Fall ’17 wardrobe planning, part 1: Mood

Fall ’17 wardrobe planning, part 1: Mood

I’ve had color on my mind a lot lately, as we creep all too slowly toward fall, and as I embark here on fall wardrobe planning. These past few years have been about rebuilding my wardrobe from scratch following the great clean-out and the shift in awareness and the upheaval of a move to a new climate and life and all of that. For me personally, basics and neutrals are building blocks — the foundation of a room or a wardrobe — so that’s been my focus. And with the emphasis on handmade and investment pieces, it’s been slow going. In the best of ways. But I’m at a point where I feel like my foundation is solid and it’s time to start layering on the fun.

There are two things I mean by that: color/pattern and curve balls, the latter of which I’ll expound on tomorrow.

The clothes I’ve been making or acquiring over this period have been almost exclusively neutral and largely solids. (I count blues as neutral, especially denim/chambray blues on which I heavily rely.) And it’s been wonderful that they all pretty much just go together, like Garanimals. It’s made coming up with outfits or packing lists super simple, which has its obvious merits. Plus there’s the fact that I feel strong and confident and at ease dressed in head-to-toe neutrals. So there’s part of me that doesn’t want to mess with a good thing. But then there’s the other part: the one that is longing for more lightness (at a weird moment of the year, right?) and for color.

I put together a Fall ’17 Mood board at Pinterest yesterday, which is about color as much as (maybe more than) anything else, and it looks almost like a spring mood board. I think I’ve literally said this before, but it has really struck me profoundly lately: My color palette doesn’t change. It is not subject to fashion winds or trends, or to the different ages and eras of my life.

I have an older board at Pinterest, started six or seven years ago, called All Things Lovely. I don’t add to it very often, and it’s super random and undirected — it could be a book cover, a landscape, a portrait, a ceramic bowl. The only thing the images have in common is they give me such a peaceful, happy feeling that I’m moved to add them to that board. I’m not sure I’ve ever just called up the board and scrolled back through it, but I did yesterday, and I realized it’s my lifelong mood board — the mood of my soul, I guess, to be corny about it. It’s black-and-white-and-ivory-and-grey. It’s all the shades of blues and greens, and blue-greens and green-blues, the softer and murkier the better. It’s lilac undertones. It’s burlap and camel and caramel and nut browns. And there are flashes of pink and yellow here and there. Kelly green is as bright as it ever gets for me, and I like it best mixed with softer greens.

Thinking back through the last several decades of dressing myself, that has always been the case. All that ever changes is emphasis. The past few seasons, it leaned heavily on the darker tones, and now I’m feeling the lighter ones. And what I’m wishing for are the colors that have been all but missing lately. But the challenge is to add without complicating — finding ways to make the colors fold in just as effortlessly as the neutrals, like they do in this pinboard.

Interestingly, the colors have been creeping into my closet bit by bit, which I’ll show you in my inventory tomorrow. And I’ll talk about how I love a little sartorial curve ball and why.

Is it fall yet where you are? (Or the start of spring?) It’s still mid-upper 80s here for the foreseeable future …

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Our Tools, Ourselves: Andrea Mowry (Drea Renee Knits)

Our Tools, Ourselves: Andrea Mowry (Drea Renee Knits)

Andrea Mowry, aka Drea Renee Knits aka @dreareneeknits, burst onto the knitting scene with great force in the past few years. I remember her sweet “Man on the Street” segment on the Woolful podcast when it was new (2014) confessing that she wanted knitting to be her life and she was taking the leap, and now she’s arguably one of the most popular pattern designers around. She is a major, major Fringe Field Bag devotee (here she is knitting out of one in Labor and Delivery), and there’s a certain charm in the fact that her wildly popular Find Your Fade shawl and the Field Bag seem to be a remarkably popular combination. If I had a dollar for every photo on the #fringefieldbag feed of a Field Bag and a Fade …

Anyway, she’s also an absolutely lovely person, who I had the pleasure of meeting and teaching with at Squam this June. And I found myself wanting a peek into her knitting life. Thanks for answering my questions, Andrea!

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

I definitely identify mostly as a knitter. I was taught as a child by my grandma, and there is very rarely a day that passes without yarn in my hands. But I also bake and embroider, and I have big dreams of becoming as familiar with my sewing machine as I am with my knitting needles. I had a very brief affair with spinning, but now I have found that my knitting is a jealous mistress and doesn’t appreciate sharing any of my time. I have big dreams that once my littles are in school I will be able to really jump more into my fringe crafts. Which may explain my ever-growing collection of sewing patterns to outfit my whole family in a handmade wardrobe. One can dream, right?

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

In all my years of knitting, I have become pretty opinionated on my favorite tools. I wish when I had first started that someone had pointed me in the direction of a high quality interchangeable needle set. I think I have pretty much tried them all by now, and my favorites are Chiaogoo and Lykke. My Chiaogoo are my workhorse needles: pointy tip, sleek metal, and a fabulously flexible cord. My Lykkes are my “Andrea it is time to slow down and just revel in your knitting” needles, the smooth driftwood relaxes me and is gorgeous to look at. I think the best things to look for are sharp tips so you can maneuver your stitches, a flexible cord that won’t kink, and a smooth join. I only knit with circular needles, so having a set of interchangeables means I always have what I need! I also prefer the shorter tips, as I find they are more practical for every application. My other “must have with me at all times” tools include my little sheep measuring tape, tapestry needles, small metal round stitch markers, sharp embroidery scissors and a row counter. And of course notebooks and pens, but that is a whole other post!

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

Since I use interchangeable needles, they come organized for me! I have dreams of having this gorgeously organized and decorated studio, but if I am being honest, I really use everything I have invested in, and as I work I tend to spread out and jump around from project to project. I find that I am always searching for balance, and this always comes out in my work by doing a lot of tasks all at once. Computer work here, pieces being blocked there, different types of projects on my needles with different amounts of complexity. A little finishing work, a little swatching and sketching. I think to an outsider it would look like total chaos, but to me it actually just feels really organic, my own little hive of activity.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Andrea Mowry (Drea Renee Knits)

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

Well its no secret that I have a nice little collection of Fringe Field Bags! They contain all of my WIPs. My yarn collection is organized on one wall of my studio on big shelves that my husband put up for me. My project bags are the end cap for each shelf. I really like having my yarn, projects and tools out and in view. I find that when things are hidden away, they are just too easy to forget about. Having everything displayed out in front of me is really inspiring, and I think it helps promote finishing projects as they are staring me in the face until I get them done!

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I have found that finding tools I really love using, and that really do their job well, makes my work so much more enjoyable. I have taken the time to try out different styles, so I could find what is best for me. I try to only hold onto what I use and truly enjoy using. So all of my tools are pretty special to me. I think my biggest splurges are probably my cameras, Fringe Field Bags and Twig & Horn wool needle cases. Each has played an important role in my work, even if just by bringing a smile to my face or helping me to stay a little bit more organized.

Do you lend your tools?

Yes, or even better: I give them away! For those of us lucky enough to have been bitten by the knitting bug, once you become obsessed, I think it is a very natural transition to begin using higher quality tools and yarn. In the beginning I tried out different things as I figured out what really worked for me. Now I love to pass on knitting needles and yarn to other knitters. I also always seem to have an abundance of tapestry needles and stitch markers, so if you are ever caught short, just come find me and I will help you out!

What is your favorite place to knit?

Cafés. Preferably with a friend. Even better if it is outdoor seating in the autumn. And if it is near water, life is really good. But you can find me just as happily stitching away alone in my room, or on a family walk, or on the bus, or a plane, or out to dinner, or at a bar.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I am a year-round, all-season knitter, but I do find I crave different yarn at different times of year. As it warms up, I want all the bright and speckled yarns, but as it cools, the woolier the better!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Andrea Mowry (Drea Renee Knits)

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

I unabashedly love yarn. I think sometimes we tend to feel more comfortable if we can put ourselves neatly under a label, but I have found that when I do that, I just rebel against it. Ha! I think sometimes people are surprised by my equal love of speckled brights and earthy, woolly natural yarns. But I just love it all! My two favorite yarns are Brooklyn Tweed and Hedgehog Fibres. They inspire me in different ways, and I’ve realized thats a good thing. I jump around and I don’t judge what’s inspiring me. I try to just listen and go with it. While today I am totally gaga over a one-of-a-kind skein from an indie dyer, tomorrow I might go all in on some unknown farm yarn that just feels so right in my hands! Either way, I am one happy little knitter.

What are you working on right now?

Everything. :)

I just finished up a cardigan and am working on some woolly slippers for fall. I’ve always got a shawl on my needles, and that is usually my knitting happy place. But I think I’m headed towards a new season in my work. All I can think about these days are sweaters, and I have ideas just pouring out of my head. So yeah, lots more sweaters are in the works!

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PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Dianich

Photos © Andrea Mowry, used with permission

Clothes for Texas

I’ve been powering through my Summer of Basics posts the past few days, due to the timing, but I confess it’s felt awkward to be talking about my shiny new clothes while monitoring the news about Hurricane Harvey. My whole Templer family is in Houston, and thankfully they are all safe and have miraculously suffered no damage. But as we all know, tens of thousands of people in Houston and the Gulf region have lost their homes and their possessions, and are currently displaced — so many with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

And of course, we all want to help, however we can. My friends over at Mason-Dixon Knitting have rounded up some knitting-community fundraisers going on at the moment. I know here in Nashville there are countless individuals and small businesses and organizations taking donations of diapers and toiletries, and driving them to Houston. The most immediate way to help is, of course, to make a monetary donation, such as to the Houston Food Bank or the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that was established by Houston’s mayor. (Or both. I’ve sent money to both, and am raiding Target for toiletries and underwear to contribute to one of the groups driving down on Monday.) The Times is maintaining a list of organizations taking a variety of types of donations (and also includes notes about how to avoid scams). But I keep thinking about all those people who’ve lost their clothes to the flood waters. I especially want to help with that.

There’s a list on Houston’s Emergency Operations Center website that’s being kept up to date with who’s accepting what, where and how. I spoke to the pastor of the Heavenly Hands Church currently listed there, and he said their most urgent needs at the moment — as they work to get people out of shelters and into apartments — is pajamas, toiletries, towels, and everything a person needs for a kitchen. He also said donations can be mailed; they are getting mail service there.

One organization I’m a longtime fan of, and have donated work-appropriate clothes to over the years, is Dress for Success. It seems to me there could be a rising demand for their services there as women try to get resettled. I’ve reached out to the Houston chapter about their needs and circumstances, and will let you know if/what I hear back.

If you have other ideas or suggestions, please share them!

UPDATES:

– I hadn’t heard of this pre-existing organization before, and their amazing mission: Undies for Everyone. (via Milkfed) There will be more school kids than ever needing fresh undies down there.

– Imogene+Willie posted an update about the urgent need for tools and clean-up supplies

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Harvey has made its way to Nashville at this point, and we’ve been under alternating flash-flood and tornado warnings since last night, so we’re hunkering down and slip-sliding into the Labor Day weekend. Wherever you are, I hope you’re safe and dry! See you back here next week—

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Summer wardrobe results: Better luck next year!

Summer wardrobe results: Better luck next year!

One of the most helpful things I’ve done for myself with regard to this blog was that winter wardrobe recap I posted in March. I even left myself a pre-fall to-do list — thanks, me! So before I begin to wander into fall planning, this is me making notes about how the whole summer outfits lineup has worked out (I should say so far). In short: WAH wah.

I was super enthused about those plans — especially about the dresses. On days I did wear one, I was so happy and comfortable I thought I might come to actually like summer clothes. But alas, it’s been mostly the same old summer struggle. The biggest factor in the struggle is the frozen tundra of Fringe HQ, but in a just a few months we’ll be gaining control over our own climate! Which means next year will, thankfully, be a whole different story. Still, some things to remember when it rolls back around:

Mending my camo pants (some more) was the biggest win. Basically I’ve spent the past couple of months rotating between those, my Point Sur jeans and my black linen ES pants. Comfortable pants (mainly the black elastic-waist ones) have won out over dresses.

• Dresses have lost out because it’s too cold at work for bare legs, due to lack of pockets in some cases, the fact that I still haven’t found a good replacement for my ankle boots (and a trip to the shoe repair didn’t help the old dears much), and lately because — as a result of not baring them while my arms get incidental exposure— my legs are noticeably whiter than my arms. It’s not a good look.

• Also, my idea of solving the outer layer problem by wearing a jean jacket or shirt jacket just hasn’t appealed. Had I actually finished the grey cardigan, that might have made a difference?

• My favorite overlayer is my tobacco linen Nade tunic, but it also has no pockets, so can only be worn over the dresses that do. It’s been worn far less than I anticipated, despite my crazy love for it, but I think it will get a little more wear in the transition into fall.

• Related: I haven’t worn the thrifted grey skirt yet, but also think it will have a better shot in the waning season.

• I’ve officially OD’d on black, largely because I’m so dependent on the black linen pants right now and I tend not to like black pants with anything other than more black.

• The white linen shell has definitely been useful — it’s especially great with the camos — but it’s so big it looks sloppy with some things. It’ll be great under sweaters come fall, so it’s all good, but I’ll make a right-sized version for next year.

• The linen Sloper is so cute, but I’m just not wearing it. As predicted, it’s very drapey, and drapey is my least favorite trait in a garment. So it may wind up going to my sister.

• The linen Fen top suddenly looks deathly drab to me with absolutely everything and has not been worn once. It needs some contrast stitching or a dip in a dye bath or something.

• I haven’t worn the linen Gallery dress once this summer (for all of the reasons above). If I don’t find myself reaching for it in the next couple of months — when I have the option of wearing any of the outfits seen here — I think I’ll shorten it to tunic length for wearing under sweaters.

The most important lesson is I’ve really only worn 15-20 different garments in the past couple of months, just paired up differently all the time. Pictured up top are some of my favorite combos of the summer — the outfits I have felt the most at home in. And just like with the winter recap, all of the outfits I haven’t worn for circumstantial reasons will thus still be new to me next year!

For details on the items pictured and any other garments referenced here, see the summer closet inventory. (The grey linen sleeveless tee is from Everlane, sold out; similar versions available.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Wardrobe Planning: Squam reflections and outfits

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!

. . .

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

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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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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you feel about mistakes?

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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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PREVIOUSLY in Archer: Queue Check July 2017