What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

Raise your hand if you’re crazy for indigo! Ok, what’s wrong with the rest of you? JUST KIDDING. But seriously, it’s been indigo-mania for a several years now (rightfully so), and the more I think about it, the more questions I have — some of which you guys have also asked me. So I asked natural dyer extraordinaire Kristine Vejar, owner of A Verb Keeping Warm and author of The Modern Natural Dyer, to set us straight on the difference between indigo and “indigo.” That is: natural (plant derived) indigo dye versus the synthetic lookalike more commonly used.

But first, a few answers to questions that are likely to come up in response to all of this:
– The gorgeous shawl above is Kristine’s Aranami (designed by Olga Buraya-Kefelian) knitted in Verb’s Flock yarn, dyed with natural indigo
– Verb sells a variety of natural indigo dyeing supplies, from dye stuffs to kits to classes
– We still have some of the gorgeous Verb kits for making an indigo-shibori and sashiko Stowe bag
– And yes, the indigo cowl kit we sell is dyed with natural indigo by Sincere Sheep

You can follow Kristine’s adventures on Instagram @avfkw, and take a peek into her crafting life here. Thanks so much for  this fantastic information, Kristine!

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There’s so much interest in natural dyeing these days, thanks to you and many others, and I think a lot of us believe that indigo falls under the heading of Natural Dyes, but not all indigo is natural, right? For instance, commercial denim is no longer (or very rarely) dyed with plant-based indigo.

Indigo pigment can be found in 700-800 different plants, although there are only about 10 plants that have enough indigo pigment in the leaves to warrant the labor-intensive process of separating the pigment from the leaves, making it available as a dye. Today, indigo dye, extracted from plants, can still be found, obtained and used. This is referred to as natural indigo pigment.

Originally, all dyes came from plants, minerals and a few insects. In the 1850s, scientists successfully synthesized color. With this shift arose the idea — and then eventually the reality — that color could be created on demand, and no longer need to be coaxed from nature. This began a major shift in color, farming, trade, dyes and dyeing. It was only a matter of time before indigo underwent the same scrutiny. Scientists took examples of indigo-bearing plants, began to be able to identify the molecular structure of the indigo plants, zero in on indigotin, the essence of indigo pigment, and recreate it in a lab, which is called synthetic indigo. I personally don’t consider this indigo because I think of indigo as a product made by and derived from a plant. The same type of process occurs in food. Take for example artificial flavoring, like strawberry. Scientists take a strawberry, break down the molecules that make up its smell and flavor, and then create a few of these molecules in a lab to mimic a strawberry. I would never call call this flavor a strawberry. Or describe the experience of tasting this flavor as eating a strawberry. When I eat a strawberry, I can taste the sun. There is texture, nuance in flavor from one berry to the next, and indescribable joy when tasting a strawberry — especially if the berry has been picked right off the plant. The same principle applies to natural indigo pigment; there are many small nuances in color, texture, smell and experience when working with it when it comes from the plant.

True, commercial denim is rarely found dyed with natural indigo. Most of it is dyed with synthetic indigo.

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

I’ve taken classes that have used (and I’ve also used) those little boxed indigo kits you can buy online and craft stores, with the powdered dye and whatnot. Is that natural or synthetic? Can you talk about the difference between stirring up a bucket of that and what you do — creating and tending a natural indigo vat?

The boxes of indigo I believe you are referring to — typically made by Jacquard — is synthetic indigo. It is not natural/derived from a plant.

To examine the nuances of working with synthetic indigo versus natural indigo, let’s first discuss the basics of how an indigo vat is made. For indigo to attach to cloth, it must be transformed into a soluble material. To do this, the dyebath must be alkaline (pH of 10) and all of the oxygen in the dyebath must be taken out. This is called reduction. To raise the alkalinity, lye, soda ash and/or limestone is used. To take the oxygen out of the vat, reducing agents are used. Chemicals such as sodium hydrosulphite or thiourea dioxide may be used to reduce a vat, as well as natural materials such as henna, dates, fructose and/or bacteria.

The first indigo vat I learned how to make was a vat made with natural indigo pigment, lye to raise the pH, and thiourea dioxide as the reducing agent. This vat needs to be heated. In my search to use a cool vat — so I would not need a heating implement and could widen my choices of surface design — I learned to swap thiourea dioxide with sodium hydrosulphite. This is the fastest method to reduce an indigo vat (about 20 minutes) and to start the dyeing process. As the indigo vat reduces, the color of the water changes from blue to green. The vat is ready to use when the vat is green, and when white yarn or fabric is dipped into the vat, emerges green, and then turns blue as oxygen touches the yarn or fabric. To dye using an indigo vat, yarn or fabric is dipped into the vat, left under the surface for about 5 minutes, lifted out of the vat, and left to hang for about 5 minutes. This process is repeated to acquire darker shades of blue. Every time fabric or yarn is dipped into the indigo vat, oxygen is introduced to the vat, and the pH goes down. So part of the learning curve of being an indigo dyer is how to bring the vat back into balance — high pH and removal of oxygen.

Since dyeing with indigo has a learning curve, and countless questions are always in play, I like to teach beginners how to reduce the vat with sodium hydrosulphite (referred to as a hydro vat), as it is easy to see and to learn about the changes occurring in the indigo vat. From there, we can work our way out to using natural reducing agents, like henna or fructose, which take longer to reduce — anywhere from 4 hours to ideally 24 hours. Instructions for creating a hydro vat and a henna vat can be found in my book, The Modern Natural Dyer.

In my studio, there are many different types of vats going at once. All have their own specific applications dependent upon the type of fiber being dyed, the depth of color desired, and the price-point at which something is being sold. When hydro vats are used, most times, we continue to use them for months, adding new indigo. When fructose vats are used, we dye through the indigo in the vat until there isn’t any indigo left, and then start a new vat. Ok, so then, there are our very special vats. As you can probably tell, I am in love with indigo. It was only a matter of time before I began to dig deeper into this process, surpassing the natural indigo pigment to work with the plant.

About five years ago, we grew our first indigo plant — a variety called Indigofera tinctoria which is commonly grown in India. It stayed about 2 feet tall for 5 years until it finally died. The Bay Area was just too cold and foggy. Rebecca Burgess at Fibershed began to grow a variety of indigo, then called Polygonum tinctoria and now referred to as Persicaria tinctoria, which is commonly grown in Japan. This plant grows very well in this area. She called upon Rowland Ricketts, an artist and professor who studied indigo in Japan, to help transform the plant into dye. Following the traditional Japanese method, the plant, once harvested, is dried and then composted. Rowland came to the Bay Area. A group of us gathered to build a special floor — as similar as possible to the surface used in Japan — to compost the indigo. Its unique structure aids in air circulation and drainage of water so the indigo, while being composted, does not rot. The composting process takes about 3 months. Once the composting was completed, a batch of the composted indigo also known as sukumo, was delivered to Verb. Using ash, we created our own lye water to use as the base of the indigo vat. So this provides the high pH necessary when making an indigo vat. And then, slowly over 2-3 weeks, we combined the sukumo with the ash water and wheat bran, encouraging fermentation. In this vat, bacteria is the reducing agent. We have two of this type of indigo vat. Currently, we grow Persicaria tinctoria at Verb and we have spent the last couple of years experimenting with the leaves in a number of ways to extract indigo and to make vats from this indigo. I find working so closely with the plant the most rewarding. There are greater nuances in color and in shades of color. Less dye is released when washing the yarn and fabric. I find it fascinating to think about the Earth, nature, and the intricacies of how it works, and how nature, plants and dye can be applied to my own work — in terms of dyed yarn and fabric as well as when I teach others to work with natural indigo.

So back to synthetic indigo for a moment. Since synthetic indigo has the same molecular structure as natural indigo, you must still follow the same steps as when working with natural indigo to create the vat. Typically the instructions that accompany synthetic (pre-reduced indigo) use lye or soda ash and thiourea dioxide or sodium hydrosulphite. The same dye process would also be followed: dipping in and out of the vat multiple times to achieve multiple shades of blue.

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

So with synthetic indigo, there really isn’t anything about it that is genuinely indigo — it’s really just blue dye in a color that mimics indigo.

Synthetic indigo does mimic natural indigo in that the molecular structures are the same. Like I described above: making a vat is pretty much the same, the dyeing process is the same, and the way in which the indigo will wear is the same. For example, crocking. Indigo dye and the process of dyeing is the act of creating a physical bond between dye and fiber. There isn’t a chemical bond. Also, the indigotin molecule is larger than most (if not all) other dyes. So this means that indigo eventually works its way out of the cloth. Sometimes crocking occurs right when you get a garment that has been dyed with indigotin (natural or synthetic) because it can be difficult to remove the extra pigment — that which has not bonded — from the cloth. Many times, it takes actual physical pressure to remove the excess indigo. This is why you may see a tag that comes with your jeans that alerts you to the fact that your hands or legs may turn blue when first wearing your jeans. Then no matter what, with sustained pressure to areas in a garment, the indigo will work its way out of the cloth, which is why the fabric over the knee region of your jeans eventually becomes light blue or white. Historically, if a dark, uniform shade of indigo was desired, the cloth or garment would be re-dipped in the indigo vat over the course of its life. So it can be very hard to differentiate between synthetic indigo (some may refer to it as fake) and real indigo, unless you know the dye house and can see the nuances between the blue created by synthetic indigo and the blue created by natural indigo.

I place synthetic indigo in the same camp as other synthetic dyes — like acid and chemical dyes — which have a wide array of blues to choose from and are much easier to use. But why go through all the steps of reducing an indigo vat and the labor-intensive process of dyeing if the indigo is synthetic? If you are going to go through all the same steps, use natural indigo pigment, support an indigo farmer, and embrace the relationship with the plant, process, and depth and nuance of blues that can only be created using natural pigment.

And for those of us who might be using the boxed kit (or any other kind of indigo dyestuff) at home, what do we need to know about tending to and especially disposing of the dye bath when we’re done with it?

If you are using thiourea dioxide or sodium hydrosulphite to reduce an indigo vat, you can either mix oxygen — by taking a spoon or a stick and whisking air into the vat — or let the vat sit overnight and the vat will turn to blue, and can then be disposed of. The high pH is not a problem — if anything it will help clear your pipes. If you still feel worried, you can always neutralize the water by adding lemon juice (an acid). If you are on a septic system, call your local septic system company, let them know what type of alkaline and reduction agent you are using, and ask for their advice.

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Q for You: What stitch are you?

Q for You: What stitch are you?

If you were a dog breed. If you were a wine varietal. If you were a color … what would you be? There was a Wool and the Gang newsletter recently with the subject line “What stitch are you?” and I thought it was that old parlor game we’ve all played how many times and ways, but that somehow it had never occurred to me to think or ask: If you were a stitch (knit, crochet, handwork, whatever), what would you be? (We did have that chat about “what gauge are you” once upon a time, but that’s a little different.)

The thing about this sort of game is you can be anything from really dismissive to super goofy to deeply philosophical with your answer, possibly depending on whether there’s alcohol involved … or you’re on the longest, most boring road trip of your life.

My immediate, flippant answer when I read that subject line was stockinette. Whether as in sartorially speaking, or in the sense of what a plain jane I’ve always thought myself to be. But I’m not stockinette! Like any human, I have my textures and complexities. (Was it Whitman who said, “I am large; I contain cables”?) My next thought was maybe I’m Ann Shayne’s rambling cable sweater of life, and certainly there have been phases of my life where that would be a fair statement. But I think I’m a bit like this fisherman sweater I’m knitting.

There are the swaths of nice, orderly broken-rib texture (or rice stitch?) at the edges; the rigid columns of meticulous, “tightly wound” raspberry stitch (which would be a teeth-clencher and overthinker if it were a person, right?); and then there are the two cable motifs. The single cables running up the sleeves and the sides of the sweater are wrong in some ways (the “ropes” bend without twisting and without reason), and yet they’re weirdly appealing. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, there were multiple instances of perfect strangers telling me I looked “very European.” I had brown hair and a stick figure and a face full of giant features at a time when everyone was expected to look like Christie Brinkley, and I came to understand (and even appreciate) that what they meant was “I don’t really understand your looks, but I don’t find them unappealing.” That’s what that cable reminds me of.

And then there’s the central cable panel. It’s a little like Ann’s planless cables, in that it’s puzzling and unpredictable at first, but it’s more like my resumé, actually — what seem like a lot of unrelated jobs have all crystallized in what I’m doing now. In the end (if this is the end for me — ha!) it makes its own kind of sense.

What drew me back to this sweater pattern over and over again for years is the fact that the two cable motifs really don’t go together — they don’t rightly belong on the same sweater. And where did the weird streak of garter-stitch raglans come from? On the whole, it’s a little warped — in a good way. So maybe that’s not a bad description of me.

And hey, getting this ridiculously philosophical about it didn’t even require alcohol! So that’s my Q for You today: If you were a stitch, what would it be? Have fun with it.

I look forward to your response, and wish you a happy weekend!

SHOP NOTE: The ever-popular indigo Double Basketweave Cowl Kit is back in stock!

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Dark night of the crafter’s soul

Dark night of the crafter's soul

Saturday was one of those days. You know, when nothing is working right: technology, interpersonal relationships, spatial reasoning. The kind of day where the last thing you should do is try a new-to-you sewing maneuver, right? And yet, I was feeling way behind on my Archer for Summer of Basics, which was still at the state you had seen it last Monday. My goal for the weekend was to attach the sleeves, sew and finish the side seams, topstitch everything, and hopefully get the collar and/or the cuffs attached. The first part of that went fine, amidst assorted other turmoil — sleeves, sides, topstitched. Then I decided it would be better to tackle the cuffs than the collar, given my suboptimal mental state. Why did I think that? I have no idea.

It did not go well.

Remember that quote I included in Elsewhere on Friday, about being willing to be bad at something in order to get good at it? Normally, lately, I’m totally feeling that way about sewing. I’ve been sewing at beginner level all my life (having peaked in the 8th grade and then regressed from there), did more sewing last year that the previous couple of decades combined, have gotten very good at bias facings and precise edge-stitching and whatnot, and I’m now really committed to enduring the discomfort of expanding my skills. But on Saturday, following several days of doing a series of other things I’m either not yet or no longer good at, it was brutal to be so stymied by my first cuff. (Or at least my first cuff since that 8th-grade popover anorak. I wonder if my mom still has that pattern somewhere — that just occurred to me for the first time.)

There I was, already steeping in frustration and stress over so many other things, reading the pattern instructions and the tutorial, scouring the internet for other blog posts and photos that might provide me with the crucial details I couldn’t get my brain around — failing to find those clues anywhere — but still feeling like I had to press on. So I tried to fumble my way through it … and … nope. And I just about lost it.

The thing is: It was not a big deal. It was just a few minutes’ worth of sewing that wasn’t right. The stitches could be ripped out. No harm was done. And yet I tortured myself (and Jen!) over the course of a couple of hours, between the googling and the trial-and-erroring and the stomping around on my beloved walking path (ruining a perfectly nice outing with my husband), and the texting with Jen, trying desperately to understand what she was telling me even while telling her my brain was in no mood to do so.

I always say to myself and others: walk away. If something’s not working, don’t make yourself crazy. Don’t send hate mail to the pattern designer — it’s probably not their fault. Don’t light the project on fire. Just put it down, walk away, sleep on it. It will almost certainly look different in the morning. No matter how urgently I wanted to get it figured out and have a win for the day, I eventually had no choice but to take my own advice.

There was a great photo in the #fringefieldbag feed recently, by @disorbo, whose caption read: “A little post mountain bike knit. After a ride, I like to remind myself that there are things I know how to do relatively well.” I thought of that as I plunked down on the couch Saturday night for what would normally be knitting time, but I knew it would be unwise. There was no way I was risking messing up my fisherman, and in the dark place I was in, I felt fully capable of screwing up even the grey stockinette thing. So I just sat there, like non-knitters do. It was terrible!

It did keep me awake, the cuff failure. I woke up turning the task over and over in my brain, sorting through the fog. And I got up, and I tried it again, and it worked.

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What I Know About: Dress forms (with Liesl Gibson)

What I Know About: Dress forms (with Liesl Gibson)

Easily the one thing I get asked about more often than anything else is … my dress form. Every time I post a picture of it (ref. above), there’s a handful of people quite reasonably asking where I got it, do I like it, how did I pick it? I know exactly nothing about dress forms — mine came from the first page of a hasty search on Amazon for “collapsible shoulder dress form,” and I use it to hang things on in our booth at shows and for taking photos of WIPs in my little workroom at home. It tells me nothing, really, about how anything will fit me since we’re completely different, she and I. She has narrow shoulders, meaningful breasts and a nice short torso; I’m the exact opposite of all that. She’s nothing but a prop. So I’ve asked pattern designer Liesl Gibson (of Oliver + S and Liesl + Co) to give us her expert thoughts on the subject! For more of Liesl’s bottomless wisdom, check out her blog and her Instagram, and if you’ve never watched her bias tape tutorial on Creativebug, I’m telling you: It changed my sewing life. (No pins!)

[N.B: Don’t miss the SALE news at the end of this post!]

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KT: So, Liesl, this is a one-big-question inteview: Does the average home sewer or knitter need a dress form — and if so, what kind?

LG: Whether you need or can use a dress form depends a lot on what you want to do with it.

Many dress forms or mannequins are made solely for display in stores for merchandising the clothing. These can be great for taking photos of your sewing projects, but they’re not very useful for sewing or for draping because they aren’t very accurate in terms of body shape or sizing. On the other hand, if you’re a blogger and hate to pose for photos, go for it! I totally support this idea, especially given my personal dislike of posing for blog photos.

Here’s the truth about dress forms: Many people assume that a dress form will be really useful for making clothes that fit properly. But unless you have draping skills and plan to drape your clothes from scratch, it’s very likely that you won’t make much use of one. I was pretty certain I needed one when I graduated from design school, and then I got one and it served mostly to frighten the internet installation guy until I finally sold it.

Personally, I find that I prefer to fit clothes directly on my body. It’s difficult to find a dress form that mirrors your body, and truthfully I think it’s really important to feel how the clothing feels and looks on your body: How much easy do you need; where does the neckline look best; can you bend over, turn, and breathe? And if you don’t know how to drape, there’s a good chance you won’t know what to do with a garment once you get it on a dress form anyway. If you fit a pattern to your own body you’ll be able to see and feel what needs to change.

Yes, there are all sorts of custom options out there: the duct tape dress form, padding a basic dress form to mimic your body, 3D modelling, etc. They each have advantages and disadvantages. One distinct disadvantage of a duct tape dress form is that, although it’s quite inexpensive to make, you can’t pin into it without gunking up your pins. And frankly, when you’re wrapping yourself in duct tape (or someone is wrapping you), it’s going to distort your body, so the finished dress form won’t be very accurate. The custom models can also be really expensive. Padding a dress form to mirror your own body can be done, but it’s complicated and difficult to mimic your shape and stance. Are your shoulders forward, or is one higher than the other? How straight is your back? If you don’t get the essential posture of your body just right, the dress form probably isn’t going to give you the results you want. 3D options can be quite pricey for something you might not use as often as you think you will.

Having said all that, I own two dress forms. Here’s how I use them.

For our Oliver + S kids patterns I use a traditional Royal form, which is basically a paper mache torso, legs, and arm covered with linen. This dress form works well for checking the fit and proportions on our sample size, but I mostly develop patterns with a flat pattern technique, so the dress form serves mostly as a check to confirm that the patterns fit and look well before they’re graded. Once all the sizes have been developed we do a lot of further testing on real bodies to check the sizing and fit for all the various sizes.

For our women’s Liesl + Co patterns I use a custom AlvaForm, and I love it because it’s anatomically very accurate. By that I mean that the shape is much more accurate than the traditional dress forms like Wolf and Royal, so the fit through the bust and armhole can be better than it would be with a traditional form. If you’ve ever sewn a pattern that gapes at the armhole even if it fits well through the bust, chances are it was developed or fitted on a traditional paper mache form that didn’t allow correction of the concave area between the bust and shoulder. Alva forms solve this problem but are very expensive (and the shipping from Asia costs almost as much as the form itself!), so this is really not an option for most home sewists. But again, on a professional pattern-making level this form allows me to develop sewing patterns that adhere to a standard fit before we grade to develop the different sizes and test those sizes.

However, I never rely solely on a dress form for pattern development. It’s important to see how a pattern fits and feels on real bodies, so we do lots of fittings and wear testing before a pattern is ready for grading. I sew our women’s patterns for myself and wear them for a few weeks, at least, before they’re graded. I make basic pattern adjustments for my body when I sew the samples — I’m longer waisted and smaller busted than our standard sample size — and this way I can tell if there might be as issue somewhere in the basic pattern. Maybe I notice that the armhole is too high or that the neck is uncomfortable, or perhaps it needs more room across the upper back so you can move. This is the role that a traditional fit model plays, but of course being the small company that we are I don’t have the budget for a professional fit model. So I alter the patterns for my body and fit test them myself. I also rely on our pattern testers to do the same so we can check the sizes on a wide variety of body shapes and sizes, and I sew the samples for our photo shoots so I can check the fit against our models as well. (I have a very reliable group of testers — some experienced and some quite new to sewing — who help me with a lot of this process.)

But when it comes to sewing for myself for fun, I sew for my body and don’t use a dress form at all. And that’s despite the fact that I’m quite close in size to my Alva dress form! I honestly don’t use it for myself. It’s much more useful to fit the pattern to my body in the form of a muslin. This is what I teach in my fit classes, too. It helps to have a sewing buddy who you can work with, but none of my friends sew so I do it myself. I make a muslin, look in the mirror, ask my husband or daughter to take some photos from the angles I can’t see very well, and then I take off the muslin and make adjustments before starting the procedure again. It’s trial and error until I like the result. My best tools for fitting? A mirror, a camera and a copy of Fit for Real People, which I highly recommend to all my students and all our customers because it explains how to get a good fit in ways that are relatively intuitive, with lots of photos, diagrams and examples to help you along the way.

So do you need a dress form? It’s sort of up to you, but I generally counsel against it. It looks cool in a sewing room and in blog photos, but unless you’re developing sewing patterns yourself my personal opinion is that you won’t get very much use out of it. Use your own body and a few tools, and you’ll get much better results.

. . .

Thanks so much, Liesl! Happy weekend, everyone—

IN SHOP NEWS: We’re clearing out the magazine shelves and a few other straggling gems — check out the Sale section for some rare markdowns while they last! But I should also warn you we’re expecting the long-awaited Lykke (full/standard) interchangeable sets to finally arrive this afternoon (although I’ve probably jinxed it by posting that). We’ll put them back in the shop the moment they arrive, so check in late today! [UPDATE: The Lykke needle sets are here!]

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Q for You: What are you afraid of? (with FAFKAL news)

Q for You: What are you afraid of?

My favorite thing about #summerofbasics so far (intro here) is getting a peek into so many people’s thought processes — picking out not only what feels “basic” but also what feels like a fun challenge to take on in good company. This is the time of year when I usually start to at least hint at what the big Fringe and Friends Knitalong* for the year will be, and I realized recently — and mentioned in the East London Knit conversation — that the past several knitalongs have been about getting us all out of our comfort zones. This goes along with my post-Squam opining, but my big life lesson in the last several years has been how thrilling it is to keep pushing myself out of my own comfort zone (social and otherwise) and proving I’m fine. What happens when you do that is the boundaries get redrawn, right? The zone keeps getting bigger. (I imagine most people learn this earlier in life!) I have a pretty damn roomy comfort zone when it comes to knitting, even though I’ve only been doing it for 5.5 years, whereas my sewing comfort zone is pretty tiny, despite having learned the basics as a kid. Which was the impetus for Summer of Basics — I wanted to sew a button-down shirt and decided to drag you all into it with me!

So the next FAFKAL, as they’ve come to be nicknamed, will be another case of getting us all to try something that takes a bit of bravery. I’m not ready to share any specifics just yet, other than that it will start in January this time, rather than September. (The last two have been a different kind of challenging, as they overlapped with Slow Fashion October, and this year sandwiching it between SoB and SFO would put me over the edge.) But in the meantime, with SoB underway and FAFKAL on the horizon, I thought I’d ask: What scares you? From trying a new trick to making a whole garment to learning a whole new discipline (sewing? knitting? spinning? weaving?) or whatever it might be. And what is it about it that seems so scary, exactly?

Mine is definitely steeking (the act of cutting an opening in a piece of knitted fabric), and it’s because the one thing I’m always telling people about knitting— “It’s just yarn! You can always unravel it and it will still be yarn!” — ceases to be true. So that’s the thing I want to take on. And yes, that is a bit of foreshadowing … although the scrap of my St. Brendan that I used for this photo has nothing to do with it! Although it is relevant in the sense that cutting off the bottom of that sweater was a pretty thrilling gulp! of a moment.

*Previous annual FAFKALs being: Amanda, Cowichan, Improv top-down

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Squam 2017: Reflections and outfits

Squam 2017: Reflections and outfits

I have a lot of Deep Thoughts coming away from this year’s Squam Art Workshops, but that’s sort of what Squam does to you. Some of those might find their way into this post in one form or another — I’ll see what happens as I write — but if you really just want to know what I wore, feel free to scroll on down, that’s cool! “Whatever makes you happy” is sort of the number one rule of Squam, so go with it.

(Bob came in and started talking to me just then. I said, in apologies for shushing him, “I’m trying to write about what I’ve learned about myself in the last five years.” He said, “Wow. It’s a good thing you got a nap.”)

The simple summary of the trip is: I had the best, most peaceful time imaginable. I flew to Boston the night before and met my longtime online friend Felicia Semple for the first time at the picturesque Squam Lake Inn in Holderness, NH, near the old camp where Squam takes place. We had dinner and talked each other’s ears off, and the next day we drove an hour and a half to visit the Harrisville Designs mill and take the tour — my first time watching yarn being made. (I couldn’t get a cell signal there, so I’ll be belatedly putting all the images and videos into my Instagram Story today.) New Hampshire is so pretty it feels like you’re in a movie set: Every little general store and fire station is picture-perfectly adorable, and Harrisville is definitely no exception. But even without the scenery and the mill tour, I cherish that chunk of time I got to spend with Felicia, yammering like mad and making observations about the ways we talk about ourselves or our endeavors. As they say, it felt like I’d known her forever, but she’s that sort.

Wednesday evening we checked in at camp and got our cabin assignments. I had the good fortune to be bunk mates with my hilarious sprite of a friend Mary Jane Mucklestone (who I first met taking this class from her four years ago) and two people I’d not met before: the warm-hearted dynamo Anne Weill (who I’ve admired since her graciousness in the face of this snooty post I wrote in 2015) and Camille DeAngelis, who was teaching the writing workshop and is a lovely, gentle soul. We were assigned a fantastic cabin on the tip of the spit of land with the widest view of the lake I’ve seen so far — we couldn’t see another cabin from our dock, just water and trees and the greenest hills — and my teaching cabin was right next door. So yeah, off to a great start.

Squam 2017: Reflections and outfits

The dining hall that night was full of old friends, heroes and new faces, and my hermit heart was racing a bit, in a good way. Everyone was asking me how I felt about being there to teach for the first time, and honestly I was feeling pretty chill about it. I had what I thought was a solid plan and good notes, plus I was already under the lake’s spell and still high from the whole Harrisville adventure. I was a little shy at dinner with my class that night, but by breakfast felt entirely relaxed and ready. Then I ran into our fearless leader Elizabeth on the way to the wooded path toward class and she gave me such an intense pep talk that it got my heart pounding! But that gave me a funny anecdote to open with, so thank you, Elizabeth, in a million ways.

I could go on for days, but what I want to say is it went fine. Better than fine. My students were lovely and relaxed and determined, and nearly all of them even finished their hats! (Note to beloved students: the Debutant pattern is listed on Ravelry, please link your projects!) On the whole, I got to spend several days surrounded by so many people I already loved, so many more I loved getting to know, and many moments just sitting quietly on the dock, gathering energy to rejoin the happy-noisy crowd or teach the next session.

What this all has to do with what I’ve learned about myself in the last five years is this: I’ve spent my whole life telling myself I’m inept at making conversation with people I don’t know. That I’m better in writing than in person. That I prefer solitude to crowds. All of that is true of me, but it’s not the whole story. Since starting Fringe, I’ve forced myself to challenge those notions. I showed up at the trade show the first time without knowing a soul, and now each year it’s a sort of homecoming. Likewise, I’ve traveled to events and workshops and retreats (Squam included) with a few friends and come away with new ones every time. I’m part of a community I value so much, and am so honored to be involved in, and I’m blessed with these friendships and opportunities because I’ve dared to show up and to not sit in the corner. (At least, not the whole time.) I’ve learned that yes, it will take a lot out of me, but it’s beyond worth it and I’ll sleep that part off when I get home. Somehow all of this was amplified in those woods last week. And discovering that I’m perhaps not a half-bad teacher was a whole new level of the process.

There’s more in my head, but that’s the part I feel is important to share here: Please don’t believe all the things you tell yourself about yourself. You’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of.

So this is a love letter and thank-you note to everyone I’ve met, been befriended and/or challenged by these last five years. I’m awash in gratitude. And yes I got that Dottie Angel “I am a W.I.P.” shirt (and tote bag!) at the fair Saturday night and feel it more strongly and proudly than ever.

. . .

So what did I wear? Here’s what was either on me or in my little carry-on suitcase, along with a box of teaching materials, an umbrella, two headlamps, my travel dryer and toiletries:

Squam 2017: Reflections and outfits

white linen shell
black hemp muscle tee
– grey Everlane linen knit muscle tee
– black silk Elizabeth Suzann artist smock, which I LOVED wearing with jeans and sneaks
– secondhand chambray shirt
– old flannel
– purple J.Crew boiled wool pullover from a few years ago, which I finally got around to taking the waist elastic out of and newly adore, wish I’d gotten to wear it more
black linen-wool cardigan
camel cardigan
– J.Crew made-in-LA jeans
– black linen Elizabeth Suzann pants (with added pockets)
– old cutoffs
– my heaviest/warmest LL Bean tights for cold nights
– dirty old Chucks for tromping along wooded paths
grey Orlane shawl

And here are all the ways it went together, from travel day through return-travel day:

Squam 2017: Reflections and outfits

In addition to Squam life calling for a lot of changing of clothes (for example, Saturday was teaching in the morning, knitting on the dock in the afternoon, boiling hot art fair setup, the fair itself, and a chilly night back at the cabin), the NH woods in early June are an unpredictable place, weather-wise (e.g., Friday morning we were on the dock before breakfast, basking in the early warmth, but were huddled around a fire in the living room by mid-morning). So it requires versatility and layers.

Not pictured are the rain boots I wore only the first day (on the plane and the drive up) thanks to the predicted rain being replaced by mostly unseasonably warm weather, and the sandals that never came out of the suitcase. My grey shawl also stayed in my bag the whole time, since I flung my black cardigan around my neck when needed. Pretty much everything else got worn more than once, but I could have gotten away with just the sneakers, one cardigan, the pullover, and I believe in having both the flannel and the chambray. Notes for next year, as I’m hoping there will be one!

Squam 2017: Reflections and outfits

PREVIOUSLY in Wardrobe Planning: The summer 2017 plan

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Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Dianich

Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Dianich

I’m sure many of you know Tolt Yarn and Wool owner Anna Dianich is one of my dearest friends — we started our businesses around the same time and have sort of “grown up” together. But what I only just realized myself last week is that I’ve never seen where she knits at home or what her stuff looks like! Any time I’ve ever spent in Carnation WA has been at Tolt, and I was suddenly intently curious to see her knitting life beyond the store. So of course I asked if I could subject her to the Our Tools, Ourselves treatment. Thanks so much for doing this, Anna! For anyone left wanting more, make sure to follow @toltyarnandwool on Instagram.

. . .

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

I knit. I can spin, and when I do sit down at the wheel (which is not often!) I remember how much I enjoy it. I’m not a technical spinner — I just do it for fun and the feel of the wool, the meditative motion of the pedals and wheel, and the draw, not to get the perfect twist per inch or the exact weight of yarn for a project. I think that’s how I do most of my crafts, really. I’m not super technical with knitting either. I do it because I love working with my hands and creating something useful. I don’t like fussy patterns or complicated construction. My husband, oldest daughter and I just started taking pottery classes and it’s a familiar feeling. I love the rhythm of the wheel, the feeling of the clay and making something useful. And, like knitting and spinning, it takes a bit to get that muscle memory, and I hope that it will click soon because I love it!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Dianich

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

When I first started knitting I only used bamboo needles — circular and double points. They were less expensive and easy to find, and less slippery for a newbie. I now use mostly my Addi Click interchangeable sets, and magic loop instead of double points. I love Addi’s — they are smooth, and the yarn seems to move swiftly on and off the needles. My only complaint is that, although I love how the needles click on and off the cords, sometimes that connection can get fussy on small needle tips, making the stitches hard to slide across that connection. I just got a Lykke set for this reason (and they’re beautiful to look at!) and I am really enjoying them.

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

Organization is not my thing. I would like to blame it on my busy life as a working mom with four kids and such, but I think it’s just me. I’m just not organized. I don’t have a craft room or home office, so most of my supplies are stored in and on a cabinet that’s in our living room. There is a large room above our barn that could be used as a studio, but it’s so far from the activity at home that I don’t use it.

My interchangeables are relatively easy to store; if they’re not on a project then they are kept in the case. I keep the cases nearby, or in my project bag just in case I need to switch needle sizes. I do carry a small leather pouch (that I got from Fringe years ago) that I keep my notions in. I am constantly having to find my measuring tapes — I swear I own at least twenty, but can never find them! I guess that’s why the leather ruler bracelets are so handy!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Dianich

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

Again, I’m not that organized. Such a bummer! I try not to have too many projects going on at once (maybe two or three at the most) and they store nicely in a project bag that can be found on my couch, chair, bed, in my car or in my backpack. If I’m going on a road trip I can usually fit two to three project bags, plus my needles, in my Porter Bin. That keeps everything together and gives off the impression that I am organized, haha!

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

Hmm, not really. I think we, our bodies and ourselves, are our most prized tool that needs to be cared for and looked after. I think this became real for me after breaking my leg. Eating well, staying active and also knowing when to rest so that we can stay healthy to do all the activities that we love.

Do you lend your tools?

I never really have, but I would.

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

Most of my knitting happens after the kids go to bed. I plop myself down on the couch or in bed, and knit while my husband and I watch TV or talk. I also get a lot of knitting done in the car while waiting for kids to get done with school or dance practice or driver’s ed. However, my favorite place to knit would be by a campfire, or by a lake or river in the summer, and cozied up next to a fireplace in the winter.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Dianich

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I pretty much knit year round. I also knit mostly wool, even in the summer. I’m not usually into “summer yarn” — although I did just finish a Vasa top using YOTH’s new Best Friend yarn, which is 75% cotton and 25% wool, and I really enjoyed working with it, and like the fabric.

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

I’m kind of obsessed with books, all types of books. Knitting, cooking, decorating, travel, pottery, wood carving … I have shelves and shelves full of books.

Another little secret is that I still get very nervous when working the floor at Tolt. I spend most of the time in my office upstairs, but every once in awhile I work the floor, and I’m so scared someone is going to ask me something I don’t know the answer to, or I’m going to mess up on the cash register.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Dianich

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working on the Morrison socks by Jenny Blumenstein. Jenny designed these socks for our LYS Tour and they are super fun to knit. I also have a ton of things I’m excited about casting on so I’m trying to make a list, but, you know, I’m not that organized.

I am also trying to find more time to do pottery. I would really like to have a little studio some day with my own wheel. Like any craft or activity, you get better the more time you spend doing it. I’m working on the basics still: centering, opening and raising.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Dianich

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Photos © Anna Dianich