The simple joy of seaming

How to work mattress stitch

Can I just take a minute to publicly say how awesome Kate Gagnon Osborn is? When she signed on as a member of our Panel of Experts for the #fringeandfriendsknitalong, she offered to share her seaming wisdom (and enthusiasm). In the meantime, she’s taught us all so much more: how to accurately measure gauge with a cable swatch, how to account for post-blocking changes in row gauge, how to work increases “in pattern,” and even how to rewrite neck shaping. She blows my mind on a regular basis. (And we’ve laughed a little over how few comments there have been on her ultra-detailed posts. Did she blow your minds, too?) And now it’s finally time to talk about seaming! Kate has an excellent tutorial on the Kelbourne Woolens site (in their ever-expanding Tips & Tricks section) and I can’t see any point in reinventing the wheel. So she’s updated that tutorial with Amanda photos and you can read it at the other end of this link: How to work mattress stitch. (Thanks for being you, Kate!)

Despite my ongoing issues with knitting sweater pieces (all of which boil down to ADD) I genuinely enjoy the act of seaming those pieces together. It is so easy and so magical, pulling that strand and seeing pieces come together to form a whole.

So after blocking your joined sweater and sewing up those side and sleeve seams, all that’s left is to finish off the button bands, including working the button holes, and pick up stitches for the neck band. For guidance on picking up stitches, particularly for the curved portions of a neckline, the best resource I know is Pam Allen’s passage on the subject in Knitting for Dummies, which I think everyone should own. I also love her discourse on button holes in that same book. For those of you who don’t own it, I refer you to the buttonhole/band episode of Well worth a listen!

From here on out, I’ll be checking in with our panelists as they finish their sweaters, starting with Jaime Jennings. And I also have more to say about the specific tiny mods I’ve made to my Amanda. And of course, we’ll all be watching the hashtag for as long as there are people using it!


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: Skiff hats of the knitalong


Photos © Kate Gagnon Osborn

Single-flock souvenirs

Single-flock souvenirs

I’m not sure I’ve ever really written about this, but I’ve spent considerable time in the wine world. Between living where we lived (including a few years right in Napa) and having a cousin who’s a small-batch winemaker, we’ve spent a significant amount of time in vineyards and cellars, literally working harvest many years and drinking the fruits of our labor, among other things. So I find myself pretty routinely drawing comparisons, in my mind, between yarn and wine. I’m oversimplifying here to keep this brief, but in wine you basically have a continuum that ranges from stuff like Charles Shaw (aka “Two Buck Chuck”) — a dude who buys up everyone else’s leftover juice and dumps it together in a tank — to “single-vineyard wines.” In between are brands that buy specific quantities of known fruit from known growers, winemakers that contract with growers to grow fruit to their exacting specifications, and wineries that grow their own fruit on their own property. With Estate and single-vineyard wines, you know exactly who grew it on what exact plot of land. (Plus there’s all the blending of varietals and whatnot.) There are equivalents for all of that in yarn, which starts with farmers all around the globe selling their fleece to be graded, sorted, blended and resold for assorted purposes — from mattress stuffing to yarn for hand-knitters. The big yarn brands buy fiber through brokers. One might not care at all about breed or origin, only that it meets a certain micron count (the way fiber is graded for softness); another might be specifically looking for merino or alpaca or whatever, in addition to the grade. Then you have yarns such as, for instance, Brooklyn Tweed, where they can tell you not only that the fleece comes from Targee-Columbia sheep but that those sheep live in Johnson County, Wyoming. Or Woolfolk, which is built around a specific Patagonian merino. And so on. My very favorite yarns are undyed (sheep colored) and minimally processed (sheep scented/textured), but the ultimate are what I call “single-flock yarns,” and I was lucky to bring two of them home from my trip to Tolt.

If you happened to read the article I wrote about Tolt for Knitscene, you already know about Snoqualmie Valley Yarn. Anna approached some neighboring farmers who raise BFL–Clun Forest sheep, and together they produced 400 skeins of rustic, undyed, bouncy yarn — “farm to needle” — three of which are now mine. My friend Lori asked Anna for other local yarns, and when Anna walked up to us with an armload of options, I grabbed one of them right out from under Lori’s nose. (Sorry!! Geez, I’m such an asshole sometimes.) As you can see from the handwritten label, it’s 200 yards of “Longwool Lamb” from Abundant Earth Fiber on Whidbey Island. It’s soft and fluffy and one of my favorite sheep colors, that nearly-black brown. Some other lucky person had made off with the rest of it before I got there, so this one precious skein is all I have. But what treasures.

The one other place I was dying to visit while I was in Seattle was Drygoods Design, which did not disappoint, and the one thing I was hoping they would have is the freshly minted Linden Sweatshirt pattern from Grainline Studio (love that Jen Beeman), which they did. So those are my know-your-source souvenirs from a thoroughly lovely trip.

Single-flock souvenirs

Coming soon (x2)

Kathy Cadigan shooting for Fringe Supply Co

I was hoping to have some arrivals news for you today that didn’t happen (yet), but I wanted to say to everyone who came to Tolt last night: Thank you! So good to meet you. And also to let you know that the bulk of my (freezing cold) time in Seattle has been spent with Kathy Cadigan shooting all of the lovely goods I’ve got lined up for Fringe Supply Co. for the holidays. It’s all incredibly exciting and I can’t wait to start showing you! Soon … very soon.

Happy weekend!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

Among the many people I’m looking forward to seeing in Seattle this week is Tif Fussell, better known as dottie angel, who is utterly unique and one of the funniest people I’ve met in the craft world. She’s also responsible for my using the British expression “pants” as often as possible in conversation lately, as in “I realize I have been most pants at actually answering what you ask and could in fact have a very good career as a politician ..​. .” You can find her on her blog, Instagram and Facebook, and be sure to take a peek at her crochet patterns on Ravelry. Thanks for doing this, Tif!

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I am crafter who likes to sew, hand embroider, appliqué, crochet and dabble in knitting, being particularly fond of working with recycled and vintage fabrics alongside of yarn. I cannot recall a time when I did not make something with my hands. If I am not making with my hands, I get quite ‘not nice’ to know. I am a self-taught crafter — my limitations therefore created my style of patching and piecing things together in a pleasing way to me, and in turn became the crafting style of dottie angel. From there I have evolved into applying this method towards a multitude of makes. I tend to be much happier making things up as I go along rather than following a pattern, for if I do end up following a pattern, chances are quite high I will go off the path or, at the very least, add a bit of bling to the end result. I am also rather fond of rectangles and squares when it comes to yarny matters. They truly can become something quite glorious when all is said and done.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I love wood or vintage tools; I love the look, the feel, and the history which comes with them. However, nine times out of ten I do not find they work so well for me, and I end up using tools which do the job brilliantly but, to my eye, look quite pants compared to handmade or vintage tools. Oh but saying that, I do have a lovely pair of scissors which I found at Tolt Yarn and Wool and another, larger size on a pottle in Portland. They are beautiful and I blinged them quite happily with some frayed fabric on the handles, just so they knew how much I loved them.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

I have a drawer of shame when it comes to knitting needles and hooks. I tell myself it is okay because the drawer belongs to a fabby midcentury cupboard but alas, they are scattered in there willy nilly, and now that I have circular needles too it is getting out of control. I wish this were not the case but it is. However, I am delighted to report I am more organized with my sewing notions, preferring to use old vintage colanders, cook pots and baskets to keep things where they should be. Everything has its place; it’s just that some places are sadly more messy than others.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

My yarny works-in-progress live in an enamel bowl which is easy to pick up and take to stitch circle at Tolt Yarn and Wool if need be, or live by the fireplace ready for when we have a few moments to spend quality time together. It also pleases me greatly should I glance upon my bowl during the day. My fabric works-in-progress are laid out in my ‘atelier of sorts’ where I can pottle past and ponder en route to doing domestics or procrastinating. Quite often I have to return to the scene when I am working on fabric creations to discover it was not a crime after all which was being committed, but something rather peachy.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

Without a doubt, that would be Miss Ethel, my trusty sewing machine. She is a workhorse with no bells or whistles, she knows how to get the job done and she does it well. Without her steady influence I would be lost. In a fire, she would be the one I would grab alongside of my recently embroidered mittens, of which I am smitten. You could point out my mittens are not tools as such but I must include them, for Miss Ethel and my mittens are equally highly prized by me.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

Do you lend your tools?

I have never lent a tool and now I am wondering why this is? I wonder if I give off the vibe of “do not ask Tif, for she would never lend”. I have my granny in my ear from when I was a small being saying “never a lender nor a borrower be” and perhaps all these years I have carried that invisibly about my person, thus no one has asked to borrow a tool of mine, thus I have not lent. When my clan of 4 were small and compact, living in England at the time meant we did an awful lot of rainy day crafting, which required lots of pairs of scissors. I would make sure my fabric scissors were clearly marked with a fabric tag for fear they would be used on paper by a little one. Was it Shakespeare or some ancient bod who wrote “hell have no fury like a woman scorned noting her fabric scissors have been used on paper”? Alas I fear I give off a ‘not a lender’ vibe which I will add to the top of my new year’s resolutions, to rectify promptly.

What is your favorite place to knit/crochet/whatever?

If I am knitting then it takes all my concentration (sometimes with tongue sticking out), therefore I must knit solo — unless it is squares, then I can relax a bit. If I am crocheting, I am much more social and carefree. If I sew with Miss Ethel (my trusty sewing machine), once again I fly solo for I am in my happy place, just her and me doing what we do best. If I am hand embroidering, I am happy to be in company but again, I am muchly happy to be on my own. It would appear I like to craft alone, at home, for crafting is my therapy. I put the world to rights in my head and I cannot do that unless I am alone. Perhaps it is a fall back to the days when our home was filled with noise and small beings and I would retreat to my crafting for quiet at the end of the day. However can I just say, whatever or whenever I am crafting at home, my constant canine companions are always close by, they are terribly good at listening without judgment, not talking back and admiring my creations however dodgy they may be turning out to be.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I am a lover of the seasons, having only ever lived where seasons come and go. I go into full-on nesting mode which involves many a cunning plan to knit or crochet when the chilly days appear. And when the sun becomes my friend again, I find it most tricky to give yarn any consideration. Fabric on the other hand is a year round creativity for me, not in the least affected by the seasons. Therefore it would be true to say, yarn can fall out of favor, whereas fabric is always in favor with me.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

Can it be a confession? For I must confess, as I have carried it inside for donkeys years: My trusty crochet hook is just not a handsome chappy yet he does a fine job at stopping the old aches and pains in my joints. However, I am ashamed to admit, his non-aesthetic ways do not please when it comes to taking photos, and I will lay out my natty bit of crocheted goodness and heartlessly toss him aside for a ‘staged’ bamboo hook for the photo opportune moment. Yes I am a rotter of the worse kind, and just confessing this sin has me weighed down even more in guilt for my Mr Hook and not feeling in the least bit lighter, as I had hoped.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

What are you working on right now?

Like so many makers, I have a fair few things I should be working on or deadlines looming yet I have mastered the fine art of procrastination, resulting in many hours spent making and doing what pleases me, rather than what is of priority. I have tried in more recent times to pull up my crafty knee socks and get a better balance, thus I work on the must-dos, and give myself a pat on the back with a day off pottling about my crafty space without agenda. Recently my bonce (head) has been filled with notions of:

1. embroidered knitted mittens and fingerless friends
2. macramé oversized, cascading down the wall, made with leftover threads and yarn
3. vintage hmong strings of happy
4. doilified dream catchers with beards
5. 1930s knitted neck warmers
6. oversized pom poms made from a variety of leftover yarns
7. making another set of knitted sleeves proving to myself second sleeve syndrome does not have to be for life
8. plump roundie crocheted cushions made from the gigantic yarn cone I bought back from my travels to Marrakech earlier in the year
9. adding to my granny trousseau. I am not yet to be a granny but I am planning for the future as my knitting of small garments is slow going. I will make it a lending library of sorts for my clan, to love and to use and then to return for the next small being in line
10. publishing my dottie angel frock pattern in the late spring of next year

Yes, that is what my head is filled with, day and night, some of which I am working on, some of which is in the pipeline for a rainy procrastinating sort of day to come along, and all bar one are personal, hence proving my knee socks have not been pulled up after all and my ability to become a professional crafter is still a long way away.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)


Photos © Tif Fussell


Amanda neck shaping, part 2: Kate reworks the crewneck

Amanda neck shaping, part 2: Kate reworks the crewneck

As promised in neck shaping part 1 yesterday, I’m talking to panelist Kate Gagnon Osborn (aka @kelbournewoolens) today about the mods she’s made to her Amanda, which are extensive and stunning, including how and why she reshaped the neck — and how you can too, if you’re so inclined.

. . .

Dearest Kate, you’ve made a few changes to your Amanda. Tell us about them.

I went off the rails a little bit with this pattern. I agreed (was honored, really), to participate in this knitalong as a panel member, as it provided me with the opportunity to knit a sweater for me — something I have not done since, well, I really don’t know when — and I loved the idea of an open-ended yet educational knitalong. My intention from the start was to treat it as my “mindless project” — to follow the pattern as written, not worry too much about it, and end up with a sweater. With the added bonus of not having to write, size, edit, and publish a pattern at the end of it all.

And I knit the sleeves as written. Almost. I cast on a few less stitches for the cuff, as I was worried they flared as written. But that was it. No other mods. And then I jumped into the back, and had every intention of knitting it as written, too. But I find odd numbers to be exceedingly pleasing, so I tweaked it a bit to give myself three diamond cables. Which meant that the patterning was wider than the raglan would allow (a really lovely design element in the sweater as written — if you look at the raglan shaping on the fronts and back in relation to the diamond panels, they all work together beautifully) so set-in sleeves it was. Then came the fronts. I was really enamored of the braid, so I added a few of those, and went on my merry way. After the armhole shaping to match the back, I got to the neckline. At this point, I felt like a rogue panel member high on wool fumes — I had modified so much, I needed to work the neck as written. But you had mentioned you thought the neck was a little floppy and too high. A perfect opportunity for more mods, yes? So modify I did!

I should state that this is a matter of personal opinion; there’s nothing empirically *wrong* with the neck as written. But if you agree with me, what do you think is the issue?

The pattern has you work 2 yoke setup rows + 1 raglan decrease row + 34 (36, 36, 38) additional raglan rows (decreasing every other row), for a total of 37 (39, 39, 41) rows — or 5.5 (5.75, 5.75, 6)” — before the neck shaping begins. You then work the remaining raglan decreases and neck shaping over 12 rows, or 1.75″, for a total raglan depth of 7.25 (7.5, 7.5, 7.75)” After the yoke is complete, a 1.25″ neckband is worked, leaving a mere .5″ (1.75 minus 1.25) between the top of your front neck and shoulder height.

This is very classic, but one of the issues I have with raglans (primarily top-down) is that many do not account for the necessary difference in front and back neck height (depth). Without the space between the neck ribbing and your physical body, the fabric has no where to go if not secured (buttoned) at the highest point, and will naturally flop out when worn.

What did you do differently with your neck shaping?

My back armhole depth is 8″, plus I worked .75″ of short-row shaping at the shoulder, for a total of 8.75″ length at the neck edge, measured from where the armhole shaping begins. I wanted about 3.25″ difference between the top of my shoulder and the top of my front neck after working the 1.25″ ribbing, so that meant I needed to begin my neck shaping 3.25″ + 1.25″ = 4.5″ before my armhole is complete. Since I knew my depth already from working the back, subtracting my neck shaping depth from my armhole depth at the neck edge, I got 8.75″ – 4.5″ = 4.25″. Meaning I needed to begin my neck shaping after working 4.25″ up from the start of my armhole.

That is quite a bit lower than the Amanda pattern begins its shaping. Amanda has you bind off (or set aside, rather) 10 stitches, then bind off 3 stitches at the beginning of the next 10 rows (i.e. 5 times on each side of the neck). So it’s sort of terraced. Do you have a preferred tactic for shaping a crewneck?

I recommend binding off about 1-2 inches of stitches at the neck edge, then I decrease at the neck edge every row a few times, then every other row a few times, then work straight to the end. Since I’m working set-in sleeves, not a raglan, I don’t have to worry about “eating up” all of my stitches at the end of the shaping. This makes things a little easier when messing around with the neck stitches, so I usually decrease until I like the curve, then knit straight up to the end. (It is basically like working a deeper, more pronounced set-in sleeve armhole, but at the neck!)

So for those who are knitting a seamless raglan yoke as written, but wanting to lower the front neckline, would it work to just knit the neck shaping as written but start it a couple of inches sooner?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: yes, but the shaping as written is designed to eat all the neck stitches over those few rows, so you may have shallow, wide shaping, then a long bit of working straight. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

And for the more intrepid among us who might want to give the front neck a curve more like yours, what would you advise?

As I mentioned, it is a little harder to figure out the neck shaping when it comes to raglans, because you need to eat up all of the neck + raglan stitches in order to have a smooth neckline shape, and the specific numbers directly relate to which raglan row you decided to begin your shaping on. (This is another reason why many raglans do not have neck shaping – the front is just left straight across to mimic the back, and the flat fronts, sleeves, and flat back create a nice oval shape.)

In order to sort out a deeper neck and the corresponding numbers, you need to work some basic arithmetic to figure out your shaping:

I’ll use the second size as an example. Say you want your neckline to begin 4.5″ from the tops of the shoulders, and you’re working a raglan depth of 7.5″ as written, you need to begin your neck shaping at 7.5″ – 4.5″ = 3″ after the armhole join. At a gauge of 7 rows/inch, that’s 21 rows from the join till you start shaping. So you would work the 2 yoke set-up rows, the raglan decrease row, and then 9 more decrease rows (decrease rows being every other row).

Still using size 2 for our example, we know from the pattern that each front has 43 stitches at the join. Over those first 21 rows, 1 stitch on each front is decreased in the set-up row, then 1 additional stitch on each front 10 times at the raglan for a total of 11 stitches decreased. So at the start of your neck shaping, you would have 43 – 11 = 32 stitches total on each front. If you read through the rest of the pattern, it calls for a total of 51 rows in the yoke (2 yoke setup, 37 raglan shaping, 12 neck shaping), of which you’ve worked 21 so far. So you have 30 rows to go, half of which (15) are raglan decrease rows.

With 32 stitches left and 15 of them going to raglan decreases, you have 17 stitches to use for neck shaping over your 30 remaining rows. I would divide them into thirds: 5 + 6 + 6. Bind off 5 stitches, then decrease 1 stitch every row 6 times, then every other row 6 times, working all of the neck shaping over 19 rows. For the last 10 rows, work only the raglan decreases.

. . .

Kate, you’re awesome.

One last thing I want to stress about neck shaping is that it’s largely a matter of personal preference and personal body shape. Amanda (or any sweater) might be perfect for you as written, or it might take some tweaking and retrying. Same goes for Kate’s scenario, above. Props to @wendlandcd for trying this one as written, finding it lacking for her body shape, and being undaunted about ripping back and trying a v-neck instead. This is the beauty of knitting! It’s not like sewing, where once you’ve cut the fabric, your options are limited. With knitting, you can always rip and adjust — especially when it’s only a few inches of knitting, like a neck or yoke. When you put so much into a sweater, take the time to get it just right. For you.


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: Amanda neck shaping, part 1: Karen plots a shawl collar

Amanda neck shaping, part 1: Karen plots a shawl collar

Amanda neck shaping, part 1: Karen ponders a shawl collar

When I’d been knitting for about three months, I signed up for a full weekend of classes at Stitches West, ranging from one-hour workshops on fixing mistakes, knitting backwards and continental knitting, to a half-day class on Tunisian crochet and a full-day class on the top-down sweater method. I’m pretty sure it was the fixing mistakes teacher I’m remembering having opened up the floor to questions at the end. Someone asked, “What do you think it’s really important to get good at?” Which was an interesting question, I thought. And the teacher responded, “Neck shaping.” Which seemed completely out of left field to me, being a total newb in a room full of newbs. I couldn’t imagine why I would ever need to know how to do that myself, and had no clue how one would go about learning it. OMG. Of course, I wound up inadvertently learning the basics of it in that top-down sweater class, and I’ve drawn on that ever since. I’m comfortable calculating the rate of increase on a top-down sweater, based on whether I want a crewneck or V-neck or whatever, and can turn that around for a bottom-up. Which is about to come in handy.

I mentioned back in our Meet the Panel post that I was concerned about the neck shaping on Amanda. There is only one photo of the sweater in the book (!) and the model’s hair is obscuring the neckline, but it still gave me pause. I looked at the project photos on Ravelry and it does seem to be a case where the neck doesn’t sit quite right on some people, with the tops of the button bands wanting to flap forward and outward. It’s because the neck shape is high, wide and shallow — almost like high boatneck. Buttoned all the way up, it sits the way a high boatneck would. But split open into a cardigan, those high fronts have nothing to anchor them.

We’ll get into more detail about this tomorrow, in part 2. But meanwhile, I’m here to tell you that it won’t be an issue for me after all, as I’ve decided to make my Amanda into a shawl-collar cardigan instead! Reader Callie C asked in the comments recently whether it would be “easy” to make this alteration — specifically, to give Amanda a Bellows collar — noting that she has not knitted a cardigan before. Easy is in the eye of the beholder, but I responded as follows:

I wouldn’t say it would be “easy” but it could certainly be done. The biggest trick is you’d have to change the neck shaping. If you look at the shape of the main fabric on Bellows, it’s a v-neck shape, with the fronts gradually sloping away from each other. You’d have to create that curved edge in order to do a Bellows-style band. For a shawl collar like that, you pick up stitches all the way up one front, around the neck, and back down the other front, and work your ribbing outward from there, and the shawl-collar part itself is created with short rows.

Given that they’re both worsted-weight sweaters, I would buy the Bellows pattern and compare the row gauges (its, Amanda’s, yours) to see if you could just use the neck-shaping numbers from Bellows and then work the collar from that pattern, too. But even if it’s not a perfect 1:1, you could see how Bellows is done and then apply that same thinking to Amanda.

… I should note that you’d be applying that shape to a raglan yoke (Amanda is raglan; Bellows is set-in sleeves), so it wouldn’t be worked exactly the same way as the Bellows fronts. …

Once she got me started, I couldn’t stop thinking about how great a shawl collar would be. Of course, no two shawl collars are alike: There are deep-V, narrow, professorial types, and high-V, super-round Peter Pan-ish types. I’m doing this despite the fact that the other two sweaters I currently have in progress — Channel and Slade (the poor thing) — are both shawl collars, but they’ll all be quite different. I think the shaping on Bellows is pretty perfect, but bought the pattern and the gauge is drastically different than mine/Amanda’s. I hadn’t realized it’s two strands of Shelter (worsted) held together and knitted at bulky gauge. Still useful for seeing the rate of the slant and where it begins and ends. (And I imagine I’ll be knitting Bellows one day anyway — especially knowing it’s bulky!) So I’m on the hunt for other patterns with good shawl shaping and a more similar row gauge — e.g. The Shepherd Cardigan! — but I’ll probably wind up just winging it, and redoing if need be. (Why row gauge, you ask? Because to make this mod, we need to concern ourselves with how many rows are worked within the yoke section, and figure out how many decreases to distribute at what rate amongst those rows. Plus picking up stitches along the selvage is about how many stitches you’ll pick up into the ends of how many rows.)

It’ll be awhile before I get to the neck shaping — I still have half my sleeves plus my back to do — but once I get to it, assuming it works out, I promise to share my notes.

Tomorrow I’m talking to Kate about her many mods, how they led to her set-in sleeve alteration, and what she suggests for tweaking Amanda’s neck shape.


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: WIP of the Week, week 6

Quality over quantity

Quality over quantity

Remember that one time when I emptied out my closet and was methodically deciding what was allowed back in? And then remember how my husband and I decided to purge nearly everything we owned, in an insanely short timespan, and move across the country? My methodicalness went out the window, clothes went out the door in a blind frenzy, and what little was left went into a suitcase and a box. (That includes shoes and coats.) I put those into the moving container and packed another small suitcase for the drive from CA to TN, thinking those clothes would be all I had for two weeks, until we were reunited with the container. But the container went into storage, and the two weeks turned out to be two months living out of that one little suitcase. By the time we unloaded the container, it was still ninetysomething outside, and while I really didn’t know what I owned anymore, I knew I had never owned anything for that kind of weather. So there was no hurry to unpack

I did finally empty it all into my tiny closet in the 1963 house we’re renting, and hey!, it mostly fits. But boy is it a weird hodgepodge of stuff — not at all the streamlined set of wardrobe building blocks I imagined. So I’m back to figuring out how to grow a more deliberate wardrobe … from this. In a perfect world — a world where I have more than three hours a week of creative time — I would knit the majority of my own sweaters and sew my own tops. (You’ll never hear me suggest sewing my own jeans. I bow down to those of you that do.) But in reality, I don’t have the time (or the sewing skills) to make more than a fraction of my clothes. I’m committed to making that fraction — choosing things with longevity and making them as well as I’m capable of — but what about the rest? If I don’t want to buy mass-market clothes made in unknown factory conditions for unrealistically low prices, where does that leave me? Especially if my pockets are not deep.

I got into an email exchange with my friend Whitney Bickers, who owns the clothing boutique Myrtle, after she posted the photos above on Instagram. Whitney’s shop is 100% independent female clothing designers, which I think is just so awesome and admirable. There’s a raft of small-scale designer-makers I’ve fallen in love with in the past few years, and the only thing as satisfying, in my mind, as making my own clothes would be supporting them and getting to wear their creations — especially if I can support indie shop owners like Whitney in the process. (Same goes for my friend Courtney Webb of Hey Rooster General Store, here in Nashville, who just added a well-edited collection of small-batch clothing to her tiny second floor.) That killer sweater and tights in Whitney’s pics happen to be from Micaela Greg, the San Francisco sisters who I’ve had my eye on ever since first blogging about them back in early 2012. Whitney has a beautiful new lookbook out featuring that sweater and several other pieces I would be thrilled to own. Also on my list are Minneapolis’ Martha McQuade, who does a combination of sewn and knitted garments, and Nashville’s Elizabeth Suzann, who has also been known to collaborate with local weaver Allison Volek Shelton. I’ve met both Elizabeth and Allison, been to their wildly inspiring studios, and dream of collecting their pieces. And then there’s Elizabeth Yong of Primoeza, obviously. Saving up for a single garment by these lovely people could take me even longer than knitting a sweater, but that’s what I’m vowing to do. Like I said before, I only want to put things into my closet that I love enough to take care of and wear for years, and that make me feel as good about where they came from as I do about how I look in them. Quality over quantity.

Old habits are hard to break — can I learn to buy one thing every few months instead of a few things a month? — but I love this line from a blog post Whitney pointed me to: “women on a budget can’t afford to buy cheap clothes.” A beautifully succinct version of something I’ve been telling Bob (re his Target purchases) for years. Now if only I can remember it the next time J.Crew sends me one of those 40%-off-the-sale-price emails. Maybe I’ll tack photos of Martha, the M-G sisters and the Elizabeths over my desk, and look at their very human, very creative faces the next time mass-market temptation strikes.


PREVIOUSLY: My personal wardrobe crisis / The great closet clean-out, step 1: Emptying the closet / Make, Knit, Mend


Photos © Whitney Bickers, used with permission