Q for You: ARE you a holiday gift knitter?

Q for You: ARE you a holiday gift knitter?

I always feel like a bit of an oddball this time of year when everyone’s talking about their holiday gift knitting — and I’m blogging about what patterns you might choose — while I’m just not really a gift knitter. In my defense, we’re not a gifty family. Even in years when we’re together for Hannukah or Christmas (we have contingencies that are variously observant of both) we either don’t do gifts or we draw names and only have one person to find something for. And Bob and I established a tradition long ago of either buying something we both want/need for our home or taking a little trip or … nothing.

But even if we were a fervent gift-giving clan, I don’t think I’d be gift knitting. The pressure! I do sometimes knit for other people — like the hats I knitted my sister’s whole family for spring break, or the vest currently on my needles for my husband, above — but we’ve talked before about the fact that I’m what’s known as a “selfish knitter,” and I don’t apologize for it. For one thing, I’m attempting to make most of my own clothes, so my rate of production has mattered. For another, what motivates me to knit is wanting to possess the finished thing. Knitting something for someone without knowing if they even want it is hugely demotivating for me. And the minute I tell someone I’ll knit whatever for them, I no longer want to do it; once it becomes an obligation, the thrill is gone. I’ve happily and successfully knitted things for others, or given things away after the fact; and I’ve knitted things for other people that are languishing in a drawer somewhere. So I know both the joys and the disappointments. But it’s mostly just not what knitting is about, for me. I’m reluctant to use the buzzword “self-care,” but knitting is a thing I do for myself, on all the levels. I’ve had this idea for years that I could start a tradition of knitting one thing each year, one recipient, and cycle through my loved ones. Maybe I’ll try to think of Bob’s vest as the first of those! (To be clear, I have no regrets or complaints about this vest: I can’t wait to see it on him.)

As always, I ask these questions because I love nothing more than how different we all are, and love hearing all the differing perspectives and experiences. So that’s my Q for You today: Are you a gift knitter? And if so, what are you knitting?

Cheers and happy Friday, everyone!

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: What sells you on a pattern?

Q for You: What sells you on a pattern?

Q for You: What sells you on a pattern?

It’s one of those elusive things: You see a pattern and feel incontrovertibly drawn to it, and very often you can’t even really identify why. Does it look fun to knit? Look good on a friend? Is the sample in a color you find irresistible, maybe even to the point that the item itself is almost irrelevant? Is it a matter of shaping, or texture, or aesthetic? Is it the photos? (Were they shot in some dreamscape that tugs at your soul?) Does it remind you of a favorite garment you once had? Is it exactly the shape you’ve been looking for? Written for a yarn you’ve been wanting to use? Sister tells you to? Published by your favorite designer or pattern company? Was at the top of Hot Right Now?

There are a thousand reasons why we might be attracted to a pattern, and we all lament the common experience of choosing poorly — casting on for the wrong reason and winding up with an unworn handknit that gives us the guilty feels. And hopefully we get better over time, knitting things that will not only be worn but loved. But that’s my Q for You today: How do you choose? What is it about a pattern that makes you download it and cast on, and are you able to identify the good triggers versus the not-so-good ones?

I was thinking about this over the weekend when it occurred to me that many of my best decisions were the result of getting to try one on, from Trillium to Channel to Cline. After many months of obsessing about a Carbeth Cardigan, I got to try on Shannon Cook’s Carbeth on Friday night — we were housemates in Seattle. It was that thing where you put something on and instantly go I’m never taking it off. It just fits, in all the ways. I woke up Saturday morning wishing that’s what I was wearing that day. And the next and the next and the one after that, which is how I finally knew for sure that it’s the right thing for me to cast on. Just as soon as I stop arguing with myself about yarn …

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How many clothes do you make/buy each year?

Top photo by Kate Davies; bottom photo by Shannon Cook, used with permission

Q for You: How many clothes do you make/buy each year?

Q for You: How many clothes do you make/buy each year?

Last weekend, I tackled the closet cleanout challenge for Slow Fashion October (you can see how far I got in my saved Story), and also posted on Instagram about having gone about 6 months without buying a single solitary garment or shoe — 100% unintentionally and unknowingly — and how since then (in the past 11 months total) all I’ve bought is four t-shirts and four pair of shoes, plus a piece of outerwear. (I guess I can use the word “vest” for it, but it seems so inadequate!) In thinking about that, I asked myself whether I was so content and oblivious because I was adding clothes to my closet through making instead of buying. We’ve talked about the fact that if you’re making your own clothes, it’s essentially impossible to acquire them at a typical shopping rate — it’s inherently slower. But looking back through the same period, I’ve knitted two sweater vests (sweatshirt vest and plum Anna) and a pullover, and sewn two sweatshirts (short-sleeved and long-sleeved, both not quite right!) and two pair of pants (recycled denim and natural canvas). If you count the outerwear vest and the yet-to-be-seamed blue Bellows, I’ve added a grand total of 12 articles of clothing to my closet in 2018. Add in the pajamas I made during Summer of Basics and it’s a whopping 15! I wish I had some way of knowing what my lifetime average was up until last year, but I can tell you it’s a long way from 1-ish garments per month. And yet, somehow, even this list of items seems almost excessive to the me I’ve gradually morphed into over the past few years. I find the whole thing mind-boggling.

And for the first time since beginning to knit, I’m taking as long to pick my next sweater project as it would have taken me to knit one!

Who am I?!

Last night I was reading this bizarre piece on newyorker.com that was sent to me by a #slowfashionoctober friend, about how Rent the Runway has pivoted from special-occasion wear to become a source of everyday clothes for tens (hundreds?) of thousands of women. The article opens with a sort of suggestion that it has something to do with the slow fashion movement, but I have a hard time seeing how a company that’s buying up thousands upon thousands of garments of questionable origin and shipping them endlessly around to one person after another after another after another (with dry cleaning in between each) is any kind of antidote to the ills of fast fashion. NEVERTHELESS, it opens with some mind-boggling stats: “Each year, as Hyman is fond of pointing out, the average American buys sixty-eight items of clothing, eighty per cent of which are seldom worn; twenty per cent of what the $2.4-trillion global fashion industry generates is thrown away.”

Sixty-eight items of clothing per year? As an average?! At my most gluttonous, I’m certain I never bought 68 items of clothing in one year. And obviously making anywhere near that number is hilarious to even consider. All of which brings me to my Q for You: How many articles of clothing do you add to your closet in a year? And what percentage of them do you make versus acquiring them through other means? I know not everyone is in the habit of assessing their closet in the sort of gory detail I do for this blog, so I don’t assume you know exactly, but what’s your best guess? Or a range. As always, there’s no right or wrong answer! I’m just. So. Curious.

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I look forward to your responses, and wish you a happy weekend. I’ll be back to sorting through my piles if anyone wants to join me! I’ve got a really great closing interview lined up for Monday, and plenty more yarny posts to come next week!

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: When do you give up on a WIP?

Q for You: When do you give up on a WIP?

Q for You: When do you give up on a WIP?

This is that time of year where I’m off behind the scenes shooting beautiful photos of upcoming goods — starting with a new waxed canvas Field Bag color tomorrow! — and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in every set of lookbook photos there’s inevitably at least one with a luscious pile of grey wool and a certain sleeve in progress. It makes me laugh how many shoots this WIP has gone on, and I almost don’t ever want to finish it because it’s so great for this purpose! But in reality, it’s the Sawkill Farm sleeves and skeins from a sweater I started three years ago. There are older projects in the aforementioned pile of WIPs and yarn that needs to be sorted, but I consider them abandoned and awaiting frogging, whereas this one stays in its designated Porter Bin on my WIP shelf. One of these days, I’m going to figure out exactly what shape of sweater body these two sleeves want to be attached to, at which point I’ll resume knitting; meanwhile I’m perfectly content for it to hang out.

So that’s my Q for You today: How do you know the difference between and old WIP and an abandoned project? (Knitting and/or sewing.) Is there a time limit or some other criteria? And what’s the oldest WIP in your house?

(With special thanks for Kate Gagnon Osborn and Jen Beeman for sparking this Q.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you wind yarn as needed, or all at once?

Q for You: Do you wind yarn as needed, or all at once?

Q for You: Do you wind yarn as needed, or all at once?

A long time ago, we had a very fun chat about hand-winding yarn versus having it done at the store. I still believe in hand-winding and, although I bought a swift at some point in between, I don’t like it and rarely use it. (In fact, I recently relocated it to the coat closet as part of the workroom cleanup.) So it’s still me winding yarn by hand onto my thumb, from a skein draped around my knees or my neck. And I have always been a wind-as-you-go kind of girl, since I don’t like to wind more than I actually need. (I’ve never actually returned an unused skein, but I like preserving the possibility!) Yes, I find it tedious to run out of yarn and have to stop knitting to wind more, and I am always thinking of the moment during the Top-Down Knitalong when I saw panelist-friend @jen_beeman on Instagram, winding all of the yarn for her sweater in one go, and feeling envious of the fact that she would be able to knit straight through without stopping. And yet, I can’t bring myself to wind more than a two or three skeins (at most) at a time!

So that’s my two-part Q for You today: If you didn’t weigh in before, tell me whether you’re a hand-winder or a store-winder, and if the former, do you wind in one go or as needed?

I look forward to your answers and wish you a very happy weekend!

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: What was your first yarn?

Photo © Jen Beeman, used with permission

Q for You: What was your first yarn?

Q for You: What was your first yarn?

Earlier this spring/summer, we renovated our bathroom, which also involved gutting and narrowing our coat closet. In the process, the contents of the bathroom, the coat closet and part of the living room all got dumped into the guest room in one gigantic mess. Six weeks or so since the bathroom was completed,* I’m still facing a large part of that mess, wanting to put it all back in a more organized fashion than it was before, and of course not having the time to do that! Among the piles is a big storage bag thing containing a load of scarves, hats and gloves that moved with us from the Bay but haven’t been worn since — many of them my earliest handknits. Among them is the first thing I ever bought yarn for: this simple camel-colored cowl.

With the caveat that I had crocheted (and very slightly knitted) as a kid — no doubt with some kind of craft-store acrylic — my first foray into a yarn store as a knitter was that fateful Nashville trip in 2011 when Meg taught me to knit by casting on Joelle Hoverson’s Pointy Elf Hat and walking me through the steps to completion. The red thick-and-thin yarn had come from her stash, and before we left for the airport on our last day, Jo (my friend, Meg’s mom) took me to Haus of Yarn, where Meg was on duty, and I surveyed the beautiful samples and yarns all around the store looking for something to knit on the flight home. Of course, I wanted to knit Julie Weisenberger’s loafer slippers (Meg: “Maybe next year”) but we settled on a seemingly simple bias-knit cowl that happened to have been knitted in the same yarn I had used for the elf hat. At that point, I only knew the knit stitch, so Meg and Jo taught me to purl and Meg gave me a little piece of paper with the instructions for kitchener stitch on it, and off I went. I find it not at all surprising that the first yarn I picked out was this lovely shade of camel! Albeit in this Thick ‘n’ Quick Merino that I would not likely choose for myself today. But now I’m wondering why I’ve never really worn this cowl, just held onto it as the first thing I knitted entirely on my own. And though my first two projects — this and the elf hat — were both knitted in this yarn, I’ve never knitted with it again.

I remember that day at Haus quite vividly, being bowled over by the incredible array of pretty skeins, especially all the multi-colored Malabrigo that was so prominently displayed at that time and all the rage, as I would soon discover. I can’t remember if I bought any other yarn that day, other than a ball of canary yellow dishcloth cotton (and a pattern booklet to go with it) that was my waste yarn for the next five years. But that brings me to my Q for You today: What was your first yarn? How long ago, and how does it compare to the kinds of yarns you knit with these days?

I look forward to your stories, and wish you a relaxing weekend!

UNRELATED SHOP NEWS: With the popularity of our knitter’s tool kit and our sashiko thread selection, we’re now offering a sashiko tool kit as well!

* If you’re waiting for me to post final bathroom pics on Instagram, I’m so sorry to be a tease. In typical fashion, I’m struggling to find time to do it as well as I want to, to do it justice. Hopefully this weekend in my IG story!

Q for You: Would you rather knit the sleeves or the body?

Q for You: Would you rather knit the sleeves or the body?

A few years ago, my now-pal Anna Dianich and I launched a funny little project we called the Tag Team Sweater Project. We had gotten into a discussion about how she dreads knitting sleeves whereas I dread the body. (We both love the yoke.) So I suggested a swap: We each picked a bottom-up sweater pattern; I knitted all four sleeves; she knitted both bodies; and then we were each responsible for our own sweaters from the underarm join on up. That sprang to mind the other night as I was working on my current top-down yoke* and started thinking “Then I get to knit the sleeves (fun!) … and then the body (ugh).

“I’m stuck on sleeve island” is one of the most common refrains among sweater knitters, and I just don’t get it! Sleeves are inherently short, quick rows — especially if they’re knitted flat (including top-down flat sleeves) — which means visible progress, and there’s something to do along the way. (Regular increases or decreases, in nearly all cases.) But the body, to me, is just this long, dull slog — especially if it’s done in one piece. (For pieced sweaters, none of this seems to even come into play.) Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who feels that way. So that’s my Q for You sweater knitters today: Do you prefer to knit the sleeves or the body? If all sweaters were Tag Team sweaters, which team would you be on?

IN SHOP NEWS: Two of our most popular items this summer — the “Bury me with yarn and needles …” tote and the Fringe knitters tool kit — and both back in stock over at Fringe Supply Co!

Happy weekend, everyone. I’m hoping to be knitting sleeves by Monday!

*OMG, you guys, I honestly wonder I’m ever going to get to the separation round on this thing! It’s been so slow going, and when I finally got to what I had calculated would be the separation round, I double-checked my gauge to make sure it matches my swatch. It’s WAY more compact, so I’m still going …

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you sew tags in your handmades?