Q for You: What’s your knit-stitch happy place?

Q for You: What's your knit-stitch happy place?

I was telling some friends recently that the impediment to my finishing this Cline sweater as quickly as I’d like is that it makes me narcoleptic — I literally nod off right there on the couch. I always find stockinette dull (albeit occasionally in a refuge sort of way), but this is an actual sedative. Something about the soft yarn, the soothing grey heather, the stockinette motion. The fabric is a total dream, and I am actually still making pretty good time on it — and I have no doubt the finished sweater will be ace — but from a knitting perspective, it’s making me antsy, desperate for escape into something more satisfying.

In between nods I’ve been contemplating what it is that brings me that satisfaction. Is it a particular stitch pattern or type of knitting — cables, knits-and-purls, colorwork? It’s not about complexity, per se, but it is about watching the fabric develop and being wowed by it. The most pleasing projects are the ones where I can’t put it away at night — I find myself spreading it out on the couch next to me, petting it, admiring my progress, imagining those next few inches. But it’s also about my brain being able to settle into a rhythm — to identify a melody and hum along with it, as it were. I like stitch patterns that are the equivalent of earworms, whatever they might be. So whether it’s a memorizable cable motif or knit-purl combination, that’s my happy place as a knitter. (Peak examples being Channel, Gentian, Bernat.) And that’s my Q for You today: What gives you that sense of satisfaction as you stitch? Do you sink happily into stockinette, thrill to a challenging cable or lace chart, crave seeing colorwork patterning form in front of you? What’s your happy place.

EDITED TO ADD: I woke up this morning thinking about something I read a few months ago about “flow,” that state where your brain is happily humming along. This line stood out for me, and rings true: “This model suggests that we’re most easily able to enter a state of flow when we’re faced with a task that requires both a high level of perceived skill and offers us a challenge …” So flow comes from your brain being able to settle into a a groove but at a level where it’s like “this takes some skill” and “I got this” at the same time. I think that’s the difference between monotony and bliss! And why I’m reasonably happy knitting stockinette if I’m tracking spaced increases or something for my brain to groove on, just the littlest bit.

Pretty little gifts for knitters and others

IN SHOP NEWS: We’re still shipping over at Fringe Supply Co.! Within the US, we ship via Priority Mail, so in theory you can order through Wednesday morning and hope to have your package by Christmas Eve. Still, why tempt fate? We’d love to get your holiday gifts shipped off asap, if we haven’t already. In addition to knockout favorites like Field Bags and Lykke needle sets, we’ve got lots of great stocking stuffers, knitting group gifts, secret santa offerings: pretty little tools and balms, gorgeous notebooks, a variety of tool pouches, and who doesn’t love a gift certificate? If you need any help or advice, just ask! And thank you SO MUCH for all of your support this season and always.

Happy weekend, everyone—

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You:  What’s your favorite buttonhole method?

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New Favorites: Quickies! (aka last-minute gifts)

New Favorites: Quickies! (aka last-minute gifts)

My long dark nights of grey stockinette have me yearning for something small, quick and satisfying (as so often happens). Those of you less selfish than me might be yearning for last-minute knitted gift ideas! Any of these could satisfy us both—

TOP: Varm cowl from Woolfolk is superbulky and supersquishy, and the pattern also includes instructions for it at scarf or throw blanket dimensions. The cowl looks like a one-sitting project.

MIDDLE LEFT: Exeter mitts by Alicia Plummer are sweet little abbreviated fingerless gloves, perfectly unisex too — my husband might need a pair in army green. (Alicia sent me a copy of the book these come from, and it’s a doozy! Lots of great patterns in there.)

MIDDLE RIGHT: Flaps slippers by Cindy Pilon are so funky I have to have them! Bulky and felted.

BOTTOM: Chunky Walnut hat by Katrin Schubert looks like a fun and fast knit, at bulky gauge.

For more gift knitting ideas, see Holiday hat mania! So many gems.

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Mildly mannish cables

Slow Fashion Citizen: Natalie Chanin

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final installment of Katrina’s Slow Fashion Citizen column here on Fringe, and I want to express my warmest thanks to her for doing such an amazing job with it all year. Make sure you’re following her on Instagram @katrinarodabaugh to keep up with all the good she’s got going! <praise hands>
—Karen

Slow Fashion Citizen: Natalie Chanin

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // For this final installment of Slow Fashion Citizen here on Fringe, I wanted to bring you someone very special, and I’m honored for it to be one of my all-time slow fashion heroes, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Someone who encapsulates the slow fashion movement — from ethics to craftsmanship, to labor practices, to materials, to innovative design, to entrepreneurship, to her overall business approach. To many of you, Natalie Chanin needs no introduction. She’s been forging the way in sustainable fashion for over a decade with her hand-stitched, Alabama-made, design-winning and absolutely stunning garments.

When I first started following Natalie’s work I was so intrigued by the stitched construction — the entire garment made by hand instead of just reserving handwork for embellishment. But as I watched her business expand to include classes, community spaces, yardage of organic cotton, machine stitched garments and so much more, I realized the profoundness of her work is not just her aesthetic, but her willingness to let ethics lead. Watching a designer push beyond the boundaries of conventional design and into the roles of community-builder, collaborator, producer and thought-leader is truly inspiring. Not to mention, it feels like the future. Not just a fashion brand for now, but one that considers people, processes and the planet for generations to come.

For those of you who’ve followed along since our first announcement of Slow Fashion Citizen in January, thank you again and again. I’ve had the tremendous pleasure of interviewing fourteen sustainable fashion leaders and I’m so grateful for your readership, thoughts, questions and community. For my final feature, the warmest welcome to the ever-inspiring and illuminating Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Thank you, Natalie for making the time for this exclusive interview on Fringe.

. . .

Can you tell the story of how Alabama Chanin first began — when you shifted gears as a costume designer traveling the world and moved back to your hometown in Alabama?

I never intended to create a company of my own. I cut apart a t-shirt, sewed it back together, and wore it to a party — and the next morning I woke up with a feeling of complete satisfaction. I had forgotten how good it felt to make something with my own two hands. And I wanted to create more, but I found that the techniques that I was using couldn’t be recreated in New York. The quilting stitches I had used I had learned from my grandmother and great-grandmother in Alabama, so that’s where I went to connect to an entire community of sewers and seamstresses. From there I made 200 one-of-a-kind t-shirts, and those t-shirts evolved into the business that has become Alabama Chanin.

I’ve been inspired watching the company’s journey from redesigning secondhand t-shirts to supplying yardage of organic cotton. Was it challenging to take the plunge into supporting organic cotton production and a US-based supply chain, or was it just a natural progression?

Yes and no. The entire evolution of Alabama Chanin has been a very natural progression with quality, sustainability and local production at the core. Many of those secondhand t-shirts that I found in New York were made right here in my community. Creating a supply chain that is 100% seed-to-shelf Made in the USA is challenging every day (but even more rewarding). We constantly deal with fabric shortages, events out of our control, and balancing supply and demand …

Your work has truly been revolutionary in paying artisans fair wages and keeping labor local. You contract with local artists and buy the work back from them when it’s complete. It’s true innovation. Did this model feel risky when you started the company? It still feels very bold more than a decade later.

Thank you. Every big business decision you make comes with it doubts. We come up against that each day. The artisan business model laid the foundation of the work in our community and has impacted so many, providing a way for our artisans to be their own small-business owners. The process is set up such that we don’t have as much risk — the artisans purchase the raw materials from us, and their finished garment must meet our quality standards (and deadline) in order for us to purchase the finished piece at a prearranged bid price. It the beginning, everything felt risky, but it has worked remarkably well and inspired many to follow this model in their own community. Our business could not survive without our dedicated and extremely skilled artisans.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Natalie Chanin

I love the story about why you open-sourced your first pattern designs — in reaction to a journalist suggesting your work was too expensive, if I’m not mistaken. By publishing your patterns you also tiered your offerings so folks could either buy the finished garment at a higher price, or buy your books and make the garment at home. Either requires an investment — time or money — but the wearer chooses. Was this insistence on value intentional?

The value of our products goes deeper than simply a price. We take great care in sourcing our materials to get the best quality, and all our labor is local. So much time, skill and love goes into the making of a sewn garment. Once someone tries the work themselves, they begin to understand the value of the garments. Value means so much more than just a price.

Years ago I read one of your blog posts about slow design. It really impacted my thinking about fashion, and it has stayed with me. It felt so courageous and yet somehow so practical too. Does it still feel courageous to advocate for slow fashion from within the fashion industry?

While the number of companies incorporating sustainability and ethical practices into their mission is increasing, there is A LOT that needs to happen for it to be the industry standard. We’re happy to have created conversations that have changed some minds and practices; at the same time, we’re sad that some of those conversations were started because of the cost of lives. We are proud to celebrate the beauty that comes with making slowly and mindfully.

On your website you write, “Our experiences showed us that face-to-face and hand-to-hand contact helped our customers better understand the what, why, and how of our making processes and the importance of an organic supply chain.” We’re programmed to consider “industry secrets” as something to protect, lest we bankrupt our own business by giving too much information away. Yet, you continue to publish patterns and sewing techniques, and teach classes that offer intimate insight into your design process. It seems sharing your expertise has actually strengthened your business, not threatened it, and become a priority that supports the larger community. Would you agree?

Absolutely. The School of Making is our educational initiative that preserves this way of making. The initial decision to open source our techniques and materials (and ultimately to create The School of Making) grew from our commitment to sustainability. Doing so allows us to make living arts accessible to all consumers. The global community of makers is engaged and dedicated and inspires us to keep making and doing good work.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Natalie Chanin

Your work straddles urban and rural design influences — the sophisticated silhouettes meet soulful and often nature-based embellishments in embroidery and surface design. Do you see your work as intentionally bridging the divide between urban and rural cultures — drawing from the Alabama landscape while maintaining conversation with an urban design sensibility?

Our community is in a rural setting. I grew up here, but I’ve also lived in New York, Europe, South America for a short time, and had the great fortune to have traveled the world. There is a distinct relationship between rural and urban aesthetic. Through contemporary design, we seek to lend modernity to age-old techniques. We also see this form of handwork as a way to bridge socio-economic divides. Get a group of people around a sewing table and they will find commonalities — even if it is simply a love of making.

In Alabama Chanin’s Hierarchy of Systems that supports the mission of your company you write, “7. Community (to be a benefit for the larger community in our region and around the globe).” Between 2013-2014 you opened The Factory Café and flagship store, launched the School of Making, started your machine-sewn clothing line, and opened Bldg. 14 Design + Manufacturing Series. That’s incredible. Was all of this in the name of better supporting the community in one sense or another?

Yes. We wanted to create a space for our community to shop, eat, hold meetings and gatherings. A place to interact with one another — under circumstances that they might not normally. With an emphasis on sustainable culture, education and quality goods, we create a community of sharing and idea exchange and a love of things that last. Each of these parts of our business is deeply connected to local community — guests from near (and far) can visit the store and café and see the garments and goods firsthand, and enjoy a locally sourced lunch. They can then take a tour of our facility and see our design and production studios in operation. The Factory is in service to our community, not only providing a space and programs to gather, learn and enrich lives, but all facets of our company look to provide jobs and economic development in our community.

I admire how your company aims to “complete sustainability at every stage of the manufacturing process – from materials and processes, to cultural sustainability in the form of preserving hand-sewing skills.” Was the preservation of sewing skills part of your vision of slow fashion from the beginning?

It was the moment I realized that the hand-embroidered shirts I’d been making were really little more than a quilting stitch. In that moment, I realized that this was something I learned in my childhood and, in the same moment, I understood that I wanted to go back to the community of my childhood in North Alabama. It was clear to me that I wanted to talk to my grandmother and the other ladies like her who had quilted their whole lives; I wanted to make a film about why people made quilts, and I wanted to make a small collection of hand-quilted t-shirts.

. . .

The rest, as they say, is history! Thanks so much, Natalie and Katrina. Everyone, make sure you’re following @alabamachanin and @theschoolofmaking on Instagram. And I also want to mention Natalie’s latest book, The Geometry of Hand-Sewing, which I’m eager to get my hands on! —kt

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizen:  Jerome Sevilla (Gridjunky)

All photos provided by Alabama Chanin; photo of Natalie by Rinne Allen

Imagine if this were Log Cabin-ized

Imagine if this were Log Cabin

In dreaming and scheming about your project for the Log Cabin Make-along, there are a couple of ways to think about it: choosing from existing log cabin patterns (some of which are noted in Ideas and Considerations), or applying log cabin to other sorts of things. Whether you use the original Log Cabin block or any of the variations taught in MDK’s Log Cabin Field Guide (ninepatch, etc), what it leads to is squares. Those squares can be knitted at any scale and joined into bigger squares or rectangles or T shapes, so the most obvious and straightforward thing is simply to make a square or a rectangle. That might mean a washcloth, a blanket or a scarf, but it certainly doesn’t have to. A small square can be a kerchief while a big airy square can be a shawl (folded into a triangle or otherwise). Add a button to a rectangle and it becomes a little wrap. But there are also loads of garments that are as simple as squares/rectangles sewn together in various ways — the most rudimentary being two squares sewn together with gaps left for head and armholes — and there’s no reason the fabric couldn’t be log cabin. Think how great any of these would be if you knitted them to the pattern’s dimensions but in log cabin patchwork fabric rather than plain stockinette:

TOP: Inversion by Jared Flood is one of countless two-way cardigan patterns in the Ravelry database, pretty much all of which are composed of joined rectangles and/or simply a big T shape with strategic seams. In the case of Inversion, it’s just two rectangles. See also Purl Soho’s Prewrapped Wrap (free pattern) for a T version, or the magnificent Veronika cardigan

BOTTOM LEFT: Easy Folded Poncho from Churchmouse is a creative reinvention of the rectangle and a perfect blank canvas for some patchwork

BOTTOM RIGHT: My First Summer Tunic from Berroco (free pattern) — referenced with mods described in this Knit the Look post — takes the “two squares equal a box top” idea and adds drop-shoulder sleeves.

NOT PICTURED: World’s Most Basic Fingerless Mitts pattern by Me right here right now: Knit/crochet a 7″–7.5″ square in the log cabin style of your choice (aka a washcloth! there are six options right in the book). Fold in half and seam into a tube, leaving a 1.5″ gap (the thumbhole) 2″ from the top edge. Repeat for second mitt. (In other words, imagine these are a log cabin square seamed to fit as pictured.)

Of course, if you’re willing and able to think it through, there’s no reason you couldn’t go so far as to work simple armhole and/or neck shaping into your log cabin block, for something as rudimentary as a Sloper (minimal armhole and neck shaping) or Loopy Mango’s cropped pullover (no armhole shaping, minimal neck shaping on the front) — or as fancy as you’re capable of plotting out!

Really, the sky’s the limit. What are some of your favorite patterns or projects made up of squares or rectangles? And do you know what you’re making yet?

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PREVIOUSLY in Log Cabin Make-along: Ideas and considerations

2017 FO 18 : Wool muscle tee

Finished : Wool muscle tee

This is the winterized version of my favorite little sleeveless tee: Fancy Tiger’s Adventure Tank View B rendered in the scraps of wool knit I used for my modified Hemlock pullover, themselves already a remnant I bought from Elizabeth Suzann a couple years ago. So it cost me about a dollar, and while it comprises an hour or less of total sewing work, it hilariously took me seven months from start to finish! I cut it out in May; sewed the front and back together sometime over the summer; hemmed it, attached the neckband and jacked up my serger attaching the first armhole band a week ago. So yesterday, on a quiet sunny morning, I took on the unnecessarily daunting task of learning how to rethread the serger and get it working again so I could finally get that last band attached and top-stitched.

I absolutely love how this little tee looks in this cushy grey wool, and it would be quite valuable as an underlayer for my cardigans this winter. What remains to be seen is whether my neck will tolerate it; it is a little bit scratchy. I’m thinking I’ll give it a good soak in a lanolin-soap bath, like I would for any handknit, and cross my fingers — because it’s so very good.

Pattern: Adventure Tank (View B, muscle tee) from Fancy Tiger Crafts
Fabric: unknown grey wool knit remnant

Finished : Wool muscle tee

PREVIOUSLY in FOs: Vanilla cardigan

Elsewhere

Elsewhere: Yarny links for your clicking pleasure

It’s always a joy, at any time of the year, to see people raising money and making donations to good causes, especially those that are near and dear to me/us as knitters and sewers. As you may know, for the past two years I’ve donated a percentage of Fringe’s revenue each quarter to Heifer International in the form of their Knitters Baskets — a set of fiber animals given to families in developing countries and communities, from which they derive fiber and milk, income and sustenance, and they also pass along the first female offspring of each animal to another family in their community.  It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving and, collectively, we’ve given dozens of these “baskets” at this point, and will continue to do so. Every time you shop at Fringe Supply Co., you’re contributing to that, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward in this way — so thank you forever and always for that. Today I want to pass along a couple of other excellent options for giving the gift of support, and I encourage you to make a direct donation to Heifer, as well: Fibershed Carbon Farm Fund and Knitters for Doctors. I’m sure you all have a hundred other suggestions of great initiatives under way, so please share them below!

And with that, here’s Elsewhere—

The history of the cardigan sweater, from the battlefield to the Chanel workroom to Kurt Cobain

Are you knitting for peace?

– Another FAFKAL sweater has become a pattern! the South Bay Sweater

Dream outfit (thx, Clare!)

Brilliant idea for getting some practice and/or making use of your swatches (photo above right)

Everything about this

– Lovely piece about how Amirisu came to be

My ideal Christmas wreath

This yoke sweater. No this one.

– Definitely trying Kathy’s Insta slipper pattern (photo above left)

Yes or no?

IN SHOP NEWS: There’s something very exciting happening in the near future, which shop newsletter subscribers got the heads-up about, and I’ll post an update here later. [UPDATE: It’s Jen Hewett Field Bag day! Details and release schedule here.] (If you’re not subscribed to the shop emails for future reference, there’s a signup box in the upper right of every page at fringesupplyco.com) And there’s a fun little something happening over on Instagram as well: follow @fringesupplyco and check out #mydreamfringemix for more on that. And of all the tiny exciting things in the world, bonsai scissors are back in stock!

Have an amazing weekend, everyone!

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PREVIOUSLY: Elsewhere

The Details: Grafted patch pockets

The Details: How to knit patch pockets

So about these pockets on my just finished Vanilla Cardigan! I’m on record as being a huge fan of an inset pocket — one of the most magical of all the knitting tricks — and yet I didn’t do them on this sweater. That’s because my original plan for the pockets was something else entirely (now saved for another time) and I didn’t want to commit one way or the other during the knitting. The happy upside being that I wound up making patch pockets for the first time, and you know how much I like to do something new — especially in an otherwise extremely straightforward project like this one. While grafting on a patch pocket lacks some of the TA DA!! of an inset pocket, it was every bit as satisfying to do, and looks amazing.

I’d read up on patch pockets versus inset ones ages ago and looked it up again. As with anything in knitting, there are lots of ways to do it — from picking up stitches and joining the ends of the rows as you knit (so there’s no seaming), to picking up for the bottom edge and sewing down the sides afterwards, to knitting them entirely separately and sewing them on … with all manner of variations in the details of all three. I wanted to knit my pockets during our pop-up shop, which meant knitting them separately, but when it came to sewing them on I was torn. Most of the sources I’ve ever looked at suggest sort of whipstitching the selvage stitch to the adjacent stitch from the body of the sweater (same or similar to sewing down the backside of an inset), but I wondered why I couldn’t use mattress stitch so that the selvage stitch would be turned under on the inside of the pocket. It occurred to me to pull my copy of The Principles of Knitting off the shelf and see what the esteemed June Hemmons Hiatt has to say on the subject, and that was exactly her recommendation — although she calls mattress stitch “running thread stitch.” So that’s what I did!

The Details: How to knit patch pockets

My pockets are about 6″ tall and 30 stitches wide, 2 of which would be my selvage stitches — the stitch at each edge that disappears into the seam. So (after blocking the pockets nice and flat, of course) I counted off the 28 stitches of the body that I wanted the pocket to lie on top of — I chose to start it 8 stitches away from the button band — and stuck a DPN in the gutter so you/I could see it. That’s the stack of bars I would use for my mattress stitch up the sides. I also pinned a marker in the two stitches that would correspond to the lower corner stitches of my pocket.

I like the shadow line of the bottom pocket edge to be the same as the top row of the ribbing — that’s always my aim in pocket placement — and I would be using duplicate stitch to graft the bottom edge. So the row of stitches I’m duplicating is the first row of stockinette above the ribbing.* I chose to work the bottom edge first — leaving a tail long enough to sew up the right side — and then go back and do the two sides.

The Details: How to knit patch pockets

Here’s how to graft the lower pocket edge—

Step 1: Thread the needle and bring it up through the right bottom corner stitch on the body.

Step 2: Run the needle behind both legs of the first stitch (skipping the selvage st) on the pocket.

Step 3: Run the needle back down into the center of first body stitch (go back in where you came out, in other words) and up through the center of the stitch to the left of it.

Repeat all the way across for designated number of stitches, pulling the tail (the duplicate stitches) into position after every few. You need to be careful to pull the tail just enough that the running thread mimics the tension of the stitches — you don’t want to actually cinch up your fabric.

Once the bottom was grafted, I went back and worked mattress stitch up both sides, picking up the bars in the gutter identified above by the DPNs and the bars next to the selvage stitch on the pocket. Weave in the ends, using them to secure the upper pocket corners firmly and neatly, and voilà.

The Details: How to knit patch pockets

For a pocket in textured fabric where the grafting would be more challenging, I think I would stick with an inset pocket. But for simple stockinette like this, I might actually prefer this method. I’m extremely happy with the results.

For the rest of the yarn and pattern details (complete recipe) for this sweater, see 2017 FO 17 : Vanilla cardigan.

And see also:
How to knit inset pockets
How to knit inset pockets (top-down)

*Note that this sweater was knitted top-down but here I’m working with it and the pocket from the bottom up, so that’s how I’m picking out and aligning the stitches. It doesn’t matter which direction they were originally worked — you’re just identifying and aligning columns of Vs.

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PREVIOUSLY in The Details: How to join a folded neckband