Belated FOs: The plaid tee and black puff sleeve

Belated FOs: The plaid tee and black puff sleeve

Someday soon I’ll be ready to do some spring-into-summer wardrobe planning, and am imagining once again including this little plaid top in my closet inventory with the words “never blogged,” followed by all the natural questions about it. So instead I thought Gee, Karen, what if you blogged it! And actually there are two of them from the same pattern, neither one ever properly recorded, so I’m here today to correct the record.

Both of these tops were sewn from a now out-of-print Cynthia Rowley for Simplicity pattern #2472. I can be that specific because I have this 6-year-old blog that has a much better memory than I do. Having just tripped back through a search, I can report that when I got the urge to take up sewing again after learning to knit, the first thing I sewed was this crosshatchy quilting cotton version after seeing this one on Make Something. I’ve made several of them over the years, always tampering with this simplest of patterns, but the two above are the ones that have stuck around and been worn.

The black one (from early 2014, just before I left Berkeley) is in a chambray I had left over from another project, just barely enough to squeak out a cropped version, which I love. With those gathered sleeves, it’s probably the girliest thing in my closet! But it looks great with wide-leg pants, and can be worn in just about any setting, so even though I wouldn’t want you to see the inside of it, it’s a keeper.

The plaid one is sewn from a translucently thin cotton plaid I bought from Drygoods Design in early 2015. All I did with this one is adjust the length, shorten the sleeves and hem them — no gathers. It was the last thing I ever sewed on my old machine, after the *#@!er acted up while I was topstitching the neck on this beloved and delicate fabric. It’s also wonky because the fabric has biased considerably over time. So it’s another case of something that might not pass muster with any scrutinizing sewers, and the fit is not quite as intended, but it has nonetheless proved to be a useful member of my closet for three years now.

I had some of the plaid fabric left over, and bought a couple more yards from Fancy Tiger not long after, and have been hoarding it. Despite the biasing, I absolutely adore this plaid. It’s hard to see in a photo but it’s black and grey and golden-tan, and the grey reads almost as lilac or pale blue depending what you put it up against. It’s just lovely. But given how thin it is and how it behaves, I have yet to figure out the ideal use for the yardage that remains.

RE the pattern, though, you can easily replicate this with the Fen top or Shirt No. 1. Just tinker with the length as you like, make the sleeve flaps elbow length, then gather them to your liking and finish with bias trim.

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PREVIOUSLY in FOs: My first sweatshirt

Knit the Look: The Crown’s cardigans

Knit the Look: The Crown's cardigans

I’ve heard it said that Neflix’s spectacular “The Crown” has the biggest budget of any TV series in history, and it’s easy to believe — the sheer number of extras, sets, locations, costumes. It often seems you’ve seen an entire movie’s worth of people and outfits before the opening credits begin.  And gosh, the young Queen Elizabeth’s cardigans alone — a truly dizzying array of them (pink, black, peacock, khaki …) — must have cost a pretty penny! It leaves me wondering whether she really spent nearly every day of her life in one, and how many there were in her royal closet. (Just a few on repeat? She seems so sensible.) But if it leaves you wondering how to knit a similar one for yourself, I’d recommend Churchmouse’s Quintessential Cardigan pattern, which is written for lace-weight yarn held double and knitted on 5s for a nice light fabric (though not as ultra-fine-gauge as the machine-knit costume ones), and which also includes details on how to customize the length of both the body and sleeves. One of the recommended yarns is Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze, and while I don’t think I’ve seen the Queen wear a mohair sweater, it was certainly all the rage in the ’50s. Kidsilk Haze comes in several of the show’s colors, including “Drab,” which looks about like the one she’s wearing above. The other recommended yarn is Shibui’s Lunar (pictured), a luxurious merino-silk blend that might suit Her Majesty. Or of course, there’s always cashmere.

Does anyone here know, seriously, what the Queen might have preferred?

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PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Marthe Wiggers’ vintage-chic pullover

“Karen, where are your me-made jeans?”

"Karen, where are your me-made jeans?"

Today is the start of Fashion Revolution Week (yesterday having also been Earth Day) and I thought it seemed like a good time to answer a question I’ve been hearing a lot, not at all surprisingly, which is always some variation on “Karen, do you wear the jeans you made?” Of all the old fast-fashion habits that have posed assorted challenges as I’ve rewired my brain these past few years, jeans have been one of the biggest hurdles — and victories.

In January of 2016, I bought my first pair of jeans since the decision to try to create a more responsible wardrobe. They came from J.Crew’s made-in-LA line called Point Sur, and at something like $125 (I think I got them on sale), they were a big leap for me, as I’d always bought a lot of jeans, cheaply. When I gave in to stretch denim for a few years, I bought the $45 kind at the J.Crew outlet store, and for real denim I would buy $20 men’s jeans from Old Navy. Neither of which would last very long — so how much was I really spending to feed my jeans habit, right? I just checked that great closet clean-out post that set me on this path, and at that time I had 13 pair of jeans, which was probably fairly average, and I would guess most were less than 2-3 years old. They were donated or taken to the consigment shop at that time, and only two pair made the move from CA to TN — the two ultra-faded pairs you’ve seen me post about mending over the past few years. One of them (made of good denim) is now 15+ years old, and the other (the cheaper Old Navy variety) more like 5 or 6, but neither of them is reinforced enough to be wearable at the moment. So back to Jan 2015: I needed jeans, could not imagine making them or investing in even more expensive jeans with even more transparent origins, so I went with the Point Sur pair. And I made the commitment to wear them for weeks or months between washes and really make them fade in a very personal way, and more important, really make them last.

In January 2017, having not bought another pair of jeans in the year since, I made the bigger leap and bought a pair of men’s jeans from local brand Imogene+Willie, whose jeans are now sewn under their supervision in LA rather than still here in Nashville, using Cone Denim from North Carolina. (Cone NC has recently closed, sadly — so I’m not sure what happens next.) These were a whopping $235, but with them came a discount code for another pair at 40% off, so I reasoned that if I averaged the costs of two pairs, another year apart, I could do it. Same thing: Wear without washing as much as possible, making the fading and degrading process a slow one. (A year later when the discount code arrived, I decided it was counterproductive to buy another pair just to get the discount, when I didn’t need them. Such a grownup!)

Then in September of last year, I sewed my own jeans, again out of rigid dark denim. At that point, I realized — because I was taking such good care of the other two, they were both still quite dark and new looking — that I now had three pair of dark blue jeans, and no faded old friends to wear. I want each of these three to last me for years — remember I have a 15-y-o pair awaiting another round of mending, so that sets the bar — and I don’t want to be in the position again where my jeans are all at the end stage at the same time.

So I decided to phase them in. This winter, I basically only wore the first pair, the Point Sur, wearing them any time I was in the mood for jeans, and washing them next to never so they could start to take on my personal wear pattern. Which they are! They’re starting to get good, and are no longer that stark, dressy blue.

The I+W’s have been worn enough in the past 15 months that they’ve softened a bit and are starting to feel more like mine, but are so far showing no real break in the dye at all — they’re still a perfectly even dark blue, just not quite as dark as they started out. So as the Point Sur pair continues to lighten up, I’ll start to wear the I+W’s more. (I did choose them for my 10×10, you may recall.) And not until they start to show some wear and some fade, probably another year from now, will I really start to phase in my handmades. So that’s why you haven’t been seeing them in my wardrobe planning or outfit posts.

They’re in waiting.

The other day, Bob came into my little workroom holding a pair of rigid denim jeans he had bought from J.Crew a year or two ago. (As I recall, they were actually made in the US, of Japanese denim.) “Do you want these? They’re too small for me.” I exclaimed that I most certainly did not! My three pairs are feeling like an embarrassment of riches to me — more than plenty. But he knows me. “They seem like they’ll fit you, and they need a new owner … .” So I tried them on, and omigod, they fit EXACTLY like my beloved old 15-y-o mended pair do, my all-time favorites. Like replicas. So of course I agreed to give them a home in my closet. But they’ve been added to this slow-rotation plan of mine, so it may be a couple of years before they start to see the light of day …

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion: 10×10 Challenge: Lessons learned

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Big shop news + LYS Day + More

Big shop news + LYS Day + More

Dear friends, there is so much happening I hardly know where to start! So let’s just take it in chronological order, shall we? Deep breath; here we go:

– In the shop today are two pretty new publications you’ll want for your library: Volume 5 of Making: Color and MDK Field Guide 6: Transparency — AND we finally got a box full of all the gorgeous horn and bone buttons you’ve been waiting on plus the ebony repair hooks are back in stock!

– BUT WAIT! In the shop tomorrow will be something many of you have dreamed of and begged for: Toffee Field Bags! You heard that right — the late, great, deeply loved, loudly lamented Toffee is making its return, as first announced on Instagram.

– BUT WAIT! If you want Toffee and there’s a Field Bag Stockist near you, you can get it there tomorrow, which happens to also be:

– LYS Day! Stores around the globe have all manner of exciting things planned, from special guests to limited goods to who knows what! And those shops that are Fringe Supply Co. stockists will have the Toffee Field Bag among their exciting offerings, and also the ever-popular Grey Field Bag! (Going forward, Grey will only be available through our stockists, and not through us.) So if it’s Toffee or Grey you seek, and you want it in your hands tomorrow, check the stockist page to see if your local yarn store is a Field Bag stockist. If not, you’ll also be able to order Toffee at Fringe Supply Co. as of Saturday morning. Either way, plan to visit your LYS tomorrow and see what fun stuff they have in store for you! And let them know how much you appreciate them.

– Sunday is Earth Day, and also the launch of a small business I’m very excited about: Rove + Weft. This is two women who come from the fashion industry and wanted to find a way to bridge the gap between textile artisans around the globe and those of us who want traceable, responsible fabrics to sew with. They’re launching with a small set of absolutely beautiful, gossamer cotton khadis from India, which you can see on their Instagram and will be able to order through their website as of Sunday. Sarah and Abby were kind enough to send me a few yards of two of the fabrics recently and they are lovely.

– And then Monday is the start of Fashion Revolution Week!

Which part are you most excited about? And whatever your plans, I hope you have a magnificent weekend—

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PREVIOUSLY: Elsewhere

Queue Check — April 2018

Queue Check — April 2018

My little sweatshirt-style sweater vest is coming along, as you can see. Between the stockinette doldrums of it, and working too many late nights the past few weeks, it’s taking longer than it rightly should. But it’s currently drying on the blocking board (and surely sleeveless weather is just around the corner), so I need to make some decisions about the edge treatments! I think what I’m going to do is pick and knit 2×2 ribbed bands around the neck and armholes, then see how it hangs. Depending where it hits at the hip, I might pick up stitches and knit a waistband — ribbed? folded and hemmed stockinette? not sure yet! Or, if the length is good as is, I might just do some kind of attached I-cord edge to persuade it to lie flat. Either way, let’s hope I’m wearing it soon. (No pattern; yarn details here.)

The only other thing I have in progress at the moment is the latest in my series of Log Cabin Mitts. They’ve been waiting for their thumbs since around the time I cast on this sweater. When I do get a little knitting time, it feels wrong not to work on that, and so these have languished. Also, this particular pair is not as conducive to being picked up and advanced a little in the gaps here and there, as the blue is natural indigo. In other words, knitting them in the passenger seat on the way to somewhere would mean arriving with blue fingers. That sort of thing! But I’m quite eager to finish them off and further the next pair.

Next up are two accessory projects I can’t talk about, which leaves me pondering what the next garment will be. At the same time, I’m plotting my Summer of Basics plans and other considerations. So for the moment, I’ll just get those secret accessories underway …

Blocking mats and stitch markers at Fringe Supply Co.

PREVIOUSLY in Queue Check: March 2018

New Favorites: Blanket temptations

New Favorites: Blanket temptations

Purl Soho, always an amazing source of killer blanket patterns, has been back at it lately. I still think if I ever knit a blanket, it will almost certainly have to happen in modular (i.e. log cabin) fashion, but these two are super tempting — and by the way both are free knitting patterns:

TOP: Nature’s Palette Blanket by Joelle Hoverson is an even more lyrical and painterly version of her long-ago Ombré Blanket but also brings to mind one of the first patterns I ever fell in love with as a knitter, their Striped Cotton Cowl. (Both discussed in this 2012 post, The other breed of colorwork.) Whereas the cowl had you holding a strand of randomly changing color along with a persistent strand of natural, the new blanket has you holding a rich range of colors together, alternating them along the way to create deep, mesmerizing color shifts.

BOTTOM: Double Knit Blanket by Jake Canton is, on the other, such a simple but effective thought — just two layers of stockinette “glued” together with a single stitch here and there — and double knitting has been on my list of things to try since the day I bought Joelle’s book as a shiny new knitter, thinking its double-knit coasters would be one of my first projects. I’ve still never done it! But think how cozy the blanket would be, and how fun to pick your colors.

Both would also be amazing knitted in wrap proportions — the blanket you get to wear everywhere.

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Date night sweaters

What I Know About: Gansey origins (with Deb Gillanders)

What I Know About: Gansey origins (with Deb Gillanders)

When I first posted that seemingly innocuous photo of Daniel Day-Lewis wearing his splendid gansey, I did not imagine anything like where it has led. I’ve spent loads of time since then in conversation with assorted people about their knowledge of these sweaters, fielding recommendations and following leads, reading the informed comments on that and the follow-up post, and most of all exchanging emails with Deb Gillanders, above, of Propagansey, who reached out after the initial post and has been filling me in on so much of what I was wanting to know! So of course, I asked if I could pick her brain a bit on behalf of all of you, and interview her for the blog. Ganseys are a rich well in the land of knitting history — tables full of books have been written on the subject — and we’re just scratching the surface here, but be sure to check out the resources at the end, and pattern suggestions here

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So Deb, how did you first become interested in Ganseys?

My interest in Ganseys began some years ago when I met a retired trawlerman at a party; he was telling a scurrilous tale and wearing a beautiful old blue patinated Gansey that he’d knitted himself. I was hooked.

As Propagansey I sell Frangipani wool, attend wool shows and give talks and workshops on Ganseys and their yarns. I also curate an annual exhibition every September in Robin Hoods Bay. When I began, over 10 years ago, I thought I was doing well to show two dozen or so but it’s now probably the biggest display of its kind in the world, with well over 100 Ganseys old and new from around UK and Holland.

Ok, so first let’s talk about that: UK and Holland, or country of origin. I think most knitters have a general sense of what a gansey is (and you can set me straight on any fine distinctions here) — A type of fisherman’s sweater most closely associated with Great Britain, typically navy blue, that features a mix of stitch patterns (from simple to complex, sometimes cables but often just knits and purls) often contained to the upper part of the sweater, along with seamless construction and a distinctive underarm gusset. It’s often said that they’re called Ganseys (or Guernseys) because they originated in the Channel island of Guernsey, but that’s thought to be a myth, correct? They’re not just a UK thing — you mentioned Holland as well. And they’re distinct from that other famous fisherman’s sweater, the heavily cabled, typically ivory, Aran sweater. Where are the geographical boundaries between ganseys and jerseys and aran sweaters, fuzzy though they may be?

I hope purists will forgive me if, for the sake of brevity, I say that although the origins of the Channel Islands’ Guernsey and the more northern Gansey were possibly different, they evolved into almost identical garments, and the history is probably not worth unpicking. More recent developments have been more date-able; there was a revival of the Aran before WW2 and around the same time the Eriskay Gansey appeared; this seems to have been the brainchild of a local lady who designed a Gansey with the upper and lower body bearing different patterns. Also, in the 1930s tuna fishing became extremely popular off the Yorkshire coast with many well-heeled recreational fishermen coming to places like Scarborough for this sport — they saw the local Ganseys, wanted a special version for themselves, and thus was born the white Gansey for ‘Best.’ Around the same time, Channel Island Parishes were being altered, with some deciding to mark the occasion and promote their identity with a new motif for their Guernseys. So all these human activities had an impact on what we now think of as ‘traditional’ Arans, Guernseys, etc. As for geographical areas, Arans are still associated with the Aran Islands; the Channel Island cod fishermen took their word Jersey across the Atlantic with them and it now denotes a sweater that differs from Guernsey/Gansey in construction and use of more than one colour; and as fishermen from around the North Sea converged on the annually migrating shoals of herring it’s no surprise to find both Dutch and British fishermen wearing blue garments, patterned and knitted in the round. This seamless construction is not only unlikely to fall apart in heavy-duty working conditions, it’s also very easy to effect repairs. The Dutch word is Visserstruien.

Within the realm of Ganseys, there are varieties associated with different ports or regions — this is the part I’ve been digging into more since all that erupted in the wake of my initial Daniel Day-Lewis post. In particular, there are several patterns and references to “a Staithes” as the sub-type of gansey DDL is wearing. And I’ve also seen references to a historical figure named Henry Freeman, survivor of multiple disasters, who famously wore such a gansey in famous photos. This super-simple version almost looks to me like a starter gansey — like maybe you would have learned this and then gone on to knit more elaborate ones. But is that a logical assumption in any way, or is it in fact tied to a specific place, Staithes? Or even more specifically to Henry Freeman somehow? I noted before that Gladys Thompson and Penny Straker both have published “Staithes” patterns with their notes referencing one in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection, but I haven’t been able to turn up a photo of the one they’ve apparently modeled their patterns on. So what’s the story on Staithes?

Staithes is a small, scenic, isolated ex-fishing village 12 miles north of Whitby. (Look out for the scene in Phantom Thread with a chapel behind them further up the hill where they’re walking down a street together — yes, that’s Staithes!)

There are two Gansey patterns associated with, although not exclusive to, Staithes: one in the V&A is a vertical pattern involving cable and moss, very similar to Robin Hoods Bay, about 6 miles south of Whitby; the other, associated with the Verrill family, is DDL’s. I’ve attached a photo of James Verrill (see photo above) modelling his Gansey rather successfully outside Old St. Stephen’s Church, where Propagansey 2015 was held. A ‘Staithes Gansey’ isn’t a subset of the genre, it’s simply from that place patternwise, as is a Sheringham Gansey or a Whitby Gansey. They’re all built more or less the same. You’re right; the Seeds & Bars pattern is an easy one; not only to knit but also to adjust to fit the wearer. More complex patterns can break down into more manageable, bite-sized pieces that are simply repeated ad infinitum, but still require a practised eye to alter sizewise. Growing up with Gansey knitters, a child would start on small items, e.g. socks, then graduate on to the pattern most commonly knitted in their house, which might be in the local style, with variations added from the knitters’ travels. Then she herself might marry and move to her husband’s village. Thousands of herring lassies moved down the East coast of Britain every year gutting and packing the herring, knitting and nicking each others’ patterns, and they hadn’t heard of intellectual property rights — if they saw something they liked, it was copied and added to their repertoire! Compare Gansey patterns to the treatment tartan received when Queen Victoria became so fond of Scotland; every fashionista had a ball, and tartans became officialised beyond their previous form; this never happened with Ganseys, the tribal ID of many fishermen.

The history of ganseys — and origins of Daniel Day Lewis'sAs for Henry Freeman, that Seeds & Bars wasn’t his only Gansey! Incidentally, Henry Freeman was from Bridlington (these things are important) although he gained fame as Cox’n of the Whitby lifeboat, having been the sole survivor of a disaster where he was wearing the only brand-new cork life jacket.

This upper body Seeds & Bars is also frequently associated with Polperro in Cornwall. This was a place where many women did contract knitting, and as this is a very economical pattern to knit, having no cable, it turns up all over the place. I have heard that there was a connection between Staithes and Cornwall, but I haven’t looked into that. Certainly Cornish fishermen were amongst the fleet that followed the herring down the East coast every year.

I love having the term Seeds & Bars for describing the Staithes design, thank you. And that makes perfect sense about contract knitters sticking to this comparatively simple pattern. But even though knitters all over knitted it, it’s still commonly known as a Staithes gansey? Going back to the geography question, it’s also widely believed that each port (or even each family) had its own distinct design, and you could identify a drowned fisherman by his sweater. (This is also a persistent tale with Aran sweaters.) In reality, it’s not that clear-cut, correct? And yet there are types with names that are commonly known and used and understood. How many different sub-types are there, would you say?

It’s not really true to think of each village having its own pattern. Many early, working Ganseys were very plain; Ganseys were often contract knitted and bought in chandlers’ around the UK; even local patterns were fluid. Having said that, there are regional styles — I can recognise a Gansey from Fife, Sheringham or Eriskay, for example; but I can also spot individual knitters, not only in their favourite patterns/variations but also by the construction details, and it’s when you get to this level that you begin to see the cleverness in little changes.

Having been associated for some time with Old St. Stephen’s, an old church in Robin Hoods Bay where the gravestones date back over 200 years, I can say that most drowned men remained buried at sea; the number of purely commemorative inscriptions attest to this. It was very rare for a drowned man to be returned to his home; logistically, emotionally and financially it was unfeasible. However, I have heard of a body being recognised by its Gansey.

The out-takes illustrate not only how a thing ‘should’ be done, but how impossible it is to really pin a tradition down. Just when you think you’ve nailed it … . There is a type of Double Moss motif made up of 2 rows of knit then 2 rows of p2k2 to end, which is known as Betty Martin and was widely used in Filey and Flamborough, but none knows if Betty Martin actually existed. One Yorkshire woman married and moved to Cornwall, taking her Betty Martin upper sleeve motif with her — it was seen as very distinctive. One Filey pattern is named after a local man called Matt Cammish. His family came from NE Scotland. Ganseys in Whitby usually have a 3-button opening on the left side of the neck; this came down with the Scottish herring lassies, and when I met some Polperro knitters a few years ago they hadn’t seen this but thought it was a very good idea. Incidentally, the Cornish term for Gansey is Knitfrock. The typical Guernsey has a split welt, not normally found in other Ganseys.

However, I do believe that many Gansey knitters were operating when Ganseys were a part of life and you’d pick up the basics with your daily breath, just as kids today are at home with their various devices. Hence Propagansey — I love the yarns, and how by actually spending time with them, you can get what the knitter was doing, even if was over 100 years ago. There were definitely some clever tarts around!

For those wanting to know more about Gansey history and patterns, in addition to your Propgansey website, what books or other resources do you recommend? Any specific knitting patterns you’d encourage people toward?

• Gladys Thompson; Patterns for Jerseys, Guernseys & Arans
• Mary Wright; Cornish Guernseys & Knitfrocks
• Michael Pearson; Traditional Knitting of the British Isles, vol 1: Fisher Gansey Patterns of North East England, and vol 2: Fisher Gansey Patterns of Scotland and the Scottish Fleet (In-print option: Traditional Knitting: Aran, Fair Isle and Fisher Ganseys)
• Beth Brown-Reinsel; Knitting Ganseys: Techniques and Patterns for Traditional Sweaters
Propagansey 2018; 8-16th September at Fylingthorpe Methodist Chapel, Fylingthorpe, N Yorks, UK; 10-4 daily

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Thanks so much, Deb! I hope to get to your exhibit someday.

And here’s a fun fact, dear readers: The gansey Deb is wearing in the top photo was later knitted for her by the trawlerman who first sparked her interest in ganseys. How awesome is that?

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PREVIOUSLY in What I Know About: Rhinebeck (with Kay Gardiner)

Photos courtesy of Deb Gillanders

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