Q for You: What’s your progress blocker?

Q for You: What's your knitting progress blocker?

I’m pretty sure “stuck on sleeve island” is the most frequent lament among knitters (which you know I don’t understand!) but I suspect we have a wide array of idiosyncratic responses as far as what part of the knitting process stalls our progress or even robs us of mojo, in some cases. No doubt for a lot of knitters it’s seaming, and thus the need to seam is avoided altogether. That’s another one I don’t get — seaming is like performing a little magic trick, although it does tend to put a halt to progress in that I only do it during daylight hours. So unless I happen to finish something on a Thursday night, have it blocked and dried by Saturday morning, and have a corresponding chunk of free time that very weekend, there will almost always be a lull while something awaits seaming. But the real mojo thief for me is picking up stitches.

Picking up stitches is the other thing I only do in daylight, so there’s that, but I don’t actually dislike it. In fact, the neat-freak part of me takes pleasure in that nice tidy column of stitches running up along the needle, in marking off matching sections and making sure I’m picking up identical numbers of stitches for perfect symmetry. I honestly have no idea why I dread doing it, and yet it is almost always the source of a disruption in forward progress. This poor vest spent three weeks waiting for me to have the right spot of daylight to seam it, after which I forged right into picking up armhole stitches in hopes of avoiding a cessation, but I picked up too few in my haste, and now I wonder how long it will be before I pick it up again. And I really want this vest!

So that’s my primary progress blocker and my Q for You: What is yours?

(Needles, removable stitch markers and notebook from Fringe Supply Co.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: What’s your favorite pattern source?

Q for You: What’s your favorite pattern source?

Q for You: What's your favorite pattern source?

I became a knitter in the age of Ravelry, but sometimes I ponder what it was like before. My personal historical equivalent would be going to the fabric store with my mom when I was a kid, sidling up to the long tables stacked with giant binders full of sewing patterns, and beginning the often tedious task of turning every single page in as many of those books as possible to find what I was after. Then locating the actual pattern envelope in its cross-referenced file drawer — that makes me so nostalgic just typing that.

In the days before Ravelry — which created a means for self-publishing — the only way to get a pattern published was through a traditional gatekeeper: Someone publishing patterns had to likes yours and include it in a publication, which might have been a magazine, a book, or a booklet put out by a yarn company. But of curse in the days of Ravelry and other websites, all of those traditional outlets also still exist. It can be a pretty dizzying world of too many choices, and I’m sure we all have our different go-to’s when it comes to filtering through the hundreds of thousands of patterns out there.

So that’s my Q for You today: How do you find the patterns you knit? Are you high-tech or old-school? Do you keep your eyes on a certain designer or brand that puts out collections? Do you start with the vintage pattern booklets or stack of magazines you have at home? Do you go to the library and pore over books? Ask friends for recommendations? Browse hashtags on Instagram? Or do you start with the Ravelry search box and narrow your search from everything to just-the-thing? I’d love to hear about your sources and your methods — and what makes it work for you.

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Are you a holiday gift knitter?

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