A Tale of Two Sweaters

Can I tell you something? I made this sweater twice. Well, not this exact sweater. But I used this yarn and knitted up a perfectly fine sweater and then completely frogged it, all seven skeins of yarn, rewound them, and knit up another complete sweater. 

I bought this yarn on the last day before lockdown orders came out in March last year, knowing that I'd need a Project to work on. I finished the first sweater in October, then fully eight months into the pandemic. And in that time, the pandemic really made me take stock of what matters: relationships, self care, patience and joy. And, among other things, I have realized that life is too short for sweaters that you won't wear. I loved the bobbles and details, the months I spent working out the stitch pattern. But the whole thing just felt too heavy, too awkward. I'd pull at the neckline every time I wore it. So I took it apart. 

And you know what? I love my new sweater. It is the exact same yarn (plus a few more skeins) but the fit is so much better, it keeps me perfectly warm in my wintery apartment, and is easy to pull on and off and to wear. It's the little things like this that are getting me through the year. 

Yarn: Cascade Yarns 220 Superwash Wool in black
Patterns: Version 1 based on Caron Great Curves Knit Poncho
Cost: $140

Let's start with the first one. I love intricate stitch patterns and have spent a lot of time pouring over my copy of the Japanese Stitch Bible. For this project I was especially intrigued with the delicate lacy patterns that hid within them increase rows, allowing a pattern to expand as you work it. I spent months translating this technique to a shawl sweater pattern with raglan sleeves, using the knit stitches to create the narrow neckline and then growing wider as I worked down. I figured the whole design out in Excel, using the rows and columns to record each stitch. It was incredibly challenging and interesting work, and really held my attention. 

However, as is often the case when I try to create my own knit patterns, the end result is often not as wearable as I'd like. I find it much more challenging to work out necklines and sleeveheads in knitting than in sewing patterns. Living in a warmer California climate, I also struggle to match my knitting projects to what will actually get worn. 

While I wore this sweater poncho a few times, it never felt quite right. The whole garment felt heavy and cumbersome to put on over my head. It was also a bit unbalanced and would pull toward the back, chocking me a bit at the collar. While I loved the artistry and the process of creating this garment, the end result was lacking. So I snapped a few pictures to document my work and began the tedious process of taking it all back apart. 

Unfortunately, most of my knitting projects end this way. I've even knit a sweater twice where I didn't like the first or second version. However, I was determined this time to get it right and started researching knit patterns, which I vowed to follow to the letter. Up until this point, the only sweater I have ever really loved is the one I knit for my husband, the Brooklyn Tweed Hugo Sweater. So I decided my best bet was to try another pattern from them.

I eventually landed on the Watermark pattern. The instructions matched my yarn gauge and, with its open, pull-on style, it seemed like an easy pattern to wear. While I struggled a bit at first with the instructions, I found it to be a really quality pattern with well-thought out details. And you know what? I love it! It works well with my yarn, the fit is good and not too snug, and I have been wearing it nearly every day since I finished it. 

While I tried to stick faithfully to the pattern to achieve the best possible result, I did make a few adjustments. First, I found that my yarn gauge knit up slightly larger than what the pattern called for (even on smaller needles), so I knit the smallest size, realizing it would come out a bit bigger. However, when it came to the armholes, I made them two sizes larger and knit the sleeves two sizes larger to match. This worked really well for me, creating a cozy sweater but with enough room in the arms to wear with long-sleeve tops. I do believe they sized up the sweater for the models so it was hard to determine how snuggly the pattern was supposed to fit, but this solution suited me. 

The other thing I did was shorten the pattern. Again it was actually kind of hard to tell where the hem fell on the models from the pictures, but after looking at several Ravelry projects I decided to shorten mine by about 2-3 inches. I did this by starting the waist decrease early. Of course now I can't remember exactly how many inches I took off (was it 2? was it 4?) but it hits me now right at the hip. 

The stitch pattern on this sweater, while not quite as cool as the Japanese Stitch Bible, also added some visual interest and was fun to knit. It is seen better on the back of the sweater. 

The only challenge I had, and you can see it in the photo above. Was with the yarn dye lot. When I was making this sweater I realized I would need a few more balls of yarn and, now that in-person shopping at limited capacity is back open, went in after the holidays to pick up some more. I carefully checked the dye lot but realized only much later that I had only checked the dye lot of the first skein I picked up, not all of them. I do a lot of knitting at night and really only realized the color variation after I had already knit up the back portion of the sweater. Luckily, black is easy enough to fix and, if it really bothers me, I'll dunk the whole thing in some dye to try to even out the color. 

I suppose the last thing I'll note is just a word about the yarn and pattern companies I used. I was quite proud of myself for shopping local for this yarn, especially as I know retail stores have been struggling. But my friend let me know later that the particular brand of yarn I selected, Cascade Yarns, have been vocal Trump supporters and harassing others on social media. It's been a bit hard to untangle whether it was the present or former owners and exactly what beliefs they do or don't hold, but I was very disappointed to hear this. Especially with recent conversations on the topic, it strikes me that it is best to support companies that are working to make this space as inclusive as possible rather than going about business as usual or actively supporting a racist leader. Similarly, Brooklyn Tweed has recently been accused of copying and profiting off of the yarn of a local Oakland seller, A Verb for Keeping Warm. While mistakes will be made and it is not possible to have a "perfect" source for all your projects, I am reconsidering both these companies for projects in the future in favor of more inclusive companies based on what I learned while making this sweater. 

In practicing a craft I find there is always more to learn. From what projects suit me to where to source my supplies, I welcome the challenge of constantly learning and improving. 

A Love Letter to Women

One of my weekend rituals, especially during the pandemic, is to turn on the radio and listen while I sew. It's often after I've made a big breakfast and clean up, when my partner usually takes his weekend bike ride, so I have this marvelous time to myself to create, listen, and think. Often I listen to news and politics and catch up on the week, and it is this mixture of serious world news and fun, creative sewing that fills my time.

This is the context in which I made this shirt. It's soft and pink and pretty. But I also like to think it's interwoven with stories of women I've heard on the radio, from journalists who were at the capital during the insurrection to prehistoric biologists and activists whose voices fill the air as I sew. It makes me think of Rosie the Riveter, and the many women who went to work in the Bay Area during a time of crisis. They were often mothers and women of color finding work again after the Great Depression. When I wear this shirt, I feel pretty, but I also feel strong with the stories of powerful women I heard while making it. This Valentine's Day, I'm celebrating these amazing women and their stories. 

Pattern: McCalls Misses' Dresses #7920 as a top
Fabric: 1 yd cotton poplin (Mood's Le Femmes en PoisPink)
Cost: $12 

This fabric was an impulse buy from Mood. I threw a yard in my cart as I was ordering some other fabric because I couldn't resist the lovely print. However, like most online orders I've made during the pandemic, it wasn't exactly what I expected when it arrived. I'm used to being able to touch the fabric and now I have to learn how to properly read the description. It's quite stiff and looks like it might wrinkle a bit as well.  

It sat in my stash for a few months until I could figure out what to do with it. But eventually it told me it wanted to be this shirt.

Recently I have been rediscovering the joy of button-up shirts. They offer all the ease of sewing with cotton but are easier to put on than a pull-over blouse. Add things like buttons, yokes, back pleats, and darts and you get a bit more movement than a regular woven t-shirt. This particular one is a McCall's dress pattern. I shortened it to a shirt length using the Kalle Shirtdress hemline. I also converted the back darts into fisheye darts. It gives a nice fit without being snug. And I love the simple V neckline. 

I had originally reserved some fabric for a sleeve flounce. However, after trying it in various configurations I finally had to admit that it just wasn't working. The fabric is quite stiff and that flounce stood nearly straight out from the sleeve. It was just too much! But this shirt is plenty sweet as is. 

And luckily I had the perfect vintage buttons in my stash to match.  

I hope you are enjoying your weekend. I will probably be sewing and listening to the radio. 

Party Cami

It's Saturday night in pandemic times, and I'm not going to a party. But I did make up this festive new top, and may even wear it around the house.

Pattern: True Bias Ogden Cami
Fabric: thrifted shirt
Cost: $8  

This wild fabric began life as a thrift store shirt. Actually, I'm pretty sure it had quite a life before that as well. It has handwriting in Chinese on the tag, and a few of the covered buttons that went missing have been lovingly replaced with buttons in another style. So, clearly it was well-loved in its time. 

In its second life, I bought it for $8 as my husband's Halloween costume as Tiger King. I, naturally, was Carole Baskins and Beatrix played the part of tiger. 

And while I have always loved a good costume, for the past few years I have really tried to give my costumes some life after October. So rather than take this shirt back to whence it came, I decided to try refashioning it into a quirky Ogden cami. Those little party streamers were just begging to be a new party shirt. 

The full blouse had just the right amount of fabric for a refashion - it's amazing how much you need when you're using something that's already made up! I kept the button front intact with three buttons, and while the shirt can still technically unbutton, it is secured at the top with the facing and the bottom with the ruffle. 

To make the shirt, I cropped the top at two "stripes" and then used the full hem of the shirt to make a third row as a ruffle. I like the fullness this gives to the top. I did, however, end up adjusting it after making it by reattaching the ruffle higher up on the bodice. This felt like a more balanced proportion. You can see the before on the left below and the shortened version on the right. It's always nice to do a little tweaking if it doesn't come out just right the first time. 

The top does feel a little unbalanced to me. The front wants to ride up and the back sits lower. I'm not sure if this is a feature of the pattern on my body or something that happened in my pattern hacking and refashioning. But it doesn't bother me a ton. 

The nice thing about a refashion is, if you can salvage things like buttons and hems, it doesn't take a whole lot of time to do. I anticipated this would take me a few nights but actually sewed up in just one day. 

After not buying the Ogen pattern for ages, I have found that I really love my first version and hope that I get some wear out of this one as well as the weather warms. 

The Best Vest

It's rare that I make something that gets worn nearly every day. My first pair of Hudson pants were in that category. Other things get worn weekly, like my recent knit tees and workout pants, but those are things that need much more frequent watching. But I have literally been wearing this vest every. single. day. since I made it. 

On cold mornings with Zoom meetings I had found myself wanting another layer that wasn't too bulky to wear at my desk. I pulled out this wool from my stash and it has proven to be the perfect winter at home wear. I like that it's a bit more dressy for work but so soft and warm to wear all day. 

Fabric: wool blend coating with a bit of stretch
Cost: $30

If you are looking for a blazer pattern then I highly recommend McCalls 6712 if you can find it. It's a Palmer Pletsch pattern which, true to their brand, provides a whole page of instructions on fitting. I find it to be a solid pattern and it fits me right out of the envelope, even after making up several versions over the past decade. I also like that it provides three length options, which pretty much spans all the different styles we have cycled through since I first bought the pattern in 2010. 

For this version, I decided to make the longest length and actually extended it by a few inches. I then shortened it halfway through construction until it was at a length I liked, so it probably ended up maybe only an inch longer than originally drafted. I opted to make my version unlined and used hand stitching to tack down the facing and armscyes. 

The biggest consideration when converting a sleeved pattern to sleeveless is the shape of the armscye. If you're changing a t-shirt to a tank top, for example, you're most likely going to want to shorten and adjust the shape of the armscye so that it isn't too revealing at the undearm. For this vest, however, I found that the length of the armscye was fine, especially given that I wanted the option to wear it over something more bulky. I did, however, take it in at the shoulder as I wouldn't be needing all the extra width for shoulder pads and the like. 

In my mind, a long wool vest is very Pinterest chic. It's possible you think it's very dorky. Perhaps it's too formal for working from home. Or maybe it's tacky to take the sleeves off a coat. But it is very warm, incredibly soft, and I love it.

A New Day

This past month capped a dark chapter in American history. On this day four years ago, I was furious and scared. I knew that people would die as a result of who was elected. But I didn't realize how far it could go. The level of racism, hubris, and tyranny that was encouraged during this past administration killed babies at the border, black brothers and sisters of all genders across our country, and over 300,000 Americans during a pandemic that was allowed to run rampant. These issues didn't start with the president, but they were exacerbated, weaponized, and encouraged for his personal gain. At the end of it all, we saw a violent insurgency by those who feel entitled to power at the exclusion of everyone else. It is physically sickening.

So why am I wearing an American flag shirt? Because at the end of it all, I still believe in the American people. Health workers who heroically covered themselves in plastic bags and headed to the ICU. Black women who knocked on doors in Georgia. Mutual aid networks in New York. People who opened their homes to those who lost everything in the California fires. The sewing community, who gathered up their quilting cotton and made masks. I truly believe that the American people, despite our flaws, can build back stronger and better. Leaders will come and go, but I have hope that together we can build an America for all. 

If you're here for the sewing, here's the details:

Pattern: Closet Core Pattern Kalle Shirt
Fabric: 1 yd each of Robert Kaufman Chambray and Telio Cotton Linen
Cost: $30

This is the first time I've sewn the Kalle shirt, which may surprise you considering how long it's been out and how many versions there are online. I never bothered before because I have similar patterns, but I'm running out of things to do in quarantine and decided to give it a try. My version came together beautifully and I appreciated the details such as the hem facing, curved armbands, and finishing instructions for the yoke and collar. 

I did make a few modifications just for fun. First, I lengthened the sleeve openings by three inches. They are quite adequate as drafted but I wanted an exaggerated, oversized look. I also lengthened the cropped version by three inches so it is shirt-length (the pattern offers cropped, tunic, and dress lengths). I probably could have gone a bit shorter and might do that next time. Finally, I decided to do a cut-on button placket as I'm lazy and my design allowed for it. Finally, to make my design work, I cut the back and collar + collar stand in two pieces so I could use my two different fabrics. I'm especially happy with my craftsmanship on this one, including that pattern-matched pocket.  

Admittedly, the American flag can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. I hope you know where I stand based on the intro to this post. But to make my position especially clear, I decided to embroider "FOR ALL" on the back. I believe in liberty for all, healthcare for all, education for all, food and housing for all, and so much more. I believe in defunding the police, universal healthcare, free college, and building up our systems towards these ends. 

I don't know what the next administration holds and know that the election will not be a panacea to all of our problems. But I'm rooting for a better America and I hope we can start to build toward that vision. 

Stay safe out there, care for one another, and here's to a brighter 2021. 
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