Wardrobe Planning: Summer 2016 master plan

Wardrobe Planning: Summer 2016 master plan

I’m beginning to feel like I did when I first learned to knit. This new-found willingness to sew (I still can’t say “love of sewing” or anything like that) has me A) wanting to sew all the things, and B) mostly sewing the wrong things. It’s not quite as bad as knitting in that last regard — I’m basically making reasonable facsimiles as opposed to completely wrong things. By which I mean I keep sewing a thing I want out of a different fabric to make sure I really love it before I cut the right fabric. So then I wind up with alternate versions instead of the things I really want in my closet — which is equal parts smart and stupid. I know these are acquired skills, requiring practice, and hopefully I’ll become a better judge and more confident chooser, just as I have with knitting over time. Meanwhile, I’ve had to really strive to narrow down the short-term sewing plans if I intend to get any of the want-and-need slots filled. So I went back to the drawing board — or the Fashionary panels, as it were — and am prioritizing and specifying fabrics along with patterns, along with how these garments will be worn, to make it an actual plan of action! These are the five pieces I mean to sew while it’s still warm, although not necessarily in this order:

1. A little camisole-style top in some amazing black-and-white ikat I bought from Fancy Tiger (now sold out). One of the biggest holes in my wardrobe is going-out clothes, so this will be a good layering piece for colder days as a well as a slightly dressier option for the occasional date night or open-studio party around town. I considered April Rhodes’ Simple Slip that comes with the Date Night Dress pattern as well as Dottie Angel’s new Simplicity 8186 underslip. (Which is where my thinking was when I took this photo!) But I decided to use Grainline Studio’s Lakeside Pajamas top instead, since I also want to sew those pj’s, so I’ll get more use out of that pattern. For this going-out version, I’ll modify the back to one piece, make the whole thing a bit longer and give it side slits.

2. An easy full skirt in the same ikat, which you’ll see shows up in several of these outfits. I’m thinking it will be Seamwork’s Seneca skirt, which is designed for jersey. I tested sewing this pattern in a woven already (see above about making reasonable facsimiles) and I like how it turned out well enough. For my test, I sewed a straight medium in a lightweight cotton shirting and just left out the side-seam inserts. For this one (“the real one”) I’ll go up a size or two in cutting the skirt while sticking with the medium waistband, gathering the fabric down to fit it. I want more fullness in the skirt but not loaded up on the waistband.

3. Fancy Tiger’s brand-new Adventure Tank, muscle tee variation, which I’ve mentioned a few times before. I sewed my first one this weekend and am head over heels in love with it. Again, it was my first time sewing knits so rather than commit my cherished striped hemp jersey to it and having the top I really want, I made it out of the same jersey in black. Fortunately, the black one is a great addition to my wardrobe (and now I can goodwill my sad old black Madewell version), and again I cut a medium, which is great for the black but I want the striped one to be a small. I can see wearing this one with everything from jeans and skirt(s) to my black linen slip dress.

4. This one’s less pressing, but in the interest of making a purely summer garment and not pressuring it to work with sweaters later on and all that, I’d like to make a little Fen top out of that same blue stripe as my dress (maybe with a pocket added). It would look very Ace & Jig with my b/w ikat skirt! Among other uses.

So, summer silhouette-wise, those basically boil down to “little tops + crops” (middle column) and “little tops + dress/skirt.” Not terribly specific or original, but it’s working for me as a planning device! And despite what I said about summer dresses before, there’s one dress I’m still longing for every time I reach into the closet, which is just a super-simple sack dress:

Wardrobe Planning: Summer 2016 master plan

5. For this I’m imagining making an oversized Fen top at knee length and adding a big pocket. Because everything is better with a big pocket! Planning on using some bright blue Merchant & Mills linen for now (bought last summer), and charcoal wool melton later on.

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PREVIOUSLY in Wardrobe Planning: Summer silhouette 1: Dresses with sweaters

New Favorites: Retro cable Bliss

New Favorites: Retro cable Bliss

Now that the 4th of July is behind us, it’s safe to start dreaming about Fall — which will be here in a heartbeat, people. I know I’m not the only one mired in reveries, because my Instagram feed is suddenly full of fall feelings. And you know more than anything, I’m dreaming of cable sweaters. I ran across this new pattern by Debbie Bliss last night, with the melodic and inventive name of Cropped Cable Sweater, and fell instantly in want. I love how evocative it is of all those vintage cable pullovers trapped in my stack of old pattern booklets, but I imagine this one would be merciful enough to include a proper chart! I’m already mentally scanning my stash for yarn candidates and imagining amusing outfits …

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Kveta

Hot Tip: Abuse your swatch

Hot Tip: Abuse your swatch

There are a lot of great reasons to knit a swatch, gauge being just the most obvious one. But it’s how you can see if you like how a colorway knits up (which can be very different from how it looks in the skein); whether the yarn is well-suited for the stitch pattern involved; whether colors go together, if you’re using more than one. As a fiber mind-meld. Lots and lots of reasons. For me, one of the most important is to see if I even like the fabric (and want a whole garment in it) and also how it will wear. We talked recently about pilling, and a lot of you wanted to know how you can know in advance whether a yarn will pill. It’s a sooooper complicated subject — it has to do with the characteristics of the breed/fiber, how it’s shorn, how it’s spun and plied, how it’s being knitted. But basically you should assume yarn will pill! The question is how much, and what’s your tolerance for it. Plus there’s the matter of what kind of wear the garment or accessory will get. Is it a sweater you intend to wear often and with a backpack or cross-body bag, or one you’re making for the occasional dress-up event? Will your hat get treated with kid gloves, or shoved in your pocket and purse and glove compartment? In my opinion, not only do you need to wash your swatch the same way you intend to wash your garment, but you should also put it through a little bit of abuse. Sleep with it under your pillow, carry it around in your pocket or purse. Shove it in the glove compartment! See how that baby holds up, and whether your enthusiasm for it grows or wanes.

(For advice on how to knit and measure a gauge swatch, click here. Yarns pictured are Camellia Fiber Company Patrick for something I can’t talk about yet, and Clever Camel for my upcoming Channel Cardigan. Pouch and safety pin/keychain from Fringe Supply Co.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Relax your cast-on

Swatch of the Month: July ’16 // Herringbone Churro

For this second installment of Swatch of the Month, Jess has really outdone herself! This is a rich and meaty post, and I hope you’ll spend some time with it today or over the weekend. And please have a lovely one! Here’s Jess—
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: July ’16 // Herringbone Churro

When you visit Oaxaca, one of the first things you notice are the textiles. Hanging from doorways, draped across clay walls and clotheslines, piled up on tables, spread at your feet. The landscape is a rolling expanse of tans, sage and stormy blue mountains, but the buildings, the clothing and the woven rugs are a riot of color – fuchsia, peach, indigo, marigold. Zapotec weavings are ubiquitous in Oaxaca and particularly in the small village of Teotitlán del Valle, where I stayed for a few days for a one-on-one weaving residency.

As I’ve talked about on Fringe before, I visited Oaxaca in 2014 for a wedding but extended my stay to study under Federico Chavez Sosa, a third-generation master weaver who taught me to weave rugs in the traditional Zapotec style. On my final day in Teotitlán, I knew I had to take home a few skeins of the rainbow of Navajo-Churro wool yarn that hung along the walls of his workshop. I wasn’t an active weaver then and am still not now (hope that a bigger space that accommodates a floor loom could change that someday), so it never occurred to me that not all yarn could or should be used interchangeably for both weaving and knitting. Caught up in the colors, the excitement of the week and probably a healthy dose of FOMO, I picked out a few skeins in the hopes of knitting a sweater or two, and brought them home where they’ve sat in my stash ever since.

Swatch of the Month: July ’16 // Herringbone Churro

THE SHEEP

The thing about Navajo-Churro wool is that it’s coarse and probably not something you’d want to wear next to your skin (although I’m sure Churro diehards would disagree). The Navajo-Churro sheep are descendents of the Churra, an ancient Iberian breed known for their hardiness and adaptability. They’re part of the so-called “primitive” breeds – meaning those that haven’t been bred to specific characteristics and can trace their lineage back to early Bronze Age sheep – along with perhaps better-known breeds like Icelandic, Jacob and Shetland. Their long, double-coated wool has a coarse, almost hair-like, outer layer while the inner, shorter coat is fine and soft. But it’s just these qualities that make the wool so well-suited for weavings, rugs, blankets and outerwear, which is what it’s been primarily used for since the sheep were brought over by the Spanish in 1494, becoming the first domesticated sheep in the Americas.

From the the time they were introduced, the Churra were relied on for food and fiber along the upper Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost tip of Texas where it meets with Mexico. With colonial expansion, flocks grew into the thousands in North America. Pueblo and Navajo acquired sheep through trade and raids, and the Navajo in particular took to shepherding, growing their flocks exponentially and using the Churra wool to produce textiles that became the basis for their economy. Over time, the name of the sheep changed from “Churra” to “Navajo-Churro,” although the sheep are also referred to as both “Churros” or “Navajo sheep.”

In the late 1800s, the U.S. government sought to further control the Navajo tribe by controlling their flocks. The U.S. Army slaughtered tens of thousands of Churro sheep in 1863 and federal agencies led crossbreeding programs with finewool sheep, like Merino, to provide softer fiber to the garment industry. These crossbred sheep were not well suited to the climate, however, and suffered. Drought and government-imposed stock reduction programs in the 1930s further decimated the breed. Small pockets of “old type” Churros survived in isolated villages, but by the 1970s had reached near-extinction, their numbers dwindling to just 500 sheep.

To protect the breed from further depletion, a Utah State University animal science professor named Lyle McNeal founded the Navajo Sheep Project in 1977. About ten years later, the Navajo-Churro Sheep Association (N-CSA) was founded. To date, there are over 6,000 sheep registered with the N-CSA in the U.S. alone, and breeders can be found across the Southwest and beyond. Preservation efforts from dedicated ranchers are helping ensure their continued rebound, as well as allowing Navajo to continue their traditions of handspinning and weaving with Churro wool.

Further south in Oaxaca, native weavers were using cotton and the backstrap tension loom to produce textiles for clothing and trade as early as 500 B.C.E. When the Spanish arrived, they recognized Teotitlán’s potential as a weaving center, and instead of dismantling the culture there as they did for so many other communities, they forced native laborers to weave for Spanish colonies. They introduced Churra wool and the fixed-frame pedal loom to the Americas, allowing weavers to produce weavings – primarily blankets – on a faster and larger scale than ever before. As in North America, Merino sheep were introduced to try to “improve” the Churro breed, but by the mid-1600s the Churro wool blanket industry was already well underway. (Note: It’s here that my research goes cold on the Churro breed in Mexico – if anyone knows more about the history of the Churro in Mexico and in Oaxaca specifically, please share in the comments!)

By the 1970s, weavers in Teotitlán had begun creating large rugs on even larger looms – some ten or twelve feet. In 1974, the introduction by American importers of the July issue of Arizona Highways, dedicated to contemporary Navajo rugs, sparked a flurry of imitative weaving by Teotitecos. Today, weaving production in Teotitlán is focused primarily on an export market rather than selling solely to Mexican nationals or tourists. Color schemes, designs and quality of the rugs created by both Zapotec and Navajo weavers alike are now driven, for better or worse, by the American market. In Teotitlán, a small village in one of the poorest states in all of Mexico, entire families have found economic success in selling their rugs internationally, with many importers in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. The rugs and weavings of today, as they were centuries ago, are still created with Churro wool.

Swatch of the Month: July ’16 // Herringbone Churro

THE SWATCH

The few Churro skeins I have were carded, spun and dyed by Federico and his family in Teotitlán, and still have little flecks of grass and hay caught in the fibers. Not all weavers in Oaxaca can afford to use natural dyes in the yarns and weavings, but many still do, relying on dyestuffs from the nearby landscape – lichen, bougainvillea blossoms, pomegranate skins, indigo leaves, and even shells of caracol, or sea snails. The skein I used for my swatch is a single-ply fingering weight, dyed with cochineal, an insect that feeds on the nopal cactus and whose larvae is crushed to produce a range of vibrant reds, pinks and purples.

Given the coarseness, I knew that I didn’t want to use this yarn for a sweater, so I considered creating a fabric that could be used as functional for the home. Imagine a set of placemats or the front of a pillowcase, with the front knitted up and black linen sewn on for the back, *swoon*! To approximate the look and feel of a weaving and to stand up to continued use, I wanted the gauge to be tight and thick. I also knew that I wanted to use a simple, geometric pattern that drew inspiration from Zapotec and Navajo designs and allowed the yarn to sing. After sketching several motifs and looking through some stitch patterns, I landed on the woven transverse herringbone pattern in Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. Knit up, the design was exactly what I was envisioning.

To be honest though, knitting with Churro wool was tough. This was likely exacerbated by the slip-stitch pattern and tight gauge, as I held the yarn double and knit on size 6 needles to get the thickness I wanted. It really gave my hands a workout! However, the swatch softened up a lot after blocking, and I could easily envision this fabric used in outerwear, like a poncho. I’m totally in love with the stitch pattern too, and it would make a great scarf or cowl.

Despite the challenges, I’d highly recommend working with Churro wool to expand your horizons and try something uniquely different than what you might be used to. Churro wool production is supported by weavers and textile artists who are working with this special fiber. Need more ideas beyond knitting or weaving? When I was at TNNA a few weeks ago, I brought this skein with me and passed it around, asking others how they might use it. The best answer I received was from Jill Draper, who recommended felting it. The coarseness would make it felt it up like a dream. Knit it up quickly in a loose gauge, then felt the heck out of it in your washing machine to create a fabric you could use for all sorts of things.

Here are some resources for buying Churro yarn, but I’m sure there are others – please chime in with suggestions!

Swatch of the Month: July ’16 // Herringbone Churro

Yarn: Handspun Navajo-Churro wool dyed in cochineal, held double
Needles: US6/4mm Addi Turbo needles
Gauge: 22 stitches / 34 rows = 4 inches, in woven transverse herringbone pattern (below)

M E T H O D: For the woven transverse herringbone stitch pattern, please see Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns.

Swatch of the Month: July ’16 // Herringbone Churro

If you’re interested in learning more about Navajo and Zapotec textiles, there are a good number of resources out there. Five I’d recommend are:

  • Textiles from Mexico by Chloe Sayer (haven’t read this one personally, but it’s considered a classic in the field)

Jess Schreibstein

PREVIOUSLY in Swatch of the Month: June ’16 / Mesh rib linen

Someday vs. Right Away: Crochet skills

Someday vs. Right Away: Crochet skills

I keep saying I need to up my crochet game so I can think about making stuff like this and this and this, and instead I only talk about crocheting and have to turn to YouTube all over again every two or three years when I decide to give it a go. One of the first things I ever favorited at Ravelry was Roko’s Borsalino hat, pictured above, knitted from Michiyo’s No.5 hat pattern. (For a similar hat, see the free Novi Hat pattern.) I remember being floored at the notion that one could simply crochet such a hat. My noggin is problematically large (shut up, DG), rendering hats a challenge in general. I’ve developed a fair sense of what I can get away with beanie-wise, but structured hats are pretty much impossible. Which brings me back to that Yoko hat. If I had game, I could make one for myself and make it fit properly, right? So if I want to ever do that, I better get serious about those skillz. Two good places to restart would be Dottie Angel’s sweet and useful Imperial Mitt and Hot Pad and same for Mamachee’s Perfect House Slippers.

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PREVIOUSLY in Someday vs. Right Away: Outerwear

Q for You collected: Yarn management!

Q for You collected: Yarn management!

Yesterday’s yarn-winding post on Mason-Dixon Knitting (and the ensuing hypnotic discussion), followed by two different emails about related subjects, had me digging back into former Q for You posts on yarn handling that seem to be begging to resurface! (Plus on Friday I had a little meltdown about how much yarn is in my house, completely untamed at present, and how I need help keeping it under control.) These are perpetually pertinent subjects, the answers to which I never tire of seeing, and there’s so much assorted wisdom of this crowd stored in these posts. So today I’m encouraging you to take a look at the collected responses and add your two cents to each—

Do you wind your own yarn? (winder or by hand, balled or caked)
How do you sort your stash? (by color, by weight, by what)
Does having a stash work?
How do you close out a project? (what do you do with your leftovers)
How do you store your yarn? (for aesthetics and safekeeping)

And if that’s not enough Q for You for one sitting, browse through them all here at your leisure.

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Are you a process knitter or a product knitter?

New Favorites: Kveta

New Favorites: Kveta by Amy Christoffers

Ok, in all honesty, I chuckle a lot about the number of garter-stitch shawl patterns that get published in any given month. And yet today I’m favoriting Kveta by Amy Christoffers, one of the simplest garter-stitch shawls I’ve ever seen! But often the simplest things really are the most appealing. You can guess that in my mind this is not the technicolor dream shawl pictured but the same thing in a nice quiet neutral — or at least a solid. There’s something I like about the scale of it on this girl, but what’s reeling me in is the notion of the low-fuss, drop-stitch fringe method. I just really want to do that. And using 2 skeins of worsted/aran weight yarn, just imagine how many options there must be in my stash.

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Andean-inspired hats