Me-Made-May ’17: Wrap-Up

Now that I’ve logged my two sewing projects from May and cleared some space mentally, I’m ready to review my Me-Made-May experience. I know we’re more than halfway through June and the sewing blogosphere has moved on already, but you’ll humor me, right? You’re the best. 🙂

Except for one missed day during Week 3, I kept to my goal of wearing at least four me-made garments each week. (Then again, the last week of May didn’t have four days in it, but I managed two me-mades anyway, so I’m calling it a wash.) There were definitely repeated garments, but no completely repeated outfits, which is a feat I didn’t think I’d be able to pull off, especially since I tend to go through phases of wanting to reach for whatever feels easiest or most comfortable at the time, over and over again.

Though I didn’t end up posting weekly here as I’d thought I would, and though I still can’t get on board with Instagram—I’m a words person through and through—I did take photos every day that I wore a me-made garment so that I’d be able to spot trends, reflect on silhouettes, and identify wardrobe gaps.

Week 1: Active in Aqua Workout Top & Pants // Mashion Cardigan & Black Leggings (unblogged) // Black Leggings (unblogged) // Easy Tartan Scarf

Week 2: So In Love Cardigan (on Ravelry) // Sage Pleated Skirt & Holden Shawlette (on Ravelry) // Sunbird Shawl (on Ravelry) // Floral Sorbetto

Week 3: Haruni and the Tree of Stories Shawl (on Ravelry) // Vanilla Skirt // Pumped Up in Pink Workout Top & Pants

Week 4: Rings of Ouranos (on Ravelry) // Easy Tartan Scarf // White T-Shirt // Black Leggings (unblogged)

Week 5: Floral Sorbetto // White T-Shirt

Seeing everything laid out like this, I’ve realized several things:

  • I wear a lot of black. (I wore even more than you see here, on days when I didn’t wear any me-mades.) I don’t actually want to wear as much black as I do, because I find it looks quite harsh against my skin, especially near my face. But since I bought most of my office attire during a few major shopping trips during and immediately after college, and I’ve neither grown out of nor worn through most of it, those initial purchases continue to linger in my closet. I’d really like to phase them out in favor of more navy blue, warm browns, and even some grey, but options in those colors tend to be more miss than hit most seasons at the few stores I shop. I need to either a) expand my shopping horizons and try other petite -friendly retailers besides Express, b) find a tailor I can trust to alter pants from regular misses sizes , or c) learn to sew my own perfectly fitting pants. At this point, I’m not actually sure which of these is the path of least resistance.
  • I’m grateful that the May weather was so variable, because a sizable chunk of my handmade wardrobe comes in the form of handknit accessories. I’m complete okay with this, but could stand to add a few more sweaters, particularly cardigans of various weights, to the mix. There’s absolutely zero chance you’ll find me in handknits in the summer, though—it’s unbearably hot and humid here, and wool, no matter how magical its properties, will never feel good on a 100-degree, 100-percent-humidity-but-somehow-no-rain day.
  • I’ve been gravitating toward skinny bottoms balanced with looser tops. I need to make more of both.
  • I only wore one dress (with leggings) and one skirt (with tights). I’d say dresses and skirts were underrepresented this month, but only barely. I can probably chalk this up to the fact that most of my dresses, me-made and ready-to-wear, are too casual even for my laid back office. My office is also freezing, so I’d just end up covered in a fleece blanket at my desk anyway. But I love the idea of pulling on secret pajamas a comfortable dress and rolling out in the morning, so maybe I need to suck it up and make a dress or two.
  • My outfits are dying for more texture. My wardrobe is overwhelmingly simple, solid-colored separates, which means that outfits tend to fall flat visually. They’re crying out for a statement necklace or shoes, a cute handbag, a textured fabric like bouclĂ© or suede, or a textural design element like pleats, pintucks, ruffles, or visible ribbing. Anything to break up all the solid blocks of color and smooth fabric surfaces.

These observations open up a lot of different creative directions, and it’s so tempting to try to run down every path at once. But I’m going to try to rein myself in and remember that neither a handmade wardrobe nor a strong sense of personal style happens over night (especially since recent household budgetary constraints have me limited to my existing stash, which may not jive with my current seasonal/situational needs).

Despite feeling like my current wardrobe is a long way off from my ideal, participating in Me-Made-May has convinced me that it’s not impossible for me, personally, to one day have a wardrobe where I could wear at least one thing I made every day, if I wanted to. I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve—or even aim for—an entirely handmade wardrobe, but it’s gratifying to see that what I’ve made with my own two hands takes more than two hands to count!

Just for fun, because I’ve secretly wanted to do this every year that I’ve followed along with Me-Made-May, here’s a gif of my outfits each day:

FO: Oxidation

With the leftovers from Justin’s cabled hat and my own, I had exactly enough yarn to create a third hat. I’d hoped for as much when I bought the yarns—just ask Rebecca at Warm ‘n Fuzzy—but it was a huge relief when my little yarn scale confirmed it.

Rather than knit more stripes, because I’ve had enough of stripes for a while, I decided that there was no better time than now to try my hand at stranded knitting. Since I knew my yarn was limited, I didn’t bother trying to find a pattern, and instead improvised based on my most recent hat and some guidance from Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns.

I’ll admit I felt a bit of trepidation, which is silly, because I didn’t feel a single flutter of anxiety when I first tried cables. Maybe it’s because my very first knitting project was cabled, and I didn’t know enough to have the slightest idea what to worry about. Now that I’ve knit a while, I know what to fret about: Tension. Color dominance. Insufficient contrast.

There was nothing I could do about the combination of colors, since I was already committed to using up the yarn, and tension would only be solved with  practice and patience, so the only thing left was color dominance, which I was aware of and could easily look up online. Ysolda has a great introduction to the theory of color dominance on her blog, but the one thing she neglects to mention is the more practical question of how to carry the yarns so that the dominant and subordinate colors aren’t switched accidentally. Enter Dianna of Paper Tiger, who helpfully explains which yarn is dominant when knitting with one color held in each hand, both colors held in one hand, and with one color at a time. Thanks Dianna!

I knit continental, and I was tempted to hold both yarns in my left hand to keep things familiar. But I’ve heard that, once you get used to it, holding one yarn in each hand is quite speedy and prevents the yarn from getting twisted or tangled, so it seemed like it would be worth the effort to learn to do it that way.

It was pretty awkward. As expected, I struggled to keep the tension even. My tight-knitting tendencies are so strong that the blue stitches, which should be dominant/larger, are in several places dwarfed by the background copper stitches. Every time I started to get into the rhythm of alternating hands, I’d notice that things were moving a little more smoothly and promptly lose focus and knit the wrong color or drop the yarn.

But wouldn’t you know, it flew off the needles anyway. Anyone who’s ever said that there’s an addictive quality to knitting colorwork was definitely on to something. Before I knew it, I’d run out of blue yarn and it was time to decrease the crown and cinch it up.

If you’re curious about the knitting specifics, you can check out the notes on my project in Ravelry. The only thing of note is the crown, which has eight sections instead of the typical six. This was purely down to the number of stitches I’d cast on at the beginning. It does work, but I think there’s a good reason that six sections is the norm: this crown doesn’t lie down as smoothly, and it has a tendency to make the whole hat ride up a smidge, which you can see in the close-up above and the two pictures below.

The scarf I’m wearing is also me-made. It’s a lovely, drapey 100% rayon in a pattern and colors that I love that I snagged from Jo-Ann several months ago. Sadly, I should have purchased a longer piece than I did, because the woman at the counter did a poor job cutting it, so I lost a fair amount straightening up the edges. Once the corners were squared, though, it was a simple matter of rolled hemming the long edges, zig-zag stitching the short edges, and then removing weft threads to create a fringe on the ends.

There are several suggestions online for sewing a rolled hem. Grainline Studio recommends sewing a line of stitching to use as a guide for pressing, stitching, and trimming before pressing and stitching a second time. Craftsy suggests using a teeny tiny strip of interfacing to encourage the first several inches of the fabric to roll properly. I chose to take Megan Nielsen’s advice, which is to sew a few stitches without feeding it through the rolled hem foot, pull the fabric free without cutting the threads, and then use the thread to guide the fabric into the foot and sew.

I can confidently say that, after sewing the edges of this scarf, I am about two iotas better at using the rolled hem foot. Megan’s advice certainly helped to get things started, but keeping the hem even as you go along seems to come down to firm and steady tension applied to the fabric and a keen eye to keep it from veering too far into or out of the foot. So, practice.

Luckily, I got a to try my hand at it again on my next make, coming up next week. Today, I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from this shoot:

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?

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: