Sewing fail

Somehow I never got into Project Runway before now. Recently I was looking for knitting-on-the-weekends TV, and decided to rectify that deficiency. I started with the most recent season on Hulu, Season 9, and am hooked.

For one challenge, the contestants are paired with kids from the Harlem School of the Arts (?) to collaborate on a painting, which will be the inspiration for the garment the contestant makes later in the challenge. Laura Kathleen was paired with this incredibly articulate 11-year-old, Kai. Laura was telling Kai about being on the bottom the previous week, and how hard it was to get the negative feedback. Without missing a beat, Kai says, “Failure is just an opportunity to learn in disguise.”

Which is to say, I have been learning this weekend!

One of my wardrobe holes is nice short-sleeved tops I can wear under suit jackets and cardigans, so I decided to try making Fancy Tailor Crafts‘ Sailor Top, which looked like a good convergence of my clothing wants and sewing skills.

So here it is, almost entirely finished (absent only the hem, though you can’t see that in this picture).  

It actually looks pretty decent here, doesn’t it? (Barring the terrible nighttime lighting turning everything drab.) The fabric is Cotton + Steel Mochi Lawn in Speckled Navy, and I like it – it’s light, hangs nicely, and has a slight sheen. It’s not something super drapey, but it’s not quite as sturdy as quilting cotton. It was also easy to work with.

And I tried really hard to do everything properly. I even used French seams on the side seams, which worked really well with the weight of the fabric.  

The one bit that looks decidedly amateurish is the yoke facing – you sew the facing to the yoke, then you sew the yoke to the neckline, fold the facing over, press the bottom of the facing under 1/4″ and pin, then stitch in the ditch from the front. It worked pretty well, but my “press the facing under 1/4” was eyeballed and while I managed to catch the edge of the facing all the way around, the seam looks kind of drunken in the interior. But no one but me would see that, of course.

So what’s the failure, then?

It’s too small – I made the wrong size! Such a newbie mistake, right?

I can actually get it on and off (though the latter was a little dodgy), because it’s a loose-fitting shape without closures, with a lot of built-in ease. But it pulls across my back. Some of that may be because my “gather fabric evenly” around the yoke isn’t the most even – the yoke feels like it sits just a little bit skewed – but really it’s because I need the next size up.

With respect to the learning, though, this was a useful reminder of the difference between knits and wovens, and the importance of ease. I chose the size based on the measurements I use for knitting, but knits are obviously much more forgiving than wovens. Also, I tend to use a high bust measurement for knits (based on Amy Herzog‘s advice that what you really want is to have the sweater fit your shoulders), but I’m realizing that’s probably not what I should be using for wovens, especially when I compare my high bust and bra measurements.

(If I’m being brutally honest, there’s also the little matter of working off measurements that are about 5-7 pounds ago. Again, for knits this isn’t that big a deal, because stretch, and because I tend to wear slouchy knits anyway. Alas, for wovens I probably shouldn’t rely on them right now.)

So anyway. I’m disappointed that I haven’t yet finished a “wear outside the house” garment (my fantabulous pajama pants are going strong, and in fact I want to make more in flannel, but they don’t go outside the house, except maybe to the courtyard to feed the feral cats), especially because I think if this one had fit, it would have been outside-the-house-worthy. And while I got the fabric pretty cheap, I like it a lot and am disappointed that it’s been sacrificed on the altar of failure learning. (But speaking of “learning,” I just realized tonight that I had completely misread the fabric requirements and this top was supposed to take 2 1/2 yards, so I’m fairly happy I managed to cut it out of 2.)

But to look on the bright side, the pattern was great and easy to follow, and I think if I made this in the right size it would be a great top I’d wear all the time. I made sleeves for the first time (okay, they’re raglan so not that complicated, but still, sleeves), and I made a yoke facing for the first time. I got French seams to work on a garment (rather than practice scraps). And I gathered a neckline for the first time (second time ever gathering anything). So that’s all pretty positive, right?

So sometime soon I will buy some new fabric and try again. I think this would be great (for my wardrobe) in something a little flowier, like a nice rayon twill, and I’d also really like to try making this in a knit (and then I think this size might actually work well). In the meantime, maybe I will cannibalize the fabric to line a zippered pouch or project bag. Or maybe I’ll leave the top as it is, to remind me of those opportunities in disguise.

Out of sync

I know I really can’t complain about the weather we have here – sunny and 75 pretty regularly; this past weekend was gorgeous, and I sat outside for hours and accumulated a dozen mosquito bites. Objectively speaking, it’s amazing weather. But I imprinted on northern climes, and it just. feels. wrong. to have this kind of weather in November.

Ah well. This is what the desert looks like in fall-turning-to-winter.  





And bonus desert cat (his camouflage would be pretty good if he closed his eyes).  

What do you need to fix and what can you leave alone?

So, about my Havra: I made a lot of progress while traveling! Aaaaaaaand…..after finishing the body of the shawl I found a row all the way back near the beginning where I knit the wrong side of the pattern for a stretch. It’s down at the little silver stitch marker (see the little purl ridge across the smooth twisted knit columns?) (well, they will look smoother once finished and blocked, of course – they’ve been sitting squished in a project bag).IMG_1827

This gives you a better idea of how far down the shawl it is:arrowWhile I’m sure my mistake created other errors in this row (pretty sure I have 4 garter stitches rather than 2 garter and 1 k2tog/ssk), what ends up being really obvious is the two garter stitches where I should have two twisted knit stitches.

So I actually ended up dropping a WHOLE LOT of stitches to reach the error, fixing the purl stitches, and working the twisted knit stitches back up again. Because it was going to drive me CRAZY if I didn’t.

But my perfectionism only goes so far, because I realized that the lefthand purled stitch in each column was right next to a yarnover column. And when I started to drop that purl stitch, I realized I was going to have a LOT of loose yarn flapping around, if I ended up dropping and trying to rework all those yarnovers. I didn’t trust my ability to rework all those yarnovers, and knew I’d blow a gasket if I cocked everything up somewhere about halfway up the column.

So in my mistake row, instead of each column starting with two nice twisted knit stitches, you have one purl stitch and one twisted knit. Annoyingly imperfect, but it’s a lot less obvious than 2 purls in a row. 

(This post is really making me wish I had a more sophisticated camera than what’s on my iPhone. Pardon the poor quality.)

The whole thing got me thinking about how many errors are tolerable in a finished project. I’m kind of a perfectionist/type A personality, and my preference would be to go back and fix all mistakes. I rip back a LOT. Sometimes this gets me in trouble, when I think I can fix something and I end up in a huge tangle. Here, I wanted to avoid the latter, and knew that if I ripped back the whole shawl to the error, I’d probably give up on the project entirely. So while I know the error is there, and you can see it if you look, which bugs me, I will live with it in this project. In other projects? I don’t know. How much imperfection do you put up with?

I read somewhere once that weavers of Muslim prayer mats always make one mistake, deliberately, to reflect their humanity and humility – to show that they, unlike God, are not perfect. I have no idea if this is actually true or some author’s conceit, but I like the idea. And I’m trying to think about my mistakes this way, rather than as failures.

Speaking of travel 

I didn’t mention the knitting I brought with me: Gudrun Johnston’s Havra shawl (originally a Mystery Knit A Long, but the mystery has long since dissipated, since the KAL ended a few months ago).

 For a while this was my desk-lunch-break knitting at work. 

I’m using Tosh Merino Light in Composition Book Gray. Originally I planned to do the colorblocked version, and use up some TML half-skeins I had left over from other projects, but once all the finished object photos started popping up on Ravelry, I realized I liked the single color versions much better. So I bought a second skein (so much for this being a fun way to use up the stash!), which luckily ended up virtually identical to the first. 

The pattern is beautifully clear, and I appreciate that the lace pattern repeats are written out as well as charted – especially because having both helped me learn how to read charts, which I can do now! (I think the reason I’ve had problems with charts before was that they involved cable stitches, and I have a terrible time remembering which symbol means you hold the cable needle in front or behind. It’s sort of like Z plying and S plying – mirror images just trip me up. I can never figure out which button in the elevator opens or shuts the doors, either.)

Nonetheless, I’ve found that through no fault of its own, this shawl has become my back-up knitting. Mostly I picked it up for the fun of the KAL, without having a burning desire for a gray shawl, and while I actually find myself very much enjoying the process of this project, my product-driven compass keeps swinging back to whatever more desired object I’m currently constructing.

But ironically, backup knitting – or at least, this example – turns out to be wonderful travel knitting. It’s one of my few non-sweater projects going right now. My established sweater projects are all far enough along to be unwieldy to wrangle on an airplane. While I thought about casting on a new sweater project for this trip (because the beginnings of a sweater are often pretty manageable), the next ones I have next in my queue will require alternating skeins, which isn’t very portable. I’ve been pondering a Prowl by Steven West, but the yarn I want to use is handdyed, so I’d likely have to alternate skeins on that, too.

This is where people who knit sweaters in pieces and seam them up at the end definitely have an edge. A sleeve, or a cardigan front, or even a pullover front, is pretty portable compared to a 3/4-finished seamless sweater. But I realized the problem isn’t just that I tend to knit seamless sweaters that get bigger and unwieldier as you go. It’s also that my sweaters are too precious to me! The idea of something happening to a sweater project – with its significant investment of time, and yarn! – is horrifying; I find myself unable to risk it. (It’s true that something happening to a sleeve or cardigan front is less risky – but I’m still not sure I’d have enough yarn to replace one if tragedy struck.)

So the sad truth is that I can travel with my Havra because I’m less afraid of something happening to it. Sorry, Gudrun! That’s not at all a comment on your lovely pattern, just on me and my priorities. I hadn’t spent a ton of time on this shawl (at the time I took it with me) and I can replace a couple of skeins of TML if need be. But for instance, the top-down sweater I’m knitting out of Plucky Knitter Single? The yarn that I splurged on for my birthday and managed to snag in one of their fast-moving updates? I can’t replace that so easily. And a sweater’s worth of stitches is (usually) quite a bit more than a shawl’s worth. So even though I’ve reached the point of that sweater where all I need to do is finish the body by knitting stockinette in the round for about 8 more inches, and plane travel is the almost perfect situation for a lot of mindless knitting, I can’t bring myself to take it out of the house.

So my Havra will be well-traveled, and it will make her all the more well-loved. Eventually.

(Do any of you feel the same way about travel knitting?)

Consumerism: the third and fourth days

Okay, time to wrap this up. My third day of shopping, I braved public transport (the bus system was completely easy and efficient) to go to the Alberta Arts District. It’s across the river and it was interesting to see something other than downtown, especially a more residential area.

First I went to Close Knit, which was a lovely cosy yarn store with a good selection of more mid-range yarns. Lots and lots of Cascade 220, which is a great workhorse yarn, as well as some more high-end brands. I really only wanted to buy a needle (I needed a 40″ size 6 with pointy tips for a lace shawl), but on my way to checkout I was seduced by the “40% off” rack and grabbed a ball of Schoppel Wolle XL Kleckse Cat Print, in the colorway Beerenauslese. (Still within my guidelines – on sale!)

IMG_1813excuse the overexposure – it was the best shot of the color

At the time, I had convinced myself that I would make a pair of socks with this – and I may yet do that, as I’ve never made socks that actually fit, and while I rarely wear socks (as opposed to tights/stockings or athletic socks), having a handknit pair would be pretty nice. However, I think I have other plans (see below).

I also went to a lovely little fabric store, Bolt. I did not fulfill my goal of fondling/figuring out knits, because they had knits, but not a vast selections. But (similar to my experience at Powell’s) it was great to see in person fabrics I’d only looked at online – and of course I bought some. (The best part is that it was day one of their Fall Sale and EVERYTHING was on sale.)

The top is I think a J.Crew fabric? (didn’t know such a thing existed), and the photo turns the dark print black, but it’s actually navy, and a beautifully light and breezy voile. The middle is a Robert Kaufman chambray (with colored flecks that don’t show up especially well here), and the bottom is an Anna Maria Horner crosshatch.

The sale was clearly a big thing – there were a number of customers getting their fabric cut when I first walked in, in a not very big space (but well organized and laid out). While my fabric was being cut, one of the women working (she sounded owner-y or manager-y) was talking about how her son (clearly little) wanted attention while she was preparing for the sale, and so how she had him hold the bolts of fabric on his lap while she put the sale price stickers on, and how she kept checking periodically to make sure his legs hadn’t fallen asleep as she piled more and more on.

Then I wandered up and down the street looking in all the shops, bought my husband a slice of banana cream pie at a pie bar, bought me a Belgian waffle at a waffle shop, and bused it back downtown.

The last full day, a friend of my husband’s joined him and me to re-explore the downtown knitting options, as she is also a knitter and hadn’t had a chance to do so yet. So we went back to Knit Purl, and…um…I bought more yarn (which is still beautifully wrapped so again, no picture). But hey, the husband picked it out, so that doesn’t count, right? It’s Tosh Merino Light in Citrus, which is the world’s greatest orange, and I also bought a printed copy of Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Tabi Mittens, to make my husband a pair of incandescently orange lobster-claw mittens. (He loves tabi socks.) Even in the desert, it’s probably wise to have one pair of mittens.

We stopped at Pearl Fiber Arts, where my husband’s friend bought some yarn, and then the owner (seeing our Knit Purl bags) asked us if we were going to complete the circuit? Circuit? we asked, and found out there was a third downtown yarn store, not too much further north. Armed with directions, we marched ourselves along to Dublin Bay Knitting Company.

To make a long story short, this was yet another gorgeous yarn store, with yet more brands I’d never seen in person, as well as friendly and helpful staff. As befits the name, there were traditional Irish and British yarns, but also lots of more modern companies as well. I fell madly in love with everything Hedgehog Fibres and bought a skein of their sock yarn in the Typewriter colorway. As with the Schoppen Wolle, I thought, “Eh, I can use a pair of socks, right?” But once I got them home and put them together, I decided that a two-color shawl of some variety might be a much better way to put these two to use:

So that was my crafty tourism in Portland. There are at least three other yarn stores I didn’t even get to, as well as two fantabulous fabric superstores (on the edges of town, so harder to get to on vacation) – so now I absolutely want to move to Portland, where there is lots of yarn to be had, and lots of opportunity to wear garments made from it! (And fabric, too, but you can wear that in the desert without difficulty.)

Second day of vacation shopping

My next day in Portland, I went to the bookbuyer’s mecca, Powell’s City of Books (which is a wholly appropriate name). I limited myself to looking at craft books, because I knew that if I just roamed all the stacks and shelves I’d probably never leave. And I was pretty restrained, buying only these:

The book on top is this one:

There were a lot of great vintage “how to sew” books, and I wish I could have taken them all home. Well, I wish I could have taken many more things home, and it was hard even to narrow it down to the four I chose. But I had seen a good review of the vintage book somewhere on the web, so decided to try that one. I have also wanted the Radcliffe book for a while, and when I got to flip through it in person, I liked the look of it.  The fitting book was a “staff pick,” and since there were a gazillion fitting books, that seemed as good a reason as any to choose it (also, it wasn’t a huge hardback book). Finally, there were also a gazillion “intro to photography” books, and I have no idea if this one is supposed to be any good, but agin, flipping through it, I wanted to read this one more than the others.

I also ran into a book signing by rock musician Corey Taylor of Slipknot fame (and Stone Sour, but I’ve only heard of Slipknot), which was kind of fascinating. I walked round one set of bookshelves to find the local news person doing an interview with a camera person in tow; it’s funny how immediately identifiable “TV news person” women’s style is. Lots more makeup than most ordinary people. Soon after an entourage guided him across the floor to where he was going to sign, trailed by a huge long line of people wearing black and tattoos all clutching Taylor’s latest book. One guy kept declaiming loudly about being at the end of the line and how long the line was getting – he was clearly super excited to be there.

After Powell’s I wandered over to an interesting store called Scrap, which is a “donation-based creative reuse store and donation center,” or basically a thrift store for arts and crafts supplies. It’s a great concept, and there was lots of really inexpensive stuff there, as well as a good number of shoppers. But I had forgotten until I got there that I, personally, really hate shopping at thrift stores, so I didn’t find anything I wanted or stick around for long.

I didn’t go to Voodoo Donuts on this trip, but Blue Star was near Scrap, so I treated myself to a Raspberry Rosemary Buttermilk donut, which was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

And then on the way back to my hotel I stopped at Pearl Fiber Arts, which is a nice little shop filled mostly with local yarns and fiber, as well as very pretty wooden yarn bowls and ceramic buttons. There was nothing I couldn’t live without, but it was still fun to browse, and the owner was very friendly.

Two more days of craft tourism to go…

First day of vacation shopping

oops – I wrote this last week but forgot to post it till now.

My first day in Portland, I went to Knit Purl, which is absolutely beautiful, with a very clean, simple, aesthetic. Lots of gorgeous, higher-end yarns, with helpful and friendly but not obtrusive salespeople.

I especially enjoyed getting to see some brands in person for the first time, like Brooklyn Tweed, Sincere Sheep, the Fibre Company, Hand Maiden, and especially Shibui – there were two walls devoted to all their yarns (they own the store), and all their products were amazingly beautiful. I have never handled any of them before and could have spent (probably did spend) a ridiculous amount of time just standing by those walls stroking skeins.

In fact, I came this close to buying enough Shibui Pebble, Cima, and Baby Alpaca to make a Trace sweater. But while the results are admittedly spectacular, Shibui’s recent practice of designing sweaters that use two or three of their different lines held together frustrates me a little, because it just adds to the amount of yarn required and gets costly fast. I also chickened out on knitting a baby alpaca sweater (even though the Baby Alpaca yarn was one of the softest things I’ve ever touched, like angels came down to earth and fed the alpacas on celestial clouds and nectar or something), because I worried it would end up too hot. But oh my goodness the yarns were lovely.

Also, if you’ve seen people talking about how incredibly soft the new(ish?) yarns by Woolfolk are? Oh. My. God. They’re all correct. It is truly one of the softest wools I’ve ever felt. I didn’t buy any because the palette, while lovely and classic, is a little muddy for my tastes. But I may  change my mind in the future. I’m thinking if I ever decide to tackle a black sweater (and that day is coming, I’m sure), that might be the yarn to use.

I sort of blew my mental budget on the first day, although I stuck to my guidelines and bought enough lovely local yarn from Bumblebirch to make a light cardigan. It’s fingering weight in Dandelion (acid yellow-green/citron) – which continues my trend of buying yarn that’s either green or purple. But I really like the colorway and my husband approved of it as a “me” color.

(I am boringly not posting a picture because they wrapped the skeins so beautifully in tissue paper, and sealed them with a sticker, that I can’t bear to break them open until I’m going to use it. But they gave me a lovely tote bag. See?)


That was it for the first full day. Frankly, it made me sad that Knit Purl isn’t my local yarn store, though it’s probably safer for my attempts at stash control that it’s not. More about the rest later.

Trip to Portland: I came, I saw, I bought all the things 

Portland started out with exhaustion, mostly because I’m incapable of packing before the very last minute. And then I had to spend much of the first evening and first full day finishing a work project, because the time-management-skills fairy passed over my crib when I was a baby.

BUT. Besides that.

It was a great vacation. The city was beautiful, and there were trees! And the leaves were changing colors! And falling! And you could smell the fallen leaves as you walked along the sidewalk! And the weather was great – in the 60s, cloudy in the mornings but sunny in the afternoons, no rain – wonderful for tramping around the city. I loved it.

I didn’t get a lot of pictures, but here are a few:

I like old courthouses.

We had a delicious breakfast under this chandelier, in an old building that was otherwise more shabby chic than fancy.

No significance here, I just liked this mural.

This is the old armory, which won an award for historic restoration sometime in the 1960s. I really liked the way the sun bounced off the cut stone.

I didn’t get a lot of scenic pictures because I spent more time browsing downtown shops that going to any of the parks/gardens/purposefully scenic places. And I am only willing to be so conspicuous taking pictures in such places. Which is also to say that craft-wise, it was a productive, dangerous (for my bank account) trip. I’ll write more about that later.