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Scraps!

LBHandknits

I am sure I am not alone in finding it difficult to throw away scraps of nice yarns and fabrics.  Especially if the stuff is local, when I think of all the work that went into making it... from the shearing, to the processing, spinning and dyeing, I just cannot bring myself to throw any quantity of it in the trash.

And I'm not talking about usable quantities of remainders here. Even those scraps which are leftover from the scraps, I cannot help but keep. 

Bits of yarn too short and tattered to even be used as scrap yarn. Bits of tweed and linen cloth so tiny and frayed, they wouldn't even work for those broche-making projects... But maybe I ought to save them for the covered buttons that in my imagination I have time to make? Of course there isn't enough for an entire set of buttons, so they would have to be mismatched...

It's ridiculous things like that come into my head as soon as I scoop up the scraps and reach for the bin. So the scraps stay, tangling around each other and fraying even more, their usefulness declining further still. They sit in bags and boxes, cluttering up my house and I should really just toss all of them out in one fell swoop.

Unless... Holding a bag in my hands and giving it a firm squeeze, I think: 'Surely I could use this for cushion stuffing?'

And so the bag is put back down and the scraps remain. 

Blocking Cottons and Linens

LBHandknits

While I am an enthusiastic blocker of woolen handknits, I do not always block cotton and linen blends. For reasons to do with memory and natural spring and all that, which a fibre expert can explain far better than I can, the plant-based yarns just don't seem to need blocking beyond a very light touch of mist. But moreover, the kind of things I tend to knit out of cotton and linen usually look better unblocked. That is, the garments intentionally have a rustic, textured, or crinkled look to them, which an overly aggressive blocking session could ruin. 

I remembered this when I washed the 'Top of the Morning' sweater (pattern release date: 30th May!) today, for the first time since knitting it. I have gotten quite a bit of wear out of this top over the past month. And because I wear it next to my skin, and it is cotton rather than wool, it did finally need a good washing. At the same time, I was anxious to retain the original look of the sweater. The rustic Woolfinch Studio yarn is so full of kink and zing! I did not want that vibrant uneven quality to get lost in the washing and blocking. 

So I handwashed it in the sink in lukewarm soapy water, rolled it in a towel to get the excess water out. I then laid it out on the freshly cut grass in the sun, to give it a nice scent. But rather than laying it out completely flat, I kind of scrunched and fluffed it up a bit first to give it dimension and try to retain the uneven texture of the rustic yarn. 

It is so sunny and windy here today, that a couple of hours later the top is already nearly dry. And I am relieved to see that the textured-gauzy-bumpy look seems to be returning. The yarn did look rather limp and flat there for a while, but it seems to be regaining its personality as it dries. I especially love the way the twisted ribbing looks with this yarn. 

Some knits just are not meant to look pressed and tidy. And it's just as important to know how to avoid that look, as it is to know how to achieve it! Fingers crossed this sweater will return to its pre-wash self 100% once it has dried completely. 

Informative Failures: Sideways Sweater Construction

LBHandknits

At any given point, there are so many knitting design ideas swimming around in my head that editing out 99% of them is crucial to being productive. For that reason, I find it very useful to know what I don't like to knit, so that I don't waste my brainpower even considering those types of projects. For instance: Shawls. Toe-up socks. Anything on a needle thicker than 10mm. Anything knitted flat.

And now I can add another thing to that list: sideways construction!

To discover that I dislike this type of knitting was a bit of a disappointment. Sideway sweaters and dresses just look so cool, and I could not wait to make one. I even came up with the perfect method to knit a sideways tunic almost-seamlessly, and here it is for anyone who wants to try it:

1. Starting on your front right, cast on your side stitches (from shoulder to hem) provisionally, on a straight needle. 
2. Knit back and forth across the front, inserting optional short rows to give the hem an A-line shape
3. When the fabric is long enough, place 1/3 stitches on scrap yarn for the left armhole. Then provisionally cast on the same number of stitches and continue knitting. 
4. Repeat Step 2 for the back.
5. Kitchner the side stitches, leaving arm holes open
6. Matrass stitch the shoulders.
7. Pick up stitches at armholes and knit sleeves top-down in the round.  

And Voila! 

Well, not so fast. I got as far Step 3, before an unbearable sense of Knitting Ennui overtook me. There is no legitimate reason why. My design seemed to be working out as I intended. When I draped the fabric over me everything looked right, and the yarn/gauge/style/colour were all playing together nicely. I just hated the actual act of working on it. Watching the fabric grow sideways was not as satisfying as watching it grow top down in the round. I also found it hard to cope with the realisation that I had no control over this garment's length after casting on! It really should not have mattered, as I got the length correct. But it did matter, and overall I just was not enjoying the experience of knitting this tunic. 

Considering I had already done half the torso, I did not want to act hastily, and so I set the project aside rather than ripping it out. But coming back to it a few weeks later, I am looking at the prospect of finishing it with the same sense of dread that I had when I left off. So... looks like it will get ripped out after all. And I can put 'sideways construction sweaters' on my list of Things I Don't Enjoy Knitting. It's a failure to be sure. But an informative failure.

That said, I still love the look of sideways sweaters, tunics and dresses, and my hat's off to anyone who enjoys making them. 

If you want to give it a try, there are loads of patterns up on ravelry if you do a search for 'sideways,' among my favourites this dress and this tunic. If you prefer to improvise your own patterns feel free to use my instructions, if you can make sense of them! And for a quick low-emotional investment experimental knit, try going with a DK or Aran weight yarn on oversized needles. 

'Top of the Morning' and Woolfinch Studio

LBHandknits

Just so we are clear, I have never actually heard an Irish person utter the words 'Top of the morning!' But the phrase popped into my head the first time I wore this sweater. I had stepped out into my garden, and it was covered in dew - the drops reflecting the sky's blues and lilacs onto the green blades of grass. As the sun gained its strength the colours danced and shimmered, and it struck me how well this colour-play matched the yarn of the top I had just knitted. And so, both literal than tongue in cheek, 'Top of the Morning' it became. 

The yarn is a very special rustic cotton-linen blend from Woolfinch Studio - a County Clare-based yarn seller and dyer, with whom I am quite smitten at the moment!  

I am not exactly sure now how I discovered Jennifer of Woolfinch Studio, but it was probably either through instagram, or through browsing Etsy for indie yarn sellers based in Ireland. And as soon as I stumbled upon her shop, I remember being amazed that I liked nearly everything in it. From the yarn blends she chose to stock, to her colour schemes and other aesthetic choices, to the overall 'vibe.' It was all just so wonderful.

While I was seriously enticed by her plant-dyed silk, alpaca and yak blends, I managed to be sensible and ordered instead the stuff I was actually looking for: a moderately priced textured cotton-linen yarn for summer. There must be an official name for this type of yarn, because I see it in the fashion industry from time to time. Jennifer describes it as 'rustic,' so I will go with that. But basically the yarn is spun unevenly, so that it randomly alternates between lacy and chunky. In the knitted-up fabric the effect translates to a beautifully textured gauzy look. The yarn Jennifer stocks is produced for her in small batches, and is available either undyed or in several striking variegated colourways. I chose the 'Moonlight,' which is a mix of lavenders, greens, and blues, and ordered four 100g skeins. I didn't have a concrete idea of what I wanted to make out of it yet, but I knew it would be some sort of breezy summer top.

When the yarn arrived, I was stunned. The colours were somehow simultaneously muted and luminous. And the texture was so soft, I kept wanting to rub the skeins against my face. I remember that I actually went back and checked the product description to confirm that it was cotton-linen and not a silk blend. Amazing.

I experimented at first with some flowing, sleeveless, asymmetrical-hem designs. But for whatever reason this yarn didn't 'want' to become that. What it seemed to want was something basic, understated, and cropped. So I tried a simple raglan top with a round neckline and tapered waist and cuffs - kind of like an early-90s American sweatshirt. And as soon as I began to knit that, I knew that was it. The juxtaposition of this design's familiar simplicity and the yarn's exhuberance worked perfectly. Knit up on slightly oversized needles, the amount of drape and movement created by the yarn and pattern combination was also spot on. 

Knitting up quickly, the yarn was such a tactile pleasure to work with, that I sent a note to Woolfinch to tell her that. This set off a series of conversations, which eventually led to us deciding to work together. For some time now, I had been hoping to meet a small independent yarn seller with whom I could work with to create patterns. As it happened, Jennifer had been hoping to meet a pattern designer who could work with her yarns. So... here we are. I am delighted to now be working on some designs specific to Woolfinch Studio yarns.

As a start to our collaboration, we will be releasing the 'Top of the Morning' pattern at the end of May. It will be available as a standalone pattern, and also as a kit with Woolfinch Studio's stunning Rustic Cotton-Linen blend. Please stay tuned, and I will announce the release date shortly - along with more details about this easy summer pattern. In the meanwhile, do visit Woolfinch Studio either on instagram or at her etsy shop, to have a look at her beautiful plant-dyed yarns and other offerings. 

I Think I Sewed Something?

LBHandknits

Whenever I am asked, do I sew? I am never quite sure how to reply. On the one hand, I've been making myself all sorts of funky hand-sewn garments since my teenage years. On the other hand, I never actually learned how to sew! Not properly, I mean, like on a sewing machine and following a pattern, and sewing in a straight line with the stitching nice and tidy, and all that.

It's a situation I have tried to remedy for the past few years, only to discover that I am remarkably thick when it comes to learning how to sew! While all things knitting I find quite intuitive, sewing is like an alien language. My hands are clumsy when dealing with teeny pins and needles and swathes of manufactured fabric. Having to use a machine makes me nervous. And every sewing machine I touch I seem to jam, or break in some novel mysterious way.  I even took a formal sewing class a little while back, only to drop out half way through because I just wasn't getting it. 

With that said, perhaps you might understand my state of utter disbelief at having finally successfully sewed something! Like, properly - on a machine and following a pattern and everything! It fits me, and I even wore it out last night - 

- paired with my 'tweed' linen stitch jacket - which believe me, was much less intimidating for me to knit, than the dress beneath it was to sew! 

The Burda 6848 pattern I used to make the dress was not my first choice; I would have preferred something not quite so 'youthful,' and with an A-line or flared skirt. But it was available in my nearest fabric shop, and it is a very basic pattern - which was what I was aiming for. I promised myself that I would follow it without attempting modifications. But of course I did end up mixing and matching, using pattern C for the main part of the dress and pattern B for the neckline. This later came back to bite me, when the V-neck edging proved more challenging than I anticipated. The rest of the pattern was very easy though. The front and back of the dress are each 2 large pieces, plus the sleeves are a piece each, and the neck edging is one additional strip - so not many panels to sew together, and no tricky curves. Had I stuck with the round neckline in version C I would have had the whole thing done in an afternoon.

With the V-neck snag, unfortunately the dress sat for a month in a state of near-completion, until an acquaintance was kind enough to help me fix the V. Thanks to her help and advice, I do understand how to finish this style of neckline now. But I also see that V-neck edging on stretch jersey is a bit too ambitious for me at the moment. I will opt for round necklines until my skills improve.

The fabric, which was white with a sort of pixelated fleur de lis pattern, was also not my first choice, but it was one of only two rolls of cotton (as opposed to synthetic) jersey available at my local shop, the other one being a horrendous brown and navy pattern. When I finished the dress, I dyed it using some leftover half-packets of Dillon's dye (lavender and gray), and the finished result is what you see here.

The colour turned out quite nicely. And I am also pleasantly surprised with the quality of my sewing - considering this is my first completed project on a machine. The hem looks almost passable if you don't study it too closely, and the seams look downright okay. I got the fit right, for the style of dress this is. As I said earlier, a figure-hugging minidress is not exactly what I typically wear. But if anything, not being in love with the fabric and pattern kind of worked in my favour here, as I didn't feel so pressured not to mess up. It works as a going-out dress and will look better when I wear it with heels. It does feel comfortable to wear, and I can even ride my bicycle in it, since the hem is quite stretchy - so it won't go unworn.

I do think that I can re-use this Burda pattern for future projects. But I will definitely modify it: scoop out the round version of the neckline to make it a bit deeper, flare out the skirt, and perhaps do 3/4 sleeves - as I seem to want to push these up all the time. I also need to figure out where to find a decent selection of affordable cotton jersey fabric. 

For now, it is back to knitting... But it's good to finally be grasping a skill that I have always found evasive. Still can't believed that I've managed to sew something 'properly!'