Friday, 23 January 2015

Yak hat

Happy Friday, dearests! I hope you've had a good week! I'm tired out by mine, but it included an excellent day of sewcialising (more below), and the outlook for the weekend is pleasingly cold and sunny. Perfect for getting some fresh air and vitamin D in my new and favourite-ever knitted hat!

There are a lot of things I like about this hat.  Starting, where all knitted items do, with the yarn. I don't know if I mentioned it here, but I was one of the lucky attendees at the awesome Paris meet up in November (see Charlotte and Lladybird for write ups) and came away with a fantastic goody bag which included a 40% off voucher for Peace and Wool.  OK I just went to their site to link them and of course there's a sale on - NOT WHAT I NEED people! Because markdowns on wool, I am powerless to resist - and most especially when it comes with a sexy French blurb like this one: 

Under its thick, coarse hair, the Mongolian yak has a layer of very warm and incomparably soft down - a precious product once reserved for royalty. Yaks lose this down in the spring moulting season, when it is collected by hand, sorted and washed several times. Yak wool is very warm and extremely soft, similar to cashmere. 

This carded yarn consists of 50% down from the Khangai mountain Yak, produced by the region's cooperative farmers with the technical support of Agronomists and Veterinarians Without Borders.  The remaining 50% is incredibly soft extra fine merino from breeders in the Southern Alps. In addition to its exceptional feel and color, this yarn is entirely naturally treated and undyed. Being fairly traded, it also contributes to improving the living conditions of both Mongolian and French herders.

Isn't that just the most unimpeachably perfect yarn snobbery ever? I absolutely love it!! It's still the thing that tickles me most about the finished item of headwear. And to top it all off, it came wrapped in sparkly paper with a free chocolate:

Peace and Wool are WINNING at artisan craft supplies, guys! Totally made my day.

So then I just had to find a pattern. Time to test a theory I'd been developing: namely, that if you spend long enough scrolling through patterns on Ravelry - and there will be thousands, even when you've narrowed it down by yardage, weight, needle size, pattern type and everything else you can think of - and "long enough" in this case meaning well beyond what would usually be the point of no return, it might even take days - if you search that stubbornly and persistently, eventually you WILL find the one absolutely 100% perfect pattern for the thing you want to make.

I didn't say it was a time saving theory or anything. But it hasn't been proved wrong yet.

I found my holy grail hat pattern on about page 1,000* (*possibly an exaggeration). It's Rooty by Alex Tinsley, and well, it just grabbed me. The clever knit-flat brim, the braids, the perfect amount of slouch - I love it! And though you can't see them so well in this picture, it's also got tiny dots knit into it too, which gives it a lovely little bit of texture. (They show up better on the first and last pictures in this post). I showed it to my family over Christmas and they all agreed it was very 'me', whatever that means. I think it was intended as a compliment.

Right now, on to the sewcialising part! The part where, on Tuesday, I went to Paris again and met up with the wonderful, WONDERFUL Kirsty, Inna and Lisa. We had a brilliant time touring the fabric shops with Barbara of Stitching Up Paris, and I was yet again floored by the fabulousness of the internet and the sewing friends I've made through it.  But you know, I don't really have much to report about the day itself - we walked, talked, shopped, and it was like we'd all met before and known each other for years, which in a sense is true anyway.  It was just all round lovely to meet them.

However. I'm not just telling you all this randomly and pointlessly.

Here is a picture (taken by Inna - I hope she doesn't mind me 'borrowing' it from her Instagram feed) of Lisa and Barbara taking a well-earned shopping break. And guess what...

Lisa made a yak hat too! Hers is a Dreiecke by Very Shannon, also a textured pattern that works really well with the yarn. In fact so well that I was immediately seized with hat jealousy and wished I had more yak yarn to make a copycat hat with (I think I'm almost over it now).  We compared notes and particularly noticed how the wool has gone all fluffy in the wearing - it has a kind of downy halo-like glow. Albeit a glow that does bear a passing resemblance to pubic hair, which was my thought not Lisa's and not one said out loud at the time, but it was a thought that once had could not be un-had, so I thought I'd share it. You're welcome.

So that's my yak hat. The yarn really is as soft and warm as that blurb says it is, and it sits so lightly on the head. I like the pattern so much that I've already made another, this time for my daughter (on a size smaller needles so it came out just a little denser, and fits her perfectly).  It all makes going out in the cold just a bit more bearable.

And with that I'm signing off - I have some fake fur trim to shop for. Hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Dolores and Dungarees

Well OUCH this post is overdue.

(It's also totally overexposed, in the photographic sense, because winter + amateur editing non-skillz). 

(And it's also back to business as usual - something for which I'm incredibly grateful, as I am too for the very many kind reactions to my previous post. Truly & deeply: thank you).


So, you might find the most striking thing about that photo to be the dungarees. But what I really want to talk to you about first is the tee underneath. Atrociously showcased by a garment that hides most of it, but nonetheless a true star in it's own right: it's a Dolores!

Dolores being of course the excellent batwing pattern by the wonderful and fabulous Zoe :-)  Now, when Zoe launched the pattern, she held a giveaway where interested bloggers could win a copy of the pattern in exchange only for a review - and guess what, I was one of the lucky ones! Yes yes!! A review by the end of the year - about the lowest-stress deadline ever - was something I was totally, utterly up for, especially for someone I'm such a great fan of.  Errr.. yes. Made the top, took the pictures, didn't blog it. Massive OOPS. I have nothing to say in my defence, but I will happily rave about this pattern to make up for it! Not because guilt (I'm just not doing that these days) but because EXCELLENCE.

The version that originally grabbed me most was the dress - relaxed, funky, and Zoe looks so very cool in hers :-) . Stash diving turned up 2 metres of lovely heathery-grey cotton spandex: I was cutting it out in no time. And that's "no time" including assembling the pdf, by the way, which is exceptionally economical, easy and quick (just 11 A4 pages!)  Unfortunately, my fabric turned out to be much too clingy - it didn't so much skim neatly over my midsection as expose all of its lumps and bumps (this kind of bump; two is enough thank you very much). So I simply chopped it off at top-length, having had the foresight to trace the lines for it on my fabric as well, just in case. Insert smug-forward-planning-face here. I think the dress would work better - for me at least - in a more structured knit like ponte or sweatshirting, and I will definitely be trying that at some point.

In the spirit of testing the pattern properly, I followed it as written instead of steaming ahead with my usual tee construction, and SHOCK NEWS ALERT it produces a very lovely finish, with minimal fuss. The only thing that had me stumped was right at the very beginning in the list of materials: "wool needle".  What, I thought?? Surely you mean ballpoint needle? Stretch needle?? But no - of course one needs to tidy up the ends of one's overlocker threads, and Dolores does it like this. I do like to learn new tricks :-)

See how nice? Also, labels!

That's a label in the back of a garment that doesn't actually have a back or a front; they're identical. Guess I got a little bit ocd there! Must. Have. Labels.

This is the best I managed for a batwing-sleeve-showing-off picture. DERP.

As for the wearing, this top is brilliant. It's super comfy, and the waist shaping is just the right amount of flattering. Plus the high neckline and long sleeves make me feel really covered up, but not at all frumpy. I've been wearing it a lot with skinny jeans, either on it's own or under my Blair batwing top when it's really cold. And with the dungarees, I just love how the batwing underarm shape comes out from under the yoke.  It's a thoroughly great basic tee that's actually a lot more than basic. If that makes sense. OF COURSE IT DOES. Go Dolores!!

OK, dungaree time!

These were irresistibly inspired by Kirsty and Karen - dungarees would NEVER have been on my sewing or wearing radar, yet my head was turned within about a week of seeing Pauline Alice's Turia pattern by these two fabulous makes. Overalls rocketed from zero to hero in the time it took me to read their blog posts, and the pdf was in my inbox in even less time later.  I even liked Karen's well-chosen contrast topstitching so much that I completely copied it:

The flat-felled seams and double topstitching in this pattern are details that produce a really lovely pair of dungarees. They look just perfectly like jeans-but-not-jeans. The only thing I missed somehow was finishing the folded-over side edges on the yoke, which you can just about see below. But the topstitching keeps it from ravelling too much and it's hardly visible. And my other, minor change, was to also double topstitch where the straps join the back, to reinforce the seam.

The side zips were the first 'normal' zips I've done in yonks, I've become such an invisible zip aficiando. I love them :-)  As for the wearing, I love that too - though I must say, I have struggled slightly to pair them with winter footwear and the right rolled-up trouser length. I do wonder if these might really come into their own in warmer weather with sandals - and in any case, come summer I am absolutely going to make both shorts and dress versions.  These are just so comfortable and so practical-feeling - and those pockets OH.

Srsly best pockets ever.

So yeah, dungarees. When I told my best friend H I was making dungarees, she actually recoiled in horror and proceeded to mock my fashion choices in ways I have not experienced since my early teens (no harm done or offence taken though, H!)  I noticed another friend do the look up and down that registers a new and interesting outfit, without commenting - a visibly tactful lack of comment, of course :-) No, dungarees are not uncontroversial, especially when in real life nobody you know even realises they are actually on sale to the young people in Zara (holy crap I want those black ones! Look at the back!)

What do you think? Would you make them?

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2014 / 2015

I think that sometimes, if a thing is left unsaid long enough, it starts to get in the way of anything else being said.

Maybe you know what I mean (maybe you don't).

Another way of putting it is: I haven't been posting so much recently because I've been having trouble looking my own photo in the face (and duh those photos are usually the point!)  Call me naive and maybe sentimental, but I've always liked to think of this online space as an honest one. I know no-one is here to read about the details of my life - but sometimes those details are important, and the reality of what I make, and how I do it, isn't truly told without mentioning them. I also strongly suspect that many other makers have similar things to tell - and whether or not that's true, I very firmly believe that sometimes, these things are just better talked about than not. (I bet it is true, and I bet us creatives have a lot of good stuff to say about it too).

So, I'm going to say my unsaid thing, and those are my reasons. If you'd rather just read about crafts, feel free to click away now :-)

The thing is: I have depression.

I've had it since my son was about 6 months old, and this year I discovered that that wasn't a one-off postnatal episode.

The way that I discovered this is through finally, in the autumn of 2013, v e r y  s l o w l y and carefully coming off the antidepressants I'd been taking for the past four years - and then last spring, plunging into a severe and long drawn out depressive episode that, well, let's just say it beat the pants off the first one. To the extent that I was on full-time medical absence from work from the beginning of May until the very last working week of December - which I worked half-time, to ease myself in before I start again 'properly' this week. Wish me luck: all my extremities are crossed and after the year I've had, I'm taking nothing for granted.

Now, I'm extremely lucky, and I know it. My conditions of employment (and the accompanying health insurance) are outstandingly protective of employees in such circumstances. Both my line manager and my direct colleagues have been consistently, overwhelmingly understanding and supportive, despite this being an particularly bad time for our small team to be one (wo)man down. My doctor/therapist is a wonderful match for what I've needed, and has helped me out of some very, very deep holes. Much of the early summer I spent feeling stupefied at how bad things could be; mid-way through I was largely terrified of just how little control I had of my mind (and how much control it had over me, in worse ways than I could have imagined). Autumn was spent in despair and frustration, because how can 6 months on all the drugs not make the slightest bit of difference? And then, one Sunday morning in November, just like that, I woke up feeling normal. Out of nowhere. I'm incredibly, incredibly lucky.

It doesn't matter that feeling normal felt so unfamiliar, and how many months or years had it been since normal was normal, anyway? It doesn't matter that I mind, deeply, that I had to take so much time away from my 'real life', to be absent not just from my job but in many respects also from my husband, my children, from all the people who care about me. And of course, to wake up feeling normal rests very much on what is finally the right combination of medication, and on the weeks of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and on the rest I eventually managed to give myself.  But what I overwhelmingly feel is luck. Mental health balances on a pin, and I'm all too aware how easy it is to fall.

So, as I head into 2015, that's what's behind me (I hope). Mindfully taking life one breath at a time, or trying to (have you tried? It's not that easy). There is still making - there is always making. Now you know how I found the time to produce an entire new summer wardrobe for 2014 :-)  And I've had plenty of time to consider just how creativity plays in all this: making the mind, mindfully making... I think there will be a post about all that, at some point.

For today, I think I'll just leave it here. If you've read this far - thank you. Please don't feel the need to comment, especially as I'll very likely come over all awkward and not reply (yes, I'm already cringing in embarrassment at that as-yet unhappened possibility). Normal blog service will resume shortly: right now I'm just glad that I can 'come back', to talk again about the things I've made and the me behind the screen who made them.

The me that's stitching myself back together, as best I can.

All pictures in this post are of the weaving house at Fotovikens Museum of living Viking history, southern Sweden.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Knit storm

When life sends a sh*t storm, take refuge in a knit storm! It's not a saying but I think it probably should be, or something along those lines. Just putting it out there :-)

Not that I would describe life as being particularly stormy at the moment. In fact, after some ups and downs earlier this year, things recently seem to be calming down. Nonetheless, I have been been knitting furiously this autumn, and in the process have come to realise just how restorative an activity it is, for me. Simultaneously simple and complex, hypnotically repetitive, harmoniously occupying the hands and mind - it's like mindfulness completely embodied in creativity. Mindfulness being another thing I've got into in last couple of months, and the relative calm that's arrived in parallel is probably not coincidental.

Anyway. The knitting :-)

Look at these lovely, lovely cables. And the short-row set-in sleeve! In seeming contrast to what I just said, this cardigan almost killed my knitting mojo because the pattern, while clear and really enjoyable to follow, made my brain hurt. However, the wool was so delicious, and the challenges so rewarding to complete, that it couldn't help but be a soul-soothing knit. Or maybe I'm just looking back with rose-tinted glasses. Either way, the immense pride with which I finished it - my first cables! first buttonholes! - is what unleashed the slew of projects that followed.

Unfortunately, it was made with a specifically coordinating dress in mind. A dress which I have not quite got round to making yet.

Thus, modelled photos shall follow at an entirely unspecified point in the future.  I just wish I could let you touch it with pictures, because it's Malabrigo merino and it's ooooooohhh so so gorgeous.

Right. Also in the "incomplete sets" category, we have this:

It's a Beatrice scarf and it goes with this:

Which is an Odessa hat (free pattern!). It looks really cool with the spiral pattern but it was very - deceptively - easy to knit. I did it over one weekend. Things I like about it: how the decreases at the top swirl into the crown, and how it's light and not too warm. I do so hate to have an overheated head. The yarn is a dk weight cotton, which therefore turned out to be ideal.  And these two I will happily model when the set moves into the "complete" category, because mustard. I have visions of mustard knitted stylishness.

Now, this one is properly complete, and I have a picture of it in action!

This is a Flax sweater, also a free pattern, from this fabulous beginner-level collection by Tin Can Knits. The impressive size range goes from newborn to adult 4XL! I made the 6-8 year size for my 5-and-a-half year old boy, and unsurprisingly, it's on the large side. But he loves being able to swing the sleeves off the end of his arms, so it's cool.

Here's a picture of the garter-stitch sleeve detail and the kfb (knit front & back) raglan increases, just because I like how they turned out.  Any eagle-eyed knitters out there who can spot the deliberate *cough* mistake in the garter panel? So far I've managed to leave little handmade 'signals' like this on every single thing I've ever knit. I don't undo them, to stop myself getting obsessive :-)

Aaaand finally, here's the current project in progress!  It's a sweater for my daughter (because sibling sweater rivalry) and I just have the sleeves left to do.

After this is done, there shall be more hats. And another sweater! And SOCKS!

Yes, knitting is really making me happy at the minute :-) So I shall just do it more, and more, and more - because when it comes down to it, that's exactly how I think life should be led.

What things keep you on an even keel? Sewing, knitting, other kinds of crafting - or something else completely? Is crafting something that soothes for you - or is it something you need to take a break from too?  Feel free to share your sanity-savers here!  I'm sure plenty of us could do with taking notes :-)

Monday, 20 October 2014

Coat of many compliments: Veste Chloé

Spot the deliberate mistake - go on, let's just get it out of the way:

Yes, not only am I so rubbish at hand sewing that the lowest press stud unattached itself within about four wears, I also completely forgot to fix it before taking pictures. AAARRGHH IT'S ALL I CAN SEE!! That'll teach me for being sloppy.  But ok, fastened like this it's invisible and you would never have known:

Anyway! This is the Veste Chloé, the first piece of outerwear I've ever made, and the first pattern I've tried from Belgian sewing mag La Maison Victor, which launched about this time last year. In my opinion it's perfectly pitched at today's home sewists - good looking and accessible - and I was so excited about it that I immediately took out a subscription. However, I've only now been so grabbed by one of the patterns that I had to try it immediately. The Chloé jacket is on the autumn edition's front cover, tooted as quick and stylish, and it is. Judging by the number of them popping up on instagram (and blogs, see Jolies Bobines) I wasn't alone in my enthusiasm either.

This lovely red fabric is a slightly nubbly kind of faux-bouclé, which I presume to be entirely man-made as it was 4 euros a metre (thank you, Berger). When I bought it, it was lightweight and drapy and I was envisaging a sort of half-cardigan-half-coat scenario. Was, you'll have noted - because I chucked it in to pre-wash without even thinking about it, and it felted. One return trip for another metre later, because wow felting fabric shrinks it something awful, I had a heavier weight jacket on my hands. And in fact, it's all the better for it.

I'm getting quite good at derp pictures, no?

The fabric now holds and shows off the structure of the coat really well - and I firmly believe that it's this, together with the loud happy red, which accounts for the phenomenal number of compliments this jacket has received.  Several friends (individually, on separate occasions), my son's class teacher, helpers at the after-school club, a random bloke on the street - and this was all in the first three times I wore it.  There's nothing like spontaneous flattery to make you appreciate your own sewing brilliance, really, is there? :-)  And in fact, I've been not only astonished but also highly appreciative, because for a couple of reasons I wasn't feeling brilliant about this coat when I finished it.

First and most obviously, there's the basic fact of some lazy finishings. OK , they're on the inside, but coats flap open and I know they're there anyway.  When the fabric felted, it got so thick I couldn't think how to finish the seams without binding them, which I wasn't in the mood to do, because I just wanted to bash it out and be done. So, as felt doesn't fray, I just left them raw, and now I regret it because it's messy.  Plus, there's the press-stud hand-sewing fail too.

But ok, I can live with it - it was quick and fun make - and look, all the funner because yay contrast yellow pockets!  Which by the way are far too low on me, I need to take some length out at the waist if I ever make this again:

No, the real reason I was slightly insecure about this jacket ran deeper than seam finishings and some dodgy stitching.  It went back about 10 years, to a coat I bought that felt unnervingly just like this one. Thick fabric, too-low pockets and all - suddenly but unmistakably, this jacket dredged up coat memories I didn't really want to have.

The coat-of-10-years-ago had been bought in desperation, in the depths of winter, because I finally had to face the fact I'd gained weight beyond the scope of my clothing. The shopping trips to find it were awful: everything in the larger sizes was sold out or, like the coat I eventually settled for, irredeemably unattractive. As I saw it at the time. Now, I think that of course it was me seeing myself as irredeemably unattractive. That feeling of despair at paying good money for a coat I hated, for my shape that I hated, is what drove me finally, after literally years of procrastination, onto a healthier diet and into the gym.

Now, I'm still about 10 kilos lighter than I was then. I'm also about 10 kilos heavier than I was at my lightest (pre-kids, obviously).  But what I like to think has really changed in the last 10 years is the way I see myself. I was impressed when my body produced and squeezed out two small people - I like it better looking 'worse' now than I did before - and sewing my own clothes has liberated me from wardrobe angst almost entirely. Plus, y'know, older and wiser and less giving of shits. So it was a shock to unexpectedly get this jolt of memory, experienced very physically and as close as the coat I was wearing, back to a time when that wasn't the case.

I don't really know if I'm trying to say anything here. I'm just telling you, because that's the deal with this jacket.  It makes me appreciate who I am now, and the shape I am now, and the many wonderful sewing patterns people make now, which allow us to all sew up whatever we want, in whatever crazy colours and textures we like, and to look fabulous in them, because we're OURSELVES.

OK yes, that's what I'm saying :-)

Does the ability to sew your clothes how you see yourself and your shape? Do you think it makes us more likely to accept our little (or big!) shapely quirks and irregularities? Or is that just a natural consequence of growing up, and nothing much to do with our clothes at all?  These things have been on my mind since I made this, and I'd love to know what you think too.

And P.S. - if you'd like your very own Veste Chloé, you can get the current issue of La Maison Victor here, or keep an eye on this page where the patterns all eventually appear for sale individually (Dutch and French only I'm afraid, but with decent diagrams).

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