A long time coming

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It only took 2.5 years, but Halligarth is finished!

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Pattern: Halligarth, by Gudrun Johnston • Yarn: GBF Hennessy Lace in “Bala Cranberry”

I have loved this shawl since it was published, ordered yarn for it almost immediately, and cast on for it in June 2014. I can’t remember how far I got, but at some point that summer I put it down without any notes, in the middle of a repeat. When I picked it up again in the winter of 2015 (I think), it took me a while to get back in to the groove with the pattern and, after working a couple of repeats, I put it down again.

In the years that this has languished unfinished in my WIP basket, I wished many times that my past self had been more disciplined about buckling down and finishing it. Without being too glitzy, Halligarth is an excellent fancy-occasion shawl, and we have been to weddings and parties where having it as a wrap would have been ideal. But, apparently, not so ideal that I was actually inspired to pull it out again.

Until now. The week after Christmas — the day, in fact, that I cast on for Oda — I decided to see where I was with Halligarth. It turned out I was in a pretty good place. The last time I knit on it, I did myself the service of finishing the repeat, so starting back in was pretty straightforward, and then it turned out that the lace pattern was much, much more intuitive than I had remembered (my skills have improved a lot since I started it, I suppose).

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After blocking, it measures about 75 inches across and 35 down the centre spine. 

Halligarth is written for two sizes, and when I hit the point where I would start the edging for the smaller size, I weighed my yarn to see how things were looking. Back in 2014, I decided to knit this in laceweight, and bought a gorgeous skein of BLF laceweight from the then-newly opened Georgian Bay Fibre Co. They no longer sell laceweight, though, so I knew I had no way to get more yarn if I ran out. Still, when I hit the small-size stitch count, I had 51 g left. I wanted a big shawl, and it seemed like I’d have enough to knit the big size, so I added a lifeline and kept going.

I won’t lie, I came close to putting it down again. The last few repeats are looooong. And, in laceweight, it takes a while to really see progress. For a while, I really thought I might never finish (or that my yardage would fall short), but I made it with 7 g to spare.

And you know what, it was totally worth it. I love this shawl. It is incredibly light (less than 100 g), nice and big, and elegant without being too fancy to wear with jeans if I want to. And that colour… The yarn in general is an absolute delight and if it were still available, I would definitely buy more. As it is, I am considering order a sweater’s worth of one of the heavier bases before the shop goes wholesale-only. BFL is such a lovely fibre to work with and wear, and it’s hard to come by.

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Anyway. I think it’s hilarious that the first thing I finished this year was started in 2014, but I also think it bodes well. If this is a year about action, what better way to kick it off than by finally finishing the shawl I’ve been wishing was in my closet for years?

Looking forward, eyes wide open

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Last night, as L and I rang in the New Year, it snowed and snowed and snowed. So, this morning, when we woke up to 2017, the view from our windows was pristine: perfect, untouched, fluffy snow covered everything. Of course by now the plows have been out and our neighbours have been walking their dogs and the snow has been shovelled and heaped and stepped in, but still, it was a perfect scene to wake up to.

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I started knitting Halligarth in 2014 (!) and its time has come. Before I get going on anything else this year, I am finishing this shawl. It’s going to be a stunner.

I meant to do a wrap-up post yesterday, but I got so overwhelmed thinking about how many things I never blogged, or even took proper photos of, and the idea of catching up seemed too big, and then I lost the light (the days are getting longer, but not quickly). But, that paralysis was, in a way, also a catalyst. I don’t usually make resolutions, but this year I am: In 2017, I resolve to act.

2016 was a lot of things, and while I definitely feel like I accomplished a lot, I also feel the weight of the things I didn’t do — things I thought about doing, but never quite got around to (lots of blog posts that I fully thought out but never wrote; emails planned but never sent; garments planned but never sewn; articles bookmarked but never read, or only partially read; etc.). I never regret thinking about things, but I do regret not following through. So this year, my goal is to follow through. Most of the things in the list above do not actually take very long to do; it’s just a matter of sitting down and doing them or, in the case of sewing, blocking out pockets of time to sit down and do them.

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I love this photo of L and I. It’s from last February, when we had engagement photos taken, and it features both my Karusellen hat and L’s scarf — the first thing I ever knit him. The photo is by Ramya Jegatheesan.

Before I get too down on myself though, here’s a reminder of some of the things I did accomplish last year:

  • I knit 20 garments, including three sweaters, five pairs of socks, and my long-dreamed-of dala horse hat and mittens set.
  • I sewed seven shirts, most of which are in regular warm-weather rotation, and two dresses (none of which I’ve blogged or properly photographed, which also means I may be forgetting something).
  • I travelled to the Bahamas, New York, and Iceland, as well as back and forth to Toronto, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.
  • I read, including audiobooks, 39 books. My top 5 of the year (in order of when I read them) were: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; Shrill written and read by Lindy West; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (I am halfway through The Story of A New Name right now and am totally hooked); and Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, read by Bahni Turpin.
  • I hiked, skied, snowshoed, skated, and swam, making the most of all the seasons
  • L and I got married! (And, relatedly, spent 10 months planning our wedding.)
  • And, just to make things interesting, with just weeks left in the year L and I quit our jobs and moved to Quebec!
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The best. (Photo by Ramya Jegatheesan.)

Taken on its own, it’s not a bad list. 2016 wasn’t all bad, even if it largely feels like it was a really dark year. I am carrying a lot of hope into 2017, but I am also facing reality that some of the darkness of last year is coming with us. That’s a big reason why I want to focus on action this year. It would be easier to hunker down, look inward, and try to focus on only the positives (all of which are good and valid things to do), but I want to enter this new year with my eyes open. I don’t want to be blindsided by the world like I was last year — it hurt too much — so instead I am looking at everything. The view isn’t all good, but you can’t do anything about the parts you don’t like if you can’t see them.

To start with, I set up a recurring donation to Plan International’s Because I Am A Girl program (I also have recurring donation set up for MSF. I like not having to think about it). I did it today, while L and I looked over our budget (New Year’s Day is a good day to check-in on your finances, actually) and it took almost no time at all, which is a good little reminder to myself that these kinds of things actually happen really fast when you just do them. Anyway. We’re still finding our feet in out new town, but I will be looking for local volunteer opportunities and organizations to support as well.

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I cast these on sometime in November and they are an immensely satisfying project to have in the background. Even knitting just a couple of rows in between working on other things is a delight. How had I not knit self-patterning yarn before this?

Of course, I am also making lists of all the things I want to make this year. I tend to make big plans and then get sidetracked, but this year I really do want to focus on building out my wardrobe. My main focus this year is sweaters, particularly ones that I can wear to work (in theory, all my sweaters are fine for work, but I’m working on refining my office look and part of that is allowing for a more defined work/weekend split in what I wear). I have updated my Ravelry queue, focusing mainly on the sweaters I have yarn for already, and while I’m sure things will change a bit, I’m feeling good about this as a starting point.

Sewing-wise, there are three garments I want to tackle this year: button-down shirts (I have both the Grainline Archer and Cashmerette Harrison Shirt patterns in my stash), a simple every-occasion dress (I have the Colette Laurel pattern, so that’s where I’m starting, but I also really like the By Hand London Zeena Dress), and t-shirts (I’m still kind of afraid of knits, but I need to get over that and have the Grainline Lark Tee, Deer & Doe Plaintain and Seamwork Jane patterns all ready and waiting). I have fabric to start all of these, and once we get a bit more unpacked I’m going to give myself time every week to sew (if I’ve learned one thing it’s that knitting might “just happen” but, around here, spontaneous sewing never does. Likewise, I’m going to give myself blogging time, because if I don’t schedule it, it won’t happen).

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I swatched for Oda before Christmas and cast on last week, right before picking up Halligarth. Once the shawl is finished, I think this will be a relatively quick knit, and a really good winter-wardrobe staple.

Since a bunch of stuff I made last year never made it on here, I’m thinking I might still try for a top-5 makes of 2016 post. It’ll be photo- (and, thus, light-) dependent, but I’m going to try to make it happen.

Happy 2017 to you all! What big (or small) wonderful things do you have planned for the year?

What happens now

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The Internet — at least the part of it I turn to when I need distraction or comfort or inspiration — has been quiet this week. I am Canadian, so I was unable to do more than watch as events unfolded in the U.S. on Tuesday. But I cried on Wednesday morning, sitting at my desk at work, as I watched Hillary Clinton give one of the most gracious and devastating speeches I’ve ever witnessed. Every time I have seen lines from that speech quoted in the last few days, I have cried again. All the stories about parents bringing their daughters to the polls make me cry, as do the stories of the little girls who stayed up late to watch the results.

All of those stories made me realize that I never had that moment as a little girl and so, in many ways, I was just like those little girls who woke up on Wednesday and felt the true crush of a dream. The difference, I guess, is that maybe I should have known. But I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t believe it was possible. I live(d) in a bubble, and on Tuesday it popped and the air was sucked out and on Wednesday I couldn’t breath.

I am breathing again. Tears and gasps are fine, but they don’t accomplish much aside from catharsis (which is in itself important, I think). As I said, I’m Canadian, but I know better than to be smug. The U.S. President has huge influence in this country, and the politics of hate and superiority are a kind of whirlpool that sucks people in because it’s so much easier to go along with them — provided, of course, that you’re not a person of colour, an immigrant, LGBT, a woman (even a white woman), and/or disabled.

This week, Kellie Leitch, who is running to be the leader of our federal Conservative Party, invoked Trump and his politics as a model to be followed. Canadians, don’t fool yourselves into thinking that rhetoric couldn’t catch on here. It could, and most of us wouldn’t even see it coming.

So, what do we do now? That is the question I keep seeing as I search for help understanding what has happened and what will happen and what I can do to, if not change it, make it better. I don’t yet have an answer, except that as a start L and I will be putting our money where our mouths and values are, and making regular, sustained donations to organizations that fight for what we believe in: equal rights, reproductive rights, safety for women and LGBT people who need shelter, etc.

If you too are searching for understanding, or a lens that makes the future feel less dim, here are some essays and articles that I found particularly helpful:

  • “The sky is not falling. It just feels a little darker right now. She is out there. I know it in my core. In some school. On some playground. In some boardroom. She may not even know it yet. And our collective job is to light the path so everyone else can find her.” — from Thank you Hillary, now women know retreat is not an option by Marie Henein
  • “My plan is to make hot sticky love to my martyr’s complex. All. Night. Long. My plan is to become someone who brings up the Holocaust at every opportunity and not say stupid things like, “Well the good thing about this is that it started a conversation about respect/rape/assault/pariahhood/anti-Semitism/xenophobia/ racism.” My plan is to go home and cry while I type.” — from My plan for making peace with President-Elect Trump by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • “Things are going to be, uh, different without her in the White House (sorry, understatement of the decade), but our fundamental task is unchanged. The call to action is the same, but so much louder.
    So listen to it.” — from Finish your ugly-crying. Here’s what comes next. by Ann Friedman
  • “What do you say in the moment of your child’s disillusionment? You tell her what you hope to be true, and in so doing you remind yourself of the parents, the citizens, you hope to be.” — from My daughter grew up believing she could do anything by Lisa Miller
  • “I live in a progressive bubble and this election has forced me to acknowledge that I cannot comprehend what has happened because I will never wholly understand what is happening. And that is something I need to work on. Hard.
    America, we are NOT better than this. We are THIS. And we have work to do. In and OUTSIDE of our communities.” — from This is where we begin by Rebecca Woolf (emphasis hers)
  • “We have been weathering this hurricane wall of doubt and violence for so long, and now, more crystalline than ever, we have an enemy and a mandate. We have the smirking apotheosis of our oppression sliming, paw-first, toward our genitals. We have the popular vote. We have proof, in exit polls, that white women will pawn their humanity for the safety of white supremacy. We have abortion pills to stockpile and neighbors to protect and children to teach. We have the right woman to find. We have local elections in a year.” — from Her loss by Lindy West

This is not usually an overtly political blog and while regular knitting and travel content will continue after this, I do feel increasingly that any public space occupied by women and minorities is a political space. I am struggling right now, but I know I’m not alone in that. You can respect democracy and not respect its results, so if you are scared, or sinking, or feel like the hope you felt has been dashed, please know I see you. I feel you. I am here for you. We are stronger together.

When in Iceland

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You dress in layers. If you go during the shoulder season (essentially equivalent to fall and spring in terms of timing, but not in terms of weather, which can be very unpredictable), you wear several layers, at least a few of which are wool. L and I both have a few of those thin, fine merino wool base layers, but what we lacked before this trip was heavier, more rugged wool sweaters. So, I spent the summer changing that.

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I thought a lot about what I wanted to knit myself for the wedding (a wedding shawl seemed like the obvious thing until I realized that I really didn’t want to cover the top of my dress at all) before deciding that knitting something for our honeymoon would be just as special. Plus, as I mentioned previously, I ended up knitting L a pair of wedding socks, so we still had a little hand knit element.

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You can see the extra fabric around the tops of the arms/shoulders, but the colourwork part of the yoke is perfect.

My sweater flew off the needles. I had heard that Stopover, by Mary Jane Mucklestone, was a speedy knit, but whoa. I am quite pleased with the finished sweater, though there’s a bit too much fabric around the shoulders I think. I debated ripping back and changing the pace of the decreases, but the extra fabric didn’t bother me when I was wearing it, just in photos. This sweater was used as a pillow, shoved into bags, worn under a backpack, worn to restaurants and while hiking, and it came through pretty much unscathed (just a little fuzz on the forearms, which can be easily dealt with).

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I’m quite pleased with how this turned out. I’ll need to work on improving the neckline for the next sweater (this one stretched out quite a bit). Maybe I’ll try casting off and then picking up the stitches for the rib, for some extra structure.

L’s sweater isn’t really Icelandic in any way except that I used lopi. The pattern — Galdhöpiggen, by Erika Guselius — was only available in Swedish when I knit this (there’s an English version now), so I spend a fair bit of time with Google Translate and, in the end, mostly winged it. I knit L’s sweater as a looser gauge than the pattern was written for, both because it was faster and because he really didn’t need a dense wool sweater to stay warm. I made sure my stitch counts lined up with the charts and then knit to his measurements, with about zero ease before blocking. It blocked out to a couple of inches of positive ease, and grew a bit more as he wore it and pulled it on and off throughout the day. He wore it every day we were there (every. single. day.)

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Handknit hat, cowl and sweater. Pretty good look, I’d say.

I haven’t quite gotten around to washing and re-blocking these sweaters since we got back (and they do need it), so I’m not sure if they’ll shrink back at all, but let me just say: lopi stretches. It doesn’t have any of the bounce of merino or even BFL, so when it stretches it just stays stretched. I’m hoping a slightly warm soak will help get things back in place, but that is definitely something I’ll be keeping in mind when I knit our next round of sweaters (of course we bought wool for one more each while we were there).

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L’s eventual sweater is on the left, mine is on the right. I thought I’d go for colours too, but I couldn’t decide, and in the end decided I couldn’t go wrong with neutrals.

L’s sweater actually took a lot less time to knit than I anticipated, so I had time to knit a few other things in addition to his socks. He is actually quite well equipped in terms of cold weather hand knits, so I did a quick survey of what I needed and in the three weeks before our wedding knit myself a headband, a cowl and a pair of fingerless mitts. Of the three, the mitts were the most successful and have taken up residence in my purse because they are perfect for the rapidly warming and cooling temperatures of this time of year. The headband is great too, though I find it a little itchy across my forehead. I’m going to try soaking it with a little conditioner to see if that helps. The cowl I knit three times and I’m still not quite happy with it. It’s just a bit too loose to really keep me warm, so I think I might rip it out one last time and knit it up with 10 to 12 fewer stitches. It’s a quick knit (I knit it twice in one day), so I’m not too worried about that being a major undertaking.

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Kind of a ridiculous picture, but the only one in which headband, cowl and mitts are all on display. (I meant to get some proper pictures of each, and then forgot.)

Of course, not everything we took to Iceland was new. L wore his cowl, gloves and this hat regularly. I stuck my Norby hat in my bag at the last minute was so glad I did, since I actually wore it quite a bit. My Epistrophy sweater was in regular rotation with my Stopover, and on a couple of the warmer days I wore my Stasis sweater. Plus, we both wore hand knit socks every day.

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Epistrophy was a perfect mid-weight sweater to bring. I actually layered it under my Stopover a couple of times!

The Slow Fashion October theme for this week is “Long Worn,” with the idea being a celebration of garments long loved — hand-me-downs, thrift-store finds, pieces you’ve refashioned, etc. — and I really had planned to write about a couple of my oldies-but-goodies, but as I was writing this I realized that in some cases, long worn starts with the making. Barring some very unfortunate accident (looking at you, washing machine), we’ll be wearing these sweaters for decades. They are well made, using good quality wool, and they’re not really tied to any particular trend. They aren’t long worn yet, but they will be, and knowing that is part of what made the knitting so rewarding.

An introduction

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I knit this cowl to completion nearly three times before finally deciding it was done and binding off. After wearing it a few times, I think it needs to be smaller, so I think one more rip is in its future.*

I’ve been thinking about Slow Fashion October for the last year — every since Karen hosted the first one last year — and have been really looking forward to this month and all the discussion it is already generating.

I am such a big fan of the idea, but wow is it hard to write about/articulate. Despite a year of thinking about this in a fairly focused way, I have started this blog post multiple times and ended up deleting everything and trying again. A quick look in my WordPress drafts turns up multiple abandoned posts from this time last year, so clearly lots of thinking hasn’t helped me clarify my thoughts. Strangely, what actually helped was this short magazine piece about why we love Ikea furniture.

The story looks at how the rise in Ikea furniture (and furniture like it) has essentially created a class of disposable furniture. Pieces we buy because they serve an immediate need, look good, or are the right price, but are ultimately also pieces we don’t plan to keep, whether because we know our tastes will change or because we plan to upgrade in the future, or whatever. We don’t get attached to it, we’re annoyed but not surprised when it falls apart, and, in the end, we’re kind of excited about the excuse to replace it with something new.

Last weekend (before the above-linked article was published, let me add), after we got back from our honeymoon, L and I went furniture shopping. We were looking for a couple of specific items, and instead of going to Ikea, we drove out into the country to an antique store. We didn’t find quite what we wanted, but that’s fine, we’ll go back in a couple of weeks — nothing we need is desperate, and although we could go to a store and probably find it pretty fast, we prefer to wait, and we have the luxury to do so.

In a nutshell, that pretty much sums up my evolving slow fashion philosophy. I try really hard to invest in quality pieces whose provenance can be traced — my wedding dress was designed and sewn in Toronto, for example — but I do still sometimes just need a black t-shirt, which brings me to the mall. I am trying to make more of my own clothing, and where possible I try to use materials with ethical/traceable sources, but particularly with sewing (and as a fairly beginner sewer), there is a lot of waste. And, of course, there are financial implications to all of this, because I have the luxury of both time and money to be choosy about what I buy and how long it takes me to get things done.

As I’ve thought about it this more and more over the last year, I have definitely noticed my habits changing. I was never a big shopper, but I shop for clothes even less now, and when I do buy things I tend to spend a bit more for items that are locally made and that I know I’ll wear for years. I’m also much more particular about my stash, both of fabric and yarn. I have a lot of materials on hand, and I have been working really had to prioritize using what I have over buying new things.

And I’m a lot more comfortable with being slow. There’s very little I really need, so what’s the big deal if it takes me a couple of weeks to sew a new shirt, or a a month to knit a sweater? Being aware of that time commitment is actually really gratifying (though it used to be frustrating) because it tells me pretty fast how much I want something: Is it something I’m willing to wait for, or something I just want right now but will likely tire of later? If my excitement can sustain me through a project, that’s a pretty good sign.

Anyway. I’m not sure how precisely I define “slow fashion,” but for me a big part of it is about being thoughtful — thinking through what I need, being willing to wait for it (either because of the time it takes to make it or the time it takes to save for it), and then committing to keep it for a long time.

Have you been following Slow Fashion October? How do you define it (or do you even care?)

*I have been sitting on this post for a week now waiting to get a couple of pictures to post with it. But, that is not happening, and we’re away this weekend, so lest it end up just another draft, I’m posting it with just the one. More pictures next time, I promise.

Part of planning any trip

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Is planning what to wear while you’re away, right? Well, in less than two months, L and I will be on our honeymoon in Iceland, so it seemed only sensible that we have lopapeysur to wear while we’re there.

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Pattern: Stopover by Mary-Jane Mucklestone • Yarn: Istex Lett Lopi in # 86, #9412 and #1407, plus some of the leftovers from my Karusellen hat

I knit mine first, partly because I knew what I wanted, which made starting easy, but also because I have yet to knit L a sweater, and lopi isn’t exactly soft. It’s not unduly scratchy either, I don’t think, but it’s not merino, so I wanted to make sure he could get a real sense of the fabric before I knit him a sweater. (I see no sense in knitting him something he won’t wear, so this was a no-pressure, no-surprises knit. He chose the pattern and colours for his sweater, has been trying it on as I go — just sleeves so far — etc. Kicking off our marriage by knitting him a sweater he wouldn’t wear and that I’d be annoyed he didn’t wear seemed like a pretty bad idea.)

Anyway, this isn’t about L’s sweater (which I’ll write more about later), this is about mine, which is finished. Finishing a lopapeysa in mid-July is a bit strange, to be honest. This must be the first time I’ve finished a sweater and not been excited to put it on! I knit it through a wave of very hot and humid weather, and it took days to dry after blocking because their was so much moisture in the air. Needless to say, this was a quick little selfie photoshoot because, a) It was too hot for more than that, and b) There will be time during our trip to get proper photos of it in suitable weather.

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I knit Stopover, by Mary-Jane Mucklestone, and it really is as quick as you’ve heard. My gauge was a bit tighter than intended because they don’t make 7.5mm needles (really!), and even that didn’t slow me down. Time from start to finish, without any rush: less than a month. At that speed, there may well be another in my future, especially since the lopi softened up quite nicely. I’m just wearing it with a t-shirt in these photos, which probably isn’t how I’ll wear it usually, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I most concerned about the neck, where I can be a bit sensitive, but it was fine!

So, that’s one down, most of one to go, and a little more than six weeks. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I am feeling pretty good about those odds. (Just don’t remind me that I also have socks on the needles for L, the colour of which that he says would go really well with his suit. No pressure at all.)

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Sloooowing down

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Well. I really didn’t mean to disappear like that, but I think I just needed to take a step back. One of the funny things about having an online space is the feeling that you need to maintain it, and I get a little overwhelmed sometimes trying to find a way to balance everything in my precious free time. For the last month or so, I’ve been in total making mode, which for me means a flurry of activity with no time for documentation.

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I finished these in April! It’s a Christmas colourway from Nomadic Yarns, but that chartreuse is bright enough for year-round wear, I think. (Details here.)

Sometimes, I take a break from blogging because I have nothing to show you, and now I have a ton of stuff finished and no photos! (I am going to work on that, though.) Actually, one of the nice things about this whole time has been not feeling any pressure to finish things just so I can post about them. Not that I really feel that pressure most of the time, but it has been really nice to just go entirely at my own pace. And, it turns out that my own pace is actually still pretty productive.

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Scout Tee made in May. I’ve sewn a few things since then, but I don’t have photos yet, and I don’t need more excuses not to blog.

In the nearly two months since I last blogged, I’ve knit two sweaters (one baby, one adult, both started and finished in that time)  and sewn a dress and a skirt (plus several muslins). That actually doesn’t sound like a lot I guess, but it feels like just the right amount. No rushing, no stress, and a good balance between the two, which is something I’ve been trying to achieve.

I’ve written before about sewing can feel like a bit undertaking, but the more I actually just do it — whether it’s tracing and modifying a pattern, cutting fabric, actually sewing, or whatever — the easier it becomes to do it again. I’ve been trying to set aside a few hours each week to sew, and it has made a big difference both in the quality of what I’m making and in my confidence. When I started knitting I knit constantly, and got that confidence quickly; it has taken longer with sewing, but I’m finally starting to feel it.

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Another long-finished project. These are socks for L, knit and tucked away for Christmas (which makes me feel so on the ball to say.) Details here.

But, I have missed writing here. So, just as I’m making time each week to sew, I’m going to try to carve out time to blog. The posts may be shorter that in the past, but hopefully they’ll be more frequent!