November 2008 Archives

Meet Ethel

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Someone would like to introduce herself.

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The finished Ethel Mildred Ferguson sweater, in which I have been absolutely LIVING since I finished it two days ago.

I think all the ripping and re-knitting really paid off in the end. The new, svelter front looks much, much better; it's amazing what a difference an inch plus or minus can make on a garment's overall fit. The current front, especially the lines of the horseshoe cables on either side, more closely mirrors the back and is much closer to what I originally envisioned.

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Our photoshoot for this sweater produced some of my favorite Family Trunk Project images yet; I'm still sifting through them, figuring out which ones will go on the site, which in the pattern, and so on. David, Mr. Bingley and I went up to Powell Butte, which is topped with a gorgeous abandoned orchard and wide, rolling hills of brambles and brown grasses; a more perfectly Novembery location I have seldom seen, nor a more fitting setting for Ethel Mildred. Powell Butte didn't have the biographical connections to my great-grandmother that, say, Cleveland High School had for Betty Jean McNeil, but as far as matching object to place I think it was pretty inspired.

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I completely fell in love with the location too, independently of the photos; there will definitely be return trips if I have anything to say about it. I was happy to be wearing such a wintery garment, though: the wind up there gets chilly!

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In addition to the final front, I'm especially pleased with now the sleeves turned out. They're ever-so-slightly flared, with long cuffs that duplicate the horseshoe cable used on both sides of the body. I really like the hand-skimming length as well; it's one more element in a sea of cozy!

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Another delight about wearing this sweater is the texture of the yarn, which I think works well with the overall pattern. I've been loving it throughout the knitting process, and wearing the finished garment is equally special. Sadly, I don't know if future Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm yarn will have the same rustic feel; parts of this years' share were processed at two different mills, and I'm not sure which one won out in the end. That said, I'm sure the Martha's Vineyard Cormo will remain gorgeous, and there are also other rustic yarns, should any of you fall in love with the look of this fabric.

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The pattern grading is begun, but quite a way from being finished. For a while I was very responsible about figuring out the multiple sizes for every step in the process, but after a bit I got carried away with wanting to finish my version, and I also realized that there's a slight problem that needs to be sorted out with some of the larger sizes. However! I'm hoping to have it ready for test knitters in late December or early January, with the essay released shortly thereafter. In the meantime, I'm snuggling in for a cozy winter.

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At last

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I can hardly believe it, folks. The Warren Johnson pattern is finally up and ready for purchasing: a cool $6.50 or three pages of family story will get it for you.

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This has been, by FAR, the most complex and cussed pattern I have written. But you know? I think it may also be my best. I've had lots of pairs of eyes on it over the months, and the very uniqueness of some of the techniques forced me to slow down and really consider how most clearly to explain them. There's the video to clarify things as well, in addition to schematics with measurements, photos galore, a truly staggering number of charts, and what may well be the most thorough finishing section you have ever read. I don't think it's overkill, and I genuinely hope it's clear and accurate, after all this time. And what's even better: although the technique is odd, I don't think it's particularly difficult after you get the hang of things.

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Of course, a new pattern always means a new essay, and I'm pretty pleased with this one. Writing it wasn't as unexpectedly emotional as eulogizing Betty Jean, more of a long, reflective process, a time to collect and digest all the scraps of knowledge I had about my reserved, sometimes irascible grandfather. The result is long, and awkward at times, but I hope you'll take a look. I've certainly been enjoying some of the essays you folks have been sending my way recently; thank you for participating in the project!

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So, yay for progress. I have all my fingers and toes crossed that other versions of this jacket start popping up online. For one thing, there are so many color combos in which I'd love to see it: baby blue with light brown and cream; dark brown with green and tan; navy with green and yellow. I think the plaid colorwork technique may also lend itself to other projects, and I'd be excited to see what creative knitters could whip up in the way of hats, scarves or other accessories. But mostly, I love the finished product, and I hope others would, too. Happy knitting!

I learned from the best

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Today is my mom's birthday! She's a great lady, a wonderful presence in my life, and the person who taught me to sew; it's very fitting, then, that I'm sharing a (sort of) finished sewing project on her anniversary of personhood.

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Forgive the provisional photos; we've been having crazy torrential downpours here in Portland (as opposed to our normal steady gray drizzle), and I had to seize a few freakish moments of sunlight the other day to snap these. Of course, now that I've ripped out my sweater front and have no further progress to show, today is lovely, with a clear blue sky.

This is my new absolute FAVORITE skirt. I wore it to work on Monday, and every day since then it's been a struggle not to just wear it again. I went out last night and figured that wearing something I'd already worn to work that week, to a social function, was totally different and did not count as over-the-top heavy rotation. I will probably wear it out to dinner this weekend, too, and of course one time (maybe more!) next week to work. Love, love, love!

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My love affair with this piece of clothing is mostly down to the fabric. It's an exquisitely soft and classic wool I picked up at Britex Fabrics a few trips to San Francisco ago; David and our good friend Leah were very patient while I ooh'ed and ahh'ed over the walls of amazing plaid and houndstooth woolens. I got two yards of this, and while it was definitely a splurge, I would say it was one hundred percent worth it based on how much I love the finished product. The skirt isn't lined, but it doesn't even need to be: despite the 100% wool content, this fabric is buttery soft next to my skin, and the finished skirt is cozy and warm for fall and winter days.

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It's from this lovely, late-40's Simplicity pattern. I'm in the process of making up the short-sleeved blouse in a beige sateen, with neck and sleevebands in the skirt fabric. (I've tried to come up with a prettier word than "beige" for the color of this blouse, as it really is fetching in person, but no luck. It's lighter than toast or tan, darker than cream or eggshell, and ecru is somehow not quite right. Beige it is.) I think the whole look will be super-cute; I'm already excited about how the lines created by the blouse darts are extended down into the seams of the skirt.

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I made a couple of alterations to the pattern; most notably, I just put in a zipper instead of dealing with a bunch of slide fasteners at the side. It just seemed cleaner and simpler. And I left the skirt at the length of the pattern pieces, rather than hemming it up as high as the pattern recommended. It makes for an unusual mid-calf length that I don't normally love, but it makes the skirt SO cozy to wear. It's the perfect garment for this time of year: a dash of style, a dash of cozy, and a dollop of lovely Italian wool!

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Modeled shots soon, when I finish the blouse. And I have about three-quarters of a yard of this luscious fabric left over; any suggestions about what to do with it?

Paul Atwell Redux

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I'd been meaning to rework the Paul Atwell Socks pattern for a while, and this week I finally got around to it. The new version, complete with five sizes rather than two, and more, shall we say, realistic sizing, is up on Ravelry and the Family Trunk Project site, and should have gone out to all previous purchasers earlier today. If you bought or traded for the pattern and haven't received the updated version, please email me and I'll send it your way. And sincere apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced by the issues with the original version; I really hope you enjoy the update.

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The problems with this pattern were down to a combination of things. Primary among them was my lack of experience in pattern-writing (it was only my second pattern, and I had knitted many fewer socks than sweaters). I think the re-do benefits immensely from all the patterns I've written in the meantime; I've become more careful about mistakes and better able to spot a result that seems "off." But in addition, and this bears more careful thought, there is the issue of gauge.

I'm a pretty firm knitter, and usually have to go up one or two needle sizes in order to get gauge when I'm knitting other peoples' patterns. My regular, go-to number of stitches for foot and ankle when I'm knitting socks is 72, whereas I know many people whose standard sock measures only 60 stitches around. Normally with written patterns this shouldn't be a problem, because the proper gauge is given. However, I suspect two things:

1. People don't swatch for socks.
2. Even if they swatch, if they are a loose knitter and I got a certain gauge on size 1's, they are going to have a hard time finding sufficiently minuscule needles to reproduce that gauge. And even if they can, are they really going to have fun knitting a garment on size 000's? Likely the answer is no.

The latter point makes me pretty sad, actually. Because I really enjoy knitting on size 1 needles, and not only socks: the body of the Betty Jean McNeil sweater was knit on 1's, with the colorwork section worked on 2's. I have another sweater project in the works right now on 1's. But I don't want to make patterns that are inaccessible to loose knitters. For socks, I can easily make my version of the pattern the large or medium size, and draft a version with a cast-on closer to 60 stitches as the smaller size (Paul Atwell now features initial cast-ons of 64, 72, 80, 88 and 96). But for sweaters, sizing is more complex and simply going down a size is not always practical. It's a vexing problem.

For now, I will probably back off the tiny-gauge sweaters a bit, and trust to the magic of yarn substitution and going down a size to ensure that the tiny-gauge patterns I've already written (or am in the process of writing) won't be rendered totally useless. And if you have any questions or comments about adapting one of my patterns for a looser gauge, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Okay, enough photo-less meta posting! I seized a few seconds of sunlight in between the torrential rainstorms we've been having to snap a few photos of half a sewing project; I'll be back tomorrowish to show them off.

Hubris

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The talk has been flying a little fast and loose around the Family Trunk Project blog lately: suggestions that the knitting projects may be progressing "without a fiasco in sight," my own unbelievable statement that I am "making things easy for myself" and do not plan to shed hysterical tears while working on this sweater project.

I think we can all see where I'm going with this.

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As of an hour ago, that nice, nearly-finished sweater front I showed you before, looks about like this. It's the fourth or fifth time I've ripped it back. The first three or four times were more or less expected; I've been tinkering with the cable pattern, trying to get it honed to my satisfaction, and trying to decide how I want it to interact with the neckline. And then, this last time, on my ninth draft of the cable, I really thought I had it all sussed out. It looked just like I wanted it to, and I'd even seamed the front and back together. And then, a little issue that had been poking at the back of my brain from very early in the process, leapt forward and demanded my attention.

It was a fitting issue. I won't go into the gory details, but suffice to say, I made a series of decisions early on that resulted in the lower front pooching out a bit, as if the wearer had a little beer belly. And as much as I sometimes find bellies, beer or otherwise, to be charming, that's not the look I was going for here. It was subtle, but it would have bothered me. Rip, rip, rip!

It's funny: logically, I would expect to feel kind of miserable after ripping back, but that's not how it goes for me at all. The misery comes BEFORE the ripping, as I'm trying to make the decision about whether it needs to happen or not. I almost always decide that it does need to happen, and in fact have never regretted ripping out and redoing, so I'm not sure why I persist in fighting it. Nevertheless, it sometimes takes hours of contemplating a piece, getting more and more unhappy in my indecision, before my brain finally snaps into place and I decide to rip. Once I make the decision I always do it rightawaythissecond, since for me the second-most horrible knitting-related feeling is having decided to rip something out but not having done it yet. (The Most Horrible Knitting Feeling I have personally experienced is working for months on something, only to have it be a poor fit. I imagine an even more horrible feeling would be working that hard on a gift for an unappreciative recipient, but thankfully I have never had to deal with that one.) Anyway, once the ripping is done, and the yarn is drying in the laundry room, I tend to feel energized and excited to implement the changes I have in mind, and that's where I'm at right now. I think this next version of the sweater front will be The One...but then again, I could be wrong. I'm confident that it will, at least, be better than the last one.

The odd thing about redoing the front so many times, is that I have a lot of time to work on the other pieces while the yarn is drying out, so my finishing sequence is all off. The front (version 1) was the first piece I finished, and will probably (as version 9) also be the last. The back and one sleeve are done, and the other sleeve is in progress. I know plenty of knitters who intentionally work pieces out of written order - do sleeves first, and get up to all kinds of wacky hijinks - but I am generally so eager to see how the finished product is coming, that I stick to strict seaming order - back, front, (seam), sleeve (seam), sleeve (seam), finishing. It's going to drive me a little nuts that I'll have a back and two sleeves, and not be able to seam them together without the front. BUT. We must persevere. I can seam the underarms to take the edge off.

Breathe

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Election time is past! I am thrilled about the Big Result, sad about some smaller results, but mostly just relieved that all the anxiety and vitriol, all the dueling statistics and smear campaigns, all the guilt for wanting to talk about anything besides the campaigns, are finally, finally over. (For a few minutes, anyway.) And how did I celebrate? Why, with patterns, of course!

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I found these three dress patterns at very reasonable prices over at Out of the Ashes, and snapped them up. I'm in the midst of sewing up my first genuine, not-a-reissue 1940's pattern, and I'm loving every second of it, so the logical thing is to stock up. I love the necklines of all three of these dresses, and particularly the way the sleeves on the short-sleeved version of this first dress echo the neck.

This one's just perfect for a summer picnic: not something that's going to happen right away, but still a pleasant dream to while away a drizzly November afternoon. To really pull off the look, I may need to approximate that sun-hat.

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This one strikes me as more of a practical, everyday dress, but I love the combination of the tuxedo-esque tucks on the front and the sharp little collar. I also like that the bodice buttons up, shirtwaist-style, but the skirt is one piece. The shirtwaist look is so appealing, and I'm a sucker for buttons, but something about having them all the way up the front strikes me as ever-so-slightly bothersome; a little part of my mind is always wondering whether they're gapping. Now, though, problem solved!

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Actual sewing and knitting photos will follow shortly; for the next day or two, I'm turning off my brain and luxuriating in the less manic energy around here.

But seriously, folks.

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In addition to silly, silly dog garments, I've been working furiously on the next Family Trunk Project pattern. ("At last!" I hear you exclaim. "I thought she had forgotten the purpose of this blog!") Inspired by Betty Jean's mother, this is the nascent Ethel Mildred Ferguson sweater.

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Kind of a terrible name, huh? Ethel Mildred didn't like it much, either. The story goes that when she was little she would often ask "Ma, what's my middle name?" "Oh, Ethel," her mother would impatiently reply, "you know your middle name is Mildred." Upon which young Ethel Mildred would break down into hysterical tears.

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But hysterical tears are one thing I hope NOT to experience during the design of this sweater. I'm intentionally making things easy on myself: all of the design elements are well to the front of the area where the increases and decreases for waist shaping and set-in sleeves will occur, so there's no need to fret about disrupting the pattern. And good grief, sweater knitting certainly goes much faster in a worsted weight yarn and size seven needles, than in a fingering-weight yarn on size ones!

The yarn is very special, and, I think, fitting for Ethel's memorial: it's rustic, deliciously sheepy-smelling cormo wool, my share in the newly-minted Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm CSA. For those not familiar with the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) model, it's commonly applied to produce farms: shareholders invest their dollars up front at the beginning of the growing season, and are then entitled to a share of the harvest. If there's more food than anticipated, each shareholder's portion is larger; if something happens to decrease the harvest, the shareholders get less. Generally, shareholders are also welcome to visit the farm at any time, lend a hand with the chores or just bring a picnic. It's a fantastic way to support your local farmers and show confidence in your community economy, and I've often thought about joining one of the many food CSA's in the Portland area. But, truth be told, I'm just not that excited about food, and it seems exhausting to have to come up with imaginative ways to use whatever veggies arrive on my doorstep. When I heard that the concept was being applied to FIBER, though? I rushed over to join, despite Martha's Vineyard being about as far from "local" as you can get without leaving the country. The first crop of shareholders just received our buttery, soft yarn, and it was ideally suited to the Ethel sweater that's been percolating in my brain.

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The vine cable motif has been by far the greatest challenge to get hammered out, and this isn't the completely final version; I'll be ripping back to about the armhole bindoff and re-working the upper portion slightly. But I'm pleased with how it's coming, nonetheless.

And that hounds-tooth skirt is a bit of a teaser. It's a little sewing project I'll share with you in a few days.

The inevitable

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Well, it's happened. I've become one of "those people."

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I always swore I would never put clothes on a pet. It seemed so humiliating for the poor animals, who, my fantasy went, had evolved to be functional, self-regulating beings equipped by their native-grown pelts to withstand inclement weather. The problem with this theory is obvious to anyone with half a brain: humans. Humans have bred dogs to be weird yet lovable little monsters, and while some of them shed so much that you can spin up the fiber they leave on your couch and have enough for a sweater in no time, others run around practically naked and shiver pathetically even when the thermostat is turned up to 72 degrees. I'll leave you to guess which type of dog we have.

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Ever since we adopted Mr. Bingley, all my friends and family have been predicting "an entire wardrobe" of knitted garments for him springing from my needles. In actuality though, dog knitting, like baby knitting, holds little appeal to me. Much of what inspires me about designing garments is fit - and elements like drape and tailored details? Not so relevant to someone whose body is basically a tube or a beach ball. So I procrastinated all summer on dog knitting, and then when it started getting cold, and Mr. Bingley was shivering more pathetically all the time, I was caught amongst a million different projects and decided we should just go to the store and buy a fleece for him so that I wouldn't have to worry about it. Which is when reality set in. Do you realize how much pet stores charge for those dog fleeces? It's ridiculous! You can pay upwards of EIGHTY DOLLARS! I may not be excited about knitting for dogs, but I have a ton of leftover wool and a strange attachment to paying my mortgage this month. Good grief. I would think twice about spending eighty dollars on a jacket for MYSELF.

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So I ended up knitting for my dog after all. And you know? I have to admit that I think this turned out adorably. I reverse-engineered it from a pretty useless little cotton sweatshirt that the shelter threw in when we adopted him. It didn't do all that much to keep him warm, especially in Portland's rainy climate, but it proved very useful in making him something more substantial. I decided not to keep track of the pattern as I made it up, which was glorious while I was knitting but which I may regret as soon as next month, when this sweater is all grody and pill-infested.

You can see the general construction a bit in the photos above and below: the body and button band segments are all knit in one piece, with a bound-off buttonhole type opening toward the top of the back piece to let his tags come through. Short-rows form the semi-circular back, and the tiny raglan sleeves are knitted separately and seamed in. Then the giant neckband is picked up and knitted from the tops of the sleeves and body, and narrowed with centered double-decreases about two-thirds of the way up in order to fit around his neck. Oh, and p.s.: I find this photo hilarious.

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We picked the buttons up last, and figured that this was our big opportunity to get cutesy and silly. Surprisingly, I think they kind of bring the whole "look" together. And I'm sure Mr. Bingley is hugely relieved to have a coordinated, accessorized outfit going into winter. Even more important, he seems to have stopped shivering.

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