Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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: Alexia Abegg

One of my favorite people I’ve met since moving to Nashville is Alexia Abegg. Best known as a fabric designer and cofounder of the immensely popular Cotton+Steel line, she’s also half of Green Bee Patterns (with her mother), worked with Lotta Jansdotter on the patterns for her book Everyday Style, and is a fantastic knitter. As you can imagine, what with her being a surface-pattern designer and all-round colorful person, there is a lot of colorwork and striping and freewheelingness in her knitting. (I love this note about the cardigan she’s wearing in the photo above.) So naturally I thought it would be fun to get a peek into her process, her tools and her studio.

You can find Alexia on Instagram as @alexiamarcelleabegg and on Ravelry as alexiastitches.

Speaking of tools — one quick bit of business I need to get out of the way before we get started, which is I’m excited to tell you we now have individual Lykke needles available at Fringe Supply Co., both straights and fixed circulars!

And with that, here is Alexia! —

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

If it is a fiber-related craft, I have at least attempted it, but my passions in that realm are for quilting, sewing and knitting. I also paint and draw almost every day. My mother taught me how to knit when I was eight years old. We were traveling all summer with my dad’s band, and my mom taught all of the kids on the tour how to knit and embroider. I think we hit around twenty states on that tour, we celebrated my youngest sister’s first birthday, and by the time we were back home I had almost finished what I think many knitter’s have in common as their first project: a garter-stitch, worsted-weight scarf!

I have loved making things since I can remember existing, and watching my parents paint (Dad), and sew (Mom) taught me to value creating something with my hands at a young age. I started sewing much later, and didn’t love it from the start — pre-teen impatience and sewing do not combine well. A few years later, when I was in high school, my mom let me borrow her machine and I created quite a few haphazard projects, including some little patchwork bags, and my love for sewing and quilting was sparked. My approach was often messy, and free from any of what I viewed at the time as perfectionist rules I thought my mom was unnecessarily imposing on her sewing projects. Over the years I have, of course, realized how much joy my mom takes in practicing patience and careful precision in each and every project she sews. I’m still a bit haphazard and love to work quickly, but I have learned how to corral my energy and patience.

I love quilting because it is easy to just begin. Pieces of fabric, destined to stay two-dimensional even when pieced, are free from the level of commitment I feel when sewing garments. I feel a looseness and relaxation when quilting that allows me to stay more in the process and less focused on the end result. Garment sewing is a passion, but it is more about finishing the garment I desire than about relaxing into the process.

My daily fiber fix is knitting, because it is portable and meditative, and I can still read or hang out with my husband and our two dogs in the evening while knitting. Knitting is the process I feel the most connection with in process alone. I almost don’t even need the desire for a finished object when knitting. I just love the feeling of moving my hands, touching the needles and yarn, and enjoying the colors and texture of wool yarn.

The passion for painting and drawing, and all of the fiber things, have developed into my career. Everything I do for work is directly related to the combination of these creative pursuits.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

Oh boy, I love tools. I really, really love having just the right tool for every job, and I love discovering what those tools are. My most used and valued tools: my collection of circular knitting needles (I like wood for some projects, Addi turbo metal for others, and I hate straight needles — I just can’t seem to hold them as comfortably) and my 10″ sewing shears. My mother grew up moving all around the world — my grandfather was Air Force — and her family lived in Japan during her high school years. She was given a pair of these very same shears when she lived there, and years later she gifted me a pair and they are the best and only shears I will ever need. They are lightweight and super sharp, don’t pinch on my hand, and are perfectly balanced.

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

My sewing tools are scattered in many drawers, bins and baskets in my studio. It is somewhat chaotic and I certainly find myself searching for things in different places. I am not an organized person in my workspace, and as many times as I try to create places for things, and put things back after use (it sounds so simple when I write it out!), I am just not a tidy maker.

My knitting tools are fairly organized, probably because I mostly keep those at home, and there is less space to be messy in our small, one-bedroom home. My knitting needles are logged in my Ravelry and stored in folding needle cases, and my tools are in a zippered pouch in my WIP basket on the bookshelf in our den.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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

My knitting WIPs are in an enamel wire basket on an Ikea bookshelf in our den, and I keep track of everything knitting related in a notebook and on Ravelry.

I don’t tend to have very many sewing WIPs because I usually set out needing to finish a sewing project very close to when I begin it, and that means more complete projects than WIPs. I do however have tons of fabric stash in limbo and stored waiting to become a garment, and that requires a ton of space in my studio.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

My sewing shears I mentioned earlier are my most prized and used tool. Second to those are probably my sable paint brushes, which I actually probably take care of more carefully than any other tool I own, even my shears.

Do you lend your tools?

It depends on the tool in question, but generally speaking yes, I love connecting with my friends and family that are makers, and there is a real economy to lending each other the things we need when we need them.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?

I love to knit absolutely anywhere, but my favorite spot is probably on our front porch in Spring when the weather is nice, before the terrible humidity hits in the summer.

I love sewing in my studio, which has plenty of room to spread out and make a mess!

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I’m a pretty year-round maker, but all of my making energy probably peaks two times a year: once at the beginning of spring, and again just after Thanksgiving. Those two times of year give me a lot of energy and creativity.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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

When I was growing up my mom had a bumper sticker on our Toyota station wagon that read “the one who dies with the most fabric wins.” I am a shoo-in.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on my next fabric collection for Cotton+Steel at the moment. It is due at the end of March and I really love to immerse myself in each work project I take on. Whether it is a book, a new sewing pattern or a fabric line, I like to schedule time to focus deeply on that one goal for at least a couple of weeks in a row. I find I am able to break through to new ideas and creativity in ways I just can’t when I’m juggling multiple projects on a daily basis.

For fun I am knitting some socks, swatching an Ondawa in Junegrass, and making a baby sweater for my friend Sarah’s baby.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

Community Supported Cloth

Community Supported Cloth

If you recall, during Slow Fashion October last year I made a commitment to try to only buy traceable fabrics from that point forward. One of the main reasons I felt safe in saying that was the existence of TN Textile Mill, so I’m sad on many levels that the mill is closing and one of our painfully few “slow” fabric options will no longer exist. (Although I’m selfishly incredibly happy that Allison is now working at Fringe part-time! And that I got to buy a few yards from her in December. Plus I still have this.) But the whole thing has me pondering again just how hard it is to find fabric with known and harmless origins.

Then last week I got an email from Jess Daniels prompting me to take a closer look at something I’d been hearing rumblings about: Fibershed’s Community Supported Cloth project in Northern California. In this case, the origins aren’t only harmless (no slave labor, no toxic dyes poisoning workers and rivers, no shipping of components and finished goods back and forth across the ocean), they’re actually beneficial. Sales of the fabric support the small, local startup mill that’s weaving it, Huston Textile, and the farm where the wool is sourced, Bare Ranch — helping to fund their efforts at climate-beneficial farming practices. That is, farming that enriches the land rather than polluting it.

Every time we talk about slow fashion, sustainable materials, etc., I see the puzzlement on our dead ancestors’ faces. These things we talk about used to be the only way to do things! But we live in a world where the very idea of such a “simple” supply chain is nearly impossible to accomplish. At every step of the process, it means doing things the hard way, and thus the expensive way, and I don’t mind saying the right way.

So what does Community Supported Cloth mean? It’s the same idea as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). If you’ve ever subscribed to a CSA box, you know you’re fronting a local farm the money to grow their crops for the year, and you get a share of those crops. Same basic concept with this fabric. By buying a share up front, you’re enabling the farm and the mill to do this work. And in supporting it, hopefully helping to make it less difficult and thus less rare and costly.

I’m in. And I recognize that buying it from Tennessee is different from buying what would have been my local TN Textile Mill fabrics, and different from buying it were I still in CA. But as always, it’s a matter of reducing (rather than eliminating) the ills. For much more information on the project and the fabric, see the Community Supported Cloth site. And if you’re not a sewer or interested in the fabric, but want to support the ranch and the project, there are also other ways to chip in.

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Photos © Paige Green, used with permission

Queue Check — February 2017

Queue Check — February 2017

With my St. Brendan completed and the whole April in Paris plan looming on the horizon (albeit still a misty mirage), I am sworn not to cast on anything new until my Channel cardigan is completed. As you can see up top, I’m making good progress. I knitted the sleeves flat, added inset pockets, omitted the eyelets (and waist tie) and waist shaping. I’m ready to begin the neck shaping — and continuing to love every minute I spend with this yarn and stitch pattern — but I still have a very long ways to go. Which is giving me lots of time to think ahead about what I want to knit this year, and in what order.

Like a lot of you, I try to always have something mindless on the needles that I can reach for when circumstances demand it. But I’ve been thinking about literally dividing my sweater plans into two parallel queues: the challenging and the non-challening. I still need and want some simple stockinette sweaters, but they always threaten my will to knit. Meanwhile, there are several more interesting sweaters on my list — the ones that keep both my closet and my knitting life from becoming too boring — but like I said, you gotta have an alternative handy sometimes. So it makes sense to me to make two separate lists, and to have one sweater from each list going at all times — like dance partners. When the challenging sweater is completed, cast on the next one from that list. When the boring sweater is completed, cast on the next one from that list. Do-si-do and around you go.

I’m 99% certain that when Channel is done, the next thing I cast on from the challenging list will be Vidje. And I’m debating about what will follow St. Brendan in the stockinette lineup. I have two very simple, bulky sweaters in my head, and I expect a quickie will be in order. One is an exaggerated cardigan in the beautiful bronze merino from TN Textile Mill. The other is a big slouchy pullover in the cheery green Balance Bulky I bought on closeout. Even though it’s bulky, the wool-cotton Balance blend means greenie might actually have some utility this spring (cool evenings?) whereas the cardigan is a planning-ahead-for-next-year sort of thing. I want the bronze cardigan more, but the hope of being able to wear the green one, however briefly, may bump it to the front of the line. Plus I’m overdue for a spot of color! But I’m a little torn over both, and really want both of those sweaters in the bronze! Whatever winds up going next, it will most likely be followed by the desperately needed (before next Fall) grey pullover.

But like I said, I’m casting on nothing until Channel is done. I know there would be late nights where I reach for the stockinette thing, putting Channel at risk of not getting done in time. So for now the alternative, should I need it, is to cast on the Channel button bands/collar, which is a whole project unto itself.

Also, it’s time to start thinking about my sewing queue. I’ve got some spring wardrobe planning to do …

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

• Channel Cardigan pattern by Jared Flood in Clever Camel | all Channel posts
Porter Bin project bag and Lykke interchangeable needles from Fringe Supply Co.

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PREVIOUSLY in Queue Check: January 2017

Idea Log: Indigo kimono jacket

Idea Log: Indigo kimono jacket

Two years ago, at the late-lamented Stitches South, I bought a piece of African indigo cloth from Veronika of YOTH. I posted a pic of it on Instagram, and got an incredible range of suggestions for what to do with it (including making a window shade, which would be amazing), but I’ve always pictured it as a kimono. A few weeks earlier, I had seen this photo of Ariele Alasko in an indigo kimono, followed shortly by a reference to this older tutorial for a quickie kimono, and the universe seemed to be trying to tell me something. I studied the dimensions in the tutorial and my fabric, did some diagramming and adjusting, and came within inches of cutting it … but my scissors literally hung in the air above the fabric, my brain unable to convince my hand to clamp the blades down on it. That “pattern” is the sort of thing where you just sew two pieces of fabric together halfway up the back, and the slit becomes the back of neck. It would be a fun and defensible thing to do with a less precious piece of fabric, but I knew I’d regret doing it with this. I wanted a proper garment. And was pondering pockets, of course. Always with the pockets. So I decided to wait, and think on it, and see if the desire would fade.

Meanwhile, it’s mostly been draped over the daybed in my living room, where Darla has enjoyed shedding on it liberally. Thankfully, it washes up beautifully!

The whole plan sprung back into my head in the past few days due to encountering two images on the web, again in close proximity: One being Liesl Gibson’s new Butterick B6464 kimono pattern; the second being this quilted linen kimono jacket by 7115 that is really just too good for words. (I mean: Quilted. Linen. With those pockets? Must have.) So now I’m fantasizing about tinkering with Liesl’s pattern a tiny bit, drafting some big pockets, and finally turning this bit of cloth into the kimono I’ve been dreaming of. Just need to figure out if there’s enough of it … and if I remember how to sew.

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PREVIOUSLY in Idea Log: Cowichan-style cardigan, take two

New Favorites: Vodka on the Rocks

New Favorites: Vodka on the Rocks

No matter how badly I need simple, plain pullovers, I can’t stop adding elaborately textured cardigans to my knitting wish list. Just when I thought I was getting a handle on my addiction, along comes Thea Colman with this Vodka on the Rocks pattern (part of The Vodka Collection of cardigans, all of them good) and suddenly I’m mentally rearranging my list again. It’s one of those designs that manages to strike a balance between intriguing and wearable: Most of the fabric (in particular the sleeves) is a vertical textured stripe that avoids adding bulk, with a single cable column running up each front and a large, intricate cable panel contained to the back. But it all hangs together as a design, looking both gorgeous and fun to knit. Dammit.

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Baedecker

St. Brendan: Outfits!

St. Brendan: The outfits!

Yesterday’s post about my finished yoke sweater got a wee bit long! I am determined to compile outfit ideas for every FO this year, so in this case I decided to save them for today.

One of the reasons I shy away from (buying or knitting) really distinctive clothing is it’s really distinctive — if I run into you somewhere in a standout garment, you’re gonna remember if I had the same thing on the last time you saw me. Also, really distinctive garments tend not to be combinable in a lot of different ways for a lot of different looks. The point being only that I don’t want to feel like I’m wearing the same outfit all the time — to me, the fun is in mixing things up — thus all the solids and neutrals in my closet. But this particular sweater is an example of how none of that is automatically true. The key is that this beauty goes with literally every “bottom” in my closet. It’s possible to get mildly creative with it, as seen in the two sketches up top—

Dressed down = layered over my favorite b/w flannel shirt with jeans and ankle boots
Dressed up = paired with my black-on-black embroidered skirt and tall boots

But the joyous part is even if all I do is reach for the next pair of pants on the pile and a pair of black shoes, they add up to decidedly different looks, sparing me from monotony …

St. Brendan: The outfits!

(Fashionary sketch templates from Fringe Supply Co.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Wardrobe Planning: April in Paris (part 1)

2017 FO-1 : Black yoke sweater

2017 FO-1 : Black yoke sweater

I had a realization about yarn and seamless sweaters while knitting this gorgeous thing: The more a knitting project feels like playing with Play-Doh, the more fun I find it. The joy in being able to mold and remold a thing until it’s exactly what I want …

Let’s recap: When I first set out to knit this sweater — which began from Courtney Kelley’s St. Brendan pattern — it was going to be my least improvisational act of knitting. I loved the black-and-tan sample sweater so much that my plan was simply to copy it, straight from the pattern. Same yarn, same colors, same bottom-up construction. I was knitting on US9s instead of suggested 8s, to match gauge; I planned to make the size 45 lower body and decrease to the size 38 counts by the time I joined the sleeves; I used my favorite tubular cast-on; and I knew I was going to shrink and shape the neckhole when I got there. Minor stuff.

Instead, I knitted the body and yoke as intended except with phantom sleeves, had (my own) fit issues with the yoke depth, and severed the yoke from the body, at which point I also realized it might suit me better without the colowork on the lower body and sleeves. I put the yoke back on the needles and reknitted the body and sleeves downward to my own fit specifications, omitting the colorwork. Then for the upper few rows of the yoke and neck, I did the following:

– Modified the last three rows of Chart E — the one that takes us from the colorwork to the neckband — since I no longer had a CC1 (tan) to transition to, and instead was transitioning back to my MC (black). I basically created a grey diamond but with a decrease in Row 4, so it’s more of a diamond-blob than a true diamond. Or a sawtooth — let’s go with that. This additional decrease round brought the stitch count from 108 to 81 sts, and I made it 80 on the following round.

– On Row 6, I worked a set of short rows (with 6 turns) to raise the back neck a bit, which created the wedge of black you see between the colorwork and the neckband in the back. I also worked my last pass around that short-row round as my bind-off round, closing the short-row gaps as I encountered them. So Row 6 was the last row, the short rows and the bind-off all in the same round. (For the short rows, I placed the first 4 turns at the equivalent of each “raglan” position, then the last 2 in the back, slightly closer together than the raglans. I have no idea if that’s how anyone who actually knew what they were doing would do it!) It’s a pretty slight drop between the back and front neck, but just enough to make a difference. If I were to do it again, I’d put a set of short rows just below the colorwork yoke.

– And I then picked up 72 stitches (at a rate of 7 out of 8) and worked a folded neckband. This sweater, with this yarn and my changes, feels very vintage ski-sweater to me, and I wanted to play that up by giving it a sort of retro neckline — high and round and with the folded ribbing. It’s already stretched out a bit (as neckbands will do, which is why I insist on working them from picked-up stitches, and even then try to make them smaller than I ultimately want them, knowing they’ll grow) and I’m tempted to pull it out and pick up 68 sts instead.

2017 FO-1 : Black yoke sweater

I’m head over heels in love with this sweater. Visually, the most obvious changes I made are that it’s 3 colors instead of 4, and there’s no colorwork on the lower half of it, which definitely makes it a very different sweater from the original. But for me the more meaningful change is in the fit. If you look at the left sleeve cap in the two photos below, you can see the difference in the yoke depth. The pattern has only 4 or 5 rounds of MC knitting between the underarm (sleeve join) round and the start of the colorwork. I wound up putting more like 18 or 20 rounds in there — bringing the total yoke depth to 9″, which is much more comfortable for me. No longer being beholden to the stitch counts for the lower colorwork charts, I was also able to simply knit to all of my own desired measurements (most notably a 42″ bust measurement for 8-ish inches of ease).

2017 FO-1 : Black yoke sweater

Oh, and of course I also knitted the sleeves flat (with 5″ fold-up cuffs and tubular bind-off) and added a basting stitch for side seams.

Now can we talk about the yarn for a minute? This is the new Arranmore and I would like six or seven sweaters in it, please! It reminds me a lot of the first yarn I ever fell in love with — the discontinued Kathmandu Bulky — but in aran weight. I adore it. Between the yarn and how good a circular-yoke sweater feels sitting on my shoulders, I would love nothing more than to wear this sweater every single day.

I’m calling it my Tennessee Lopapeysa, since I can get away with wearing it as outerwear here, the way Icelanders wear their lopi sweaters — although this winter, it’s not even that. Our upper-60s January has given way to mid-70s February, so I’m afraid I may not get to wear it until next year. Maybe it will be my Rhinebeck sweater! Finished well in advance.

2017 FO-1 : Black yoke sweater

Pattern: St. Brendan by Courtney Kelley
Yarn: Arranmore by The Fibre Co., in Malin Head (black), Glenveagh Castle (grey) and St. Claire (ivory)
Cost: $7 pattern + $168 yarn = $175*

You can scroll through all of my posts on this sweater hereInstagram posts here, and put a heart on it at Ravelry if you like!

*Given the frogging and extra skeins purchased and there being no way to know what percentage of the sweater’s finished weight is the MC yarn, I’m guessing at how many skeins of black actually got used, but then I also used less than a skein each of the ivory and grey. So this is a rough estimate that probably slightly overstates the true cost.

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PREVIOUSLY in FOs: Striped pullover