Thursday, October 6, 2016

From Bowknot to Stripes

This project plan began when it became necessary to reknit an existing sweater.

Back in 2010, I knitted myself a Schiaparelli Bowknot sweater from the iconic 1920s pattern out of Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool in burnt orange, and Sublime Yarns Cashmere Merino Silk DK. Then, because the sweater didn't seem to go with anything I had in my wardrobe, over the course of the spring and summer of 2015 I made a skirt in a material and a style specifically selected to go with the sweater. And then, just when I'd finally gotten a whole outfit together, what happened? Moths happened. And they, or more accurately their larvae, ate about four holes in my Schiaparelli Bowknot sweater.

I wasn't as upset as you might expect. I had been considering redoing the sweater anyway, and it was almost a relief to have the matter decided for me. The fact was that I had never really been satisfied with my Schiaparelli Bowknot sweater because the twenties-era lines of this sweater were too shapeless and unfinished-looking to suit my figure or my taste. Years ago I used to think I loved 1920s fashions, but when I did some reading up on it and paged through actual twenties designs, I discovered that what I had actually loved was our contemporary costume designers's recreations of twenties clothing, and that actual 1920s clothing looks shapeless and unflattering. And as I continued looking through books on twentieth century fashions, I discovered that it was the 1930s, with its beautifully shaped classic clothing and clever detailing, that was my favourite fashion decade. I've made two sweaters from vintage 1930s patterns that I am thrilled with because they have both great shaping and great style, and I just didn't feel the same way about my bowknot sweater. With only four holes, the yarn I had used to make my Schiaparelli Bowknot sweater was worth reknitting, but I definitely didn't want to reuse the same pattern for the reknit, and I turned to Ravelry to find a new look for the yarn.

After some searching to find a pattern that called for two colours of fingering yarn in the amount I had, I settled on this design, which is the Amande Tee, designed by Atelier Alfa. It's a contemporary pattern, but I thought it had a certain 1930s vibe to it. Knitwear of the 1930s often did have Art Deco-inspired artful stripes. The construction was unusual. One begins by knitting each shoulder patch from the centre out, and once the two patches are complete, picking up and casting on more stitches for the front and back until one is knitting the body in the round. It was a bit of a challenge to make this sweater, but a worthwhile one.

And here's my completed version of the Amande Tee. I am much happier with this sweater than I was with its former reincarnation. It has a far more polished and flattering shape and looks much more current, and it's visually striking. And, of course, it is entirely moth-hole-free.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Very Last Knitted Dress

I've knitted my niece Cauliflower a dress with an accompanying matching purse every year since she was born. But the "knitted dress with matching purse" is a very little girl look, and given that Cauliflower has just turned seven, I decided that this should be the last year I do it, and that starting next year, I will be knitting her sweaters and sewing her dresses. I further decided that this seventh and last knitted dress must be extra special.

The first step was to search Ravelry for a special little girl's dress pattern. I chose the Seamless Flower Dress, by Ewelina Murach. It's an attractive piece of contemporary design, and it's quite simple and wearable -- it's not too dressy for school.

The pattern called for a DK weight yarn, and I also wanted wool. As to colour, my niece loves pink and has dressed Cauliflower in pink (and done her room in pink) ever since she was born. I've never made Cauliflower anything that was pink as I thought she ought to have some other colours in her wardrobe. However, Cauliflower is now old enough to have her own favourite colours, and her favourite colour is... pink, with red running a close second. This last special knitted dress really ought to be in a colour she loved, so I decided the dress should be pink or red. I visited Romni Wools during their 20% off sale and found just the right yarn in their bargain basement: the discontinued Debbie Bliss Blue Faced Leicester DK in Rose.

And here's the finished dress and purse. I made the dress in a size 8, which was the largest size the dress pattern ran to. The dress has an unusual construction: one begins by crocheting the centre of the floral device and then knitting outwards until the flower is completed, places the sleeve stitches on holders, knits the skirt, knits the sleeves, and knits an I-cord finish on the neckline. I didn't modify this pattern at all. I do have my qualms about those eyelets, which will mean Cauliflower has to wear a slip or some sort of underlayer. I suppose little girls generally wear undershirts in cold weather anyway and it won't make much practical difference to Cauliflower.

This pink was a very difficult pink to match. I couldn't find a pink button for it (the Queen Street West button store that was my go-to source for hard-to-match items closed down because the owner retired, sob), so I wound up using this white button with iridescent pink streaks that I had in my button tin. It stands out too much for my liking but doesn't actually look bad, and it'll be hidden under Cauliflower's very long hair anyway.

The purse, for which I used the Squircle pattern, and some pink ribbon that goes but doesn't quite match. I visited a shop on Queen Street West that carries nothing but ribbons and this was the closest match they had. I wish I could have matched the ribbon's colour to the dress's button instead of going with this off-shade pink, but I bought the ribbon before I realized I wasn't going to be able to find a pink button -- but again, the button is going to show very little.

I made the ribbon rose you see here and also a corresponding one for the other side of the purse using some internet tutorials. Making ribbon roses is a very useful little skill (store bought ribbon roses are only available in a few colours and sizes), and pretty easy once you get the hang of it. I do wish I'd taken the trouble to make the bag design more like that of the dress -- I could have added some eyelets, for instance. Knit and learn, I guess.

And I'd wax sentimental about this last knitted dress... but for the fact that there are other little girls in the world for whom I can make as many little dresses and purses as I could possibly find time and materials for. Thank heaven for little girls.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Third Time's a Charm Cardigan

The plan for this project had its genesis in the fact that I had a turquoise cardigan in my sweater cupboard that I didn't like very much and wanted to reknit. I made it back in the day when I used to design by making things up as I went along. It didn't look bad, exactly, but I've spent the last 3.5 years as a knitwear design critic and it no longer met my standards for acceptable design. When I took it apart and was wondering why there were so many yarn joins, I remembered that the yarn had actually been reknitted once before, from a wrap cardigan that turned out not to sit right on me. I decided this third knitting had better be the last, for the poor yarn's sake. The yarn was Patons Kroy Sock yarn, a fingering weight. I decided I would like to make another cardigan with the yarn.

After the obligatory Ravelry search, I found this cardigan pattern, which is Matomoko, by Cheryl Chow. I liked the beautiful stitchwork around the bottom and the cuffs, the shape was good, and it called for the right amount of yarn. There was another sweater I liked better but that I had to pass up because it would have taken more yarn than I had.

Here's the finished project. I made just a few modifications. The stitchwork at the bottom was supposed to be 10.5" deep, which wasn't going to work with my figure (it would sit partly over my bustline rather than under it), so I decreased the depth to 8.5". I also didn't like the way the directions said to do the buttonholes, so I used a two-row buttonhole technique rather than in a single row. These are not the buttons that were on the old cardigan, as they were too small and there were only six of them. I bought a new set of buttons, and was very pleased that I only had to buy six new ones as I already had two identical ones sitting in my button tin -- I no longer remember what they were purchased for, which means it was quite some time ago. Button styles don't often stay in production for that long.

And I'm vowing to never reknit this beleaguered yarn again. But then there shouldn't be any reason to. It's a well-designed piece that suits me and that won't either go out of date or become too young for me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

You Can Tie It in a Knot; You Can Tie It in a Bow

Perhaps four or five years ago I realized that bow-tie blouses had come back in and that I wanted one. I spent quite a while looking for a suitable pattern for one, and even had to wait a few seasons for new designs to appear on the market, because most bow-tie blouses have bows that sit right at the throat. This is a look that may work on small-bosomed, willowy-necked types, but would make me look like a professionally and sexually frustrated secretary from 1983. I wanted a blouse that had a more open neckline and a much lower bow.

I'm a Vogue Patterns devotee and use their patterns for 90% of my projects, but they hadn't a suitable pattern for this project. I ended up going with Simplicity 1779, view C, in a single fabric.

And here's my finished version of Simplicity 1779, in a teal and olive green polyester satin print. And yes, after all my efforts to find a bow-tie blouse, I ended deciding that this blouse's tie looks better (less prissy and more elegantly understated) when done in a simple knot. I was very pleased with the contemporary-style teal and green buttons I bought for this item, and very grateful to the sales associate in the Queen Street button store who found them for me. There's nothing more helpful than a sales associate who knows the store's stock and has an eye for what works.

And how am I going to style the blouse? This blouse goes quite well with this thrift shop skirt of mine, and is also going to go perfectly with a teal suit that I plan to make before the end of the year -- I have the materials and pattern on hand for it. I have a pair of dark olive velvet trousers that will work with it too. Those are the only outfits I can make with it, as teal is a hard colour to match and this blouse is too dressy to be worn with jeans and khakis, but three options gives me plenty of versatility, especially when this is such a specific piece. I like this pattern and intend to use it again in the very near future because I have another printed fabric to make up.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hearts & Turquoise

Some years ago I bought 750 grams of a turquoise worsted yarn at Value Village for perhaps three or four dollars. The yarn was wound into several balls and plainly had been knitted up before. I have no idea what brand of yarn it was, though I was fairly certain it was a cotton. I originally planned to knit the yarn into cushions for one of the bedrooms in my house, but I ended up going with another stash yarn for that project. Then I didn't know what to do with it until I caught sight of it in my cottons box some months ago and began to see it as the perfect yarn for a little girl's jacket that could in turn make a nice gift for my grandniece's seventh birthday.

A search of children's jacket patterns on Ravelry produced the Lavanda pattern, designed by Elena Nodel. It really is lovely and almost romantic in style.

This is the finished jacket. It's knitted up in a child's size eight. I had a little trouble knitting the yarn up because there were many cuts in the yarn and there was some discolouration that meant not all the pieces were a good colour match, but as is usual with the tremendously forgiving medium of yarn, once the project was done, washed, and blocked it didn't betray its humble origins at all. It was also something of a challenge finding buttons to go with the sweater because turquoise is hard to match and I wanted some cute, characterful buttons, but I think I managed it. I predict that the buttons will be my grandniece's favourite feature of this jacket, like they were the time I made her a teddy bear dress with teddy bear buttons on it. This project subtracted 550 grams from my stash, and now I get to figure out what to do with the remaining 200 grams of this turquoise yarn.

A Tree of Life and a Little Leaf

In late 2015 my friend Lindsie told me she was expecting to have a baby in May 2016. I started planning the standard baby gift set I usually give to close friends and family: a handknitted baby blanket and booties, a sewn stuffed bear or bunny, and a story book. My first step in getting the gift ready was to turn to Ravelry, where I researched baby blanket patterns.

For the blanket pattern, I chose the Baby Tree of Life Throw, designed by Nicky Epstein. It's a free pattern. I asked Lindsie what her nursery colours and theme were, but it turned out she didn't have one. She was keeping her baby preparations as low key and simple as possible, saying (quite rightly) that parents really do decorating for themselves rather than for a baby who's too young to notice or care. She hadn't painted the baby's room but left it the white it was when she and her partner moved into her apartment. Her diaper bag was a backpack that would be useful after the baby no longer wore diapers. She'd bought a changing pad that would go on top of the chest of drawers in the baby's room rather than a changing table, and she had in general kept the baby paraphernalia to a minimum. Since she was knitting the baby a blanket herself, I questioned whether she would even want a second baby blanket, but when I said as much to my mother, who raised eight children (five biological, three foster), she said, "When Lindsie finds out how often everything needs to be washed, she'll realize that two baby blankets are minimal." The blanket plan was therefore on, and I then looked for a bootie pattern to go with it.

I decided on the Leaf Lace Booties, designed by Jacqueline van Dillen. This pattern was published in 60 Quick Baby Knits: Blankets, Booties, Sweaters & More, and I used it last year when making a baby gift for my niece's baby girl.

And here's my version of the Tree of Life afghan and the Leaf Lace Booties. I used Patons' Decor yarn in Oceanside, which is a decent quality yarn with some wool content but is still machine washable and dryable as a baby blanket should be. It also comes in beautiful colours. I chose this soft grayish blue because it seemed attractive and yet subtle enough not to clash with anything else the baby might own. I managed to get the yarn for a very reasonable price because I printed several "40% off one item" coupons off Michaels' website and made three trips to the store to get enough skeins. (The things you'll do when money's tight...) The blanket required slightly less than 250 grams of yarn. I goofed up during the tulips section, didn't read the pattern carefully enough, and assumed the "leaf" effect was created after the blanket was finished. I didn't discover this error until the main section of the blanket was done and I was sewing on the leaf border, and I was not going to rip out that much work if I could help it. I found a way to recreate the leaf effect by stitching it on with a darning needle. This really is a lovely pattern and I'd make it again -- but I will take care not to make that mistake again.

A closer look at the Leaf Lace Booties. It turned out that I was just 10 grams short of the yarn I needed to make them once the afghan was done, and I didn't want to have to buy another 100 gram ball, so instead I finished the slipper off with some burgundy-coloured yarn I had on hand. Thus this project, which was to be knit from new yarn, instead resulted in a net stash decrease of -10 grams.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Dangerous Living Hat & Scarf Set

This project plan began with a need: I needed a hat set that would go with a dark brown jacket of mine as well as a certain velvet coat I intend to make (I have the pattern and all materials for it). The velvet is printed with a subtle green and plum floral print on a dark brown background. (That may not sound very attractive, but it really is.) I thought plum would be the colour to go with, because it would also go with an olive velvet jacket I have. Besides, I've developed a real thing for plum in the last couple of years, and have so far acquired a sweater, a rain jacket, and a long-sleeved T-shirt in plum. Now I was going to have a plum hat and scarf.

I selected the pattern above for the project, which is Lórien, by Ann Kingstone, and figured I could whip up a matching glove pattern for it. I bought three skeins of mauve King Cole Merino Blend 4 ply in the bargain basement of Romni Wools in August 2015. Then I didn't get around to starting the project until January 2016. When I did, I made the hat, and decided I wanted a scarf rather than gloves to go with it. I thought I might have enough to finish the scarf, but I ran short. Uh oh. But perhaps I could get another skein from Romni Wools? I went down to Romni in February and discovered they had no skeins of that shade left and that, further, they weren't carrying the yarn any longer. Oh no. I turned to the internet, and checked Ravelry, with no luck. I found that it was possible to order more of the same yarn from two different places in England, but that neither company had the same dye lot.

You know how two different dye lots can be: they can be virtually identical, or they can look like two completely different colours. If I ordered a skein, it could work out well, or I could wind up with a completely different colour of yarn that I'd have to figure out how to use. It was risky, but on the other side of the equation, I had knitted two-thirds of that scarf in a complicated ruched pattern in a fingering weight. I held my breath, and placed the order. I bided my time until the day the skein arrived...

...And the dye lot was a perfect match to the one I had been using. And yes, the photo meme above is an excellent representation of how I reacted when my gamble paid off. Except that the cuteness factor was dialed down by an order of magnitude.

Here's the finished scarf and hat. I liked the Lórien pattern, but it did turn out to be a rather tricky and time-intensive project. It's easy to make a mistake, not notice it, and wind up having to rip out a couple of days' work. And again, this set was done in a fingering yarn. But ultimately I felt it was worth the work, as I was quite pleased with the set. Another issue that arose was that the instructions said that blocking was not recommended for this project, but the hat turned out to be quite unattractively close-fitting on me. It seemed better to risk blocking than to resign myself to a very unflattering hat that, realistically, I was too vain to wear. That risk paid off too, as blocking gave the hat the drape it needed, and it didn't seem to hurt the texture. I went ahead and blocked the scarf too. Given my high risk internet order and rebel blocking, I don't think anyone can say I don't live dangerously.

As you can see, the scarf is just the ruched pattern from the hat worked flat, and I crocheted around it to make the edge look more finished.

Though I bought this yarn last year, it was one of the two lots of new yarn that I bought in 2015 but didn't include in last year's stash calculations, which means it must count as new yarn this year. The leftover yarn from this project therefore counts a stash increase of +10 grams.