FO: Andraste

When I started knitting this, hot on the heels of Justin’s hat, I was certain the yarn was destined to become a Dragonflies Hat by Joji Locatelli. So certain, in fact, that when I made it to the crown decreases and realized the whole thing was turning out much too short, I immediately ripped everything out and started again on a larger needle. When I made it to the crown decreases a second time and it was still—inexplicably, disappointingly—too short, I spent a solid evening mulling over ways that I could fix it. A smarter knitter than I might be able to devise a way to repeat the pattern a third time, but I couldn’t tease out a solution, and I also couldn’t convince myself that adding another inch or two of ribbing wouldn’t disrupt the balance of the design.

After setting the pattern aside (with a promise to myself that one day I’ll knit the sweater version instead), I cast about my Ravelry favorites and decided on Droste Effect by Amy van de Laar, a free pattern from Knitty’s Deep Fall 2015 issue. Besides going up a needle size for both the ribbing and the body, I knit it exactly as written. I had a minor hiccup with the Decrease 5 to 1 instructions, but found helpful notes on another user’s project that had me speeding through in no time. While I love to lose an hour scrolling through all the loveliness in the pattern database, I think I’m most gratified when I can find—and give!—that little hint or nugget of knitting wisdom that turns an imminent failure into a success. In fact, my proudest knitting achievement to date is creating a project with notes that have helped 10 people.

What’s your proudest knitting (or crocheting, or sewing, or crafting) achievement?

FO: Floral Sorbetto

Back at the beginning of January, I wanted to sew up a two-yard cut of navy corduroy that I bought during Hancock Fabrics’ going out of business sale into a button-front skirt. Strangely reluctant to spend money on a suitable pattern, such as the Pauline Alice Rosarí, and apparently incapable of judging the value of my own time as well, I embarked on a daring adventure to hack Simplicity 1465, which is a pencil skirt with a facing instead of a waistband, front and back darts, an invisible zip in the back, and no lining, into a pegged, button-front skirt with a lining attached to integrated waistband-and-button-placket facings. Several evenings and weekends went toward making flat pattern adjustments and baste-fitting the pieces to get the styles lines I wanted and the correct dart sizes and hip curves.

Things were going swimmingly until I had to install the lining into the shell. Suddenly, things went from fitting well to being too small to close in the front by several inches. Unsure whether it was a drafting, cutting, or sewing mistake (or all three), and lacking the fabric to re-cut all of the pieces, I fell into a sewing funk. I’d wanted the finished skirt very badly, but even after several days of cooling off didn’t feel like I had the wherewithal to sort out the mess.

Wanting to get out of my rut, I cast about for an easy project that I could accomplish quickly with few or no adjustments to boost my confidence. Conveniently, Colette had launched the New Sorbetto, an update to their original free top pattern, and I had a remnant of cotton lawn from my Garden Party Dress lingering in my stash that I felt was destined for better things than just pocket bags.

Because Colette drafts for a C cup, I cut a size 4 and did a 2″ SBA, which I prefer to think of as a Sufficient Bust Adjustment rather than a Small Bust Adjustment. Tutorials for bust adjustments abound online, but I went ahead and used the one offered by Colette on the Sewalongs website.

Side note: Measuring as an A cup for this pattern made me laugh, because I’m currently in need of new bras and I’ve recently determined that I’m not a 34B, nor even a 32C, but probably a 30D. (In fact, if I were to follow A Bra That Fits’ Bra Size Calculator, I’m on the cusp of 26E/28DD.) This isn’t to suggest I think that Colette’s sizing is wrong, but rather to highlight one of the many instances where two clothing-based industries use the same terminology—cup size—but arrive at it using two different sets of measurements: Colette is interested in the difference between one’s high bust or upper torso measurement and one’s full bust measurement, whereas bra companies are interested in the difference between one’s full bust and one’s underbust measurement. Just a little reminder that it pays to understand how a clothing manufacturer or a pattern designer approaches measurements and sizing schemes if you want to nail your fit.

My remnant was L-shaped with narrow legs, so I had to sacrifice the center pleat in order to get the front and back pieces to fit. I did, however, have a square large enough to make continuous bias tape to bind the neckline and armholes. I like that continuous method of making bias tape, but struggle to make my bias tape a consistent width when using it, so instead of binding the edges as instructed I created bias facings on the outside of garment, like the ones on the Sewaholic Dunbar, and then edgestitched them down as instructed using a dark gold all-purpose thread that matches the darker yellow flowers in the top. The bottom has a narrow hem, folded under twice and topstitched down with the same dark gold thread.

The fit is a little more boxy than I’d like, but about what one would expect from a pull-on woven top in a lightly structured fabric. I’d really like to take a crack at this in a drapier fabric like rayon challis or even a lightweight jersey; I have a few sleeveless Portofino shirts from Express that I live in during the sweltering summer months, and I’d love nothing more than to fill my closet with a pared-down version of them using this pattern.

You can’t tell here, but the fabric is slightly sheer, and the armholes are a tad low, so I’m wearing it over a white camisole. That’s how I plan to wear it to the office, but I have no doubt that on the weekends when the temperatures climb I’ll ditch the cami. In future less-sheer versions I’ll probably shave a little off the top of the straps in order to raise the armholes and bust darts slightly to avoid the need for a cami entirely.

I know the Sorbetto is old news in the sewing world, but for anyone who, like me, didn’t sew it up the first time around, I offer up this warning about the new pattern: the instruction file is really, really long, coming in at 36 pages. While I have no doubt that novices or less confident stitchers might find things like the detailed cutting layouts useful, the sheer volume here is a bit overwhelming, and it’s also a bit of a nuisance to get to key pieces of information (size charts are buried on pages 11-12, and the actual sewing instructions don’t start until page 26). Once you’ve sewn it once it would be easy enough to dispense with the instructions entirely, but if you need to quickly check for confirmation of a seam allowance or what have you, CTRL F is your friend.

Overall, I accomplished what I set out to do: I used a pattern and fabric I had on hand, made minimal adjustments, finished in a few leisurely evenings, and ended up with a top that I can wear throughout the warmer months. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to tackle more sewing projects. Hurray!

Me-Made-May ’17: My Pledge

What’s this?

I, Caitlyn of Practice Makes Pretty, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’17. I endeavor to wear a self-made garment at least four days of each week for the duration of May 2017.

That’s right. No more sitting on the sidelines while this great maker community supports, encourages, and celebrates one another. No more watching the parade of lovely handmade garments and accessories and lamenting my own lack of me-mades. No more hollow self-consolation, telling myself “I’ll be ready next year.”

I want in, and I don’t want to wait any more. Time to stop holding myself back.

Am I ready? I don’t think so, not yet. But I will be. I know that Zoe is firmly opposed to panic-sewing, but as she points out in her MMM’17 announcement, “if you want to use taking part in the challenge as the kick in the butt you need to finally hem that half-finished skirt, or rework an ill-fitting garment, then great.” I’d like to think this includes projects that you have the materials for and want to make, but haven’t started yet.

So, during the month of April, I’m (unofficially) committing to carving out time every day to work through as many of my queued patterns and stashed fabrics as I can. I’ve had garments lingering on my to-make list for months, just waiting for me to sit down and sew. But I’m extremely susceptible to indulging the thrill of planning and the borrowed satisfaction of imagining a finished project, then not following through. So I’m done planning. There is no plan, just sewing. (And knitting.) With a focus on finding joy in the process, and on placing more value in the fact that I finished something than the fact that the thing is good.

Consider the fire lit.

FO: A Hat of His Own

When Justin and I were dating, I bought him a pair of red mittens for Christmas. After we’d gotten married but before I’d started knitting, I crocheted him a hat to match. It was made from Caron Simply Soft, it was solid red, and it was subtly textured, alternating two rounds of single crochet with a round of double (or was it half-double?) crochet. He wore it for a winter or two before he lost it, and it was another winter or two before I plucked up the enthusiasm to make a replacement.

By that time I’d started knitting, but only just, and I wasn’t confident in my ability to knit in the round. I didn’t want lack of muscle memory to slow me down or uneven tension to spoil the result, so I stuck to the crochet I was familiar with. I also went back to the same yarn and pattern. But because I made the replacement during an interstate drive and didn’t have Justin’s head handy for reference, I ended up increasing a few too many times, and the finished hat was too big around and much too long, even for his larger-than-average 24″ head. He wears it anyway, but with a sizable cuff at the bottom to keep it in place and out of his eyes.

Now, with more than a few successful knit hats in my collection, I felt the time had come to make Justin the better-fitting—and warmer!—hat he needed and deserved. Needed, because the red hat obviously no longer passes muster in this more experienced maker’s opinion, and the 3″ difference in our head sizes means we can’t share hats even if wanted to. Deserved, because he’s a reservoir of patience and support when it comes to my hobbies and a gracious recipient of anything I make—including less-than-stellar dinners and off-beat jokes—and therefore knitworthy (the lost hat notwithstanding).

So, hot on the heels of Jonah the D&D dice bag, here’s a wonderfully woolly, cabled hat for Justin. He picked out the (free) pattern, Brigid Hat and Mitts from Willow Yarns, and the yarn, madelinetosh Tosh DK in Chicory from Warm ‘n Fuzzy.

The hat is designed to fit a 21″ head circumference, which is pretty typical for adult hats and thus too small for Justin. To compensate, I added a repeat of the cable pattern but went down a needle size from the recommendation, finding the sweet spot that yielded a hat exactly 24″ around. For more technical details, check out my project page on Ravelry.

Like all hats, I found this one satisfying to knit because it practically flew off my needles—even after casting on, knitting through the first few rounds of the body, and then frogging and re-starting to get the right size, it only took me two weeks from start to finish. The cables were a little different than ones I’d knit before, because there are places where one crosses under another and then vanishes instead of continuing to travel away, but this kept things interesting for me. And because every cross was two-over-two, they were easy to accomplish without a cable needle and easy to fix if I made a mistake.

Justin’s been wearing the hat practically every day since it was finished, and he gets compliments on it any time we go out. He loves to tell people that I made it, and I love him for that. Knitworthy, indeed.

FO: Jonah

If there’s a list of the top 10 most contentious topics in crafting, surely selfish/unselfish creating is on it. For myself, I’m in the staunchly selfish camp. I tried my hand at a bit of unselfish sewing about half a decade ago, and it did not go well. In hindsight, the attempt was ill-advised, and had all the hallmarks of a project doomed to failure: keeping the project a surprise instead of consulting the intended recipient, using techniques and materials that were new to me, and sewing on a deadline all conspired to make it a less-than-stellar experience for me or the victim beneficiary of my well-meaning intentions. Since then, I’ve shied away from hand-making gifts, as I don’t trust myself to focus on what’s actually important—the desires of the receiver, rather than my desires as a maker-giver—and I’ve become rather jealous of my creative time anyway.

I broke my streak when Justin joined a Dungeons & Dragons group and asked me to knit him a dice bag. It’s his first grown-up D&D campaign, and thus his first opportunity to purchase a fancy set of dice. We had both seen knit, crochet, and hand-worked bags—in fact, one of the members of group has a handmade bag—but he wanted something special to commemorate what he hopes will be a long and prosperous (and non-fatal) adventure. His character, Odo Fridtjofsen, is a trident-wielding fisherman, and Justin felt that it would be appropriate to have a suitably themed bag to wrangle and transport his all-important dice. I couldn’t agree more.

Justin picked the pattern, the Fish Purse by Doreen Blask (available for purchase on Ravelry). He also picked the yarn,
Blue Moon Fiber Arts Super Sparkle in Sapphire, because of all the yarns at our LYS Warm ‘n Fuzzy, it reminded him of scales the most.

I made several alterations to the pattern. I knit it in a fingering yarn held double instead of a DK yarn held single; I used a US 3 to get a firm gauge without the possibility of holes. I omitted the scales but added a bottom fin that mirrors the top fin. Instead of creating I-cord drawstrings, I created two three-strand braids using six equal lengths of yarn for each braid. Before knotting each braid I added a sterling silver charm that Justin picked out. One is an anchor, the other a ship’s helm. I threaded both drawstrings through the eyelets so that the ends hang downward, like the barbels of a catfish. I omitted the shoulder strap as well.

Justin’s favorite part, and the thing I was most worried about, was replacing the knit eyes called for in the pattern with googly eyes. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to find sew-on ones, and when we did I wasn’t sure if they would be the right size (they’re 20 mm). Once I sewed them on, though, they proved to be exactly the thing to bring the whole project together.

Jonah is currently safeguarding 14 dice, but he could easily hold twice as many. He’s weathered several intense sessions already, and could easily outlast Odo if the party keeps up the shenanigans. Justin is more than pleased, and I’m happy to have made something he’ll treasure as much as his memories of the game.

Does this herald the beginning of more unselfish crafting? As a matter of fact, it does. 🙂 Stay tuned!

FO: Diversion

Last year was, for me, as for many people, not a particularly good year. When it came time to add this scarf to my notebook in Ravelry (I’ve fallen out of the habit of recording my projects in real time, and instead rely on notes taken throughout a project to summarize everything when it’s finished), that reality was driven home when I discovered that I had completed only one knitting project all year, a cabled hat. I had started a sweater, and re-started another, but neither came off the needles in those 366 days.

This scarf was the product of two forces. The first was a desire to overcome the deep creative block produced by a certain fingering-weight striped sweater that refused to be finished, and that I slowly came to regret starting at all. I’m not typically one to have multiple projects running concurrently—at least, not of the same craft—but I felt if I tried to remain monogamous with that particular project, I’d never knit again. A simple, soothing project that I could pick up and put down during a car ride or evening television seemed like exactly the thing I needed to keep me from quitting knitting entirely, without sending me down an ever-increasing spiral of other projects that would prevent me from finishing the sweater eventually.

The second force was a previously documented intense dislike for scraps. I don’t mind a remnant that’s large enough for a second, smaller project, or a yard or two of yarn that I can wind onto a bobbin in case future darning is required. But a couple dozen yards of yarn, too long to throw away without guilt? Hate them. I had just such a quantity of grey Cascade 220 Superwash Sport, left over from my Hermione Hearts Ron hat and Holding Hands with Ron gloves. The obvious solution was to use the yarn for stripes in a larger project.

The “pattern,” if you could call it that, is just a rectangle of ribbing, left unblocked so that it looks like stockinette but doesn’t curl at the edges. It’s a trick that I first learned about many years ago from Jared Flood’s Noro Striped Scarf, when I was a new knitter who spent more time reading about knitting than practicing the craft. For more technical details of my scarf (finished size, yardage, needles, etc.), check out my project on Ravelry.

The navy yarn is Rosy Green Wool Cheeky Merino Joy, a Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified superwash sport-weight wool and an absolute delight to knit and wear. It’s easily as soft as the wool-silk blends I’m fond of, with a wonderfully smooth hand and plump twist. I haven’t knit with many yarns, but of the ones I have experienced, this is easily my favorite. If I could only ever knit with one yarn again and this were it, it would be no tragedy.

This scarf proved to be exactly the diversion I needed from my other knitting challenges, and a balm for the stresses of life. (The only thing it didn’t turn out to be was the end of the grey yarn: while I did manage to use up all of the scraps from my other projects, shortly after weaving in the last end and crowing my triumph, I discovered another whole skein lurking in my stash.) It coordinates with my favorite hat and gloves, and it’s a welcome companion to my peacoat on frosty days, even if it doesn’t stand out against the coat’s navy wool. I’ve worn it several times a week since I finished it, and though I’ll be packing it away very soon as the weather warms up, I look forward to pulling it out again in the fall, and for many seasons to come.

Lest all my attempts at serious faces above lead you to believe that I don’t love the finished product, I’ll leave you with a few smiling photos as proof:

Maker Moment: Make Do and Mend

Throughout the late fall, winter, and early spring months, I live in Express Columnist pants and basic V-neck sweaters for work. Each year I’ve purchased one or two new colors of each, so that now I can go about a week and a half wearing nothing but that uniform before needing to do laundry. The constant wearing and washing eventually takes its toll, however, and over the years I’ve had to mend the occasional dropped hem or split seam.

At some point this past year, I started to let the mending slide. A hidden button came loose, and instead of immediately reattaching it, I put it in a safe place and set the pants aside, intending to deal with them before the next wash. Instead, as soon as I was at the bottom of the drawer and in need of something to wear, I pulled the pants back into rotation, deciding that the button wasn’t really needed anyway and I’d fix it after they’d gone through the wash.

You can see where this is going.

Soon, I found myself pinning up the dropped hem of a pair slacks every time I wore them, each time telling myself that I’d get to them just as soon as they were clean and pressed again. It was important to me that I didn’t look sloppy, but apparently not important enough to take the time to fix the problem properly. Meanwhile, more buttons popped off, pocket bags frayed open, and one by one my sweaters developed holes in the underarms. My pile of to-be-mended garments kept growing, until it started to feel like there were more items in it than out of it. (Not really true, but it certainly felt that way when that’s where all of my most-worn garments were living.)

During the winter’s first (and quite likely only) snowfall, I decided there was no better way to spend a house-bound afternoon than finally buckling down and doing the mending. And as soon as I settled in with needle and thread, I was reminded of how much I actually enjoy hand-sewing. Others may find it tedious, but I find the slow, meticulous, and repetitive nature of the work soothing, especially when accompanied with a hot mug of tea.

In a couple of hours, I was able to hem two pant legs, close up three pocket bags, and repair holes in five sweaters, including invisibly fixing a hole in the middle of a sleeve by grafting the edges closed. When I finally tied off the last thread and announced my success, Justin quipped, “It’s like you have a whole new wardrobe!” When I mentioned my project to a coworker, she had the exact same reaction.

A bit of a stretch? Sure. But they captured the spirit of the thing, which is that giving life back to your favorite garments—whether it’s by mending them or by some other trick, like upcycling—gives you the thrill of “having things to wear,” with the added bonus that you did it yourself.

Have you shown any of your favorite garments, me-made or otherwise, a little love lately? They’ll pay you back for the effort, I promise.