Category Archives: Sewing

My future self will thank me

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(Note: This is a little out of order, because I’d really planned to follow up my last post with one about my goals for 2016. But, since one of those goals is not to waste momentum, I’m going to get this up now, and then circle back around.)

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When I was growing up, the vast majority of the Christmas gifts under the tree weren’t “wrapped” in the traditional sense. Yes, when all was said and done, we had plenty of wrapping paper to put in the recycling bin at the end of Christmas day, but for the most part, the gifts from my parents were wrapped in fabric bags my mum had made and reused every year. I don’t know when she first started using them, but I can’t remember a Christmas without them, so I must have been very young.

The concept is pretty simple, really. They’re just basic drawstring bags — unlined, no fancy seam finishing — in a variety of sizes and Christmasy prints. Every once in a while new ones would appear, but mostly it was the same ones, year after year, and they say Christmas to me as much as any ornament on the tree or special meal. Every year, after everything is unwrapped, my mum collects all the bags, folds them up, and puts them away for the next year. No one gets to keep them, and there’s no counting at the end of the day. A few years ago, though, my mum made new ones for my middle sister and I, and they were part of our Christmas gift that year: the beginning of our very own set, for the families were starting.

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Every year, I use those bags she made me to wrap my gifts for my family — L and I use them for each other, and I use them for my sisters and parents — and there is perhaps nothing more fitting than placing a hand-knit item or specially-chosen present into a handmade bag. Even people who have never had a gift wrapped that way before love it. L’s dad came to spend the holidays with us this year and loved his Christmas bag so much I felt a little bad asking for it back.

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All of which brings me to the point of this post: Back in October, when L and I were in Toronto for a wedding, I went to the shop to buy some fabric for my own set of gift bags. In the summer, Cotton + Steel released a Christmas-themed fabric collection (Tinsel, it’s awesome) and I took that as my cue. I bought fabric in three prints so I could start building a collection of bags of my own — ones that could maybe be part of the gift in some special cases.

I then waited for a free weekend afternoon to materialize so I could set about bag making.

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But, of course, free afternoons don’t really offer themselves up. Especially when you’re in the thick of Christmas knitting and exploring a new city and seem to be working all the time. Christmas arrived and my fabric was still sitting in the closet (not a disaster, since I had lots of other bags to use) and it wasn’t until Boxing Day that I finally had a day with nothing planned that had to be done. I cut all the bags and sewed up half of them, and you know, I felt pretty good about it.

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Today, we’re going to undecorated the tree and put all our Christmas things away for another year. I was thinking that I could just put away the cut-out bags as they are (I finished the bulk of them, after all), but then I thought about how busy the holidays were this year, and I realized that it’s not going to be any different next year. If anything, it’s going to be busier. So I decided to just take an hour (that’s all it’s going to take, if I’m honest with myself) and sew them all up. My future self will be so happy they’re done and ready to go next Christmas. Thirteen bags, ready to be filled — it’s practically an early gift for myself!

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Looking Back & Reassessing

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What a year it was! Personally, 2015 had a lot of big moments: L and I got engaged and moved cities, and I took on quite a lot more responsibility at work. All good things, certainly, but all things that kept me very busy.

Last year I knit 35 items (!!!) and I had similarly high hopes for this year. But, well, reality crept in. I had so much less time this year, for all kinds of reasons, and although I didn’t manage to knit as many things as I had hoped, I am really happy with what I did make. I spent a lot of the spring thinking seriously about my handmade wardrobe and how to build it out. Between that, and the growing realization that I was producing handmade items faster than I was wearing through them gave me pause.

So, anyway, this year I completed 19 knit items (and I’m pretty close on no. 20). Nearly half of those things were gifts, which is something I’m quite proud of, and several were sweaters, another positive! You can see all my knits here (most of my sewing wasn’t blogged) but here are my favourites from the year.

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Bedford and Lighthouse socks // Spring Fever Scout and Fika Socks // Chambray and Double Gauze Scouts and Balta // BFF socks and Epistrophy

Socks and sweaters and t-shirts. Haha. That’s definitely my uniform. These are all garments I wore a lot throughout the year (and will continue to wear in the year(s) to come) and they are a good template for me to follow this coming year, I think. I have yarn for two lightweight sweaters — one neutral cardigan, one brightly coloured pullover — and no shortage of sock yarn. I would like this to be the year I add a couple of shawls to my wardrobe as well, since I really do wear the ones I have quite regularly. Sewing wise, there are certainly more Scouts in my future, and I hope a dress or two as well.

And the gift knitting will continue as well. L has become a full hand-knit-sock convert (he wore the pair I have him for Christmas for four days straight) and I can hardly ignore that kind of enthusiasm. And there are lots of babies to knit for these days as well — including our soon-to-arrive nephew!

I do have some specific plans in mind for the New Year, but I’ll save those for another post.

How do you feel about your year, now that you can look back on it as a whole? Did you accomplish what you wanted to?

Slow Fashion October

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Oh man, I had such big plans for this month. When Karen announced Slow Fashion October in mid-September I was so excited: What a great opportunity to write about all the things that have been jumbling around in my head since the spring; what a great excuse to really focus on what I am making and what I want to make; what a great way to push me into more regular blogging! But, alas, so far October hasn’t been any less busy than any other month, and I’m now three weeks behind and I’ve given up on the dream of catching up to Karen’s prompts.

Instead, here’s a rapid-fire version (I live in hope that next week I’ll have time to focus on this properly).

My first finished knit! It's a scarf/cowl, knit in 100% acrylic, and all the purls at twisted. I don't wear it anymore, but we do use it as a very effective tea cozy!

My first finished knit! It’s a scarf/cowl, knit in 100% acrylic, and all the purls at twisted. I don’t wear it anymore, but we do use it as a very effective tea cozy!

Week 1: You — I was very, very into crafts as a kid — beading, friendship bracelets, rug hooking (for a while), art, etc. — and did learn to knit then. But, it was slow, the needles were unwieldy and I put it aside without much thought. I came back to knitting when I was doing my masters. My sister had recently started knitting and I was was really inspired by what she was making, so when a couple of friends mentioned they’d be interested in learning, I was thrilled. From that initial scarf/cowl (knit flat and seamed) I immediately cast on for another cowl, and then took a sock class. I truly haven’t looked back since.

My progress with sewing has been slower, but overall I think my output has been better. I sewed off and on as a kid, using my mum’s ancient (but gorgeous) Singer. I made a lot of bags entirely from my own patterns (read: my coming up with an idea and cutting fabric without so much as sketching it first). I got a sewing machine for Christmas a couple of years ago, and that has really opened me up to making more of my own clothes. I still find sewing more of a hassle than knitting (it’s the set up mostly — I don’t have anywhere I can leave my machine out), but I’m enjoying it and can see myself improving, which is very encouraging.

Week 2: Small — This describes my overall handmade wardrobe, I’d say! That’s not a complaint, though. Having a small rotation of handmade garments to wear means that I really do wear them all (or, almost all) on a regular basis. My Scout Tees (most of which haven’t been blogged aside from Me Made May) get worn weekly, when it’s sweater season, it’s my handknit ones that I reach for, and the only time I wear store-bought socks is for sports (and only summer sports at that — for skiing, hiking, etc. I wear handknits).

Part of the reason for this smallness is because I’m slow. My work-life balance has been tipped in a decidedly “work” direction for a while now, and I don’t have the free time I used to. That means each thing I choose to spend time on takes more time, but also (in theory) ends up being a better piece. When you spend months knitting a sweater, you have way more time to think about fit, try it on, see how it’s working out, etc. Likewise, I spend a lot more time thinking about what I’m going to make, so when I’m free to start something new, I’ve really thought about all the ways I’ll wear or use that garment, which results in it getting lots of use once it’s done.

Epistrophy! I cast this on in March, and even though I haven't been knitting on it continuously for the last six months, that is rather a long time to have something on the needles. I'm so happy with it and the way it's turning out, and I can already tell it will be in regular rotation all winter.

Epistrophy! I cast this on in March, and even though I haven’t been knitting on it continuously for the last six months, that is rather a long time to have something on the needles. I’m so happy with it and the way it’s turning out, and I can already tell it will be in regular rotation all winter.

One of the other benefits to this slowness is that it means I make less in a year (this is not something I usually see as a positive, to be honest). I was thinking about this in relation to Karen’s prompts, and less output means I have more money to put toward each item, which allows me to pick and choose yarns and fabrics that I really like.

For example, knowing it would probably take three months to knit Sibella (no, I have not yet cast on. Soon though!), and that I would wear it for years, meant I could justify (to myself — I don’t think yarn purchases need to be justified in general) spending a little more to buy a sweater’s worth of Jill Draper Makes Stuff Esopus, a yarn I have loved from afar for a long time. I really love what Jill is doing with her yarns (local sourcing, environmentally friendly milling, hand dyeing), and I understand why they cost more because of that. Being slow let’s me support that, which is pretty great.

I thought I would be able to get to Week 3 here too, but honestly, if I don’t post this now, I might not (I already have a much longer version of Week 1 saved as a draft). Weeks 3 and 4 coming up!

MMM recap

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I had intended my next post to be a mountain-photo extravaganza, but then I realized that if I didn’t do a Me Made May roundup now, I probably never would. I didn’t do weekly updates here, as some other bloggers did, and at the end I didn’t even post photos to Instagram with any kind of regularity, but I did continue to take them. So, here we go, Me Made May 2015, in one handy, approximately chronological, collage:

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I’m not going to list every piece in every photo — if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll probably recognize all the knitwear, and almost everything is detailed on Instagram (at least when I posted there)/Ravelry or under the Sewing tab at the top of this page. There are a few tops up there that I haven’t gotten around to blogging, but they’re all Scout Tees. Far and away, my two favourites are my Double Gauze Scout (dark blue with white polka dots) and my Chambray Scout (very lightweight, with a pocket — centre of the second row). They’re both easy to wear, fit fantastically (I think) through the shoulders and bust, and stand up well to a full day’s wear (ie: they don’t wrinkle horrendously). It was really too chilly to wear many skirts or dresses, but as summer gathers steam I think another Madeleine skirt is definitely in the cards for me — I love wearing the feathered one I made last year, and I think a second one in a drapier fabric would be fantastic.

Knitwear-wise, there’s a whole lot of orange up there, so you can be sure I’m planning more lightweight cardigans (which I also mentioned in my last post). I also wore both Shaelyn and Flukra a lot, though they didn’t always make it into the photos, so another biggish shawl or two would not go amiss (also mentioned in my last post). One thing my handknit wardrobe is definitely lacking, though, is lightweight knit tops. I have some good winter sweaters, but basically nothing for warmer weather, which is something I really want to change. I’m knitting away on Balta right now, that’s a start, but I was really inspired by the way Natalie layered her lightweight knits (here and here, for example), and it made me reconsider how versatile a knit tank could be. It also makes me think I should revisit my Kit Camisole, which I never wear because I find it about an inch too short and don’t love the placement of the straps — ripping out the top and adding a little length before reknitting would be a pretty easy fix for that though, and then I’d have a new summer top with much less knitting!

In my initial pledge post I stated that my two goals for the month were to assess the handmade wardrobe that I have, and figure out where I wanted it to go, and that I wanted to think more how dressing in general, and why I wear what I wear and why I like what I like. Those two things are definitely related, since obviously what I wear and like will affect what I choose to make, but I did find it useful to think about them separately. For me, splitting those two things apart meant that instead of just saying “I need more lightweight cardigans,” I was able to be more precise about what that meant. So, I need more lightweight cardigans like Grace, which have some visual interest, but are otherwise simple to wear; I really like that Grace is a bright colour, but for the next one I should probably knit in a neutral (warmish grey, I think), and then alternate colour and neutral going forward, so ensure easy layering; etc.

All in all, I think the month was a success, and I’m excited about the prospect of tackling it again in a year. Mostly though, I’m excited about the perspective it gave me on what I make and why, and how that will help organize my making going forward. With my sock drawer pretty well sorted, I’m excited to shift my attention more to garment knitting, which is a slower process that I think suits where I am right now.

All right, that’s probably enough about wardrobe planning for one week. Next time: mountains!

Me Made May

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For the last two years I’ve watched other bloggers take the Me Made May pledge, and followed through the month as they’ve rocked their handmade wardrobe in a really public way (so many people post daily outfit pictures during the month, which feels like a more public way to dress than just to wear your clothes and go about your day). Last year I really wanted to join in, but I knew I didn’t have the wardrobe to do so; this year I think I’m right on the cusp. I have a few skirts, a few tops, one lightweight cardigan, a dress, and some accessories. I’m not sure it’s really enough to get my through the whole month, but I’m going to try (and I plan to add to the tally as I go along).

Technically, I think I’m too late to make the official pledge, but I don’t care. Having a largely handmade wardrobe is a slow process, so maybe deciding to pledge can also be slow. I want to make this month as thoughtful and useful as possible, so I took my time thinking about what I wanted to get out of it, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

First, I want to really assess my handmade wardrobe. It’s small, so there are lots of holes, but I want to get a real sense of what works and what doesn’t, so I know what to add going forward. I also want to be really aware of what I’ve made so far, how those garments fit, and how they make me feel, because I don’t want to spend time making things unless those things are going to make me feel great later.

Second, I’ve been slowing thinking about my wardrobe in a more holistic sense (hence all those links last week), and I think this will help. I’m not sure how to explain it exactly, but I want to be less haphazard about how I dress. It’s not that I think I dress badly, but I think I can definitely be more thoughtful, and the idea of putting each outfit out into the world will force me to dress in a way that I’m proud of every day. This isn’t about dressing up, but it’s more about being more precise in my choices, and even if my actual outfits don’t change much in the end (I will probably always gravitate toward jeans + t-shirt + cardigan, and I’m okay with that), I at least want to know that I’m dressing a certain way by choice and not out of habit. (Does that make sense?)

So, here we go:

I, Angela, am signing up for Me Made May 2015 with the goal of building an outfit around something Me-Made 5 days a week (this means a pair of socks won’t cut it, but a great shawl might). I will endeavour to post a photo each day on Instagram.

Left to right: My one and only successful Wiksten Tank, with Grace; and my Shaelyn shawl with New Girl.

Left to right: My one and only successful Wiksten Tank, with Grace; and my Shaelyn shawl with New Girl.

I am surprisingly excited about this challenge, especially since L and I are going away for 10 days and I have no idea how a me-made wardrobe will work for our trip (about which, more later). I’m not going to do weekly roundups, but I will do a sum-up post at the end of the month. Is anyone else doing Me Made May this year? What do you think of this whole thing? (Honestly, as a knitter, I think Me Made March would be way easier to commit to).

Spring Scouting

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When it comes to writing about sewing, I am terrible. Part of it is definitely a practice issue — I am definitely a seasonal sewist — but part of it is also that sewing is so much quicker than knitting, which means I have less time process time during which to think about what I’ll eventually say. The result, of course, is a back log of projects, which I find weirdly intimidating to write about (as if, since they’ve been kicking around, I should have more to say). ANYWAY, this preamble is just more procrastination, so I will just jump in.

This was meant to be a test shot, but I actually kind of like the angle. Anyway: I'm not sad, is what I'm trying to say.

This was meant to be a test shot, but I actually kind of like the angle. Anyway: I’m not sad, is what I’m trying to say.

As I said, I am a seasonal sewist, so when the warm(ish) weather arrived about a month ago, coinciding with Felicia’s simple sewing series, I was inspired (inspired!) to revisit Grainline Studio’s Scout Tee, which I had tried before but never quite gotten right. I read lots of sewing blogs over the winter, so I was feeling vicariously confident in my skills. I pulled out the pattern pieces, made some alterations, and whipped up this pink floral top. (Would I have said this fabric was my style before this shirt? Maybe not. Why did I have it in my stash? In a fit of spring fever a year ago, I bought four metres of it! Thank goodness I like it so much now).

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This spring fever Scout is a very, very wearable muslin. It does billow a little in back, so I made a few tweaks before making a second one.

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I love this fabric. Love it. And it’s even better for being navy — my go-to neutral — since that makes an otherwise whimsical print very easy to wear. I am a big fan of elbow-length sleeves (I often roll my regular sleeves up this high), and it’s a great length for spring. These sleeves are slim enough to fit comfortable under a cardigan, but still have enough room to move around in. I suspect I’ll make a couple more tops in this style for the fall, though its probably safe to switch over to t-shirts for now.

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Another test shot that worked out pretty well!

So, what do you think? I have two more of these to blog about (I don’t have photos, or I’d have lumped them all in here together), so I hope it isn’t deadly boring. Is anyone else feeling the urge to sew as the weather warms up?

Edited to add: I completely left off the usual Details part of this post. Maybe if I treat sewing FOs the way I treat knitting ones, the blogging will be a little easier? Hmm. Anyway, here it is:

Details
Pattern: Scout Tee by Grainline Studio
Fabric: Anna Maria Horner Voile in Cell Structure in Americana (from Field Study) and Cotton + Steel Lawn in Window Vine (from Homebodies)
Notes: I honestly can’t remember what size I started out with, so I’m not sure helpful these modification notes will be (I think I may have started with a size 8, based on the finished garment measurements). Anyway: Initially I did an FBA and graded the side seams in two sizes at the waist. I noticed that I had a lot of extra fabric at the centre front (a lot), so in a move that worked for me (but might not for you!) I cut an inch off the pattern piece (thus taking two inches out of the centre front; as I said, there was a lot of extra fabric just sitting there, yet the top didn’t fit properly at the sides without the FBA). I then re-drew the neckline and did a slight broad-back adjustment to make up the difference. I also added an inch to the length and did French seams where I could.

I should note that because I started all these alterations months ago (there was another muslin somewhere around the holidays) that part of the reason everything is in a jumble is because I didn’t really know what I was doing. Undoubtedly choosing a more appropriate size from the get go would have lessened the alterations. This really is a simple and straight-forward pattern if you don’t go crazy overthinking it (as I sort of did). In the end, though, I’m happy with the pattern pieces I have, which is the main thing.

The year in making: Looking Back

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It’s that time of year I guess. 2014 was a funny one for me: I never felt like I had very much time to knit anything at all, but looking back I think I did okay. I’ve also included some sewn pieces in this collage, but not everything. I sewed a lot this year and most what I made are not garments I’d wear, though they all taught me something. A few of these pieces are unblogged, either because they were gifts or I just didn’t quite get around to them. Anyway, here is what 2014 looked like from over here.

2014Starting at the top and going across each row left to right: JanuaryCold Snap socks, Brig, Sunnyside Twin Set, Rye – February –  Hodgepodge Mittens, Sochi Socks – March – Flukra, Shaelyn, New Girl – AprilSplish-Splash socks, Gaspereau Mitts, Fine-Feathered Madeleine, Pheasant socks (actually finished in June, but they fit better in this row), Grace – JuneBaldersquash socks – JulyGatineau Stripes – AugustSummer Skyps, Endless Summer Tunic/Dress, Brig II – SeptemberKelly skirt, Betula, Stasis – October – Endless Summer Dress, Motoring Madness mitts, Rye II (unblogged, my mum’s Christmas gift), Norby, Dad socks (unbloged, my dad’s Christmas gift) – December –  Skiff (unblogged, my sister’s Christmas gift), Wee Envelope (despite appearance, I did finish it, I just gifted it before taking a new photo), Christmas Stockings, Return of the Moose gloves,  Blackberries, Ruby Sunnyside (unblogged because I just finished it).

If you’re keeping count, that’s 35 actively enjoyed finished garments, and there are actually a couple of others that I never got around to taking photos of (including a second Kelly skirt, which I made for my sister). That works out to: 12 pairs of socks, 4 hats, 4 baby sweaters, 4 pairs of mittens/mitts/gloves, 3 skirts (two sewn, one knit), 2 shawls, 2 sweaters, 2 sewn dresses, and two Christmas stockings! Not too shabby, and a good range of garments that managed to not be all in the same colour!

Besides the socks, my most-worn knits have definitely been Shaelyn and Grace, with New Girl coming in a close third. Shaelyn is an ideal shawl for summer (for me): long enough to wear when bicycling to and from work, a nice lightweight fabric that’s still warm, and a colour that manages to be a both snappy and a neutral. Grace is both easy to wear and very comfortable. It’s perfect for work, and brings some good colour to my otherwise kind of dark winter wardrobe (so much navy…) New Girl was a complete surprise. I’d been interested in knitting a skirt for a while, and although I loved the pattern, it was hard to know how it would turn out. As it is, I’ve worn it so much I’m honestly thinking about knitting a second one.

What was your favourite FO of the year? Does it surprise you?

I’ll get to my 2015 goals later, but in the meantime let me just say thank you to everyone who reads this blog, whether you comment regularly, just once in a while, or not at all. There have definitely been days when knowing I’d blogged about something pushed me to keep going at it, or when knowing I could ask for advice or an opinion kept me from worrying about some detail or another. So, thank you for hanging out this year! Let’s do it again in 2015.