Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

EDITOR’S NOTE: This month Jess highlights one of the most fundamental reasons a knitter might knit a swatch — as the basis for a coming design!
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

I’ve been working on a design for awhile. As I figure out the specifics, it’s kinda secret – okay, it’s totally secret. But while I can’t tell you what exactly it will become, I do want to share a big part of that development process with you, which begins with (you guessed it) a swatch. Actually, a lot of swatches.

THE PROCESS

When I come up with a knitted garment idea, it’s usually a conflation of several sources – inspiration I see on Pinterest and Instagram, as well as objects I see in the world. Sometimes, these might be actual garments or fabrics that spark an idea of how those elements could be executed differently. Other times, I find architectural elements, pattern and nature to be just as informative. I’ll collect a bunch of photos on my phone, in Pinterest, in my head – a vision board would be ideal for this – and then start sketching.

In designing this piece, I have a vision of the kind of fabric I want to create and work with. Imagine a woven fabric, smooth but a little nubbly. The fabric is stiff enough to provide some structure, but still retains a soft drape that will relax against the body. The yarn will be cream-colored (I’m clearly on a neutrals kick) and crisp to show some stitch definition. The right yarn also won’t have too much sheen, instead veering to a matte finish. To achieve that kind of look and weight, I imagined I would need a fingering or sport-weight yarn executed in some kind of slip-stitch pattern. I took a look in my stash to find some likely yarn contenders.

Now, to be clear, I’m not a professional knitwear designer. I don’t make a living from designing knitting patterns, and to date, I’ve only published one, the Beach Tank. So my creative process and approach are completely my own and informed by my knitting experience, conversations with established knitwear designers, and some math and common sense. They don’t reflect any “right” or “wrong” way to design a knitting pattern. I’m relatively new to this, so if you design your own knitting patterns (professionally or otherwise) I’d love to hear what your own process looks like in the comments!

THE CONTENDERS

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

TN Textile Mill: OUR yarn
I began swatching with the truly gorgeous OUR yarn, a mulberry silk noil yarn from Allison of TN Textile Mill (formerly Shutters & Shuttles). I fell in love with the texture and palette of this sport-weight yarn when I first spotted it on Instagram, and couldn’t get it out of my head. Over the summer, I ordered a few skeins to have on hand, and once this design began to come together, I reached for it immediately.

This might sound overly poetic, but this yarn feels organic and alive in your hands when you’re knitting with it. I feel that way sometimes about some wool yarns I’ve come across (the Hudson Valley Fibers yarn from my Rhinebeck post checks the box), but other cotton, silk or plant-based yarns I’ve worked with don’t always have that quality. I think it’s a combination of color, texture and some unpredictability in knitting that reminds you that you’re working with a product of a living, breathing organism. And those silky nubs!

When developing a stitch pattern that mimicked the look and feel of a woven fabric, I turned to the woven transverse herringbone stitch pattern of my previous Churro post, as well as the chevron pattern of Michele Wang’s Abbott (which I finished knitting earlier last year) for inspiration. I wanted to try a slip-stitch that I hoped, in scale, would look unrecognizable as a knitted fabric. On size US2 needles, I cast on an even number of stitches and worked the following:

Row 1 (RS): *Knit 1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front; repeat to end
Row 2 (WS): Purl
Row 3: *Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front, Knit 1; repeat to end
Row 4: Repeat Row 2

The result, unfortunately, was a no-go. The yarn didn’t have the density and structure I’m after, and the stitch pattern looks like a bunch of dash marks across a field of stockinette. With my next attempt, I would try a yarn with a little more elasticity, so it would form a tighter fabric more easily. I would also try slipping stitches on every row, not just on the right side.

. . .

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

Shibui: Staccato
Next up was another yarn I had in my stash, Shibui’s fingering-weight merino-silk blend, Staccato. Unlike the subtle sheen of the silk noil in OUR yarn, the silk in Staccato shimmers a little more brightly, likely a result of its tight, worsted-spun quality. When I held it together with Wool and the Gang’s Shiny Happy Cotton for my all-white beach tank, that shimmer was a perfect complement to the matte look of the cotton. Time to try it on its own.

On size US2 needles, I cast on an even number of stitches and worked the following:

Row 1 (RS): *Knit 1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front; repeat to end
Row 2 (WS): *Purl 1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in back; repeat to end

I was pretty thrilled with the result, which got much closer to the woven look I wanted. But then I had this idea – what if I were to create a knit fabric on the bias? I think that concept bubbled up from some of my adventures in sewing earlier last year, specifically A Verb for Keeping Warm’s Tendril Dress, which is sewn on the bias. I haven’t sewn this dress yet, but I remember conversations with my grandmother about this pattern and the ripple effect that a bias drape could lend a garment. Sounded intriguing. Here’s what I did:

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

Cast on 2 stitches on size US2 needles.

Row 1 (RS): Increase 1 stitch by knitting front and back (KFB), Knit 1 (3 stitches on needle)
Row 2 (WS): Purl 1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in back, Purl 1
Row 3: K1, KFB, K1, KFB, K1 (5 stitches on needle)
Row 4: *Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in back, Purl 1; repeat from * once; P1
Row 5: K1, KFB, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front, K1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front, KFB, K1 (7 sts on needle)
Row 6: *P1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in back; repeat from * until 1 stitch remains; P1

It looks pretty messy, but here’s the gist – I increased 1 stitch at the beginning and end of each row on the right side, and alternated slipped stitches on the right and wrong sides to create a hatched, or woven look. Once the swatch became as large as I wanted, I began decreasing at the start and end of each right side row with K2tog or SSK, instead of increasing with KFB. Ta-da! A square swatch, knit on the bias.

There is still some tweaking to do, particularly on the edging. (Do I try a garter stitch edge? Or maybe finish the edges with rolled stockinette? Jury is still out.) But I feel like I’m really close to what I originally envisioned. The other plus was that the wrong side (lower photo) is just as beautiful as the right side (upper photo) – looks like a pebbly seed stitch knit on the diagonal. But I still wasn’t sold on the yarn. The Staccato has the fullness and stitch definition I was dreaming of, but the fabric didn’t look as matte as I hoped. I did some research and bought a skein of one more yarn to try.

. . .

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

Purl Soho: Linen Quill
Karen has gushed about Purl Soho’s Linen Quill before (here, here, oh, and also here), and I’m proudly adding my name to the Linen Quill Fan ClubTM. This fingering-weight blend of highland wool, alpaca and linen is remarkable. It has the elasticity of wool, the softness and halo of the alpaca, and the structure and subtle wiry quality of the additional linen. I loved knitting with it, and love the final swatch even more.

For this swatch, I followed the general slipped-stitch bias pattern above, but played around with the edging throughout, so you’ll see some irregularity on the edges in the photo. I also opted for Oatmeal Gray colorway, which on Purl Soho’s website looks like a scuffed-up cream (in the best sense), but actually is more of a true, light heather gray than a cream. For my final swatch, I’ll likely pick up a skein of Linen Quill in Heirloom White and give it a try. The only downside of this yarn is that it doesn’t have the same linear definition that the Staccato has, so I’m still undecided between the two. Do you all have a favorite?

At this rate, the pattern will be available in 2020… stay tuned!
Jess Schreibstein

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

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Q for You: What’s in your Field Bag?

Q for You: What's in your Field Bag?

I got into a funny conversation the other day with some friends, talking about how deceptive the Fringe Field Bag is. It doesn’t look like a very big bag, but then it holds so much more than you think it will. I’m constantly amazed at the things I see people pull out of them in real life, and am always ogling everyone’s on the #fringefieldbag feed, of course. But these replies from my friends cracked me up:

“I actually have a Field Bag in my car with a fully knit Arranmore sleeve, full skein of Arranmore, 6 feet of tinsel garland, full size fabric scissors and a banana in it.”

“I have an entire boxy sweater in mine right now. That sweater circumference is 60″!!”

“Mine has a sleeve, 3 skeins of yarn, magazine clippings, old sock yarn, half a hat plus the yarn for said hat, a highlighter, a bunch of pouches and my hat I was wearing before I got hot.”

An update out of the blue a few days later:

“9 [knitted] Christmas ornaments, 8 partial skeins of Canopy Fingering, 1 banana, 1 clementine, 1 size US1 DPN.”

I don’t like a really stuffed bag (of any kind), so I tend to keep less in mine than most people, I think — but I have for sure had a banana in my Field Bag at one point or another. Right now I have two hat WIPs and their yarn in one, and a cowl WIP plus two wound DK skeins in another. So that’s my slightly self-serving (market research!) but hopefully entertaining Q for You this week: What’s in your Field Bag? (With apologies to those who don’t have one. Yet!)

SHOP NEWS: Speaking of the Field Bag, we have all five colors back in stock this morning, Porter Bins for everyone, and the Bento Bags have been restocked as well (or will be any minute). The leather wrist ruler is back! We’ve got the Double Basketweave Cowl kit in indigo again (as well as undyed) and the Wabi Mitts kit in all eight colors at the same time! If you’ve been on the (now closed) wait list for the Lykke needles and didn’t hear from me yesterday, you’ll be hearing from me today. For everyone not on the list: if there are any left once the wait listers have their shot at them, I will announce it on Instagram @fringesupplyco tomorrow morning. But we’ve also got more coming next week, and will continue to carry them!

I hope you’ve all had a very merry week, and have an ever merrier weekend—

.

PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Are you a wardrobe planner?

Photos from the #fringefieldbag feed, clockwise from top left: @caitstop, @naturally_nora_crochet, @andrearknits, @bohochicfiberco (the November prize winner), @soveryshannon, @xtinawithwolves

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer (that’s me!)

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Today is the 5th anniversary of my first post on this little ol’ blog of mine, originally known as Yarnover.me. I’m not sure I’ve ever really introduced myself properly (although there was the “welcome” post when I changed the name to Fringe Association a year later), but since I get regular requests to feature myself in Our Tools, Ourselves, I thought today might be a good day to do it. In many ways, I’m a completely different person than I was when I set up the blog and made that first post. At that moment I was working as a web producer in San Francisco — I had a good job I was miserable in, had recently lost my garden and had no real creative outlet, and then I learned to knit. Five years later, this blog and Fringe Supply Co. are my full-time jobs. My husband and I now live in Nashville TN, where we are blessed to be able to own our home, and one of my oldest and best friends, DG, works with me at Fringe, which occupies a big studio space in a crumbling old building in the rapidly “gentrifying” Germantown neighborhood. It’s impossible for me to interview myself about my tools and organizational systems without it looking like one giant Fringe Supply Co. promo, but really it’s the opposite. Fringe is a reflection of my life. The things I sell in the shop are there because I either love and rely on them and want to make them available to you, or I designed them to fill a want or need of mine, and get to share that with you, too. So here’s how it all plays out in my world—

In case there’s anyone not already following along, I’m @karentempler and @fringesupplyco (and @slowfashionoctober) on Instagram, and karentempler and fringeassoc on Pinterest.

Before I get started, whether you’re brand-new here or have been reading the whole time, thank you for being here!

Oh, and! if you’ve asked someone to get you a Porter Bin as a gift, make sure they know they have two chances today: 9am and 12pm CST. (Along with another surprise ;)

Ok—

. . .

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

I’ve at least dabbled in all of the above except for spinning, but knitting and sewing are where it’s at for me. While I’m fascinated by spinning and weaving, I’m happy to support the amazing yarn-makers and weavers in the world and spend my own time turning the fruits of their labor into clothes.

I crocheted and sewed as a kid — hadn’t crocheted since, and sewed only very sporadically over the years — but didn’t learn to knit until the Fall of 2011. Obviously that had a huge impact on me, since it’s now the thing my universe revolves around. When I began knitting garments for myself, it brought me back to sewing and into the Slow Fashion movement, and really changed everything about how I approach my wardrobe. (See Why I make my clothes for more on that.)

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I’m a purist and a minimalist, in all aspects of life — I like natural materials, things that are the color nature made them, and not very much of anything. I try to keep it clean and spare and utilitarian, so that’s also what I look for in my knitting tools and accessories — and how Fringe Supply Co. came to be.

I only knit on circulars and DPNs — don’t own straight needles. When I was first knitting, I didn’t want to buy an interchangeable set because I was sure my preferences would evolve beyond bamboo and I didn’t want to commit to any one set, so instead I spent a small fortune buying new circs in every size and length every time I started a new project. Then I fell in love with Dreamz, asked for interchangeables for Christmas one year and wound up with two sets, and have been building up my parts and DPNs collection. But given what I said above about natural and undyed and all, you can imagine how I feel about the color-coding. :/ Now that I’ve found Lykke, I’m switching over! They’re the needles I’ve always longed for and I’m thrilled.

Other than needles, my tool kit is pretty basic: stitch markers, scissors, tapestry needles, a ruler and tape measure (wish I could find one I truly love that isn’t a cheap plastic giveaway sort of thing), pencil, eraser and Knitters Graph Paper Journal. Basically one of everything from my Tools collection! Lol. I use a DPN for a cable needle (if anything) and annotate my work (if needed) rather using a counter.

But I have to say, my very favorite “tool” is Fashionary templates. I’m literally addicted to the perforated sheets. Any time I pull them out and start sketching, I fall into a sort of trance of happiness, and they are all over my workroom — stuck to the wall, stacked on tables. In addition to enjoying the act of sketching and thinking through ideas, and paging through my drawings, they are the thing that has had the single greatest impact on my ability to envision and make things that are really smart and useful additions to my wardrobe. You can see how much I rely on them (and how I use them) if you look at my Wardrobe Planning series. I love them more than I can say.

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

All those individual circs and my DPNs are kept in a vintage 4-drawer metal file cabinet thing — like a card catalog, I guess — that I got at the flea market. Rarely touched these days. My interchangeables are in the case they came in, along with extra cords and stuff. I usually stick a pair of scissors in every project bag, and the other tools are next to my knitting seat, on little metal trays so it looks a little less random or messy. All of the needles plus my blocking supplies, a bin of not-in-use project bags and totes are all kept on the shelves under my worktable.

I don’t own very many sewing patterns, so they’re just stacked into an old soda crate on the shelf. Traced-and-cut pattern pieces are hung on S-hooks on a rod on the wall. And a Turkish tire-rubber bin holds rolled large-format patterns and tracing paper, oversized rulers, and so on.

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

I’m a fanatic about this, as you might guess. I mean, I’m an organizational freak to begin with, and I take project bags so seriously I built a business designing what I wanted, right? I’m very fortunate in our current home to have an extra bedroom I’ve made into my little workroom. There’s a desk that’s shared between my computer and sewing machine, a little Ikea worktable in the middle of the room, and a wall of Ikea Ivar shelving for storage, and that’s where my WIPs live. In the past, they were sort of floating around our loft with no good place to go, in a random array of bags. Which made me want to minimize the number of WIPs at any one time, but that’s also when I was the most profligate about casting on. So it all felt very out of control to me.

The shelves in my room now hold everything — books, patterns, WIPs, yarn and fabric — and they’re my portion control system. I’m not allowed to exceed the capacity of this wall — truly, if it doesn’t fit in there, I’ve gotten carried away. There’s one row of shelf that’s designated for WIPs; it fits four Porter Bins and two Field Bags, so I can have four sweaters (or sewing projects) and a couple/few smaller projects in progress, which is more than I actually care to have going at any one time. (There’s a Porter prototype at one end of the row, full of fabric scraps, that prevents me expanding the WIP container count any further!) But I LOVE this system. When it’s time to knit, I love going in and pulling a project off the shelf, and then I love replacing it on the shelf when I’m done. It’s so tidy! (This is how big a nerd I am.) And it really does keep my cast-on-itis in check. In reality, or ideally, I have one or two sweaters in progress in the Porters and the other two are just holding yarn for whatever’s next.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

The things that are my own creation are obviously special — the Field Bags, the Porters, the leather stitch marker pouch. My pouch feels like an old friend at this point. It’s darkened with age and use, but I’ve also spilled wine on it, etc., so it has a lot of character. I also have a couple of little bowls that were made by friends: two ceramic ones from my studio neighbor Morgan at Handmade Studio TN, one of which holds back-up stitch markers (I get itchy if I don’t have a lot of stitch markers around the house) and the other of which holds my sewing pins; and a little wooden one by my friend James of Handy Dandy Productions that also holds stitch markers and sits in the metal trays next to my knitting seat. He made us some of those for the shop this holiday, which made me really happy. Hopefully he’ll do it again sometime!

Yarn-wise, I have a number of treasures. Small-batch yarns made by good friends or that I’ve found on my travels — like the Sawkill I bought from an awesome farm couple on my first trip to Rhinebeck. Having special yarns like that makes me think really hard about what to do with them that will both honor their characteristics and take up long-term residence in my closet. Likewise, the fabric my friend Allison made for me, which I have yet to come up with the exact right project for! I take a long time to decide what to do with my treasures, and that feels entirely appropriate to me.

Other than that, my cousin recently sent me my eldest aunt’s dress form from when she was much younger. We are not a family with a lot of heirlooms — I have two things in my house that come from my family, and this is the third. It’s teensy (maybe size 4?) and in a little bit of disrepair. So I plan to treat it more as a decorative object than one for use, but I am really touched and happy to have it. (By the way, I get asked a lot about my dress form — the one pictured here. It’s just something I got by searching “collapsible dress form” at Amazon.)

Do you lend your tools?

I never really have occasion to! I do have that little cabinet full of all those old bamboo circs that I would be more than happy to lend out or give away! If you’re local and in need, hit me up.

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

I knit either curled up in the corner of my couch or in one of the hanging chairs on my screened porch, weather permitting. And there’s nowhere on earth I’d rather be than knitting in the hanging chair on my porch. But I also love knitting on my brother-in-law’s boat. When we visit them in Florida, we go out deep-sea fishing and I don’t really fish. But I love being out on the ocean, no civilization anywhere in sight, camped out on top of the cooler box under the bridge (in the shade) with my knitting, watching and cheering.

And I sew in my little sewing room, although that’s what I dislike a little about sewing — it makes me feel a bit trapped. Although obviously there are worse places to be trapped!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

What effect do the seasons have on you?

When we lived in Berkeley … well, there really are no seasons there (it’s just always chilly), and I could never understand why people with seasons didn’t knit year-round anyway. Don’t people in hot places have air conditioning? Don’t you still want something to do with your hands while watching a movie with your spouse or whatever? But now that we live in the South, I kind of get it. I still knit in the summer but there’s no urgency about it so I get a lot less done. And there are times, even with a/c, where the idea of touching wool is just unthinkable. Fortunately, it’s brief!

By contrast, I feel much more motivated to sew in the summer — both because it’s what I can do to make the clothes I need and want for the warm seasons and because the kinds of things I can sew (at my skill level, I mean) are more likely to be warm-weather clothes. Little tops and skirts and stuff. In the cool seasons, I’d way rather be curled up working on a sweater.

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

I guess my dark secret is sort of like Monica’s hall closet nobody wondered about until near the end of Friends. I’ve just told you all about my nice tidy wall of shelving and how everything is required to fit into that. But there is a big basket in my bedroom (like the size of a cooler) full of abandoned WIPs and ball ends and who knows what — stuff that predates my current system. I swear here publicly today, for all to see, that I will have it cleaned out before Spring. And I’ll have reclaimed about a dozen Bento Bags in the process!

My quirk is that I knit cross-legged or with my feet tucked under me, so I find it awkward to knit in public or a classroom or anywhere I have to sit in a chair with my feet on the floor.

What are you working on right now?

Right now all of my attention is on my Channel Cardigan. I’ve been on about that pattern for years now, and it has finally made it to the number one position in my queue. I just finished a small-gauge (for me) stockinette pullover and had major project fatigue by the end of it, despite absolutely LOVING that sweater. (OK, I still have the seaming and ends to do.) But Channel is reminding me just how much I love to knit.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

Photos of me, tool tray and hanging chair by Kathy Cadigan

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

EDITOR’S NOTE: My first exposure to Latvian mittens was when I won this amazing little boxed kit a few years ago. I don’t know much about Latvian mittens other than that I’d love to know more! So I’m especially happy about Jess digging in on the subject for her column this month—
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

For this month’s swatch, I wanted to do something festive. December is an intersection of many cultural and religious celebrations of light and color in the darkest month of the year (for the northern hemisphere, at least), and I thought this would be a perfect moment to look at knitting’s role in ceremony and celebration.

Back in college, I worked at a coffee shop owned by a Latvian woman. I didn’t really know much about the country, its people, or even where exactly Latvia was (in Eastern Europe somewhere, right? My international relations degree really strutting its stuff, guys). It wasn’t until I stumbled across Latvian and Estonian mittens for the first time as a knitter that I made the connection and picked up a copy of Lizbeth Upitis’ book Latvian Mittens to learn more about the region and its knitting traditions.

THE BALTIC REGION

The Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania sit east of the Baltic Sea, to the immediate west of Russia, and quite close to Sweden and Finland. People of the region share common history and similar traditions, although regional dialects and tribal histories distinguish them. Latvians and Lithuanians are known as Baltic people, and their respective, archaic Indo-European languages are the only surviving Baltic languages. Despite these close ties, Lithuania generally identifies itself more strongly with its neighbors to the south in Central Europe, like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Estonia, on the other hand, due to its linguistic and historical connections, strongly identifies with its Finnish neighbors to the north.

Although these linguistic and political differences have set them apart, the region shares a common history of being occupied and ruled by its neighbors for hundreds of years, most recently by the USSR. In 1989, more than two million people formed a human chain through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, called “The Baltic Way,” to peacefully demand independence from the Soviet Union. All three countries achieved independence in 1991 and later became members of NATO and the European Union. Today, the three countries are part of the Nordic-Baltic 8, or NB8, which includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. While these countries have been closely connected for centuries, their closest cooperation began with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and continues today.

This brief historical overview serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of this region, which of course affects its knitting and textile traditions. As I began riffling through images of Baltic knitting, embroidery, lacework and more, I couldn’t help but see the similarities in motifs and design from Latvian mittens to Fair Isle sweaters to Nordic stockings. And even though I’m a bit of a minimalist myself when it comes to knitting and my own wardrobe, I can’t help but want to cast on some brightly colored mittens or a complex colorwork cardigan when I look at these designs. I mean, c’mon.

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

KNITTING AS CELEBRATION

Prior to the introduction of knitting, people in the region created fabric through a technique called nålebinding, also known as “knotless netting” or “needle looping.” This technique is estimated to predate knitting by 1,000 years! Instead of using two needles, the method required only one. Unlike crochet, it involved pulling through the full length of the working thread through each loop, which would make it difficult to unravel and adjust one’s work during the process. The finished work could be felted to make a more durable and cold-resistant fabric. If you’re interested in trying out the nålebinding process for yourself, there’s a tutorial in English here, or you can watch the process in action here.

Knitting likely migrated to the Baltic region during the Crusades, when knights brought the knowledge of knitting with them from the Middle East (Source: Nordic Knitting website). The oldest-known knitted object found in Estonia is the cuff of a mitten discovered in 1950 by archeologist Jüri Peets, which probably dates to the end of the thirteenth century. Other knitted textiles that have been discovered in the region include pattern knitting, indicating that more complex, two-color knitting has been practiced for a long time.

So, where do mittens come in? Aside from being highly functional and useful knitted objects, mittens in the Baltics also served as small capsules of information. The pattern, technique and colors in a pair of mittens could indicate where its wearer was from, and the patterns themselves could be full of symbols from archaic pagan mythology. A zig-zag, for example, represented the goddess Mara, whereas a sideway “S” represented an adder, a popular animal of the goddess Laima. Both motifs were and continue to remain popular in mitten design.

Latvian folk songs, or dainas, provide further clues about mittens’ role in ceremony. In 1880, Krisjanis Barons began to collect and document the folk songs of the Latvian people, a project he continued for the following 35 years of his life. Because of his work and dedication, nearly 36,000 dainas were preserved and provide a glimpse into the daily and ceremonial life of Latvians during that time. As seen in these folk songs, knit mittens were a critical part of weddings and were an opportunity for a young woman to display her skill and readiness for marriage. See this daina, written in the voice of a young woman eligible to be married:

Many mittens am I knitting
Putting in my dowry chest
When the rich girls have been taken,
Then will I come in their mind.

Young girls were taught to knit as young as four or five years old, and were knitting daily during or between their other tasks. By the time a girl had reached marrying age, she was expected to have accumulated a dowry chest full of over one hundred mittens and socks that were knit by herself and other women in the family. See this daina that’s written in the voice of a young suitor:

Good evening, maiden’s mother
As you see my hands are freezing;
All the while my mitten knitter
Snugly in your room is sitting.

During the wedding celebrations, which lasted three to four days, the bride gifted pairs of mittens to just about everyone. This included the minister, the groom’s parents, the driver of the wedding carriage, all brothers, sisters and remaining relatives, and the kitchen helpers. Even the barn animals received symbolic offerings of mittens, which were later retrieved by a member of the family. The married couple ate their wedding meal with mittened hands. Before entering the threshold of her new home, the bride laid down a pair of mittens, hung mittens above the hearth, tied them to doors. When I first read this in my copy of Upitis’ book, I couldn’t help but think of these mittens as magical totems, blessing the newly married couple and their community.

There is so much more I could write here about Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian mittens, but instead, I’ll leave you with some resources to explore further. I’ve heard only good things about the book Mittens of Latvia by Maruta Grasmane, which I haven’t read myself but would likely be a good companion for Upitis’ book. Mary Neal Meador’s quest for an authentic Estonian mitten at the Mason-Dixon Knitting blog is definitely worth a read, as is Donna Druchunas’ guest post about knitting in Lithuania on Hélène Magnússon’s The Icelandic Knitter blog. And be sure to check out the eye candy that is the incredible knitting from the Estonian island of Muhu, as shared through the eyes of Kate Davies on her blog here and here. Adding this to my Christmas wish list, please and thank you.

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

THE SWATCH

When it comes to picking a yarn for a project, I’ve gotten accustomed to searching for that elusive, perfectly woolly and perfectly crisp je ne sais quoi yarn – and I often overlook some of the most readily available and solidly good yarn on the market. Quince amd Co., case in point. Of all the projects I’ve knitted to date, the ones knit in Quince were a delight to knit and have reliably held up to time and wear. Plus, for an American-sourced and produced wool yarn, Quince’s broad selection is so well priced and comes in a generous (and ever-expanding) palette of colors.

For this swatch, I originally picked a pattern that called for three colors. I chose Quince & Co.’s fingering-weight Finch in Canvas, Poppy and Barolo colorways, but after ripping and redoing the swatch twice with dismal puckering and pulling, I admitted that my colorwork needed some practice. I switched to a two-color chart instead, using the Canvas and Poppy. I really love how the warm cream of the new Canvas color and the bright, orange-red of the Poppy play off of each other.

I also knitted this swatch in the round, and with a little more time probably could have finished a mitten. Since the swatch is so small and my colorwork skills still a little rough, I figured it would be easier in the long run to just knit it in the round rather than knit an “in-the-round” swatch, as I did for my Icelandic lopi swatch. While working the chart, I trapped long floats using a technique I learned from Andrea Rangel during the Cowichan vest knitalong last year, which is a method I’ve come to rely on to prevent uneven tension in my colorwork.
Jess Schreibstein

Yarn: Quince & Co. Finch in Canvas and Poppy colorways
Needles: US 1 / 2.25mm double-pointed needles
Gauge: 18 stitches / 20 rows = 2 inches in colorwork chart

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

M E T H O D

For the colorwork chart, see Chart 29 in Lizbeth Upitis’ book, Latvian Mittens.

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Q for You: Are you a wardrobe planner?

Q for You: Are you a wardrobe planner?

Back in April of 2013, I asked whether you guys plan your knitting and sewing projects, noting in the post that I found it impossible to stick to a plan. That was the phase (a year-and-a-half into my knitting life) when I was bouncing all around with a major case of cast-on-itis, making a lot of things that didn’t get worn. After this week’s Winter Wardrobe Planning posts, I find myself now at the extreme opposite end of that continuum — planning my projects by being mindful and purposeful about my entire wardrobe, how things fit together and what would be useful to make. Watching how the right projects are adding up to a functional wardrobe has been the best possible motivator for both making and sticking to a plan.

But this is pretty new territory for me — at least on the level it reached this week. I’ve always had that three-outfits rule when shopping (don’t buy anything you can’t make three good outfits out of with things you already own) and it took me a while to start applying it to my project choices. But other than that, the most “planning” I’ve ever really done was maybe one season every three years or so, I’d sit down, try to think up outfits, and make a list of them — which I would then forget to consult. Or I’d find that when I went to put those items on together, they didn’t actually add up to an outfit I liked — either the lengths and proportions didn’t work together or it just didn’t feel like me. So as weird as it might feel to spend a few hours for a few days thinking about my closet out here in the open for everyone to see, I also can’t believe I’ve never done it before. It really really works. Using Fashionary templates to make sketches, I get the lengths and proportions right — whether it’s deciding what length to knit a sweater or how an existing cardigan and shirt layer over each other. And taking those flat shots of all my clothes on hangers turns out to be a mind-bogglingly great use of a few minutes. Instead of the tedium of trying on everything I own, I can just push the pictures around on my screen and voilà! And with all of the resulting outfits printed out, I’ll have saved myself who knows how many cumulative hours of standing in the closet door staring blankly at the contents, unable to get dressed. So a few hours of extremely fun planning time will save me hours of wasted time and agony. No wonder people dedicate whole websites to this stuff — it’s genius.

Several of you have semi-answered this in comments throughout the week, but it’s my Q for You today: Do you plan your wardrobe? To what extent, and what’s your process? And how does project planning factor into that? If you’ve got tips, please share them! And what are your favorite resources and websites on the subject?

Fringe Supply Co — Nice things for knitters

IN SHOP NEWS we’ve got two highly coveted items going up in the webshop at 9am CENTRAL time today: another small weekly batch of the Porter Bin and the second and final batch of my friend Handy Dandy’s beautiful little handmade poplar stitch marker bowls.

Also back in stock (available right now!)—
– The larger of the silver and brass safety pins, plus a new style in two sizes
– The undyed Double Basketweave Cowl Kit (an excellent gift, either in kit or cowl form!)
– All the beautiful Japanese needles in their little vials — tapestry, sewing, sashiko and hand-quilting varieties
– AND the latest issue of Taproot magazine has arrived!

Have an amazing weekend, everyone — thank you for all the great conversation this week!

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Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3

Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3

So this is the funnest game ever. I’m calling it Closet Rummy, and I could play all day! Pushing the images of these 25 garments around on my screen yesterday, I quickly put together 29 outfits — and could easily have kept going. And that’s without the two sweaters in progress, which will have exponential impact. So it turns out I was right the first time — I’m in pretty good shape, and apparently my struggle to get dressed in the morning has been simply a lack of attention or imagination, not any grave deficiencies. Also: this whole conscious and deliberate planning thing works!

There is one small problem here (apart from the very real but non-earth-shattering pullover dearth) which is the jeans shortage. Even if I could, in theory, get by on just these three pairs of pants, it’s not realistic to think I can wear the natural jeans to the studio as often as that would require. But if I mend the less dire pair of faded friends and pick up a new pair, I’m golden. And in the nice-to-have category, I’d like a dressier top that can be worn with either of the menswear-ish vests without the combo looking too mannish.

But meanwhile, after all of this, I feel good about my ability to get dressed! I’m seriously just going to print all of this out, tape it to the inside of my closet door, and check ’em off for the next two months! No further thinking required.

For the specific details and links for all of the individual garments pictured here, see yesterday’s Closet Inventory.

Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3
Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3
Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3
Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3

NOTES:
Fashionary panels are the best thing ever.
– Please pardon the WIP shot of the black cardigan — it is finished.
– I’m feeling the lack of camel in all this, missing my beloved old camel cable cardigan, more eager than ever to add my camel Channel to this mix.

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Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 2: Closet inventory

Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 2: Closet inventory

Here’s a thing I’ve never done before: Literally laid the contents of my closet out flat in front of me so I could see it all at once, albeit on my laptop screen in the form of tiny photos. Wow, helpful! This is not every single garment in my closet — it is only the items that are relevant to my getting dressed right now, in my current circumstances, season and frame of mind. Well, these things plus a handful of well-loved graphic tees that I do use for layering sometimes, plus a couple of dresses that may make an appearance once or twice this winter. But as I said yesterday, all I’m in the mood for right now is “jeans and a sweater” — the very rut I’ve been trying to break out of! But I’m trying to be realistic here. Not all of these things are being worn (or even up to being worn) at the moment, which I’ll address below, but this little exercise was immediately useful in the opposite way as well: I’m giving the hairy eyeball to anything that’s seasonally appropriate but didn’t make this cut. Those things need to find new homes!

So what do I have? Going across the rows from left to right, with an * indicating things that are either at end-of-life or not currently being worn for some reason. Store-bought garments are identified by origin. For the me-made garments, click through on any of the links for bigger pics/full details —

SHIRTS
– Denim shirt-jacket (J.Crew c.2003)
– Black-and-white plaid flannel shirt (Uniqlo c.2011)
– Denim workshirt* (Madewell c.2012)
– Grey wool button-down (Fischer)
– Navy-and-black plaid heavy flannel button-down (Fischer)

The two wool Fischer shirts are US-made, bought last year when I was desperate for shirts with sleeves. They’re men’s shirts, as is the b/w plaid flannel, so they have to be worn sort of carefully if I don’t want to look like a dude. (I’m all about androgyny but it’s a fine line, especially if you’re mannish like me.) The denim shirt is probably my most-worn garment, has reached a state of overall transparency, and desperately needs to be replaced. I love the idea of sewing a replacement, but realistically I should look for a good known-origins option to buy. The navy-and-black one is more of an overshirt or shirt-jacket. No real needs in this category, although I am wanting a white shirt/top of some sort.

UNDERLAYER TOPS
– Plaid cotton top (apparently never blogged)
Black hemp jersey muscle tee
Blue striped sleeveless top
Black silk gauze sleeveless top
– Chambray dot Endless Summer tunic (made by a friend)

These are all in heavy rotation, which makes me really happy since they’re all handmade — all good use of time and fabric. I also have the three Lakeside camisole tops I made over the summer, which are great layered under pullovers, but I’m short on pullovers to pull over them (see below). As I solve that, those will come into play. (Why not under cardigans? I prefer a higher neckline for that.) So I feel good about this category — there are things I’d like to add, especially the long-planned black/ivory stripe version of the sleeveless tee — but nothing I have to concern myself with between now and Spring.

VESTS/SLEEVELESS SWEATERS
Cowichan-style vest
Black Anna vest
Grey vintage waistcoat
Black sleeveless turtleneck*

I love all of these, but love vests best over sleeveless things, so I’m making more effort to wear these in other ways — like my natural jeans (below) with the Cowichan over either the grey wool shirt or the b/w flannel instead of, say, the sleeveless black tee; or the grey vest over the plaid top and under the black cardigan, which is a favorite combo. The Cowichan is probably my very favorite thing I own — in the sense that I’m super proud of the knitting, it’s a really fantastic and unique piece of clothing, and I feel really cute in it. The black and grey vests are both immensely useful; the sleeveless turtleneck is one I need to get more creative about since I almost never wear it and am not ok with that. So no needs in this category other than just making more use of what I have.

PULLOVERS
– Cotton fisherman sweater (L.L. Bean c.2010 but still available)
Black lopi raglan*
Blue Loopy Mango sweater*
– Grey cashmere fitted turtleneck (J.Crew c.2009)
– Grey men’s cable turtleneck (H&M 2003)

OK, so here’s the big problem spot, just like I thought. I love the cotton fisherman sweater and wear it constantly but it is not at all warm. I love the lopi sweater but it is very warm; the short sleeves offset that in the transitional seasons but make it not as useful as it could be in its more natural season. If I make the sleeves long, which I probably should, it’s a deep-winter-only sweater. The blue blob still amuses me but in addition to being superbulky (i.e. winter warm) it’s not the easiest garment to build outfits around, as predicted. And I love and wear both turtlenecks heavily, but only during the middle of winter, obviously. Of the things I’m itching to make, St. Brendan will be extremely useful but not wildly season-spanning, if I’m being honest. (I’m making it anyway!) And I mentioned yesterday also wanting another really big cozy turtleneck, but that is also of limited use. What I’m most sorely lacking are the few simple light- to mid-weight, three-season sweaters that make the most sense for my life. I’ll have ONE as soon as I finish my striped sweater, but this is a situation I need to take seriously and not get too distracted by heavier, cozier sweaters just because winter is literally breathing down my neck right now. A couple of good sweatshirts would at least help, and be far quicker to make, but thin/warm basic pullovers should be my top priority. OR, sew a couple of sweatshirts and knit a couple of very quick winter things, like St. Brendan or the big turtleneck! That might be the best plan for the near term. Then prioritize lighter pullovers for 2017 knitting.

CARDIGANS
Black wool-linen cropped cardigan
Charcoal shawl-collar Bellows cardigan
Ivory wool-cotton Amanda cable cardigan*
Purple Trillium cardigan*

The black cardigan is an obvious workhorse, and I’ve noted I wear Bellows in the studio year-round. If it’s not waiting for me over the back of my desk chair, it’s in the front seat of my car — always within reach. I expect my Channel in progress to be every bit as useful, and it will be good to have a cozier, woolier shawl-collar, since my Bellows is half cotton. So that will make it three good cardigans, at least two of which can be worn indoors year-round. We’ve talked about my struggles with Amanda; what I haven’t told you is I deliberately shrunk it a little to see what impact that would have on my actually ever leaving the house in it. As dirty as I get at work these days, I haven’t dared attempt to wear it, so it’s still taking up closet space without getting worn. As I’m typing this, I’m wearing my beloved but otherwise-neglected Trillium — that is, I’m wearing it at home with leggings and slippers. It is so light and warm, not stuffy, and I absolutely love the way it fits — plus there’s all the sentimental value — but I can’t seem to make outfits with it that feel like me right now. So that’s my challenge to myself: getting this back into regular rotation. I definitely feel like the cardigans I outlined in yesterday’s post will be very worthwhile additions, at whatever point I fit them into my queue.

PANTS
– Natural denim jeans (Imogene+Willie, made in US)
– Dark cropped jeans (J.Crew Point Sur, made in US)
– Camo pants (Gap c.2009)
– Faded jeans 1, visibly mended* (J.Crew c.2003)
– Faded jeans 2* (Old Navy c.2013)

The first two pair of jeans were both bought this year and I love both. The natural ones are hard to wear to work but my favorite thing to make outfits with! The camo pants are my oldest and all-time favorite pants — the fit of them is amazing — but they are worn to the point of having been mended once with more tears forming as we speak. The beauty of camo is the mending isn’t even necessarily visible! I’ll keep these alive as long as possible. The older of the faded jeans have been repeatedly visibly mended over the past couple of years but have a new very large rift across the left thigh, so they can’t be worn until I address that. The last pair are the ones I’ve mentioned are tissue thin and shred so so easily at this point. They’re in need of major shoring up, which I just don’t know when I’ll get to. So I’m out my two dearest pair of jeans. As was noted in the comments yesterday, these are both at the point that even if I mend them, I can no longer wear them in hardwearing circumstances, so I really need to break down and buy another pair of jeans. One day I’ll attempt to make some, but not likely in the very near future. I should note that I also have a pair of wide-cropped khaki pants that didn’t make it into the photo queue!

So that’s my inventory. Tomorrow: outfits. And then I’ll form a plan of attack.

(Can you believe 15 of these 28 garments are handmade? I never would have thought that possible a couple of years ago!)

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