My Journey to Designing Knits

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I learned to knit when I was around 10 or 11 years old. Both my grandmothers knew how to crochet so I was already fascinated with the idea of taking a ball of yarn and making it into something. My mother wanted to learn how to knit and of course, I went along for the ride.

I remember going to the yarn store in Deerbrook Mall. It was actually outside the mall but it was a shop filled with basic wool and acrylic yarns for knitting, crochet and needlepoint. Back then there were no indie hand-dyers or spinners. Variety only pertained to fiber, color and thickness of yarn. I remember the first sweater my mother made – a peachy, sleeveless top with a ribbed type stitch. I came across it decades later on one of my Half Price Books visits and it gave me a little smile.

My first sweater, however, was a white worsted weight acrylic top with a shawl-like collar that I used a green ombre yarn for contrast (also on the cuffs too). I’m sure it took me forever and I’m not even sure how long I had been knitting before I tackled such a huge project. I think I got the yarn from my grandmother (who mostly crocheted afghans) and it was probably from K-mart. Directions were concise in those days, they told you what to do but not how to do it. There were some basic guides but for the most part, they assumed you knew how to do it or would go to your local yarn store to learn. This was before Ravelry or Youtube. There were barely even any books on the subject, I would have bought them if there were. I’m sure my finishing skills were lacking, piecing things together based on my sewing skills.

I didn’t understand gauge at the time and that sweater was actually too small for me. I gave it to my neighbor whose kids I babysat for, thinking it would fit one of the girls.

Let me tell you something about myself before I go on. I’m a rule follower. Oh how I wish I was a rebel but that is just not me. I like order, I like rules. But, I’ve also learned that just because I like rules, doesn’t mean I can’t be the person who makes up the rules! That was a HUGE game changer for me, but I’m getting off track. That can be a story for another day.

I mention this because I saw a knitting pattern as The Rules I’m Supposed to Follow. A pattern was a mysterious thing to me and though I would have loved to design my own stuff I didn’t think I was capable of it. I collected a lot of patterns (and yarn) but my output was scarce.

I don’t remember the chronological order but there were a couple of things that started my shift away from relying on patterns to making my own designs. One defining moment was a weekend trip I took to Pennsylvania for The Knitting Guild of America’s knitting conference. I signed up for a class on making mood boards taught by Susan Lazear. It was the first time I even heard of such a thing and I was enamoured with the idea. Of course, anything related to the creative process fascinates me. But it was actually the bus ride to the airport that got me thinking. I was talking to another participant and she showed me a kit she bought. She talked about how she was drawn to the colors but the pattern wasn’t exactly to her liking and she was going to change it. In my mind that wasn’t ever a possibility until the moment she said it. So a pattern isn’t written in stone. Huh.

Knitting was becoming a bigger business and more books were being published. There was the grand-daddy (or should I say grand-mammy?) of them all – June Hemmons Hiatt’s The Principles of Knitting – which is still in print. This encyclopedic volume tells you just about everything you want to know about knitting technique. But it isn’t the book that had the most impact on me. Carmen Michelson and Mary-Ann Davis’ book The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design holds that spot. I still refer to it today. It breaks down the process in such easy to understand terms, basically demystifying the process. I saw how it really is just a case of basic math with some geometry thrown in (if I had known you could chart a sleeve with the pythagorean theorem, I would have been way more interested in the subject).

The best money I’ve ever spend on a knitting book.

Another milestone in my development was getting into knitting machines. At one point I owned three. A Passap, which was an older model I bought off of a widower. HIs wife took great care of it but I never really warmed up to it. I also had a Brother with a ribber and a Big Phil, which you could use hand knitting yarns on. I sold all of them a long time ago as I prefer to hand knit.

Knitting machines have their own language and since most of the patterns (at least then) came from Japan, charts were always included (even if you didn’t understand Japanese, you could always knit one of their designs by following the chart). Pictures were part of the missing link to my design education. As a visual person, schematics opened the door to design. Even though they are standard for patterns today, look at any of the older knitting magazines and there are none. Words couldn’t bring a pattern to life, but a simple line drawing leapt off the page and into my imagination. It is also from knitting machine patterns that I developed my shorthand for writing a knitting pattern.

Having knitting machines also got me a job for a machine knitting magazine. I was the technical editor in charge of articles so I worked with a lot of talent. It was an amazing education on so many levels. It helped me leaps and bounds in my own design work. And while I did have some of my designs published in the magazine, the one that I am most proud of is a handknit design I submitted to Knitting Digest (now defunct, see picture above). I did it on a whim and it ended up on the cover. I also have a design in Not Your Mama’s Knitting by Heather Dixon.

Seeing my name in print and having one of my sweaters on a cover is intoxicating but being a commercial designer is not the path for me. Coming up with my own patterns is fun, but having to grade it for different sizes, find pattern checkers, write it up, etc, isn’t. I’d rather just stick to doing it for myself and writing about it.

I believe everyone should learn how to design their own patterns because of the freedom it gives you. Most commercial patterns are written by yarn companies for their yarn. My stash, however, is full of discontinued brands that I bought years (decades!?) ago, thrifted or were given to me. Also, I like to use repurposed yarn (from unravelled thrift store sweaters). Trying to find patterns for these yarns is hard if not impossible. It’s just easier to make up my own.

Another advantage to designing your own sweaters is you will get the fit you want (as long as you got the gauge right). I still use commercial patterns as last year’s knitting can attest to, but almost every single one of them I made some sort of adjustment to achieve the fit most flattering for my body. (There are no wrong bodies, only wrong clothes).

I’ve significantly culled my collection of reference materials over the years. I’ve let go of most of my pattern books. At this point I can pretty much make any sweater I want just by looking at a picture. I’m more interesed in books that talk about technique, knitting traditions and the design process. Lately I’ve been thinking it’s time to quit buying books and write one instead. Just goes to show the journey never ends, it just evolves.

A Million Loose Ends

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I spent today finishing up this sweater and weaving in the loose ends. A lot of them although a million might be a slight exaggeration.

It’s a basic top down v-neck I started to use up some odds and ends I had on hand. No particular design in mind, I didn’t spend a lot of time figuring out a color scheme, I just made a swatch and started knitting.

On the one hand, it’s a satisfying sweater in that it took very little brain power yet kept my hands busy. On the other, I can’t say it’s one of my favorites. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it either.

My creative dry spell has lasted longer than normal. Usually I need some time to recharge but this has been going on for quite awhile now. Working through my stash the past year has given me a challenge to fill my extra time but now I just feel lost, drifting along in life. Purposeless. Maybe it’s just too hot to knit. Or maybe I need to do more to reboot my creativity than sitting around waiting for inspiration.

I need to act and the first step was to journal.

I know there are “experts” that stand by a daily journaling practice but that doesn’t work for me. I see journaling as a problem-solving tool. When I’m on a roll and productive I have no need for it. But when the shit hits the fan, I find writing about it helps me move through it.

I’ve filled a lot of journals over my life but I don’t keep them. Once I’ve figured out my mood, solved the problem or untangled my emotional baggage, I’ve let it go. I don’t need to revisit it. So old journals get thrown away/recycled. Which is probably why I all of my nice blank books are still blank and I use cheap spiral notebooks instead. My preferred method now is digital since it’s cheaper and less wasteful. And I can delete it all with just a touch of a button. But I do keep a spiral notebook around for those time when I don’t have access to my laptop.

This little epiphany of why I love journals but don’t use them made me see a pattern. There are things I love the idea of but in reality just don’t work with my nature. For instance, I love the idea of a day planner but the reality is I don’t use them. I’ve taken workshops that have you block out your calendar for specific tasks. Nope, doesn’t work for me. You know what does work for me? My Google calendar. I use it mainly for appointments but I also put in reminders. What I don’t do is block out my time. Yet I still managed to maintain my weekly blog posting schedule.

This made me wonder what else am I hanging onto because I love the idea of it yet doesn’t align with my natural tendencies? Are there things in my life that are just wishful thinking? And of these wishful thinking items, are they a hindrence? I have many books but some of them I rarely ever crack the spine. Are they really inspiration or do they keep me from trusting myself, tying me to “expert” opinions instead of figuring out what comes naturally?

These questions intrigue me and I admit figuring it out has piqued my interest. I’m excited about something for the first time in a long time. My life has been moderately successful in that I’ve always had a roof over my head and have never really lacked the necessities but as far as career success goes, I’m nowhere near some of my contemporaries. Is it because I’m not aligned with “what makes me tick”, letting myself be swayed by experts and what other people do instead of trusting my gut? Is that why I feel like a train off its track? What would happen if I actually got on track?

Time to cut off those loose ends and see what I end up with.

Re-Integrating into Society is Hard, Y’all

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I have a sewing project (patchwork quilt), knitting project (lace cardigan) and crochet project (filet tablecloth) and I’m not motivated to work on any of them.

These are weird times and I’m going to chalk up my lack of enthusiasm to the fact that I now have to wake up early to get my run in, drive in traffic, go into an office and interact with people in person! It’s exhausting and I only have to do it three days a week. Remember when we had to do this shit FIVE days a week? Madness.

I wish I was joking but after sheltering in place for over a year, it is tiring for this introver to get “back into the swing of things” and it’s affecting my productivity. I imagine it’s what hibernating is like, slowly lumbering out of a cave, blinking as you try to adjust to the sun.

Sometimes when I take a nap (Why are naps wasted on the young? How I live for a job that has a nap room), I wake up disoriented, not sure what time or day it was. That kind of feeling.

While none of my current projects grabbed my attention, I still wanted to do something. Otherwise I found myself thinking about going to bed at 7 pm.

I had a bag of yarn which had a bunch of leftover skeins. Same brand, different colors. I don’t do a lot of color work but figured a top down striped sweater would be the perfect way to use it up. I did a quick swatch and set to work.

I still have the sleeves to go and am pretty sure I won’t have enough to match the stripes on the body. I’m not even sure the sleeves will be identical so that’s fun. And nothing beats a top down sweater for mindless knitting, because that’s all I can handle right now.

Only a week and a half till my next vacation.

A Passion for Purple

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I’ve been curating a new wardrobe for myself. Right now I am focusing on casual summer tops to wear with shorts. All I have are tank tops and a couple of $5 t-shirts I got on sale at Michael’s. Functional, yes, but not really stylish nor necessarily the coolest thing for hot Texas summers.

I went to a couple of thrift stores (I pledged to only buy my clothes secondhand. The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters and I don’t want to contribute to it anymore. There are more than enough used options around, at least if the thrift stores in my area are any indication). Since I wasn’t able to try anything on, I did get a couple I’m not totally in love with but for the most part, I found some real gems. And a pattern emerged. The majority of stuff I bought had a definite bohemian vibe – Indian-like prints and embroidery. No big surprise there. Also, there were a lot of blues and purples.

I love color. I have always been attracted to it yet haven’t had a lot of it in my wardrobe. Maybe because black and grey were just an easy option. I have another theory though. My wardrobe and it’s lack of cohesion, color or style has been an outer manifestation of an inner confict. How could I possibly develop a personal style when I was flip-flopping around, trying to be what everyone else expected me to be? If I didn’t know who I was how could I dress her? Only now that I am learning to listen to and trust my authentic self have I been able to see my true style emerge.

And purple in all of it’s glorious forms, is definitely on the menu!

What is Color?

I’m not going to pretend to understand how color works optically (apparently it has something to do with how different wavelengths of colored light combine and how cones in our eyes percieve it or something like that) but I do know from elementary art class that purple is a mixture of red and blue. Mix in more red than blue and you get purple. Mix in more blue than red and you get violet. This analogous color scheme (red, purple and blue) is my favorite so it’s no wonder that I now have quite a collection of it in my wardrobe. (I would extend that range to teal blues also. Not only do I love these jewel tones, they look good on me.)

Purple Dyes

The color purple as a dye has an interesting history. Apparently purple is rare in the nature (though it doesn’t seem like it thanks to having everything at our fingertips these days). Even if we don’t live in an area where lilacs, grapes or eggplant are indiginous, we still know what they are.

The color purple as a dye has been around since biblical times. The most important dye originally came from what is now known as Lebanon. It was extracted from a snail – mucus of a snail to be exact (the history of dying is quite fascinating and also a little gross – maybe it’s the grossness that makes it fascinating…) which had to be dried out in the sun for a particular amount of time to get the right hue. The reason purple is considered the color of royalty was because it took about 250,000 of these snails to produce one ounce of dye, making it extremely expensive but the color was deep and long lasting. If you wanted to display your wealth, wearing purple spoke volumes.

There were other natural sources for purple including purple moss, blackberries and mulberries but these created colors more on the red side and weren’t as colorfast.

Synthetic purple dye didn’t become prevalent until the mid 1800’s when William Henry Perkin, who was trying to produce synthetic quinine, created the first aniline dye instead. It was known as mauveine and shortened to mauve. He took full advantage of this discovery, set up a factory and it became readily available (i.e. affordable) to the masses.

Meaning of Purple

I’m a sucker for symbolism so naturally I’m interested in what meaning people have attached to the color purple. According to the website Color Matters :

purple symbolizes magic, mystery, spirituality, the sub-conscious, creativity, dignity, royalty – and it evokes all of these meanings more so than any other color.

I find the link to royalty rather interesting given my life archetype is The Empress. (I’m a sucker for these type of personality quizzes. And whether or not you believe any of it, I strongly identify with everything about my archetype.) While it doesn’t state a particular color, purple is definitely an empress color.

Am I drawn to purple because it is such a rare color? That it evokes “deep mystery? Because of its “royal” heritage? Or because my skin tone has a reddish undertone so the coolness of purple keeps me from looking like a beet?

I confess the idea of being mysterious and rare does sound better than being an outcast and weird, which is kind of how I felt my whole life. Being a little older and wiser, I’m no longer concerned about fitting in. Actually I’m okay with being weird. What’s the other option – normal? When I was younger I did everything I could to be like everyone else – to be accepted – but now that sounds so…boring. And life is so much easier and enjoyable embracing my weirdness instead of trying to hide or erase it, like it was something to be shameful of.

So yeah, color me purple.

Organizing my Stash…Again

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My knitting has been on the back burner these days. Mainly because I started the Lace Cardigan from The Art of Seamless Knitting by Simona Merchant-Dest and Faina Goberstein. It’s a top down cardigan and a bit fiddly as it requires a lot of concentration. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be gorgeous when it’s done but I was about 45 rows into the pattern when I realized my gauge was wrong and it wasn’t going to fit (even though I had done a gauge swatch). I ripped it out and started over but it’s been slow. I still haven’t made it back up to row 45. Between having to get up early to run (to beat the heat) and going back into an office again, my brain has been kind of fried and doesn’t want to deal with all the yarn overs, SSK, etc. I mean, I’ve been under lock down for over a year and realized my social skills are a bit rusty. It’s been taxing.

I want a no-brainer knitting project. So naturally I decided to pull out all of my yarn and organize it. Totally reasonable response, right?

This is not the first time I’ve done this. However, it is the first time I decided to put it ALL down on paper (well, in a Google spreadsheet, so technically not paper…). I have managed to use up some of my stash the past year and it’s been shifted around where most of it now fits in my linen cabinet. The problem is it’s not easy to see all of it – out of sight, out of mind. Here’s where the beauty of the spreadsheet comes in.

The columns in the spreadsheet are labeled: Brand of Yarn, Color, Fiber Content, Amount (# of skeins as well as the grams or yardage of each skein), Recommended Needle Size and Project Ideas (as vague as “hat” or actual links to patterns). And the first column has an actual picture of the yarn. Not all my yarn has labels but I fill in what I can.

The spreadsheet is a good idea for several reasons:

  • I can see what I have without dragging everything out of the closet.
  • I can add in ideas for different yarns as I find them. Having brand names on hand also allows me to go into Ravelry and look for projects made with that specific yarn, even if the yarn is no longer being manufactured.
  • I can look for yarns to pair up. This is especially useful since I have so many odds and ends.
  • It got me thinking about what to do with all my odds and ends. Given that I already have 50 yarns listed and I’m not done, not everything I knit needs to be for me. I thought it would be nice to use some of my yarn for gifts and charity. I’d like to have a stock of handknits around to surprise friends and family with. I’m thinking of “one-size-fits-all” kind of projects – hats, scarves, socks, mittens – that sort of thing. These are also perfect “no-brainer” projects.
  • It’s a reminder of how blessed I am. It may sound corny but what made the last year so bearable was my knitting and sewing. And how wonderful was it that all I had to do was open a drawer or a cabinet to find a bounty of materials to pick from.
  • It gives me one place to capture all of my ideas.
  • Creativity has a stereotype of being messy and chaotic but it needs constraints. Organizing my stash into a document and being able to see everything all at once activates “what if” thinking. What if I combined different weight yarns? What if I tied all the small leftovers together to create a Frankenball? What if I combine different textures? How would that effect the stitch pattern? What if I combined knitting with crochet? Crochet with sewing? What if I worked in patchwork? What if I added leather? These questions get my juices flowing and are the basis for some really unique and interesting design.

It may not seem like I got a lot accomplished this week but I laid the foundation and set myself up for success with future projects. Whether I need to take on a more challenging project or just need something keep my hands busy, my spreadsheet will be there with all of its possibiities.

Mexican Top Makeover

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I’m enjoying the first of three one-week vacations I have over the next four months. I wasn’t really paying attention to the PTO I had built up and now I am in a use-it-or-lose-it scenario, hence the three weeks of free time.

I do have travel plans for the later ones but this week I am focusing on some projects like upgrading my summer wardrobe. All I had was tanks and T’s. I wanted a bit more color and personality as well as something that would keep me cool (t-shirts aren’t always the coolest options for triple digit temperatures like we get in Austin). If my t-shirts were vintage concert T’s, that would be one thing, but even they were all just plain.

Now that I’m fully vaccinated and feel more comfortable taking non-essential trips, I made my way to the thrift store. Not only do I love thrift stores, but I’ve also made it a goal to buy as much as possible second hand for sustainability reasons. I’m not a big shopper, I mostly go when I actually need something as opposed to using it for entertainment but having been cooped up in my apartment the last 18 months, it was a treat to just roam the store and have some different scenery.

On this trip I was specifically looking for sleeveless or short sleeve tops to wear with shorts. I found some really cute ones (it’s interesting to note that most of them have some sort of embroidery on them… I have a definite affinity for the peasant blouse/hippie/Indian aesthetic). Even though I wasn’t able to try anything on, I have a pretty good idea of what looks good on me but I did have to make some repairs and modifications to a couple of them, mostly making them shorter as I am short waisted. After mending, shortening and washing my new tops, I ironed them and hung them up in my closet. It’s nice to see all the color in there now but things were getting kind of crowded so I did some reorganizing and came across this Mexican top that was given to me by a friend.

I like this top as I am partial to embroidery but it wasn’t cutting it. First, it is too long. Second, the fabric is a cotton and doesn’t drape well. Third, it is slightly too big on me so I decided to give it a makeover.

Since the top was put together so shoddily, I decided to just take it apart, which wasn’t much of an effort since the seams weren’t finished and it was sewn with what appears to be a basting stitch. I decided to get rid of the sleeves and shorten it.

But before I made any changes, I had to make a decision. Do I remake it using the original fabric or do I use a different fabric? I have some navy blue fabric in my stash I can use. The color isn’t a perfect match but it has the drape I am looking for. I decided to give it a try.

As you can see from the center photo above, this top was basically constructed from rectangles, very little shaping. I wanted to add a bit of armhole shaping (not much as I didn’t have a lot of room to play with if I didn’t want to cut into the embroidery). This would also help with give it a better fit.

With the new fabric I cut out a new rectangle that was twice the width of the yoke and an inch longer than I wanted it. Instead of a few pleats like the original had, I wanted it totally gathered.

I did take care to finish off my seams by serging them. I used bias binding aroud the armholes so now this top will hold up better to many more washings. I also like how the embroidery on the yoke pops more – it’s taking center stage.

What do you think? Should I have left it alone or do you like it better in it’s new form?

Coming out of my rut and triangle quilt update

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You know that creative wasteland I talked about a couple of posts ago? Yeah, still there. Having a project like a scrap quilt gives me something to do while I’m figuring out what I want to do, if you know what I mean.

I love making quilts and I have enough fabric to make a few. I decided to make a triangle quilt. It’s done by cutting four inch squares, drawing a diagonal line down the center, sewing a quarter inch on either side of the diagonal line and cutting them apart. As this is a scrap quilt, I just cut out squares and randomly sewed them together. No particular design – a “no-brainer” of a project. It gives my hands something to do while my brain is incubating.

Creating my half triangles

Scrap quilts have a long history in America. Patchwork quilts were often made from sewing scraps and old clothes. Nothing was wasted. One of the tennents of the sustainability movement is not to waste anything and use what you have on hand. Some people might see this as restrictive and feel deprived but it’s the opposite for me. I love the challenge of using what I have. It’s strangely satisfying to use stuff up and see my stash shrink.

The quilts I’m making will be donated to a non-profit. This one will be queen size and requires 930 half-triangle squares (30 squares X 31 rows). I had already made 300 squares and over the weekend I cranked out the rest while watching some bad Netflix movies and reruns (if you have any good Netflix viewing suggestions, please tell me).

Squares are all done, now laying them out to sew them up for the quilt top.

A couple of thoughts emerged during this sewing marathon. First, I finally figured out where I could pin my quilts. While I have the floor space in my apartment (I don’t have a lot of furniture) it’s carpet so essentially useless. I realized I have access to a huge space where I could pin multiple quilts out at a time. Even though I will have the room to do the whole thing, I’ll do it in two pieces because it is so much easier to quilt smaller pieces on a regular sewing machine than one large piece.

Second, sometimes when I’m in these “lows” I find great clarity. Not being able to move forward could be my brain/soul/authentic self’s (or whatever you want call it) way of saying I’m on the wrong track. I believe this dry spell is one of those times. I happened upon a Youtube channel and it got me thinking about what I am really trying to accomplish. I’m focusing on the wrong things – on the outcomes – things I don’t have any control over. I was getting caught up in my old nemesis, outer validation, worrying about what other people think and trying to do what the “experts” are doing instead of following my own passions, curiosity, wants and interests. The best thing I could do to get out of my rut was to give my hands something to do while my subconscious worked things out.

It sounds cliche but we each are given one life to live. I’ve already lived too much of mine by other people’s agenda but it’s a hard habit to break. I still fall into the trap of comparing myself to other (seemingly more successful) people and thinking I should be doing what they’re doing. But it’s just that, a trap. Because when I focus on what “they’re” doing, it takes the focus off of what I want to do, what would truly make my life meaningful and fulfilled. It’s like my brain slammed on the brakes as if to say “whoa, you missed your exit!”

So I readjust my internal GPS and head back to where I’m suppose to go and the creative juices start flowing again.

Shirtless in Seattle

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I’m bottom heavy.

I’m not referring to my behind. That is practically non-existent as I’ve inherited flat-ass-itis from my father.

I’m referring to my wardrobe. I have more than enough bottoms, especially with my recent skirt making spree. But I’m pretty sparse on tops, specifically warm weather tops.

As a knitter I have more than enough sweaters for fall/winter, but my summer wardrobe mainly consists of tanks and t-shirts. I’m ready to graduate to a more stylish look.

My real motivation though is I booked a trip to Seattle this fall to visit my son and want cute clothes to wear. Temperatures range anywhere from 50-70 degrees there so I’m thinking layers and blouses.

This forced me to address a part of my stash I’ve been avoiding – those silky, drapey, pain-in-the-ass-to-sew fabrics.

After perusing my Pinterest board I decided to step my toe in the water with a pattern I already own.

I think this is a good option because it’s a basic pattern that I can use as a jumping point for other designs. It also has several sleeve and bodice options. I decided to make view B but substitute the short sleeve.

I traced off the pattern size I wanted. I haven’t always done this but I want to make it a regular practice to preserve the pattern pieces in case I need a different size or for the next person who uses this pattern.

There’s a lot to break down with this project so let’s dive right in.

There are several elements that make up a satisfying sewing experience – having the right tools, the right materials and a good pattern. As for tools, make sure you have the proper pins (I used silk pins, which are thinner than the quilting pins I usually use), the correct needle size (mine was a 70 universal) and an iron with adjustable settings (I almost melted my fabric so lesson learned).

As for the fabric, I chose a polyester acetate (I think) from my stash. The only good thing about this fabric is the color, which is a deep, rich eggplant (the picture does not do it justice). It was gifted to me and after working with it, I think it’s a lining fabric because it’s a bit stiff. In its defense, it wasn’t hard to cut out or sew with. On the other hand, weird stains/water marks magically appeared as I was working on it. I have no idea how they got there but I’ll give it a wash and see if they come out because I really do love the color.

The pattern actually fits me perfectly, which was a bit of a surprise. It’s a good basic with or without the bow. The construction/instruction for the neckline seemed clumsy to me. The bow is attached and then a bias strip is used to cover the raw edges but I don’t think they got the miter right for the V-neck. It could have been my error but I rechecked my fabric piece against the pattern and it matched. I followed their directions to the letter yet it turned out a bit sloppy. Luckily I will be the only one who knows since it’s on the inside of the blouse.

Having done a run through on the pattern and actually liking it, I picked a better fabric from my stash (unfortunately I think it’s still a polyester but it has a much better drape) that would go perfectly with my brown pants.

And here’s where it gets interesting…

This pattern is cut on the bias. Which is great when using a woven because it has a bit more give and nice drape. However, I am not used to working with slippery fabrics. I cut out my pieces, marked them and as I was unpinning I casually picked the piece up for the bow from one end and it GREW! I quickly realized you have to handle these pieces carefully because being on the bias, they’ll stretch. I didn’t have this problem with my the other fabric as it still had some stiffness to it.

Another consideration when working with slippery fabrics on the bias – do not stretch or pull them when you are sewing. And because long rectangular pieces, like bindings and in this pattern, the bow, will grow, you’ll need to manage it by easing those pieces in. Let the feed dogs do what they were designed to do and put those pieces on the bottom. Another helpful hint for dealing with its tendency to stretch is to use a lot of pins to keep the fabric from shifting around.

This is a pretty straightforward pattern except for the neckline and I toyed with the idea of changing it up. I was going to try a cotton bias binding but decided to give their way one more try. The directions have you sew the pointed ends together to get the mitered edge for the V-neck. The problem is, they don’t have you sew it far enough. When I made that slight correction, I found the bias strip worked just fine. The neckline was still a bit fiddly but I took it slow and it was a big improvement over my first attempt.

I’m quite pleased with this blouse. I had pretty low expectations going into this project, expecting it to be more of a learning lesson as opposed to getting anything wearable out of it. But as it turns out, if the stains come out of my first one, I will have two nice additions to my wardrobe. The experience gave me the confidence to tackle the more delicate fabrics in my stash because they really aren’t as hard to work with as I had built up in my mind.

And isn’t that the case with most things in life?

The Creative Wasteland

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Image by Marion

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re on a roll, inspiration is coming at you left and right, projects are just flowing through your hands at an incredible rate of speed and all of a sudden, the train goes off the tracks,

This is where I am at. It’s frustrating not having a project. Okay, I have tons of projects and ideas, the real frustration is nothing is exciting me at the moment. My stash feels stale. I want color! Pattern! Texture! Yet everything feels somber, derivative and unimaginative. Not everything has to be a wow factor but I can’t seem to find even find a spark to get me going.

Over the holiday weekend I finished a project – a basic top made out of leftover yarn to wear with a lace cardigan I knit last year (essentially creating a twin set). Nothing exciting or complicated, just something to keep my hands busy.

When I finished that I dragged out yarns and fabric, looking for something to call to me.

I leafed through stitch guides hoping one would jumpstart an idea.

I watched YouTube, scrolled through Instagram and Pinterest, looked through books and I came up dry.

I almost had an idea when I found a pillow form. If nothing else, at least it would give me something to do (like I don’t already have six unfinished projects I could whittle away at…). I played around with some yarn, found a stitch pattern I liked and started. Then a better idea came to me so I abandoned that pattern for another. I almost finished that one when I realized it wouldn’t work for what I had in mind. I thought I’d sleep on it and start fresh in the morning.

Sleep, however, alluded me. I had questions, “What about the red sweater I started knitting about a month ago?” I was avoiding it because I had the sneaking suspicion it was too small (even though I did a gauge swatch). Using my insomnia to my advantage and measured it. If I was going to have to rip it out, better to do it now, when I only have 4 inches on the needle than when it was finished. My instincts were right. It was be too small. So at god-knows-what-hour of the night, I unraveled it. While I was at it, I unraveled the pillow also. My mind a little bit more at ease, at least I was able to fall asleep.

These episodes are not the exception, they are part of the process. Productivity, creativity – these come in ebbs and flows, much like life. I’ve learned to ride them out. Doesn’t mean I like them. But for the most part, these creative dry spells mean I need to recharge, take a break, relax. Something I’m not prone to do.

Other creatives will tell you if you develop a creative “habit” you can avoid these. Show up for the page, don’t wait for inspiration to strike, etc. but I bet even if you commit to working on your craft on a daily basis, some days will be more productive than others. They may be fewer and farther between but I don’t think anybody escapes that.

So what’s the trick to get through this?

Netflix.

Just kidding,

Or am I?

I think the broader answer is to just let go. I have a tendency to push my way through this period, trying to force something to come. I haven’t had much success with that method. But once I give in and let go, it isn’t long before an idea pops in my head, a spark is ignited and I’m off again.

Maybe it’s these unproductive moments, when I begin searching desperately for a new project, that feed my creativity at that subconscious level. I’m bombarding it with images and half-baked ideas and it gets to work sorting it all out. I don’t know. What I do know is inspiration will come and like a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly, an idea will emerge.

And the process will begin again.

Patchwork Jacket with Knitted Sleeves

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One of my favorite makes ever.

When I was living in the Dallas suburbs, I belong to a vibrant and active chapter of the American Sewing Guild. The ladies in it were so talented and inspiring and it was just the thing to keep my creative juices flowing. One month we had a presentation on creating a jacket from a sweatshirt.

These types of projects are just up my alley. I don’t know why, but I love repurposing things. I see thrift stores as one big treasure chest of possibilities – diamonds in the rough just waiting to be polished to show their beauty. By comparison, craft stores feel cold and sterile to me. I prefer worn in things. Mass produced products these days just don’t have the quality, history or character of older items. Also, I seem to have this weird aversion for new things. I find their pristine condition a bit intimidating. I don’t want to ruin them so when I buy something, particularly clothes, I avoid wearing them, which is ridiculous and something I’m working on. Why I make things more precious than they are is beyond me. But then again, why fight my preferences and just accept that shabby is part of my aesthetic.

After that meeting I went straight to my favorite thrift store and found a couple of men’s sweatshirts and set to work on my jacket. Let’s be honest, this was the late 90’s, not a decade known for its style and the trend of creating a cardigan out of a sweatshirt turned up some questionable designs, most a bit “old lady”.

A typical sweatshirt-turned-jacket pattern. This one is on on FreePatterns.com

I am not here to judge anyone’s choices, this just wasn’t (and still isn’t) my style (I respect and applaud you to do you, with no apologies.) The idea though set my creative gears in motion and I made my version of the sweatshirt jacket. And by the time I was done, there was no evidence that it was ever a sweatshirt.

In the workshop, the presenter took a sweatshirt and used it as a base, covering it with strips of quilting cotton. I used a roll of batiks I had in my stash and sewed them on. Instead of sewing the strips right sides together to hide the raw edges, I just overlapped them using a zig-zag stitch. Then I did some freeform topstitching to give it a quilted look. That’s about all I took from the workshop because I decided to actually make a fitted jacket using a commercial pattern I had as a starting point (sorry, I don’t remember what pattern it was but any jacket pattern would do). Before I sewed on my strips, I removed the collar, cuffs and waistband, cutting the shirt up into raw yardage. I ended up using two sweatshirts.

I only needed enough fabric to do the front, back and the collar. After I had sewn on my batik strips, I cut out the jacket pattern pieces and sewed the fronts and backs together, serging the seams. I did need to adjust the darts to get a better fit but that wasn’t a big deal.

The collar was a bit of an afterthought and as the jacket progressed I thought a shawl collar would be a nice touch. The pattern only had a notched collar so I had to draft my own. I did this by putting the shell of the jacket on my dress form and draped muslin over it, drawing out the shape I wanted.

I used bias binding to finish off the edges that showed – the hem, front and collar.

I took a different approach on the sleeves. I’d been combining thrift store denim vests with hand knitted sleeves for awhile- directions here – so knitting sleeves for this project wasn’t anything new for me. I had a sport weight brown yarn that matched perfectly and decided to use the sleeves from the Double Leaves & Twist Duster in Shirley Paden’s Knitwear Design Workshop. I did find a flaw with the sleeve pattern. If I recall correctly, you need to make a mirror image of them as the design is not symmetrical but the pattern does not mention it (at least not in my version).

Also, as I was knitting along I came across this:

Mistakes happen

I’m sure you’ve never made such a silly mistake but it is so frustrating to be well into a garment and notice that you miscounted and now have a little jog where there should just be straight lines of rib. And once I see it, I can’t unsee it so I had to rip it back and fix it. But the pattern is gorgeous so it was worth doing right. When I finished the sleeves I just sewed them into the armhole and amazingly they fit without needing any adjustments (yay for stretchy knit fabric!)

A close up of the sleeve pattern

At the next meeting I presented my jacket in show-and-tell and it was a hit. While I love the process of creating, I think my favorite part is showing it off. It’s kind of embarrassing but when I finish a project, I’ll put it on my dress form and admire it. I don’t drink or do drugs – my buzz comes from the sense of accomplishment when a project (done right) is completed. Funny thing is, I think I wore this jacket once. It came with me to all of my craft shows as a display and always got lots of attention. One year I finally sold it and I can only hope it was loved and appreciated as much as I loved making it. I’ve been thinking about doing another version of this, making it into a trench coat. I’ll let that idea percolate for awhile.