The day I tried block printing

The day I tried block printing

Y’all remember Jen Hewett, who created those amazing limited-edition project bags for the webshop. Well, a few months ago — knowing how much I regret not being able to take any of her Bay Area classes — she told me she was launching an online course on block printing, Design, Carve, Print, and asked if I’d like a pass. Hello! Yes. So on a cold weekend in mid-February, I set aside time to watch the tutorials. It’s interesting the way she’s set it up — it’s a sequence of short videos and written tutorials posted to her website (password protected) that take you through the process step by step. So, for instance, she’ll talk about how to draw your pattern and transfer it to your block, then gives you an hour or something to go do that, then the next video goes up showing you how to start carving the block, and so on over the course of two days. OR, you can just watch it all on your own schedule after the fact.

I’m a painfully methodical person, which makes me sort of pants at classroom situations. I’m nearly incapable of diving right into a process without planning (or designing) what my outcome is going to be. So this was perfect for me — instead of doing each step along the way, I just watched and thought about what I would want to make. And I also followed along on Instagram as the other students posted their incredible works-in-progress throughout the weekend. (Check out the #designcarveprint hashtag — it’s awesome.) The thing is, I’m not really much of a pattern person, so it was a challenge to figure out something me to do with this process. I spent time asking myself what I like (other than stripes) and looking back through the blog archives and my Pinterest boards to see what kinds of patterned things have caught my attention in the past. Turns out my favorite thing, when it comes to pattern, is traditional quilt motifs. And one of my very favorites is the old interlocking crosses pattern.

So in the end, I didn’t do any carving! Rebekka and I got together one day at her house to print. She dove right in and printed yardage of a sort of abstract stripe she carved, while I simply cut my block into a cross. I’ve got a cache of these plain burlap-ish pillow covers from Ikea that I bought specifically because they looked like blank canvases to me — I could imagine embroidering, printing, dyeing them all sorts of ways. And so one of them became my canvas for the block printing foray. After cutting the block into my cross shape, I traced around it crudely on the pillow cover with one of those blue seamstress pencils that are supposed to fade or wash out. And then I thumbprinted which ones I wanted to be white or black, with the bulk left unprinted. I wanted it to be a little bit abstracted, unregimented and imperfect, and wound up loving the blue lines peeking out here and there, so I’ve never washed it — and maybe never will!

The whole thing makes me wish I were more of a pattern person because block printing is good times. There’s likely more of it in my future — I just need to figure out what. If you’re interested, the next session of Jen’s Design, Carve, Print class starts in mid-May. Or if you’re in the Bay Area, check her schedule for upcoming live workshops.

Thanks for teaching me some new tricks, Jen!

Vintage waistcoat glamour shots (with bonus Modified Wiksten 1a)

Vintage waistcoat glamour shots (with bonus Modified Wiksten No. 1a)

Here’s why this vest makes my heart sing:

1) The marriage of yarn and pattern. Feeling very lucky to have scored a bag of Hole & Sons wool, I was determined not to squander it. I wanted to knit something pragmatic and hard-working. Old-school. Maybe a little bit British. Something a lot like the yarn, in other words. Being a life-long vest lover, and this being vest season (waistcoat season, as the Brits would have me say), I thought a vest was in order. And when I stumbled across this WWII-era, British, knit-for-the-troops waistcoat pattern, I thought it might be just the thing. And I was correct! As I was knitting it, it felt almost like the yarn was becoming the thing it was destined to be! It also taught me something, in that without that pattern I would never have thought to try this DK-weight yarn on US9 needles, but this particular DK is very happy at this gauge. I believe it will bloom and relax and soften beautifully over time — much better than at the tighter gauge I would have chosen to knit it at.

2) Fun and successful mods. After posting about how I didn’t quite love the swatch — the stitch pattern, in this yarn, felt a tiny bit frumpy to me — and that I was contemplating stockinette, Annri in the comments suggested trying 2×1 garter rib instead of 2×2. The minute she said that, I realized 3×1 was probably the thing that would please me, and it was! (Thank you, Annri!) Of course, that’s an asymmetrical pattern, 3×1, and a vest is a symmetrical object. So I had to do a little bit of finessing to get the pattern to match up correctly at the side seams. In order for the front edges to be symmetrical, while keeping those side seams perfectly matched, one front piece needed one more stitch than the other and I had to adjust one of the armholes by one stitch so that the armhole edges would match, as well. (They don’t quite on the back because I didn’t think about the armhole aspect until after I’d finished that piece and was casting on the first front.) I also tinkered with the armhole depth, and changed the pocket edgings and armhole edgings, not liking the way they were in the original pattern. Fortunately, I’m happy with the outcome on all of those questions.

3) New tricks. In addition to my first inset pockets — my new favorite knitting trick — I finally knitted a vertical button band, after preaching their merits for how long? It took me a full week to knit that 52″ band and seam it on (I elected to knit it on 5s), whereas a picked-up band would have taken an evening, but it was 100% worth it. Look at it! So this simple little vest included multiple new triumphs.

4) Wardrobe appropriateness. As we’ve been discussing here for awhile now, making one’s own clothes is hard. Countless people (me included) have lamented our collective tendency to make things we want to make, which isn’t necessarily the same as things we want to wear. It’s a hard (and costly!) lesson to learn, and the wardrobe appropriateness of this vest — the fact that it will work for me for as long as it lasts, which I expect to be a good long time — gives me hope for my ability to choose well more and more often.

In short: I nailed it on all of those counts. And if that sounds like I’m bragging, please understand I’m not! I’m just so happy to have gotten it right this time of all times. Because if I’d gotten to the end of this project and it hadn’t been right, I’d be heartbroken, given the specialness of the yarn.

There was a moment where I thought it was not quite right — and not quite right enough that it might not get worn. The back neck is narrow enough, and the shoulder shaping straight enough, that it was sitting a little awkwardly on my shoulders, almost like a halter. And I’d also seamed on a little too much button band fabric on the first stretch of it (learning as I went, of course). But as is so often the case, blocking saved the day. I was able to stretch the back neck and shape the shoulders a tiny bit, and blocked the body out a little longer so the button band seems fine. It means the sweater wound up being slightly longer and slightly broader in back than I had hoped, so I may wear it a little differently than I had initially envisioned. But it’s still immensely wearable. And I can’t wait to watch it age.

And now since I’ve gone on about this one quite enough, I’ve put all of my modification notes and details (and more photos) on Ravelry.

Pattern: Spiral-Spun Waistcoat by Jaeger (free vintage pattern)
Yarn: Hole & Sons first batch in Fog
Buttons: Blackened brass from Fringe Supply Co.

Vintage Waistcoat glamour shots (plus bonus Modified Wiksten No 1a)

Now can we talk about my top? When I showed you my striped Modified Wiksten No. 1, I mentioned I wanted to cut the same exact pattern in a drapier fabric. This is the magnificent Merchant & Mills linen, which I ordered from Verb having seen only a photo and a name in their newsletter. It’s called Knapsack and I expected it to be a perfect “army drab” green, but when I pulled it out of the envelope it was this dull, dark grey-brown. Oh well, good fabric for testing my redrafted pattern, so I cut.

I’m very happy with this top, don’t get me wrong. But the verdict on my redraft is that it’s still not quite there. When I pulled this on before it was hemmed or the neck and arm edges finished, it was my ideal shape and length. The little bit of loss at each of those edges makes it slightly less so. So I’ll be tweaking it again. But meanwhile, I’m in love with this fabric and color, and the top will get tons of wear.

Here’s the funny thing: I was debating doing exposed bias facing at the neck and armholes, thinking maybe it would add a little bit of interest. I decided against it, did the armholes correctly, then accidentally attached the neck facing on the wrong side. The universe overruled me again! I realized it after sewing the first seam, while I was pressing it open, and decided to go ahead and finish it and see how it looked, fearing it would look all wrong being just the neck and not the armholes. Plus I knew this meant I was going to have to do my top-stitching that much more perfectly, and that much closer to the edge, so it would look finished and not flappy. After letting out several of my favorite curse words, I took a deep breath, sewed that edge verrrry slowly, pulled it on, and it’s perfect. Thanks for stepping in, universe!

Question for you sewers: Why do my hems on these always flare so?

Seeing purple

Seeing purple

My grandmother’s 90th birthday is now one week from tomorrow and I am still debating about her shawl. The yarn selection seems much more critical to me than the pattern and I’ve been agonizing over it. The 100% silk I had thought I would use turned out to not float my boat when I swatched with it. What I really want for her climate is a wool-linen or wool-silk-linen blend, and what I think I am officially settled on is this Shibui Staccato (70% merino, 30% silk) and Linen held together and knitted at a slightly loose gauge, on 5mm needles. I bought the yarn online without having seen this color, Velvet (best name ever), in person. Turns out the color looks a little more raisin-y on the linen base than on the wool-silk blend, but held together it works — it gives the purple a little more depth.

I’m not sure it will be a joy to knit with — it’s a massive departure from the wonderfully sticky, rustic Hole & Sons I’ve spent the past month with — and I cannot knit it on my beloved Dreamz circs because of the abominable color-coding. Dark purple yarn on dark pink needles? Not only does it offend my delicate sensibilities, I can’t see my stitches at all, which is a little bit of a problem when holding linen filament double with something. So I’ll have to knit on bamboo, which is fine!

Between that splitty-fiddliness and its being a pain to put back on the needles if any ripping were required, I’m also giving up on the idea of doing anything lace with it — not when I’m already under the gun here. But along the way I also saw Ashley knitting a dark purple Orlane for her mother and let out the biggest sigh of envy. I told myself it would be silly to knit Orlane’s Textured Shawl for a third time when there are so many great shawls out there, but if that’s my favorite shawl of all time, is it not exactly what I should knit for her?

.

UPDATE: I cast on late last night and this is definitely the right decision—

Seeing purple

Q for You: What thrills you?

Q for You: What's your favorite little knitting thrill?

The three pieces of my Spiral-Spun Waistcoat mod are on the blocking board as I type, drying in the freakishly summer-like breeze blowing through the windows. There’s a lot of finishing yet to do, but it’s been a joy of a project — from the dreamy yarn to the challenges I inadvertently set for myself with my modifications, to the chance to knit my first inset pockets. You know I love to do something new with every project, if at all possible, and I don’t know how I made it this long without knitting an inset pocket, but it’s now officially my favorite thing to do. Just like cables: so simple and yet so magical!

Knitting affords a world of cheap thrills — for some people it’s the magic of mattress stitch, for others turning a heel, for me right now it is knitting an inset pocket. So that’s my Q for You today: What’s your favorite little knitting thrill?

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you close out a project?

Modified Wiksten No. 1

Modified Wiksten No. 1

I thought the least I could do while we were in Florida this week was show you the modified Wiksten Tank I made a couple weekends ago — my first foray back into sewing in a while. So the other evening, after a little family outing, I asked Bob to postpone fishing long enough to snap a few pics. He patiently obliged, but my darling niece — very eager to fish with her Uncle Bob — decided to photobomb the proceedings. So what I have is a bunch of awkward photos of me making funny faces at her that don’t really show the top all that well. But she’s cuter anyway!

This one’s sewn from some grey-striped cotton khadi I bought at A Verb for Keeping Warm last year. I’d made the Wiksten Tank before and found, on me, the front of the neck was too low and the front hemline a little too high. So this one is the medium, same as before, but with a few tweaks: I raised the neckline several inches, graded it out from a medium at the underarms to a large at the hem, and used the XL back hemline for both the front and back. This fabric is a little on the stiff side, so the shirt does stand out from the body more than it would in a lighter fabric. I’m eager to cut another one from linen and see how the shape works, but I think it’s very nearly what I want. It’s a fun little pattern to play with!

IN OTHER NEWS, there have been a few developments in the shop this week: The latest issue of Taproot is in; the missing colors of mid-size Bento Bags arrived; more Bookhou pouches in waxed canvas also came in; and there’s a new balm in town — Hand-Aid by my friends at Little Seed Farm.

Hope you’ve all had a lovely week!

My tiny giant cloud

blanket_gauge_lessons

Here’s a little anecdote for anyone who’s ever wondered why or whether gauge matters.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending Rebekka Seale’s blanket workshop in her beautiful studio, with a bunch of lovely women who had traveled from all over. I had provided Knit and Let Knit totes for everyone, and Rebekka had filled them with giant spirals of undyed merino roving and size US50 circular needles. We all introduced ourselves and then set to work knitting fluffy 3×2 ribbed blankets, while chatting and eating and oohing and aahhing over how beautiful the materials were. (And how the rose meringues for dessert looked just like our clouds of roving.) Of course, nobody ever thought to wonder about gauge or knit a swatch or anything — it’s a blanket; who cares, right? By mid-afternoon, we each had a substantial amount of fabric on our enormous needles and I suddenly noticed how vastly different my stitches were from Jennifer’s, who was sitting next to me. We were using the same exact yarn and same exact needles, had cast on the same number of stitches and were knitting the same exact stitch pattern. And yet, as you can see above, her stitches were almost twice as big as mine — as were pretty much everyone else’s at the table. The result being that I was knitting a baby blanket while everyone else was knitting one suitable for adult-sized humans.

In the end, in this case, no big deal. I was already wondering how on earth I would keep this beautiful thing away from my cats, so I took it as a sign, bound off, and seamed it into the biggest cowl known to man. (Just in time for 60-degree weather.)

The moral of the story: Knitting with the yarn and needles used in a pattern is no guarantee of matching results. If size matters, knit a swatch.

My tiny giant cloud

Bellows glamour shots and mod notes

Bellows glamour shots and mod notes

It’s been eight days since I attached the buttons to this Bellows cardigan, and — no joke — I have worn it for some or all of every day since then. Normally I hold off wearing a thing until it’s been photographed, but that was not an option here. A) It’s too good not to wear. B) It’s been bulky-shawl-collar-sweater-weather for rilz. Most of the time I’ve got the buttons buttoned and the collar up for maximum coziness. I don’t have a lot to say about this sweater other than that I love it so much so much I dread the moment when I have to take it off, and the idea of putting it on makes getting out of bed in the morning a little more palatable.

Three weeks of knitting, two weeks of neglect, one week of finishing — as much a dream to knit as to wear. Michele Wang, I love you.

There are a few mistakes: As previously noted, the cables all twist one direction because I forgot to switch on my second piece, so I just decided who cares. And I don’t! There’s a spot where I got off course with the broken rib for two rows. I meant to make it the left sleeve so the mistake would wind up in the rear underarm, but after letting it sit for two weeks before seaming, I forgot to worry about it and it wound up on the front of the right sleeve. Doubt anyone will ever notice. And there’s a minor booboo on the collar short rows. I hadn’t done yarnover short rows on ribbing before (I love yarnover short rows, by the way) and instead of reading the directions, I just assumed the purls would be p2tog’d with the yarnover, since the knits are k2tog’d. Wrong! (The correct answer is SSP.) The result is there’s a little float where each of those yarnovers was. But it’s on the way inside of the collar where nobody will ever see it.

For the record, I am definitely knitting this again (possibly more than once).

NOTES AND MODIFICATIONS:

– My stitch gauge was slightly smaller than pattern gauge, so I knitted the third size and wound up in between second and third, about a 40″ bust, roughly 6″ positive ease. Which is exactly as roomy as I had hoped for. (And still the shoulder seams don’t quite reach my shoulders!)

– My row gauge matched pattern gauge, so because I was hoping to wind up nearer the second size, and blocking accordingly, I aimed for the second size with regard to the sleeve cap and armhole shaping. The sleeves fit the armholes beautifully.

– Left out the cable in the ribbing except on one sleeve; will leave it out everywhere next time.

– Knitted body in one piece with a basting stitch at the side seams.

– Worked only three cable repeats on fronts; began armhole shaping at 15″ instead of 17″. (Wanted it to hit me where it hits the model.)

– Love love love all of the neck, shoulder and armhole shaping in this pattern. That sloped bind-off is exquisite. Wasn’t wild, though, about trying to seam the shoulders with this fabric. Next time will do 3-needle bind-off to make sure it’s exactly 1:1.

– Started working the neckband and was super bothered about the back neck being worked from live stitches. (I’m a little over-obsessed with everything to do with the back neck.) So I actually ripped out the band, bound off the back neck stitches, and picked up all the way around.

– Adjusted the pick-up counts and button placement because of changing the length. Picked up 3/4 stitches, 55 sts on each front. (The rest as written.) Might pick up two or three more per front.

– Wish I had worked the third-size collar shaping — a few more short rows up top for a more voluminous collar. Next time!

– The only thing missing is pockets. I am constantly trying to put my hands into pockets that aren’t there! I had toyed with the idea of adding patch pockets (and still might) but after wearing it, I think I want side seam pockets in the next one.

– This is my second sweater in a row in this yarn and I couldn’t love it more.

Pattern: Bellows by Michele Wang
Yarn: Balance by O-Wool, in Graphite, held double
Buttons: from Haus of Yarn

Additional photos on Ravelry. And here are the complete posts about this sweater.

Bellows glamour shots and mod notes