Slow knitting

Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’m pretty happy with how this sweater turned out.  I don’t even remember exactly what I was envisioning when I began it, but I think it finally got there, or somewhere in the general vicinity.

Pattern:  Arboreal  by Knit.Love.Wool. Yarn purchased from  Alpaca Avenue

Pattern: Arboreal by Knit.Love.Wool. Yarn purchased from Alpaca Avenue

This sweater was supposed to have been a relatively quick diversion from my #2018makenine lineup, which had been progressing at a good pace back in April, when I cast on. I allowed myself to go off-script and break my own rule about only using existing stash* because the Make Nine Challenge isn’t meant to be restrictive in any way.  Besides, I reasoned, I had a long standing ambition to become proficient in stranded knitting** and although I have dabbled with small Fair Isle projects over the last several years (mainly hats), the goal all along has been to knit a full-on Fair Isle garment of some kind.  I needed practice! A simple stranded yoke sweater seemed like the ideal project to get my feet wet instead of trying to dive straight into Marie Wallin depths. And, let’s be perfectly honest, I got sucked into the vortex of amazing colourwork projects on IG.

Arboreal has an easy-to-follow colourwork pattern with very few long floats but I also just enjoyed the idea of a leaf motif because I wanted this sweater to represent something personal.  I wanted it to be an ode of sorts to Ontario, to home. In particular, I wanted it to be about autumn in Ontario because no matter where I travel in the world, no matter the season, no matter how impressive everywhere else is, I will love an Ontario autumn more than anything else because nothing else feels so much like home to my soul.

It seems improbable, but I didn’t have any appropriate yarn for this sort of project in my oversized yarn stash (I’m a recovering superwash wool addict), so I decided that if I was going to break my yarn diet, I would do it by buying as local as possible.  I’m all for supporting my local fibreshed but since I buy much less yarn than I did in the past, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to do so and this project seemed like an especially good excuse to shop local. That meant paying a visit to my go-to source for ethical and local yarn, Alpaca Avenue (which is no longer a brick & mortar shop, but Kerstin is keeping it all going in an on-line capacity).

I really only needed two colours for this pattern, the main and the contrast, but I figured if I was going to knit with colour, it might as well be colourful, right?  For my main, Kerstin showed me a really unique yarn that she had had processed from a batch of fleeces she obtained almost by chance from a sheep farm on St. Joseph Island.  The colour is a lovely natural heathered grey (my favourite) and the wool is airy but warm. I knew that I was looking for a Canadian-dyed yarn for the contrast, preferably in some sort of gradient of fall colours but I knew that was going to be a tall order since my extensive online browsing did not find me any likely candidates in the right weight, regardless of the country of origin.

Kerstin had something quite nearly perfect--the wool was even grown, milled, and dyed locally*** -- except that it only came in a fingering weight.  I was a little disheartened because I had my heart set on nearly this precise colour combination but while we chatted and brainstormed, it hit me that I could double the fingering weight yarn to get a worsted weight and I could make the gradient pack of minis blend even more smoothly by changing the strand combination every few rows.  Doubling yarn while knitting Fair Isle is probably not something a beginner should dive right into, but the colours called to me. The yarn is Elora in the “Girl of the Limberlost” gradient pack. (More yarn details are on my Ravelry page for this project.)

Because she is just a super person, Kerstin kindly gave me some partials she had sitting around so that I could test the colour combination before committing to buying the pack.  (She’s really the best! She cares as much as you do about the success of your project). Once I had blocked my swatch, I felt like it was going to be a great project.  I was prepared to hit a few speed bumps on the way because I was completely new to colourwork sweaters, but even with that proviso, things did not go as I had hoped.

For a long time, this sweater was touch and go.  I spent the majority of the many hours I put into this sweater highly doubting if I was going to end up with something I’d be happy with.  After the initial euphoria of knitting my first colourwork yoke and being quite delighted with the colour combination, I soon came to the demoralizing realization that it was probably not going to fit me very well.  I had a pattern drafting instructor who always admonished us to be aware of how “flesh is distributed differently on different people even if they are the same size”. Truer words were never spoken (in a pattern drafting class, at least).  Let us just say that I do not have a fleshy upper body so a partially knit circular yoke sweater on me looks a bit like an opened umbrella. I checked my stitch counts and my gauge and everything was presumably spot on. I perused the projects in Ravelry to see if anyone with a similar body type had the same issues, but no one seemed to. So I pressed on, hoping that it would all work out.  It didn’t.

This sweater was begun eight months ago.  Even if you don’t count the months-long hiatus I took from it, I spent a ridiculous amount of time working on this sweater.  I ripped out entire sections multiple times and fiddled with different needle sizes, stitch counts, shapes, and more until I felt that I was satisfied. I even cut off the neckband after I had blocked the completed sweater because the garter stitch just didn’t seem to work for me. This is not how I like a project to go, but sometimes, you just know that it isn’t right.  And when it isn’t right, it isn’t likely to be worn by me or anyone else. I am not by nature someone who enjoys torture, but I will (sometimes) subject myself to the pain of frogging and reknitting when faced with the prospect of an unusable end product. (It probably helps that I am as much a process knitter as I am a product knitter.)

I don’t think this is what people mean when they refer to “slow fashion”, but it does fit into my notion of slow fashion.  It does no one any good if I make a sweater that won’t be worn with joy by anyone, because then it isn’t going to be worn, period. I really don’t ever want to make a thing that won’t be used or won’t last long because I was too lazy to do it right.****  By “right”, I mean that the quality of my workmanship has to be high, the fit has to be appropriate, and the aesthetic has to be pleasing (at the very least to my eye). I think this is one of the reasons I don’t manage to make a whole lot in a year.  I’m not expert enough to get things right without a lot of re-working so I probably need three times the number of hours as anyone else to finish the same garment. Definitely, this sweater took me at least three times longer than I anticipated.

However, I don’t know if in truth I just finally took pity on myself and called it done.  I have to wonder because my partner, who is always perfectly politic about my style choices, had to choke back some laughter when he saw me wearing this.  Maybe after I pack it away for the summer next year, I’ll have a better sense of how well (or not well) this all turned out since it will give me time to regain some objectivity.

For now, I’m going to be toasty warm and totally secretly smug that the extra effort wasn’t utterly wasted.


*Using stash yarns, stash fabric, and preferably stash patterns, was part of the reason I participated in #2018makenine.  I already had everything I needed to participate and I thought this would give me some motivation to finally make use of stuff that had been waiting for ages to be made up into something

**Cabled sweaters and Fair Isle sweaters were the reason I took up knitting in the first place.  Cables were easy to learn and for the first few years, virtually everything I knit was laden with cables. Fair Isle was a whole other can of worms. I have an old Istex Lopi pattern book I picked up when I was too young to even afford the amount of yarn that was required (12 or so different colours plus the main colour!?) for the sweater that I wanted to (one day) knit. I think I only hang on to that old pattern book to remind myself of my propensity for making grand plans and then abandoning them

***Quebec is local enough, n’est-ce pas?

****I never want to make a failure of a project, but I can’t lie, it definitely happens.  Sometimes, I just can’t bear another day struggling with a project and I have to concede and move on, presumably to return to it when I’ve had a chance to regroup. (My life is littered with the remnants of failed projects.) If/when I post my #2018makenine wrap-up, I’ll have some examples to share

Land under wave

When you embark on a knitting project, you expect many great things.  I might even go as far as to say that no one is more optimistic than a knitter at the moment of casting on, except possibly the knitter in the middle of buying more yarn.  But even I, at the start of knitting this humble vest, had no idea how much I was going to love the entire process as well as the finished project.  It isn't that this vest is the pinnacle of all sweater vests or that absolutely nothing went awry during the process, but this is one of those rare occasions in my history of making clothes where everything came together in such an enjoyable and satisfying way.*

I'll start with the pattern.  It is based on Carol Sunday's Adam's Ribs Cap-sleeve Wrap which I have admired for many years now.  I bought the pattern some time ago but hadn't cast on or even bought the appropriate yarn for it.  In hindsight, I think part of what held me back was that while it is a lovely design and seems quite suitable for many body types, I couldn't quite see myself wearing it because I just don't seem to know how to wear anything that requires artful draping, as this garment does.  The moment I start to move, everything starts slipping out of place and I end up looking like I just clambered out of a ditch and possibly suffered a concussion in the process.   Let's just say I'm better off in more utilitarian clothing.

Though the real reason I had to modify the pattern was that the yarn I decided to use was bought with an entirely different project in mind and I didn't have enough to make the pattern as written.  This turned out to be a great thing because what I really loved most about the pattern was the stitch pattern.  (It is of Carol's own devising and it is really quite genius!  You can see the sweaters she designed with this stitch pattern here.)  So I figured that if I eliminated the wide drape-y collar and shortened the body a bit, I would have enough yarn and it would be a shape that I felt had better odds of fitting into my current wardrobe.  But simply not knitting the collar wasn't going to result in a garment that I could wear comfortably either, so what started off as a nonchalant decision to make a minor modification turned into something a fair bit more involved.

The original pattern is knit all in one piece from side to side with some very easy seams to sew up.  Instead, I chose to knit a separate piece that combined a collar band with a left front and right front panel, i.e., knit from hem to hem, and to pick up stitches along the left front.  Then I worked side-to-side until I rejoined the body to the opposing panel, after which, I  sewed up the neck, shoulder, and sleeve seams.  Sounds straightforward** and even though there were a lot of serendipitous numbers of repeats that allowed the stitch pattern to flow quite nicely from one section to the next, there was a lot of calculating and plotting of details.  And frogging.  But not as much as I feared!  Still, I didn't think I was safe to call it done until after I had blocked it and worn it a few times.  I was prepared to fish out the woven in ends, frog, and re-knit because of how much I loved the yarn.

Which brings me to this yarn from Twin Oaks Farm.  It doesn't have its own entry in the Ravelry database because it is a small-batch, single source yarn.  Betsy, the lovely ewe who supplied the wool will be providing future fleeces to the world as far as I know, but 2017 is the vintage I have and unless you can buy it from someone else's stash, you'll just have to wait for the 2018 fleece to be sheared and spun!

I love absolutely everything about this yarn.  Sure, my interest in it began with its being an Ontario raised and milled yarn, but that's only two of its*** many virtues.  I'm moving towards buying everything local if at all possible but it has to be a good product first and foremost and produced with sustainability in mind.  This yarn checks all my boxes.  It is a beautiful yarn.  The fiber (Romney) is long, lustrous, and an indescribable natural greyish-brown heather, compliments of the aforementioned Betsy.  It was processed by Wellington Fibres into a 3-ply worsted with very nice stitch definition.  The hand-feel while knitting was so wonderful that I put off finishing the last few inches of knitting because then it would be over.  Who does that?  (I never have until now.)

But aside from all these important qualities, there was another element to this yarn that really connected me to this project from start to finish.  This is the first time I have ever made something about which I can honestly say I know where everything came from.****  I can (hypothetically) go meet Betsy and I can visit the mill in Ontario that processed the wool.  I know that the pattern's designer is an incredibly talented woman who literally works in her cottage studio (in the US, which makes us close neighbours, right?) and even the buttons on my vest were handmade from wood foraged in Ontario.*****  Everything about this yarn and project had a connection to a person doing awesome things and to this place that I call home.  Those thoughts were never far from my mind as I worked every stitch of this vest and even the (very minimal) veggie matter in the yarn (which I swear is the cleanest wool I have ever knit in my life) was conjuring pleasant memories of the landscape and seasons of Ontario.  It had an incredibly calming effect on me!  These are obviously feelings that I was transferring to inanimate things, but it was a way to approach my making as a deliberate act that involved more than just me and my little bubble.  But I digress.

I waited nearly a year for this yarn because when I first met Laura of Twin Oaks Farm at the K-W Knitters' Fair in 2016, she wasn't going to have a worsted weight in a natural dark shade until after the next shearing.  I was so excited by what she had brought to the Knitters' Fair and the little chat we had that I was quite happy to pre-order and bide my time.  It was well worth the wait.  The yarn was shipped promptly after processing and when it was finally in my hands, I loved it even more than I could have imagined.  I've really cut back in recent years on my yarn shopping so when I buy something now, it's not intended for stash; it's meant to be used.  It still took me a couple of months to get started but as soon as I had blocked my swatch, I knew the vest was going to be worth all the effort.  Swatching is an important step so that you can determine gauge and all that, but in this case, seeing that blocked swatch, holy cats, my already high interest in knitting this vest sky-rocketed.  Still, I was a little nervous because I have been that overly-optimistic knitter who imagines what could be, only to end up with a less than satisfactory garment.  I kind of held my breath right up to the point I unpinned this from the blocking mats and wore it for a day.

I don't often get to claim this, but it turned out even better than I hoped!  I didn't even know that this was missing from my wardrobe until I wore it.  I know people say if you keep your core warm, you'll feel warmer all over but I don't think I realized how much of a difference that makes inside an old, drafty house.  I've had plenty of opportunity to test this theory with all the chilly weather April has brought with it and I can confirm that it is at least true for me!

The reason this isn't the sweater vest to end all sweater vests is that I am so happy with this one, I think there may just be another in my not-so-distant future.  I'm thinking I might need a second one so that I'll never be without one while the other is being washed and air-dried.  Makes perfectly good sense, right?


*I say that and you think, gosh, why make clothes then?  Because, it is the nature of hope to spring eternal

**Or it would sound straightforward if I explained it a little better and with diagrams, I'm sure

***I do actually know the difference between it's and its, in case you read this post before I fixed it (all three of you.)  If you ever see that error in my writing, please attribute it to a momentary brain glitch that might have been brought on by a virus, which is currently the case, or the cool-looking but somewhat illegible text editor that Squarespace provides.  My wayward pinky likes throwing in random apostrophes when I type and I don't always find them when I attempt to edit, partly because my eyes are watering looking at this screen.

****Not that there aren't real human beings behind things produced by large companies and not that there are not companies out there that wouldn't turn my stomach if I had a good look at their inner workings, it's just that true transparency rarely exists when you're dealing with companies or corporations so you're just hoping every worker in the chain is being paid a living wage and every factory is minimizing its environmental impact--even when you know the odds are high that one or neither of these things is happening

*****I hope someone on IG can point me to the actual (button) maker.  I bought the buttons at the Woodstock Fleece Festival in 2016.  I think the vendor's husband might have been the button maker.  (It wasn't AB Originals which is also a husband and wife team making nifty buttons in Ontario)

******Hmm. Seeing an uptick in visits to this post which I strongly suspect has nothing to do with my knitting. If you came here looking for something related to Tiffany Aching, you found it.


I've been quietly participating in the #2018makenine challenge and I am sort of surprised by how nice it is to follow along on Instagram.  I give a little mental hurrah! for every finished project I see in this feed because I know part of what that finished project would have entailed and the resulting spark of happiness it brings.  I like knowing there are people out there making joy.

I mentioned in my previous post that my #2018makenine is pretty unambitious, at least comparatively.  I have all the materials and patterns in my stash already so there isn't any time being spent on sourcing, some of my projects are WiPs, and several others are of the small and simple variety (which is not why I have suddenly taken an interest in sock knitting).  (See previous post.)

However, the operative word is "comparatively".  As far as I'm concerned, my list presents a decent challenge for me since I am good at making lists and not so good at making time.  It probably doesn't help that I seem to lay down multiple obstacles to my making of anything for a variety of reasons, one of which is guilt--the guilt that I "should be doing more important things".  Which is entirely true, but if I actually got right down to doing those important things instead of finding some other unrelated task to work on (such as blogging or surfing), I'd probably have time left over to indulge my love of knitting and sewing, right?

Anyhow, I've been seeing lots of pants and Ginger Jeans popping up in my IG feed and it got me thinking that indeed, I really could use a pair of well-fitting pants and/or jeans.  Pants are a bugbear if you don't have the body of a runway model.  I am not at all trying to suggest we'd all be better off if we'd only been born with a "better" set of genes.  What I mean is that there are so many ways a pair of pants won't fit a female body, and that most manufacturers, in all their wisdom, have chosen their average proportions from the rather narrow segment of the population we have collectively deemed "better looking than the rest of us".  The rest of us just have to squeeze in or cinch or resort to wearing long cardigans or all of the above.

If you've ever attempted drafting a pant pattern for yourself, you would know just how many measurements and calculations are required and unless you are a master pattern drafter, you still have to tweak and tweak again and then some.  But sewing experience isn't at all necessary to have intimate knowledge of the fact that pants are hard to fit.  Trying to buy pants off the rack is a bit of a nightmare for a lot of women and I suspect that's why so many of us have a predilection for bifurcated garments with spandex.

Also, this is the reason I own an entirely ridiculous number of RTW pants.  And why about 80% of them don't get worn.*  I don't sew my own pants anymore (see previous paragraph) so I buy them (entirely too often) but so, SO rarely do they ever fit straight off the rack.  At the very least, they will require hemming.  I'm under average height and since pants usually come with a little extra inseam to not exclude the reasonably tall people among us, I have to hack off a good chunk so that I'm not sporting donuts around my ankles or tripping over my own feet.  (Nowadays, I just say no to flares, for my own safety.)**  But, in truth, many don't even get hemmed because in my heart of hearts, I know that I won't likely wear them because they are bunching a little too much somewhere or sagging a bit elsewhere.  Of course, I don't make that admission until it's well too late for returns or exchanges.

And this is just the pile that I want to start with.  The required modifications here range from simple hemming to over-dyeing to something just shy of a miracle.

And this is just the pile that I want to start with.  The required modifications here range from simple hemming to over-dyeing to something just shy of a miracle.

You'd think that a three-way mirror and my own good sense would have prevented me from repeatedly making this mistake, yet here I am with very few pants to wear and far too many pairs in my closet that are almost wearable.  Clearly, the answer to my troubles is not more shopping.  For a moment, I thought the answer was to buckle down and make my own pants, but every time I open my closet or that particular dresser drawer, I see that stack of clothes (and let's be clear, it's not just pants or just RTW***) which, with a few hours of work and a perhaps a little creativity, could become useful, contributing members of my wardrobe.  Which is where the #mendormodifynine hashtag comes in.

I'm setting this challenge for myself, not to necessarily mend or modify nine articles of clothing in 2018, but to use the remaining nine months of this year to practice.  To practice the arts of mending and modifying and to practice the new decision-making processes that I want to develop when it comes to consuming, hoarding, and discarding material things.  I want to use that time that I practice to think about how I came to have the current consumption habits I have and how I can modify those behaviours to reflect my ideals and my concerns.

When I think about my thought processes for deciding what I wanted and subsequently, what I bought, I'm starting to see how many lies I had to tell myself and how many conclusions I avoided making to justify all those things.  But this challenge isn't about the mea culpas or atonement, although they kind of figure in a little bit because I can't help myself. It's about learning how to go forward with what I have, and learning more about how I can make better decisions as a consumer.  I'd like to make #mendormodify something that I do as a matter of course and not just a single-use hashtag on IG.****


*Full disclosure, not all of that 80% have a fit issue. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I don't stray far from the path of trendiness.  You'd have a hard time getting me to enter a public space wearing a pair of low-rise, whiskered jeans circa 2005

**This isn't really a footnote on the text.  This is just the point in my editing where a few mistaken keystrokes erased about two hours of writing and editing and I uttered a litany of curses upon the House of Squarespace for their evil wysiwyg editor.  Until I reluctantly admitted that it was entirely my fault--this time.  But still, it was way too easy to accidentally erase all that work.  When will I EVER learn to write all the text in a different app, one that has a revision history???

***I don't like to claim that I make my own clothes because they fit better or are nicer than RTW because the evidence (which is jammed into the farthest reaches of my closet) proves otherwise. Sure, I have made items that I love and use, but I have also sewn and knit a number of garments that never made it out the front door.  A few of those are going into the "modify it" queue this year.

****I don't expect this hashtag to catch on since I can safely assume this blog post will just take its place in the food chain of the internet somewhere between plankton and krill.