April 2008 Archives

Back in plaid


Well. Here's a jacket-back, lightly felted and ready for action:


I'm pleased with it, although I have my standard, higher-than-normal level of sizing-related anxiety about making a garment for someone other than myself, with a type of fit that is different than the ones I tend to favor. The Warren Johnson jacket is being made to fit my dad, Warren's son, a good-sized guy who likes, as he says, to be able to move around in his clothes. I, on the other hand, favor a highly tailored, like-a-glove kind of fit, and the idea of over five inches of ease is kind of freaking me out. It throws off my eye to have all that extra room side-to-side; I was shocked, for example, to find that I had already reached the point where I should start binding off for the shoulders. I've been measuring and re-measuring at every step, unable to quite believe the evidence of my tape. I'm lucky that my dad lives in town, so I can compare the pieces to an actual body on a regular basis.

It's really good practice, though, and designing with different people in mind means I won't just end up making the same sweater over and over again with minor variations. The felting is so light that there's no appreciable difference in size between pre- and post-felted fabric, but there's definitely a difference in feel - post-felting, the wool is softer and sturdier. I think the colors are also just the right amount subtler; I'm extremely relieved that my pre-knitting color treatments seem to have done their job.


I've also been finding the wrong side of this fabric extremely satisfying, despite the fact that it makes a few minor errors easier to spot. Here it is pre-felting; I love the combination of tiny, fairisle-esque floats and chain-linked, intarsialike transition columns.


And then came the fronts...

A suitable girl


More on the Warren Johnson jacket very soon; it's coming right along. First, though, I have to admit I've been doing a little something on the side:


I have a wide streak of perversity in me when it comes to weather-appropriate pastimes. During high school, I tormented by parents by insisting on baking elaborate desserts during the hottest patch of summer, and they would come home from work, in the days before they installed air conditioning, to a boiling-hot house made even hotter by a 450-degree oven. I always seem to end up starting a heavy, cozy, woolen knitting project just as the weather is warming up, and purchasing light little sun dresses when the cold wind howls and the rain beats fierce on the windowpanes. So it's no real surprise that on experiencing the gorgeous warm sunniness that was last weekend, I would be seized with the uncontrollable desire to resume work on a sewing project I've had on hold for ages: a silk-lined woolen suit jacket and skirt.


I was a seamstress for years before I started knitting, but living with another person in a 300-square-foot apartment, as I was doing with David until recently, doesn't really allow for such a space-intensive hobby. I resisted this conclusion for a while; you can read about my delusions and their consequences if you'd like. Soon, though, I packed away my two in-progress sewing projects to focus on knitting, which a person can do sitting in one place, with a minimum of extraneous tools. Since I'm not the kind of person who likes to have unfinished projects lying about, they have been pricking the back of my mind in a bothersome way ever since. Suddenly, this weekend, the time had come to make a joyful return to sewing.

I'm glad I did. I really enjoy sewing on its own merits, but it also has a cool, synergistic relationship in my mind with knitting design. Every time I learn a tricky new maneuver in the sewing world, I start thinking about whether it could be applied to a knitted garment, and to what effect. I like to compare the different mindsets - the cutting-and-joining mindset, versus the shaping-fabric-pieces-as-you-go mindset. My mother always claims that sewing projects are quicker than knitting projects, and I see where she's coming from: once all the pattern pieces are altered and pinned, and the fabric pieces are cut out, a person can whip up a simple dress in a night. Not so with most sweater patterns. Plus, there are so many more stages in a sewing pattern than in most knitting patterns, that sewing feels (to me) a lot faster-paced. There's always something going on, which is sometimes what my mood calls for and other times not. For me, following a knitting pattern is like reading a bucolic, pastoral novel, and following a sewing pattern is more like reading a tense spy thriller.

But oh man, there are ways in which sewing is a much harsher mistress, and I'm glad that I'm reminding myself of those as well. Remembering how unforgiving woven fabric can be, how a quarter-inch deviation in a seam or cut can make a noticeable - sometimes disastrous - difference to the final product, gives me a good perspective on the easygoing nature of knitted fabrics. And remembering about the long process of on-paper alterations that happens prior to even pinning and cutting, I marvel that I ever grumbled about knitting a simple gauge swatch.

That said, I'm currently in the thick of the exciting construction phase on this suit jacket, and I'm having a great time. I was really in the mood to be challenged and learn some new skills, and this pattern has quite a few. This, for example, is my first welt pocket:


It's so cute! So neat and tidy! It's things like welt pockets that make me marvel about how anyone thought up such a satisfying and surprising method of construction. One minute you're sewing random pieces onto the FRONT of your garment, the finished surface where you don't want rough edges. The next minute you're cutting through the front of your garment, and there is an ugly-looking slash in the fabric. The next minute, badda-bing, badda-boom, everything is turned under, seamed and finished, two wrongs have miraculously made a right, and you have a jaunty little pocket to speed you on your way.

Also very satisfying are mitred corners. This is one side of a sleeve placket:


Not at all crazy or difficult this time, just extremely agreeable. And I love using that little tool specifically for turning corners into crisp little points.

The jacket has actually progressed quite a bit beyond these pictures; I've set in both of the lining sleeves and just have to put together the fabric sleeves and set them in before that always-thrilling denoument where the lining and fabric shells are joined together. The silk is delicious; I can't wait to wear this jacket with a short-sleeved blouse.


And I'll let you know when I do!

And you thought bobbins were ugly.


Well. It turns out that gauge issues and vertical stripes were just the beginning of the challenges that Papa Warnie had in store for me with this jacket project. Two nights ago, I was dealing with a felted, tangled mess that looked a little something like this:


Basically, I had been hoping to achieve a fitted waistband for this jacket with a combination of increases in the last row of the waistband, and a higher level of felting on the waistband than on the rest of the coat. This plan afforded a valuable opportunity for me to learn a thing or two about felting:

1. There is a limit to how far a garment will hand-felt, after which continuing to add soap and friction will not shrink it any further; and
2. Failing to accept that reality leaves you with a sadly over-felted, pilly piece of fabric that is still too large.

Luckily, knowing I was lacking in felting experience prior to starting this project, I invested in extra yarn and geared myself up to be patient. Having felted the waistband to death, there was nothing for it but to slice the felted part off of the un-felted colorwork body, knit another, smaller waistband, and graft it on. It ended up being one of those "shortcuts" that was probably actually longer than simply ripping out the whole thing and starting over, but I was unreasonably attached to the lovely plaid pattern beginning to emerge in the body of the jacket. So I cut...


...Then yanked and dislodged the remaining felt fragments away from the body (no easy task, as it turned out). As I was cutting the waste felt away every inch or so, there were the requisite body stitches that got cut and had to be carefully fixed back together, with cursing and nimble manipulation of crochet hook and clear nail polish. As David pointed out, it wouldn't be a Johnson-inspired garment without a respectable number of curse words and improvised solutions knitted into it. In the end, I managed to pick up the body stitches as they were released from the former waistband:


This part was more complicated than it would usually have been, because the whole thing was double-stranded and the strands wanted to twist around each other in grotesque, unnatural ways, hopping over and under each other, reversing their orientation, and so on. I had to experiment a bit to get them back onto the needles in an orderly fashion, but eventually they were sufficiently correct to be grafted to Waistband 2.0:


There are imperfections in the grafting, but nothing that blocking and felting won't fix (or obscure). I'll probably felt this new waistband version tonight, just to be sure I can get the dimensions I'd like. Hopefully I can, because I really don't fancy going through this process again.

Other than that, though, I am quite pleased with how the plaid is working out:


You can begin to see the vertical repeat, and the interlaced squares of grey and camel that play on the red background. Manipulation of the bobbins has become second nature to me now, and I'm finding that if I keep them short until they're needed, they don't tangle. It's very easy as far as intarsia goes: every transition is a straight vertical line, so there's no necessity to remember when I need to twist the old color over the new color and when I don't. Plus, I'm transitioning so often that I get into a rhythm and stop noticing that anything unusual is going on. Overall, I'm feeling optimistic!