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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Q for You: How do you feel about mistakes?

Q for You: How do you feel about mistakes?

Someone recently asked on Instagram for my thoughts on mistakes. And I was like, Where do I start?! Let’s see, here are a few of them:

1) Definitely make them! Early and often. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re likely not trying anything new. (This is a life lesson; not knitting specific.)

1a) All knitters make mistakes — it’s not something you grow out of. (The best gymnasts on earth still fall off the bars on a regular basis.)

2) Fixing mistakes is the absolute best way to learn and to grow your confidence and ambition, so again, make new and different ones so you can learn how to fix them!

3) The most common advice I give people is that you’ll never regret having taken the time to fix something that’s bothering you, but you might very well regret not doing so.

4) But also: Not all mistakes need to be fixed, in my opinion.

I’ve struggled with perfectionism (and “perfection paralysis,” as one of you said the other day) all my life, have been really working hard on it in recent years, and the fact that I just said “not all mistakes need to be fixed” is evidence of how far I’ve come. The initial question had been prompted by my admission to another person that I had left in a mistake, visible in the photo and in the one up top here, in the very first cable cross in the lower right. I knew it when I made it — I was right there and could have fixed it in two seconds, but I chose to leave it. The person who asked the question described herself as a perfectionist and talked about a project she had completed that was disappointing because it wasn’t perfect, which I obviously could totally sympathize with. My Instagram-sized response to her was:

“I mean, everything is fixable. You could pull out your I-cord and redo it, right? My rule of thumb is just if something will bother me in the end, I fix it. If not, I don’t. This tiny little thing, to me, is like getting that first ding in your new car — now that’s out of the way! I’m a perfectionist in life (it’s something I battle) but I don’t really believe in perfection in knitting. That tiny mistake I left makes it not only handmade, but uniquely mine.”

There are commonly cited legends of Persian rug-makers and Navajo weavers (etc) who hide a small flaw in their work on purpose because only God is perfect (or some variation on that). Someone else said something recently that I can’t track down now [EDIT: found it], but I think she said her grandmother would call a mistake a “humble spot,” which I love. LOVE. But for me it goes back to what I first fell in love with about William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement when I studied design history in school — their notion of placing value on the “presence of hand” in an object; evidence that it was made by a person and not a machine.

Here’s the rest of what I said that day, which is a newer thought for me, and one I haven’t fully fleshed out yet:

“I think there’s getting something right and getting something perfect. I’m only interested in getting it right. And only I can define any of those terms, anyway.”

You all know how much effort I put into getting things right — by which I mean getting the yarn and colors and fit and length and neck-shaping exactly (or almost exactly!) how I want it. But perfection doesn’t interest me. Just like the rift in the moss stitch and the misplaced black stitch in the colorwork pictured above — two other recent mistakes I’ve deliberately left — those two mistwisted purl stitches on the inside of my wrist will be my favorite thing about this fisherman sweater when it’s done: the inside joke or wink-wink between me and my genuinely one-of-a-kind sweater.

So that’s a lot from me, but I wanted to put the same Q to all of You: What’s your attitude toward mistakes? How do you decide what to leave and what to live with?

I’m looking forward to hearing from you on this, and wish you all a happy and relaxing weekend!

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: What are you afraid of?

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

Q for You: What are you afraid of?

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

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

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

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

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you decide what to make?

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Q for You: How do you decide what to make?

Q for You: How do you decide what to make?

I’ve been thinking about the urge to knit or sew things for myself and how it compares to the old urge to shop (which are at once the same and very very different). Obviously over the past few years — and increasingly the past few seasons — I’ve put a lot more effort into wardrobe planning than I ever had before. But even with all of that, I find myself pondering what are my actual criteria for when I add something new.

It’s definitely still a gut thing, framework aside. Any new garment has to fit into my wardrobe, sure — has to follow the old “makes at least three outfits right off the top of my head” rule — but it also has to meet or exceed my notion of how I want to dress, how I want to feel. It must have appeal for more than a season. I have to be realistically able to make it: a fingering-weight stockinette sweater will never get finished. It should fill a gap rather than being redundant with things I already own. But most of all there is good old raw, instinctive WANT. I need to feel excited to wear it — not just “yeah, that’s useful” — or else, again, it’s in jeopardy of never being finished and/or dulling my love of making. Bonus points if it can be made from stash or with a known yarn/fabric I’ve been trying to find a project for. (My stash is not very big and I rarely acquire anything anymore without a specific project already planned for it, so there aren’t that many “shopping my stash” opportunities. But to the extent I have a sweater quantity of something that’s not already earmarked, that is a definitely a decision driver.)

So I guess for me it’s about finding the sweet spot between fashion lust and practicality — it has to win over both of those judges in my head — but my favorite thing about humanity is how different we all are, and I love hearing about all those countless differences.  So that’s my Q for You today: How do you decide what to make? Do you follow a list or a whim? Are you driven by your stash, your Pinterest, the Hot Right Now page at Ravelry, your budget, your color sense, your desire to use certain skills … How does it tend to work out for you? And is it the same decision-making process for making as for buying?

(Porter Bins and Field Bags from Fringe Supply Co.)

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Q for You: What makes a garment “slow fashion”?

Q for You: What makes a garment "slow fashion"?
Q for You: What makes a garment "slow fashion"?
Q for You: What makes a garment "slow fashion"?
Q for You: What makes a garment "slow fashion"?

Hopefully you’ve all seen the piece I wrote for the current issue of KnitWit about my weird life spent thinking publicly about my clothes, and about how I came to be pursuing a “slow fashion” wardrobe in the first place. For the photos, I was asked to put together outfits that demonstrate the point — what I mean by slow fashion — and unfortunately the descriptions of those outfits didn’t make it into print. I’ve been wanting to share them for that reason (they’re at the bottom of this post), but they also feed into a larger conversation I’m always having in my head and would like to have with you. So here at the start of Fashion Revolution Week, I’m putting the question into Q for You form, the question being: What makes a garment “slow fashion”?

I feel like I can make a case that my wardrobe is slow fashion at this point because I say so, in a sense. Hear me out: I think if you’ve educated yourself about the issues (The True Cost is a great place to start), made a conscious and genuine vow not to acquire clothes indiscriminately henceforth, and you take full responsibility for the contents of your closet, then that is a slow-fashion closet. By take responsibility, I mean commit to wearing each item (whatever it is, wherever it came from) for as long as it lasts, extending the lives of things through care and mending, and re-homing anything that doesn’t work for you. (Hopefully not just dropping it into a charity bin — remember no one wants your old clothes — but literally finding it a new home.) So perhaps I can say “my clothes are slow fashion because they’re my clothes” and because I’m committed to these principles, but when it comes to adding anything, I’m constantly asking myself what I’m ok with — where do I draw lines?

There are three underlying considerations or motivations to slow fashion, in my view:

1. The environmental cost — seeking clothes that don’t contribute to the inordinate damage the fashion industry is doing to rivers, village(r)s and the planet; and generally opting out of the escalating fashion churn cycle
2. The human cost — seeking clothes that aren’t made by slave labor or child labor or in unsafe conditions
3. The actual monetary price — seeking to get the most out of whatever money we spend on our clothes; better quality/value and longevity

And then there’s also simply seeking to support companies that are making goods or materials in laudable ways. Grainline recently included this definition of slow fashion in a blog post, and it’s pretty good — “the practice of creating and buying garments for quality and longevity, ideally minimizing waste and supporting fair labor” — except if your concern is the environment, the only truly responsible approach is to not make or buy anything new in the first place, but rather to use what already exists. So first and foremost, there’s simply wearing what you already own or get second-hand. When adding new clothes, the surest way to avoid anything made by slave labor is to make it yourself, but then of course there’s still the question of the fabric or yarn. With store-bought or manufactured clothes, there are all the questions: both about where and how the garment was made, and where the materials came from.

I feel like there should be some kind of slow-fashion credentials scorecard, but even that gets complicated. Still, here’s one way we might put it:

“This item before me …”

IS NOT NEW
[ ] I’ve owned it for years and will wear it for years
[ ] it was a hand-me-down
[ ] it was bought secondhand (thrift store, consignment, eBay, whatever)
[ ] it was acquired through a clothing swap

IS HOMEMADE (no factory labor involved)
[ ] I made it myself
[ ] someone I know (or hired) made it for me
[ ] it’s made from 100% natural fibers
[ ] the fabric/yarn is of known, reputable, transparent origins
[ ] the fabric/yarn has upcycled or recycled content
[ ] the fiber was organically grown and/or processed
[ ] the fiber/fabric/yarn is undyed and/or minimally processed
[ ] environmentally safe dyes and dyeing processes were used

IS NEW, BUT
[ ] it was made locally to me
[ ] i bought it directly from the designer-maker
[ ] it was produced in-house (or at a company-owned facility) with full transparency
[ ] it was produced in conjunction with acknowledged artisans/craftspeople in their endemic location
[ ] it was produced in a country that has meaningful labor laws, and I believe they were adhered to
[ ] the company has a central mission or founding policy of only working with reputable factories
[ ] the company has environmentally friendly business and manufacturing practices
[ ] the company has socially beneficial business practices
[ ] it’s made from 100% natural fibers
[ ] the fabric/yarn is of known, reputable, transparent origins
[ ] the fabric/yarn has upcycled or recycled content
[ ] the fabric/yarn has organic content
[ ] environmentally safe dyes and dyeing processes were used

That’s arguably hierarchical: wearing what already exists is better than making something new, is better than buying something new — very broadly speaking. But within all of that, the checkboxes aren’t necessarily of equal weight, and how many need to be checked for a garment to really rank?

I make a lot of my clothes, and almost entirely from new fabric or newly spun, virgin yarn. I’ve challenged myself to work harder on that aspect. The only fast-fashion garments that have moved into my closet in the past year or so are jeans and a button-down shirt that I rescued from my husband’s Goodwill pile, so they’re basically secondhand and I’ll see to it they get worn instead of dumped. But then there are conundrums. I’m apparently content to buy a garment from someone like Elizabeth Suzann, feeling good about knowing exactly where and how it was made (and supporting a company with deeply felt principles) but without knowing anything about the fabric’s origins. So what about a case like this J.Crew shirt, which is the opposite: it’s Baird McNutt Irish linen, pure of origin, but I don’t know anything about who/how/where it was sewn into this garment. Are those cases equal? (Can I bring myself to buy the linen shirt??) If a thing is made in this country, so it at least didn’t get shipped across the Atlantic, is that inherently one tiny notch better than made in Bangladesh? There’s no guarantee the US factory is abiding by labor laws just because the laws exist, so how much weight do I give whatever increase in good odds that represents? I trust that Imogene+Willie is working very closely with their LA factory and can be trusted; can I say the same for J.Crew’s made-in-LA goods? What about a company like Everlane that says they only work with the good factories? Isn’t that what every brand says if you ask them? How do we know who’s telling the truth (or not being deceived by their factory)?

Ultimately, everyone’s definitions and comfort levels are different, and everyone has to follow their own gut. I want a garment to check more than one box if I’m going to have it in my closet, but how many, and which do I give the most weight to?

What about you? And what would you add to the checklist?

See also: Why I make my own clothes

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THE KNITWIT OUTFITS (pictured top to bottom)

  1. Elizabeth Suzann wool cocoon coat (made locally, no longer available); handknit grey vest in Hole & Sons farm yarn; homemade plaid top in French cotton (never blogged); J.Crew Point Sur made-in-LA jeans
  2. Handknit black cardigan and beloved 10-year-old t-shirt (with I+W jeans, below)
  3. Handknit turtleneck sweater in US wool; embroidered cotton Katayone Adeli skirt c.1998
  4. Handknit Cowichan-style vest in US wool; homemade black muscle tee in organic hemp jersey; Imogene+Willie jeans in undyed Japanese cotton denim (made in LA)

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Photos by Zachary Gray for KnitWit/Fringe Association

Q for You: Are you a repeater?

Q for You: Are you a repeater?

A few days ago, I posted the above photo on Instagram with this caption: “I stopped an inch short of finishing the body last night because I’m not ready for my time with this stitch pattern to come to an end.” One of the comments was “Time to cast on another one!!’ and the immediate response in my head was Too many other fish in the sea! As if I would never knit the same sweater twice. And yet I say to myself all the time that I’m going to knit another Bellows one of these days, and maybe even another Amanda, which got me wondering why and when I’m willing to repeat. In both of those speculative cases, it’s because I want another of the same sweater but in a snugglier, woolier yarn. (A Spring/Fall version and a Winter version, basically.) But even so, I’ve made no moves to actually cast on again.

I have repeated smaller things in the past — I knitted Fetching mitts for two different friends (no different other than the yarn/color), and have knitted three versions of Orlane’s Textured Shawl (here, here and here; all pretty distinctly different in scale, gauge and fabric). Of course I’ve knitted multiple Stadium Hats and Super Simple Mitts. And oh yeah, Improv sweaters, obviously! And clearly I have no problem repeating sewing patterns — in fact, I prefer it, given all the prep work involved. Apparently the only things I’m willing to knit repeatedly are fairly simple, useful, adaptable basics, whereas the more unique or challenging things get knitted once and then it’s on the next one. But is that really it? I don’t know! I’m still pondering.

So that’s my Q for You today: Are you a repeat knitter of things, and if so what and when? Is it different for sewing than knitting?

I look forward to your responses, and also wish you a wonderful weekend. I, for one, am super excited about the arrival of Daylight Savings!

UNRELATED SHOP NEWS: I’m also super excited about the arrival this week of more Lykke fixed circular needles, the new issue of Taproot, Bookhou double-zip pouches (the beloved Pepita print is available again) and a massive restock of Bento Bags!

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you use Pinterest?

Q for You: How do you use Pinterest?

Q for You: How do you use Pinterest?

When Pinterest was young, I was deeply in love. Back around 2011-’12, when I also happened to be a brand-new knitter, it was an essential part of my daily routine. I’d log on late at night with a glass of wine, and/or first thing in the morning with my yogurt, scroll back to where I’d last left off, and wander my way upwards — looking for random inspiration and also (maybe moreso) for interesting people. In those days, your feed was made up very straightforwardly of the chronological pins of the people you had elected to follow, and it also displayed who they had repinned an image from, as well as any comments on the pin. So not only could you control what you were seeing by choosing who to follow, and could keep your place because it was chronological, but you could find and meet new people! I loved seeing who my chosen pinners were getting their best pins from, clicking through to find out more about those people, and interacting. Along with being lit up by all the beauty in my curated page, I discovered all sorts of interesting people with excellent taste, and met some of my favorite knitters and even one of my very best friends that way.

Then, as seems to be inevitable, things went south. From my perspective, anyway. A redesign a few years ago buried the community layer — no longer did the bottom of each pin in the scroll say who it was repinned from, comments were collapsed (and thus suppressed, activity-wise). If you want a pin to lead you to other good pinners, it now requires time and effort. The feed stopped being chronological and gradually became jammed full of sponsored or suggested pins, so it was no longer specific to the pinners you’d chosen to follow. Which meant it looked more like the old front page (the everyone page) and less like one’s own little curated world. And now they’re even collapsing the captions — it’s like they have a vendetta against words! Having worked in tech, I have no doubt they’re making data-driven decisions — they must have evidence that other people didn’t care about all that stuff that made me love it in the first place. I guess. But is that true? Or is Pinterest no longer the phenom it once was because so many other people valued it the same way I did, data notwithstanding?

The thing is, I still love Pinterest — or at least, I want to. I long for those days when I could call it up in my browser and know I was going to tumble down a gaping rabbit hole of gorgeousness, but I’ve been trying to find new ways to make use of what it is, since it’s no longer useful to me in the way it was. I think now I use it more the way it was originally conceived — simply as a place to store things I want to save and find again, or occasionally to search for something specific. I’m enjoying making my guest board for BT. I have some secret/shared boards for project planning. I’ve been repinning the whole site archive onto series-themed boards, and love being able to see whole series at a glance like that. (And hope you do, too!) And I still see a lot of blog traffic coming from Pinterest, so I know people are still using it.

But I am curious, and so that’s my Q for You today: How do you use Pinterest? What do you use it for and hope to get out of it. Do you look at it every night/morning or only when you have a specific need? What works for you, Pinterest-wise. Or do you use it at all?

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

(NOTE: The image above is a screengrab from my Yarny Goodness board. I have two Pinterest accounts — karentempler and fringeassoc)

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