn't evident.
Nothing miraculous about any of this,
but a good deal of satisfaction in keeping it going, and much pleasure in handling the sweater and the yarn again.
It was a thoroughly-planned garment that began with choosing the fleece (grey Rambouillet X)
and went on to months of spindle spinning,
endless samples plied, yarn dyed, swatches knit and
mailed across several states for perusal and approval.
Final decisions on yarn weight and color led to massive plying (4 ply won out over 3), huge dyepots, much knitting, and even some swatch unraveling at the very end as all those cables used more yarn even than what I thought were overgenerous calculations.
Amazing how much sun fading there has been-- the darker strip at the bottom is the same yarn that I took off, but it shifted just enough when reknit that it appears a different color.
On the other hand, it's amazing how little fading there has been considering how hard this sweater has been worn, and how much it has been out in the weather.
So glad it can now get back to its exciting life.
Yellow is hard to photograph,
but irresistible nonetheless.
The plan was to knit the lovely Lang Ayre,
a large triangular hap designed by Gudrun Johnston
from The Book Of Haps by Kate Davies
which had just come in the mail.
In truth I could happily have embarked on almost any of the patterns in this compelling book,
or even tried some traditional techniques (lace edging first --who knew?), and made up my own. The book is awash in ideas and history,
and the essays--as with all Kate Davies words--are irresistibly readable.
When it came to actually casting on, however, my small stash of knitting yarn yielded only a collection of vaguely similar leftover bits that fell roughly into six categories --the number called for in Johnston's stripe sequence- so her enveloping striped hap is the one I chose.
Handily enough, I also happened to have a
super duper yarn organizer waiting in my recycling bin
with exactly six compartments
and a built in handle for easy summer transport,
What could I do but begin?
Garter stitch meant that I could read and knit at the same time (always a huge benefit for me),
and Johnston's genius way of joining the colors for the stripes
led to clean edges with absolutely no -- ZERO--ends to weave in afterward.
The pattern is well written and the stripe sequence (which I mostly followed, at least at the beginning and end of each square), compelling.
But when I finished the central square one evening at spinning,
I was suddenly confused. Shelley (the power behind The Yarn Underground , my LYS), said "garment," and almost immediately afterward Jaymi said "sweatshirt, "
and possibilities unfolded.
But were they right?
It might not be a triangular hap, but was it a sweater?
Did I want to deal with shaping and all the accompanying nonsense?
To hedge my bets I knit another bias square that could be a back, but also could be part of a rectangular stole.
The next weeks were lovely:
lots of reading and knitting,
and trotting here and there, six pack in hand,
endless garter stitch and no decisions.
By the time I finished the second square,
I was pretty sure it was a garment
but by that time my brain was immersed in backstrap weaving,
and I had to catch its attention long enough to focus on garment structure.
It took a little bribery:
"once you figure this out, you get to return to all that nice garter stitch and thefabulous book about Isobel Wylie Huchison..."
The book, Flowers in the Snow, won out, and I finally made some decisions.
First, I decided to join the front and back with a sleeve strap, which had three benefits:
1. it added a couple of inches to the length
2. it provided a neck opening (boat necks make me claustrophobic)
3. it seemed to do interesting things stripe-wise.
So casting on a few stitches and starting at the neck edge of the strap,
I knit back and forth, joining front and back as I knit,
then picked up the rest of the sleeve stitches at the edge
and knit out toward the cuff, decreasing slowly as I went.
As predicted, lots of happy knitting ensued, but another decision waited at the end:
Overhand? Kitchener Stitch? 3-Needle Bind off?
I finally chose the last, in part because I'd never done it before.
Picking up stitches along all the edges (one for each garter bump), I knit one ridge of garter stitch on each side and then cast them back off together on the wrong side.
As I hoped, it worked beautifully, the seams providing some nice structure to an otherwise incredibly stretchy garment.
And I think I like it!
It is light weight, super stretchy and fluid all at once.
The bias squares provide drape so that despite the lack of shaping (save for the sleeve decreases), it does not feel remotely like the rectangular sack that it is.
Better even than I hoped (and I'm a good hoper).
Yippee! New clothes for fall.
So now my nearly empty six pack and I will wait in comfort
for the next bossy knitting idea that happens along.
(sorry about that -- couldn't resist).
Or, more likely, we'll just get back to the backstrap Loom.
Some of the last leftover bits floating around the bottom of the six pack will be perfect for needlepoint.
The day before yesterday I planted lettuce.
Today I hope the drippy weather
will encourage the seeds to sprout.
Planting seeds and believing they'll become food
So too, is learning a tune in the hope of playing it with others,
or buying a fleece and imagining a garment.
It's even amazing when I am doing the work.
Perhaps I am easily amazed.
I'm certainly easily amused.
A few days ago I got a wonderful letter (actually an email), asking about knitting.
The author wanted to see a particular garment from an earlier iteration of my website.
She also wondered why I have so little knitting on this one.
The first query sent me burrowing around in old digital files
looking for the vest she remembered.
Alas, I found not a single pixel.
Not a single pixel of that sweater, that is.
But I did find plenty of others.
My world is awash in hand knit garments
each a physical manifestation of time and place,
of ideas and dreams,
some of which have become 'real,'
some of which remain swatches.
Each bit of cloth contains hours, weeks, decades of knitting pleasure,
the indescribably sensuous feeling of yarn slipping through fingers
wrapping around needles, loop through loop, through loop.
I've attempted to capture it in other media:
tapestry, needlepoint and paint,
but try as I might, it seems nothing can truly evoke that pleasure
other than actually knitting.
I've been knitting steadily and obsessively since my early teens.
Like breathing, it is something I can't seem to stop doing.
And I don't want to.
Why, then is there so little knitting on this website?
Why a tapestry archive and no knitting one to balance it?
Am I being elitist?
Is the dreaded art/craft hierarchy warping my thinking?
The only reasonable answer I can come up with today
is that my professional life used to be more knitting centric than it is now.
Garments I made in the past ("Kestrels Alight" for Knitting in America, for instance),
garments destined for publication, were likely to be professionally photographed,
both for the magazine or book in question and for my records.
But as tapestry came to dominate the portion of my work that was "out in the world,"
my knitting became private, my sweaters my everyday clothes.
And who wants to see that?
With no plans to publish then, I needed only enough information to make another for me
so I stopped writing down the patterns -- or only as jots on fragments of paper.
(Now that I write this, I find it curious that I immortalized the scribbles
while the original sweater lives in a pile with all the others).
But clothes are important. I like making them.
And there is infinite pleasure in simple garments that I reach for day after day,
year after year.
There are now so many that I have a notebook of when I wash each one
so I don't lose track.
I rarely photograph them,
or only as not very good sweater selfies --
hardly fit for a knitting archive.
Yet suddenly I'm intrigued with the idea of having a record---
a collection of garments I've made
all in one place.
They wouldn't have to be terrific photos, would they?
It could be interesting.
One of these fine days, I might actually do it.
Now, however, I'm trying to get a pile of mismatched hand spun leftovers to work together as though I meant it. Stay tuned....
When it comes to sewing bits of fabric together
and mending holes in my clothing
I'm a sloppy running stitch kind of gal.
But fixing stuff still demands decisions:
Is it best to put the patch on the outside, or on the inside?
Should I use denim or plain weave cotton?
Raw edge with chain stitch?
Raw edge with buttonhole stitch?
Or turn the ends under?
Might as well try all three and see which lasts longest.
These garments, after all, are for wearing while working.
I have no one to please but myself
and it pleases me to be warm.
After 15 + years of almost daily use (and nearly that many of mending),
you can still see some of the original fabric on the sleeve of my studio jacket.
Every couple of years I dunk the whole thing into an indigo pot
to even out the hodge podge of patches.
Silk/Rayon Velvet takes indigo very nicely.
Sometimes my patching fabric choices have not been wise.
But so what?
Though deeply influenced by the concept of Boro
and delighted to be distracted by looking at such garments
I choose my patch materials from my current collection of scraps--
an ever-changing assortment--
and stitch with the yarn or thread at hand
so it never looks like proper sashiko.
The mood of the moment is all.
This is not the case when mending things for other people.
When an adorable puppy had his way with my friend Heather's precious hand spun mitt, I agreed to do my best to make it useable -- then put it off for months while I worried about continuity, fretted about technique and dreaded trying to live up to the high standards of of the original maker, my dear friend Nancie who died a year ago this month.
This past weekend on my annual retreat with my spinning group
I finally tackled them,
First I darned all the little puppy-teeth holes.
Next I unraveled the mess around the pinkie, picked up what I hoped was the right number of stitches and re-knit it using my hand spun which didn't match in anything but grist (two ply cormo, about 3000 yards per pound).
Then it was time for the mess around the middle and pointer fingers.
Truth to tell, by that time I was a touch frustrated.
Indeed, if it had been mine, I'd probably have done some casual stitching around the raw edge to halt the fraying and called it good -- anything to avoid more time with 00 needles, miniscule open stitches and fragments of yarn.
But I couldn't do that to Heather and Nancie's Mitties.
And luckily my dear spinning comrades wouldn't let me.
Vicki took the whole thing out of my hands and carefully ripped back until she reached solid mitten (apologizing for undoing the pinkie finger I'd just made, but doing the wise thing nonetheless), and reknit to the base of the fingers, continuing one part of the complicated and unrepeatable cable into the new section.
I patched my jeans, drank beer and practiced feeling grateful instead of guilty.
Rochelle then re-knit the fingers -- three of them anyway.
I worked on my jacket with glee and relief.
Mary Jo wanted to knit the last finger but found her gauge was too different
so Vicki remade the pinkie with a smidgn more of my even darker hand spun.
I wove in the ends and gave both mitts a bath.
Here is the result of our communal Visible Mending:
functional, beautiful in a new way, worth the effort, clearly not new, done.
Thank You Tom of Holland for the term.
Thank You Nancie for what we hope is your approval.
After I send this post into the inter-webs
(and have a bracing cup of tea),
I'll deliver them to Heather.
Then I can come home and resume admiring my knees.
Sarah C Swett