Q for You: How do you decide what to make?

Q for You: How do you decide what to make?

I’ve been thinking about the urge to knit or sew things for myself and how it compares to the old urge to shop (which are at once the same and very very different). Obviously over the past few years — and increasingly the past few seasons — I’ve put a lot more effort into wardrobe planning than I ever had before. But even with all of that, I find myself pondering what are my actual criteria for when I add something new.

It’s definitely still a gut thing, framework aside. Any new garment has to fit into my wardrobe, sure — has to follow the old “makes at least three outfits right off the top of my head” rule — but it also has to meet or exceed my notion of how I want to dress, how I want to feel. It must have appeal for more than a season. I have to be realistically able to make it: a fingering-weight stockinette sweater will never get finished. It should fill a gap rather than being redundant with things I already own. But most of all there is good old raw, instinctive WANT. I need to feel excited to wear it — not just “yeah, that’s useful” — or else, again, it’s in jeopardy of never being finished and/or dulling my love of making. Bonus points if it can be made from stash or with a known yarn/fabric I’ve been trying to find a project for. (My stash is not very big and I rarely acquire anything anymore without a specific project already planned for it, so there aren’t that many “shopping my stash” opportunities. But to the extent I have a sweater quantity of something that’s not already earmarked, that is a definitely a decision driver.)

So I guess for me it’s about finding the sweet spot between fashion lust and practicality — it has to win over both of those judges in my head — but my favorite thing about humanity is how different we all are, and I love hearing about all those countless differences.  So that’s my Q for You today: How do you decide what to make? Do you follow a list or a whim? Are you driven by your stash, your Pinterest, the Hot Right Now page at Ravelry, your budget, your color sense, your desire to use certain skills … How does it tend to work out for you? And is it the same decision-making process for making as for buying?

(Porter Bins and Field Bags from Fringe Supply Co.)

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New Field Bag! + Elsewhere

New Field Bag! + Elsewhere

BIG FUN over at Fringe Supply Co. today: the new CHARCOAL Field Bag — so swoony, so hardworking, made right here in Nashville — and the new issue of Making, Dots! Both are more beautiful than my photos can describe, but there are lots of pics over in the webshop, so go take a look. You can also find the Charcoal Field Bag today at our Limited Goods stockists listed right here. (And in case anyone missed my heads-up about it, please note that Toffee is going on haitus when our current stock runs out!)

I also have some fun and thought-provoking links for your Friday/weekend perusal:

Girls knit their way to a math career (via)

– “I knit where I want” — persist, lady, persist!

– Love this brief history of Bohus Stickning

Crochet bowls make a pretty awesome wall display

– If you’re in London, please go see this for me

How evolutionary instincts drive modern-day shopping behaviors (via) (and have you heard about J.Crew?)

– And reissue alert: Frank Lloyd Wright’s fabrics (gah!)

Thanks for choosing to spend some of your time here this week. I hope you have a yarn-filled weekend and I’ll see you back here Monday!

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PREVIOUSLY: Elsewhere

New Favorites: Banded ribs

New Favorites: Banded ribs

I don’t know if this interrupted-ribbing stitch pattern has a commonly accepted name (if it does, fill me in! and is it ribbing or brioche?) but I fell in love with it upon first seeing Helga Isager’s Pine/Marie Cardigan (top photo) from a few years ago, and now again upon encountering Anker’s Sweater (“My Size”) (bottom photo) by PetiteKnitDK. Both are seamless, circular-yoke sweaters — a perfect marriage of construction and stitch pattern. PKDK’s pullover has it contained to the yoke, and I’m a sucker for a yoke sweater that’s done with texture rather than colorwork. But there’s also something I find entrancing about its allover puckered glory on Isager’s cardigan. I could look at that photo all day long.

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Bits to borrow

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

I continue to feel incredibly self-conscious about all this wardrobe planning — especially since I’m doing it publicly — but dang it’s fun and useful! So I’m just gonna get over that. Like I said last week, simply isolating the key players and laying them out in a grid of photos is wildly beneficial for seeing what I have to work with and spotting combinations I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. There’s an extent to which you could look at that grid and just pick a top, a bottom and a pair of shoes, and I could probably sit and do that all day and come up with who knows how many outfits if I wanted to literally represent each and every one of them — I won’t go quite that far. One thing I’m finding with the summer group, though, is there are quite a few tops in the lineup that really only work with maybe 1-3 of the bottoms — limited usage, but hey, perfectly good outfits.

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

If this were me working on a packing list, there are pieces that would get cut for not being re-combinable enough. But this whole exercise is about finding ways to wear the things I already made/bought and have allotted space for in the closet. (And making sure I’m making wise decisions about where to spend my future making energy.) Plus many of them may also have a larger role in other seasons, so it’s fine for them to factor in more lightly for summer, for variety. (One thing to note, though: If it involves sandals, it’s not a work outfit, so I’m mentally looking at each of those and asking if there’s an excessive-A/C alternative. If it’s sleeveless, it has to accommodate a cardigan or jacket or it’s also not safe for work.)

Or take the case of this linen Fen top:

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

That’s really three versions of the same outfit, and while I like it/them and will wear it/them, it’s a tiny bit dour, even for me. (The first, the best one, can be seen in full outfit sketch form below.) There are other bottoms it technically goes with, but which I’m not including because I know I won’t wear them. For example, it works with the khaki pants but that’s even drearier. It’s perfectly fine with jeans, but just not me somehow. It’s a hair too short for wearing with the camo pants, since I’m not of midriff-bearing age. (Although I apparently am still of camo-wearing age! lol) It’s adorable with the full grey skirt — that’s probably its best outfit, objectively speaking — but on me that’s way too girly. So I’m limiting how much it gets used.

Then there are the really hard workers, starting with that soon-to-be go-to, my ash linen Sloper in progress, at the top of this post. As you can see, it will go over both of my skirts, all five pants and 3 out of 5 dresses — that’s an outfit a week for 10 weeks right there, at minimum. Knitting time and money well spent!

Likewise the sleeveless black tops I made last year (one hemp jersey, one silk gauze), and the two white tops I have at the top of the sewing list right now (white linen tee — also to be done in black linen — and white cotton sleeveless top—

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

The modified slip dress will also be a fabulous use of a little bit of time, since shortened and be-pocketed, it will be able to be worn many different ways, and will easily accommodate an outer layer for work. This little refashion is top-most priority.

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

And what about the pieces I’m trying to be more deliberate about wearing more often? You can see the black, 20-y-o Katayone Adeli skirt factoring in throughout this post, which is marvelous — and makes the full black linen skirt on my to-sew list a less pressing matter. Other pieces I wear only occasionally but love and want to bust out more are the little ivory Meg-made sweater and the black chambray top I sewed up from some scraps back in 2014, just before we moved.

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

Possibly the smartest addition to my closet in recent months (of which there have been precious few) was one I thought might be the opposite. When I bought the Nade Studio tunic on impulse at Porter Flea in December, I thought it might be a mistake: I love supporting Maggie’s business and love the piece, but worried that it simply wouldn’t get a lot of use — that it wasn’t very versatile. Once I started playing summer closet rummy, though, I realized it’s actually the star of the show. It looks amazing worn open over a dress or buttoned over a skirt — the skirt just peeking out from that arc in the front hem. These are actually the outfits I’m most excited to get to wear.

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

To my great astonishment, going through the process of these Summer 2017 Wardrobe posts has transformed my lifelong dread of summer dressing into something resembling optimism or maybe even excitement. Never thought that was possible. Which isn’t to say I’ll ever feel as at-home in a dress and sandals as I do in a sweater and jeans, but it’s a major and welcome improvement.

There are over 70 outfits pictured here, without exhausting the possibilities of these 30-ish items. Not every piece from the inventory wound up being included here, and admittedly several of those that are here don’t yet exist or are awaiting mending/alterations — but nor have I accounted for a couple of other garments on the make list, each of which represents another good clump of options. All told, it seems like I’m in amazingly good shape, as long as enough of these prove workplace-worthy. And I’m already worked up about exploring how everything here (and some of the never-worn Paris combos) will come into play for fall!

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

For the details on any or all of the garments seen here, see last week’s Closet Inventory (which I’ve updated with pics of the new and previously-missing items).

Oh, and lest I forget, these are my topper options — one WIP and one on the make list:

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

(Fashionary sketch templates via Fringe Supply Co.)

PREVIOUSLY in Summer ’17 Wardrobe: The make list

What I Know About: Holding yarns together

What I Know About: Holding yarns together

There are some questions I get asked over and over, some of which I have answers for and many of which I do not. So today I’m kicking off a new occasional series called “What I Know About” in which I or someone more knowledgeable than me will respond to your most pressing inquiries. It might be a Q&A, a guest post, who knows — but I’m starting with probably the MOST frequently asked question and my own answer to it: Why are you always knitting with multiple yarns held together?

There are basically three categories of reasons:

GAUGE
The most common reason I personally do it is to get the yarn I want at the gauge I want. For instance, I wanted to knit a cardigan out of the gorgeous heathery black Linen Quill, but it’s light-fingering weight. I neither want to knit at that gauge or want a sweater that thin, so by holding two strands together, I got the weight/gauge I was after. There are dozens of fabulous lace- or fingering-weight yarns I’d never get to knit with if I didn’t double them up. Conversely, there are limited options available at the bulky-superbulky end of the spectrum, so holding yarns together is a great option for knitting at a bulkier gauge without being limited to the available yarns. Such as my linen Sloper in progress, because there’s no such thing as bulky linen. (Possibly with good reason, lol!)

FABRIC/FIBER
It’s also quite common to hold yarns together in order to blend those fibers into one fabric. (The entire Shibui line is built on this concept.) For example, for my grandmother’s shawl, I held together one strand of Shibui Staccato (70% merino, 30% silk) and one Shibui Linen (100% linen), so the finished fabric is 50% linen, 35% merino, 15% silk. She lives in Texas, but I wanted the shawl to have more soft-cuddliness than 100% linen, so I blended it in this way. And again holding together two strands of fingering weight yarn created a weightier fabric than knitting with either yarn on its own. One really common trick is to hold one strand of something like cobweb-weight Silk Cloud or Kidsilk Haze together with whatever your main yarn is, to give the fabric that soft mohair halo. In addition to making the most astonishing swatch books I’ve ever laid eyes on, Shibui posts a downloadable Mix Cheat Sheet that shows what happens gauge-wise when you hold multiple strands of any one Shibui yarn or combine different ones, which is also a useful guide in general as to how yarns of differing weights might add up. You always have to swatch to know for sure, of course, but that’s a great starting point for getting a sense of gauge.

COLOR
Likely the first reason I ever held yarns together was to create a marl, and it’s still one of my favorite reasons. Again, there aren’t a ton of marled yarn options in the world, but by holding two (or more) strands together, you can create any combo you want!The yarns you’re mixing may or may not be the same weight or fiber content — you could create a 50/50 marl with two stands of the same yarn in different colors, or something much more creative with varying weights and fibers, so a combination of all of the above motivations and results. And it could be a marl or an ombré or lots of other effects. One of my all-time favorite examples of creative mixes is this Chloé sweater from a few years ago. (The swatch pictured up top is mine from awhile back, playing around with different Shibui yarns — two strands of an ivory, one black with one ivory, one ivory with one grey.)

Another example from my own past that’s a combination of the above is my Bellows cardigan. That pattern is written for two strands of Shelter (i.e. bulky gauge) and could easily be knitted with a single strand of a bulky yarn instead. I knitted mine with two strands of Balance, which served a dual purpose: 1) it got me to the bulky gauge, as the original pattern did and 2) it counteracted the need to alternate skeins when working with that yarn. Because the wool and cotton fibers in Balance take the dyes differently, Balance behaves a lot like a hand-dyed yarn. When working with hand-dyed, it’s important to alternate skeins every row if you want to avoid pooling or an obvious change in the fabric at the point where you joined a new ball. By holding two strands together, you’re literally blending them, thereby canceling out those concerns.

So there are lots of reasons you might hold multiple yarns together, but at the center of it is control and creativity — allowing you to create whatever you want.

For more on some of the things you can do with yarns held together, see: The other breed of colorwork

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 3: The make list

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 3: The additions

I’ve been working from my sister’s house in Florida for the past week — hanging with her and the kids while our husbands are on a fishing trip — and have spent all kinds of time working on this whole Summer ’17 Wardrobe series. The other day, right in the middle of it all (literally Fashionary panels strewn all about her house), we went out to lunch then to her favorite consignment shop and then to this little boutique nearby that is stocked almost entirely with very plain Flax Designs linen tanks, pants and dresses in nothing but ivory, black, natural, grey and an ivory/grey stripe. (The shop’s minimalist selection looks nothing like the website! So funny.) I had been in the shop before with her and knew of this tantalizingly simple solution to my dress problem, but all I knew about the clothes was what the tag said: made in Lithuania. I know that there’s a long tradition of linen production in Lithuania (that’s where pretty much all of the Fog Linen line comes from) and had been wondering if there was any chance Flax was a company I could feel good about buying from. There is literally no company information whatsoever on their website — no About page of any kind — so we did a bit of Googling on our way there and found this video a stockist had posted about them. It’s still not much to go on, but there’s an emphasis on lead-free dyes and the sewing is done in small woman-owned factories, and I obviously feel good about linen on all the levels. So it’s a somewhat smallened leap of faith, but combined with the fact that I knew how much love and wear they would get, I decided to buy two dresses. (And follow up with the company to see how much more I can find out, for future reference.) At the second-hand store, I found a full, grey, cotton-linen skirt much like I’ve been wanting, for 12 bucks!

So in a matter of minutes, my entire summer wardrobe situation changed and I had to come back and rework all of the posts! Yesterday was going to be about how I really don’t have the dresses I’d like to be relying on, and no skirt like I wanted. Today was about those items being top priority … but that all changed. And took a lot of pressure off my to-sew list, which was problematically long for someone who hasn’t managed to sew a single thing since last August. Here’s the current situation:

ROW 1 / WIPs: Sloper and Summer cardigan are both currently in progress. I also keep imagining an oversize, crewneck, cotton Sloper for wearing alone now and layering later, but we’ll see if/when that happens.

ROW 2: My dream in life is to be wearing my favorite outfit — jeans and a perfectly fitting grey t-shirt — and have made them both. I’m making the jeans in September (more on that later) and have been planning to make the tee sooner, but this is a long list, Everlane has a tee that looks pretty perfect (made in LA), and I have a store credit. So this one is looking like a purchase in the short term.

ROW 3: What I’m really feeling the lack of most is white tops, and these are both extremely quick and simple. On the left is a mod of the OOP Cynthia Rowley pattern I mentioned yesterday, which I’ll be making in both white linen and black linen. On the right is another version of my little self-drafted shell, this time in crisp white cotton and probably with some gathers at the neck. These are now the top priority to-do’s.

ROW 4: I think Liesl Gibson’s new Soho Skirt, on the left, might be the full skirt pattern I’ve been wanting, and I’m planning to make the first one in black linen, to wear with everything. Now that I have the thrifted grey skirt of similar fullness, though, I’m going to wear it for a minute and see if it suits me as well — and plays as nicely with my other clothes — as I think it will. In the middle is the Hemlock mod I made last year (and shrank and re-homed) which I want to make again in heather grey. I have some remnant bits of a wool knit that I’d love to use — if there’s enough. If not, I’ll either make it or Linden from regular sweatshirt jersey. This is an absolute must by Fall, but would be really useful at work if I can get it done for summer. On the right is the striped version of the Adventure Tank (view B) that I’ve been plotting since making the black one, and was in my plan for last summer, but never got done. I want it very badly, and have the hemp jersey already, but it’s non-urgent. When I get around to cutting it out, I’ll likely also make a heather grey version.

So that’s 6-7 sewing projects right there, most of them extremely quick. And all of them fold seamlessly into fall.

HOWEVER: First, there’s mending and refashioning to do to get a few of the inventory items to wearable status:
– shorten the black slip dress and add pockets
– mend the light jeans
– mend the camo pants
– dye the ivory I+W tee
– lengthen the black cardigan, which hasn’t been mentioned for summer yet but I was hoping would be useful!

And then there’s the little matter of the Fen (hybrid) dress that’s currently in my Summer of Basics plan. (June 1, y’all! Are you excited?) I still very much want this dress, but it will no longer be black linen, so I’m mulling alternate fabrics and maybe even a more fall-ish fabric, and making it the last of the three projects I start for SoB rather than the first.

With yesterday’s 34 Haves and WIPs, the above would bring my summer-edit total to 40 garments, which I have no doubt I can combine into an entire summer’s worth of work and weekend outfits, which I’m eager to do! I’m sorry to leave you on the edges of your seats over the weekend ;) but being in Florida and lacking some key garment photos, I’m going to do that as soon as I’m reunited with my closet. So I’ll have that to share sometime next week.

I hope you have an amazing and fruitful weekend—

(Fashionary sketch templates via Fringe Supply Co.)

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Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 2: Closet inventory

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 2: Closet inventory

The best part of doing my whole winter wardrobe plan was isolating the couple dozen garments from my closet that would be the main players for the season. It not only simplified the process of getting dressed, but it changed even how I hang things in my closet. I’ve always been a little obsessive about grouping things by category — pants, sleeveless tops, sleeves, etc. (I might as well confess that I hang them from light to dark within those categories! I am such a librarian. And yes, all my hangers match.) That way, I reasoned, I could see what I have and be able to think. But with that little winter-heroes grid taped to the closet door, I didn’t need to look at the hangers and shelves at all, I only needed to look at the grid (or the outfit grids). What happened as a result is that the active stuff naturally shuffled to the center, right in front of the door, and the stuff that wasn’t in play for that season got pushed progressively to the side. Which was perfect because they weren’t relevant at the moment, and rather than simplifying or clarifying things, having them hung together with the relevant stuff was actually cluttering the process of getting dressed. (I don’t own enough clothes to put things away for the season or whatever — everything fits in my little 1950s closet.) The fact that my closet became what I previously considered a disorganized mess didn’t matter at all — it was actually one less thing to worry about.

So here are the key players for this summer:

DRESSES
– black linen Earthen Slip (made in KC, 2016, no longer available)
linen Gallery dress
blue stripe dress
– black linen Flax dress (new)
– striped linen Flax dress (new)

I love the black slip dress I got last summer but I find the calf length hard to wear and the lack of pockets problematic, so I’m planning to shorten it and add big patch pockets. Not sure why I don’t have photos of the next two — pardon the terrible drawings, [UPDATED 05.15] but you can see them at the links — and I’ll tell you about the two newly acquired (as in, this week) dresses tomorrow.

SLEEVELESS
Lakeside camisoles
black Adventure tee
striped cotton shell
black silk gauze shell

KNIT VESTS/TOPS
Anna vest
Meg-made tee
– WIP: ash linen Sloper

TEES, TOPS, TUNICS
– black Imogene+Willie tee (made in LA, no longer available)
Part Wolf tee (2013)
linen Fen top
blue stripe Fen top
– linen Elizabeth Suzann Harper Tunic (recent acquisition)
– black plaid top (me-made 2015, never blogged)
– black chambray top (me-made 2014, never blogged)
– ivory Madewell tunic (2014)
– tobacco linen Nade Studio tunic (2016)
– secondhand chambray shirt

I have another I+W tee in natural, which unfortunately just looks like a white tee gone dingy, so I’m hoping to dye it somehow. Good ol’ Part Wolf is in here partially as a stand-in for the fact that I want a nice fresh grey tee, more on that tomorrow. The plaid top and black chambray top are both modifications from an out-of-print Cynthia Rowley pattern that I’ve tampered with endlessly the past several years and will be doing so again. Nade Studio is a new acquaintance of mine, Maggie Pate, who I met last summer at a little makers’ market in Chattanooga and who sews every piece herself. I bought this linen tunic from her at Porter Flea in December and have been awaiting the time for wearing it. The chambray shirt will really be an outer layer for summer …

OUTER LAYERS
– denim J.Crew shirt jacket (c.2003)
– WIP: grey summer cardigan

My treasured old shirt jacket has become tissue thin all over, so I’m wearing it sparingly — it’s sort of a stand-in here for my actual jean jacket, which I don’t have a pic of.

SKIRTS
– black cotton embroidered Katayone Adeli skirt (c.1998)
– thrifted grey cotton-linen skirt

I would have sworn I recently took a photo of [UPDATED 05.15] the Adeli skirt, which I bought 20 years ago and basically wore for the first time last summer … and haven’t worn since. But I’m determined to get it into rotation this year. The thrifted skirt is another piece I just got this week ($12!) and will talk more about tomorrow.

PANTS
– black linen Elizabeth Suzann Florence pants (new/sample, pockets added by me)
– wide-leg J.Crew khakis (2016)
– natural Imogene+Willie Willies (2016, made in LA)
– camo pants Gap/mended (c.2009)
– visibly mended J.Crew jeans (c.2003)

… if I can finally get in another round of patching/mending on those poor beloved old jeans AND on the camo pants that have recently had a major blow-out around the cargo pockets. There’s also something not quite right about the fit on those khakis, which I bought around this time last year — I’m going to take them to a tailor and see if they can solve it so I’ll actually wear them more often.

SHOES
– black Jane Sews sandals (2016, no longer available)
– tan J.Crew sandals (2009)
– faux snake J.Crew flats (2017, no longer available)
– silver flats (2016, handmade in LA by Solid State for Goodwin, no longer available)
– black ankle boots (Gap 2014)

I’m putting major emphasis on ankle boots for summer, as discussed yesterday, the challenge being that my 3-year-old boots are looking problematically shabby. They were cheap to begin with, poor quality leather, which means there’s not much that can be done to make them presentable again. So I’m in the market for a replacement, but finding exactly the right combination of heel height and shaft height is SO HARD. Maybe if I finally found the exact right pair of clogs, hmm.

. . .

One notable absence here is my chambray Endless Summer tunic, one of the most hardworking garments I own. However, I like it best as an underlayer, hanging out from underneath a pullover or button-up, and it doesn’t quite light me up when paired with any of the bottoms here on its own, so ironically it’s not in the summer lineup but will be back for Fall. Also not here is my Togue Stripes tank, which is being adopted by my sister.

It may not look like there’s not a ton of commonality between these things and what I’ve described as my ideal summer mode of dress, partly because I don’t have photos of the dresses, [UPDATED 05.15] but I’m also lacking some of the most basic of basics that will help pull it all together. There’s also the fact that these items don’t go together in as many different ways as I would like, so what I need to do is make sure the garments I’m thinking of adding will extend the uses of everything here. For example, the plaid top is here but just barely. Despite the tissue-thin cotton fabric, it feels a little too Fall to me when paired with the black pants or the khaki trousers (and boots or closed shoes, if we’re talking about work). It’s cute and summery enough (by my standards) with the natural jeans and sandals, but I can’t wear sandals to my frigid workplace, so its utility is quite limited in this mix. But I’m into the idea of pairing it with a black linen skirt, and that skirt would also add one more outfit option to almost every top seen here. So more about what I’m making or otherwise adding tomorrow

(Fashionary sketch templates via Fringe Supply Co.)

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