FO: Vanilla

Before I post my (overdue) reflections on Me-Made-May, I wanted to catch up my records by sharing the projects I completed during the month. The first is below; the others will be combined in another post.

When I was a teenager my parents paid for my clothing, and because they allowed me a fair amount of latitude in picking out what I wanted to wear, I didn’t have much impetus to buy clothing myself. The first time I can distinctly recall paying for a garment that I wanted with my own money was in high school. I don’t remember now what I’d originally gone to the mall to buy—I wasn’t the type to shop recreationally—but I ended up bringing home a white cotton gauze A-line skirt that had been on sale for only $10. It hit around knee-length and had an elastic waist and slightly stretchy lining, all of which made it wonderfully comfortable and allowed me to sit crossed legged without flashing anyone. From a design standpoint it was nothing special, but in my eyes it was pretty much perfect, and I adored it.

I wore the skirt through high school and then college; I don’t remember the exact reason that I eventually got rid of it, but the only reason I would have parted with it was that a) it had acquired an indelible stain, or b) it had completely fallen apart from endless wearing and washing. I’ve wanted to replace it ever since, but somehow never mustered up the gumption to actually do so.

As the weather warmed up throughout May, however, I finally pulled out a crinkled poly-cotton I scored at Hancock’s going-out-of-business sale and Simplicity 1662 and set to work.

This pattern doesn’t really mimic the shape of the inspiration skirt that well, nor is it a great match for the fabric, but I had it in stash already and it has an elastic waist—arguably my favorite feature of the original—so I went with it to avoid the perils of trying draft something myself. (I know that an A-line skirt should be about the easiest thing to draft after a dirndl or a circle skirt, but I have an exceptional ability to over-complicate the drafting process, so I decided not to chance it. I wanted something easy.)

I traced view C, but rather than have it rise in the front and dip in the back, I cut it straight across at the side seam, perpendicular to the center front/center back. I cut a size small based on my waist measurement, with the intention of stretching it to sit at the top of my hip bones.

I prepped the fabric by washing it in cold water and tumbling dry on low heat, which caused its already crinkly surface to pull in even further, making it much too narrow for the pattern pieces. After consulting a few discussion threads online, the only advice I could find was to relax the fabric with steam. I was dubious—wouldn’t it ruin the very thing about the fabric that attracted me to it in the first place?—but after aggressively steaming the yardage and even gently tugging/prodding it until the selvages were straight again, it was wide enough to use and still had those characteristic crinkles, albeit less deeply furrowed. Like the gauze of the original, this fabric is sheer when the light hits it, so I decided to line the skirt with leftover white cotton sateen I had in stash from lining my Garden Party Dress.

I attached the lining by serging it to the shell and the waistband, simultaneously securing the lining, creating the casing for the elastic, and finishing the edge. The serging is invisible because it ends up sandwiched between the shell and lining when everything is turned right-sides-out.

After the success of my super simple tartan scarf, I decided to finish the skirt hem with my rolled hem foot. The act of pulling the stretchy material taut to feed it through the foot led to the lettuce edging, which I should have expected but ended up pleasantly surprised by. It will take a little practice to achieve a consistently ruffled edge, but I’m happy with the outcome.

The lining was turned up 3/4″, then turned up again 1″ and edgestitched, for a deep hem and a clean finish.

For the elastic waist, I ended up changing the length of the elastic to get a snug fit, but I forgot to write down by how much. Whoops. I did follow the tip included in the instructions to use little strips of fusible interfacing to glue down the side seam allowances within the waistband, to make it easier to thread the elastic through the casing, and it worked a treat.

At this point, you may well be wondering why there are no modeled shots, especially given the attention to detail in both the sewing and the posting. The truth is, after wearing it one time for Me-Made-May, I realized that something is wrong with the waist. Instead of lying smoothly when stretched the way its predecessor did, it has this weird puffiness right below the elastic that stubbornly refuses flatten out. Maybe it’s because the fabric is slightly gathered, or maybe it just has more body than my beloved older skirt did, but in any case, it looks horrible under the fitted and semi-fitted shirts I prefer. Maybe it would look okay under a boxy, drapy tee, but that’s not a combination I see myself wearing. So it’s probably destined for the donation pile, in the hopes that someone else will love it when I can’t, and I’m back to the drawing board for the perfect summer skirt.

What’s your perfect summer skirt look like? Is it something you own already, or are you still on the hunt for it?

FO: CustomFit Courant

Have you ever had a project that was so fraught with problems and frustrations that, when it was finally finished, you weren’t sure if you even wanted the thing anymore? This sweater was a little bit lot like that.

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The yarn, Tanis Fiber Arts Yellow Label DK, was a souvenir from the Purple Purl in Toronto, Ontario. I visited during a day trip while on a longer vacation to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to celebrate my fifth wedding anniversary, and I went in with the explicit purpose of purchasing a sweater quantity. I chose the color because it’s similar to a long-gone favorite sweater (a casualty of threadbare elbows and, eventually, a too-short hem). I specifically bought enough to complete Amy Herzog’s Courant, a pattern similar to another favorite sweater that needs to be retired (it also succumbed to threadbare elbows, as well as shadowy underarm discoloration that won’t wash out).

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Just after I returned from that trip, Amy announced the Maker program for CustomFit. CustomFit is a Web-based application that uses your body measurements and your gauge to generate a custom sweater pattern. Anyone can create a CustomFit account for free to store body measurements and gauge information; you only pay when you generate a custom sweater pattern. The Maker program is a subscription option for CustomFit that allows you to pay a small monthly fee to receive sweater credits on predetermined dates throughout the year that can be redeemed for patterns, rather than paying per pattern. The Maker program has basic and premium subscriptions, and both offer significant cost savings over the pay-as-you-go option if you knit more than six sweaters a year.

I’m not that prolific (yet), but I was intrigued by the concept and wanted to support this alternative approach to pattern sales. Plus, I was already preparing to cancel another subscription service that I no longer used, and it coincidentally had the same annual cost, so I decided to trade one subscription for another to get a service that I would actually use without increasing my monthly spending. Win-win.

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With Justin’s help I took comprehensive body measurements. I knit a gauge swatch. Because Courant is one of the patterns built into CustomFit, all I had to do was plug my numbers into a simple form and hey presto! I had a perfectly fitting sweater pattern at my fingertips.

In a flurry of excitement I cast on and knit all of the pieces in about ten days, helped along by a four-day weekend and a very understanding husband. Then I blocked and sewed up all of the pieces, and suddenly I realized that this sweater was not going to fit. It was too big all over, but especially in the armholes and bust.

I wept. I wailed. I gnashed my teeth. I questioned whether I was the only person in all of knittingdom for whom the magical fitting formula simply did not work. I prophesied a lifetime of ill-fitting hand-knit sweaters and despair.

I…may have overreacted.

But can you blame me? Promised the sublime joy of a perfectly fitting sweater without on-the-fly modifications or frogging, is it any wonder that my hopes went soaring among the rafters? Or that, when this elusive prize failed to materialize, they would come crashing down with such noise?

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When I finally pulled myself together, I contacted the CustomFit help desk, where I was connected with none other than Amy herself to discuss my knitting and fitting woes. We determined that the most likely culprit was a combination of a too-small swatch and superwash yarn, which has a tendency to grow under its own weight more than a non-superwash yarn in larger items, with a dash of mis-measuring thrown in. She counseled me to give in to my tight knitting tendencies, as a firmer fabric can counteract superwash stretching shenanigans. She also provided more insight into the different amounts of ease in various parts of my schematic.

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Eventually I mustered the energy to frog all of the pieces, de-kink and re-wind the yarn, and knit several new swatches. I generated a fresh pattern at a tighter gauge, provided to me for free courtesy of the lovely folks on the CustomFit team.

It took a lot longer to re-knit the sweater than it did to knit it, partly because of the gauge and partly because I wasn’t feeling particularly charitable toward the project. The bazillion ends created from re-working already-cut yarn certainly didn’t help matters. And if that weren’t enough, I decided that the original cowl-neck wouldn’t work with my yarn (no natural drape), so I redesigned it to have a split that would allow it to lie flat across my shoulders.

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I finally completed the sweater at the end of May. When I tried it on, I wasn’t in love. Some of the problems are my own doing. The sleeve cuffs are a little snugger than I’d like, but I narrowed the sleeves compared to the original pattern, and my tubular cast on ironically turned out to be tighter than my normal long-tail cast on even though by all accounts it should be stretchier. I also think the fabric I created is too stiff: while not quite bulletproof, it still lacks some of the flexibility and recovery you would expect from a plied 100% wool yarn.

Some of the problems are, I think, a result of a conflict between my fit preferences and the fit philosophy underlying CustomFit. When I chose a close fit, I imagined it would hug my back curve more closely, and I didn’t anticipate so much excess fabric under the bust. (In case you’re looking at the photo above and thinking that I’m full of lies, I should mention that I’m holding my breath in that picture. No, I don’t know why, although caramels and homemade Chex Mix are delicious easy scapegoats.) I also understood that the purpose of negative ease at the hips is to better anchor the sweater, but when I raise my arms, a healthy sliver of midriff appears.

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Basically, I expected a close fit to better conform to my shape, instead of completely hiding what little waist definition I have and making me look like a rectangle. But, since it was too warm to wear anyway, I decided to stuff the entire thing in a drawer and re-evaluate my feelings in colder weather.

I pulled it back out to wear while Christmas tree hunting on the one of the few below-freezing days this month, and I can confirm that it is at least warm. I don’t dislike it quite as much as I did during the first try-on–I’m no longer entertaining the absolutely ridiculous notion of frogging the whole thing a second time to make a different sweater–but it will never be my favorite sweater.

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Despite my lukewarm feelings, I’m going to give CustomFit another try. If I can’t find a way to make it work for me, then I can always spend my credits making sweaters for Justin now that CustomFit has options for straight sweaters.

(Sort Of) FO Fail: Cowl Conspiracy

Once I discovered what went wrong with my original Purl Soho Bandana Cowl, it wasn’t difficult to fix: I ripped everything out, cast on, and followed the instructions for the short rows to the letter. I also corrected a mistake I’d made while knitting the decreases toward the top of the piece that allow it to snuggle up against the chin. It only took two days to re-work the whole thing. The result is a finished cowl that looks exactly like the picture on the tin.

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Pattern: Purl Soho Bandana Cowl
Yarn: Berroco® Vintage® Chunky, 6181 Black Cherry

Since my yarn lacks the alpaca content of the original sample, it’s not quite as slouchy. It also seems like it’s not quite deep and wide enough, but I chalk that up to personal preference. In any case, it looks miles better than the first iteration. Here’s a little before-and-after action to really highlight the difference the short row changes makes. (The angle’s not the same, but you get the idea.)

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So why, if everything came out so much better, am I calling this a conspiracy? Well, yesterday I was looking at the yarn I still had left after knitting the earflap hat and this cowl. I’d seriously overbought on the yarn, but I’d had it too long to return it. I’m unlikely to buy this yarn base again, so I was determined to use up every little bit now rather than have it linger in my stash (I don’t like to stash anything I don’t have plans for). I’d barely dipped into the third and last skein, so I figured I had enough leftover for a hat. Nothing fancy, just a simple watch cap with a deep band of 1×1 rib I could fold up for extra wind protection and a body of 3×1 rib for interest.

After knitting the band during a series of car rides, I came home, took one look at the dwindling ball, and realized that if I kept going I’d end up in a game of yarn chicken that I couldn’t possibly win. I felt my heart sink a little. What to do? I definitely don’t want to buy any more of this yarn, and I don’t have any more bulky to mix it up with.

I let the matter rest overnight, and this morning I came to the obvious conclusion: I’d have to frog again. Not just the hat, but probably the cowl too. Of course, that would send me right back to the question of what to knit with almost two whole skeins of this yarn. So much frogging seemed like a sign.

Then it hit me: the yarn is rebelling. Clearly, it disapproves of my selfish desire to use up the leftovers on myself. (I don’t blame it, as I’m not sure I’ve really given it much love. It’s not the most sumptuous yarn I have to hand—that would be the Tanis Fiber Arts Yellow Label DK I’m using for my current sweater). I think what it wants is to be reunited with its sister skein, where it will be properly appreciated.

The way forward is clear. I’m off to do a bit more selfless knitting. There’s snow falling here, which certainly lends itself to an evening on the couch with a cocoa and the big squishy knitting project I’ve got planned now. I won’t get a snow day tomorrow unless we lose power, but there’s a good chance I’ll be working from home. If it’s snowing where you are, I hope you’re safe and warm and have a hot beverage nearby.

FO Fail: Cowl Foul

Ah, the allure of the quick knit: cast on, click click click, and before you know it you’re binding off and jamming a new hat on your head or snuggling something warm about your neck. That was the goal with the Purl Bee’s Bandana Cowl, which I started last week during a bout of insomnia after finishing up another portable knit. It was late, but I wasn’t worried. I’ve knit cables, I’ve knit lace with thread-like yarn, I’ve knit with 1,000+ tiny, tiny beads—what’s a little bulky-weight yarn, US 10 needles, and stockinette in the round compared to that?

Apparently, a little more complicated than my smug self gave it credit for:

2015-02-11_2_Purl_Soho_Bandana_CowlI should have called this the Fowl Cowl. Doesn’t it look like an eagle’s beak?

As you’ve no doubt guessed, it’s definitely not intended to have a pronounced hook like that. About half way through I started to get suspicious that things were not going to plan, but I decided to trust the pattern and carry on. What I should not have trusted was my ability to read and follow simple instructions after my usual bedtime.

In order to get the bandanna shape, the pattern relies on short rows: rather than knitting the entire thing around and around like a hat, the front portion is knit back-and-forth, and each back-and-forth row connects to the next nearest stitch around the edge increasingly wider crescents. As a result, the front ends up longer than the back and creates the pleasing triangle shape.

For those of you interested in the technical bits, it goes a little something like this…

You start knitting, and then just past the point in the middle you stop, wrap the yarn around the next stitch without knitting it—we’ll call that wrapped stitch X

If you want the most dramatic short rows, the ones that will produce the biggest length difference between front and back, you wrap the next stitch after X, turn, purl to Y, wrap the next stitch after Y, turn, and continue in this fashion, working one more stitch in each direction on each pass.

This pattern, however, doesn’t require dramatic short rows, so instead of wrapping the very next stitch past X and the very next stitch past Y, you knit the first stitch past X and wrap the next one after that, and the same with the purl side. You turn the work half as often, gobble up the stitches twice as quickly, and produce a much shallower point, one that doesn’t curve in on itself. And that’s where I made my blunder: I missed the instructions to knit that extra stitch on each row, thereby giving myself double the work and creating the problems you see. Womp womp.

Another, less obvious problem I had is failing to follow the instructions for picking up wraps on the purl side as described i in the Purl Bee’s tutorial. Each wrap has two “arms” hugging the stitch its wrapped around, an arm on the public side of the work (the one people will see when it’s finished) and an arm on the private side of the work (the one against your skin). When picking up wraps, two things matter: making sure to lift the arm with the needle going front-to-back or back-to-front based on which side of the work you’re on (check!) and making sure to always lift the arm on the public side (whoops). I messed up picking up all of the private-side wraps. So on the public side, instead of being invisible, there is a little bar at the base of each stitch, like a purl bump. Lucky enough for me, the border of the cowl is garter stitch, so these bars blend in unless you’re looking very closely. Since they were basically unnoticeable, I was planning to leave them that way. But I’m going to be frogging and re-knitting the whole thing anyway, so this time I’ll make sure to pick up the wraps correctly too.

To be honest, I’m not even mad about the frogging. (Okay, I was a little mad, but only because I wanted a warm thing RIGHT NOW.) I was going to have some leftover yarn anyway, but now I think I can squeeze two small projects out of a single skein. And it should only take me four or five days to redo it, so it’s not like I’m going to run out of cold weather before I get to wear it. As far as failures go, I think this one is pretty manageable.