Having wrapped up multiple projects for others lately and said “see you next year” to the bulky cardigan I started in December and won’t need till next December, I’m at a rare moment: A clean slate. And rather than rushing into anything that hadn’t been sufficiently thought through (which resulted in No. 2 below), I’ve been taking my time making my plans. But this is how they’re crystallizing:
1. The shawl-collar vest After some deliberation (and discussion with you all) about using mismatched wool from my stash versus acquiring a more wearable cotton blend, I decided on the latter. I’ve bought a handful of skeins of Rosa Pomar’s Mungo — 50% recycled cotton and 50% recycled wool, all preconsumer mill waste — swatched a couple of ways, and am ready to cast on. The fabric is nothing at all like the Balance I know and love — it’s much more summery, more cottony, lighter — even though they’re both 50/50, so I’m eager to see how this goes.
2. The Luft mystery project In the absence of any specific plan or outcome, and the presence of this swoony black Luft, I’ve been knitting it into a garter-stitch triangle, which may become a rectangle or a square, or may simply be ripped out. Only time will tell. But no moment spent with this yarn flowing through my fingers is wasted. It’s a therapy unto itself.
3. The navy pullover I haven’t even so much as swatched, but I’m pretty certain the ultra-plain little navy pullover I’ve been wanting will be knitted from two strands of this deep dark blue Bummull. As it will probably be a simple stockinette top-down — a good pick-it-up-anytime project — I’m thinking of casting on and planning to knit it here and there between now and next fall, when I’ll be wanting it again.
4. The “kimono” jacket While multiple brands have renamed their “kimono jackets” to the more accurate “haori,” the fact remains that this Assembly Line pattern I’ve purchased bears the name Kimono Jacket. But name aside, I’m super obsessed with this pattern, the shape of this jacket, and am planning to sew it up in navy linen, which I have a lot of in my stash from Eliz Suzann’s $2/lb garage sale a couple of summer ago — I’m just waiting for the pattern to arrive at my mailbox. This will be an excellent all-purpose garment throughout the year.
5/6. The pants As previously noted, I’ve been thinking for a long time of sewing a pair of woven Hudson Pants, and think the guinea-pig fabric might be that stripe in my stash. (I still have those Jenni Kayne pants in my head.) But there’s also still the goal of the Carolyn Pajama pants in navy linen with black piping, for street wear. Not sure yet which will come first; either/both will be awesome with the jacket.
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.
On my sewing list for quite some time has been the Hudson Pants pattern from True Bias, with the intention of sewing this ostensible sweatpants pattern in a woven fabric, as I’ve seen many people do. But Mac Housley has put me over the top on it — she tells me she’s sewn at least 6 pairs, ranging from flannel pj’s (for the whole family) to the sage green pair above, among others. I’ve mentioned Mac twice in Elsewhere lately — in the context of @meetmakersofcolor and her fantastic Love to Sew Podcast interview (please tell me you’ve listened to it!) — but today I’m here to tell you I have a Maker Crush on her, straight up. It’s not just the Hudson pants, but her energy and openness and apparent willingness to dive right into whatever tempts her. Mac stopped crocheting (hopefully not forever) after her grandmother died fifteen years ago and is eager to learn to knit, but she has taken up sewing in just the past few years and is already a powerhouse thanks to that aforementioned diving-in mentality.
In addition to her joint ventures @meetmakersofcolor and @sewalteredstyle, and the blog of the same name, her @macsmakespace account has become one of my favorites in recent months, and I particularly love her ongoing IG Stories wherein she checks in regularly about works in progress and so much else. If you’re not already following her, I’m sure you’ll find her as relentlessly inspiring as I do.
— I love this piece by my collaborator-friend Jen Hewett (above) on being a creative and a recovering perfectionist. For me, being one too, this bit about her great grandmother is the perfect tiny life lesson: She was a talented cook, but sometimes her cakes didn’t rise properly. “My mother never called those failures,” Auntie Maude said. “She’d slice that cake, pour some cream on top, and call it a ‘pudding.’ And we loved those puddings.”
This past weekend, I had a house full of guests and several action-packed days surrounding the first occurrence of QuiltCon in Nashville. It’s an event I’ve wanted to attend for several years and never get to, but what could be more convenient than it happening in my own backyard?
QuiltCon is the quilting equivalent of a Stitches event for knitters, except in addition to the convention-center rooms full of classes, lectures and vendor booths, there are also over 500 modern quilts on display. It’s pretty dizzying. The marketplace area is fairly small compared to a Stitches event (though still plenty vast) but try to picture rows and rows of pipe-and-drape “walls” hung with that many quilts. It’s a lot to take in! And it took us two visits to see it all.
I snapped photos of all of my favorites (too many to share) and of those only Exit Wound by 17-year-old Audrey Bernier was one of the official prize winners. It was among the Youth quilts, an area that was robust with social-justice quilts done in conjunction with the Social Justice Sewing Academy. Exit Wound is a statement on gun violence in the US, and the design was inspired by the fact that the exit wound for an AR-15 is the size of an orange. It is a mix of strong concept and subtle details, and a collage of patchwork, appliqué, embroidery, hand- and machine-quilting. Truly powerful work.
If I could have brought any one of the quilts home with me, I would have chosen Peppermint Twist by Irene Roderick, pictured up top. There were lots of quilts in the show that used tiny little strips of fabric, which was mind-boggling to me, and this one just really struck me as both technically amazing and visually stunning.
Or maybe I would take the quilt called Six Pairs of Pants by Sherri Lynn Wood, who was the featured quilter for this year and had about three aisles of quilts on display. She previously did a residency at the dump in San Francisco and made art and quilts from some of the discards. This one is literally made from six pair of pants, which takes you a minute to realize. I also loved the dress shirt one, where she’d left the buttons intact.
Of course, the best part was seeing old friends and meeting several new ones. In particular, I was thrilled to find out Karyn Valino was in town for the event. When I first got back into garment making, Karyn (aka @make_something) was a huge inspiration — I basically just wanted to sew every pattern I saw her sewing, and still do. (I definitely quizzed her about every garment she had on and added a couple of things to my list.) So it was great to get to meet and spend some time with both her and the lovely Jaqueline of Soak, who she was here with.
And in the aisles at the show on Friday, a woman walked past me wearing a fantastic hand-quilted, shibori, haori-style jacket. When I said “I LOVE your jacket,” she spun around and showed us her hand-stitched jeans and bag as well, then quickly told us her name, what all and where all she teaches, and that we could follow her on Instagram at @sandrajohnsondesigns for more, which of course we promptly did! Sadly, we didn’t get to see her quilted pants in person.
That’s barely skimming the surface of the incredible display of talent that is QuiltCon. Photos don’t begin to do the quilts justice, and if you get a chance to see a future batch in person, I definitely recommend it. I believe next year’s QuiltCon is in Austin TX.
One of the first knitting friends I made through this blog and Twitter, back when knitters were mostly still found on Twitter, was the dynamo known as @izznit or Iz. You may know her on Instagram for her knitting, her wit, her ink, her plants or her adorable dogs; or you may recognize her from the Porter Bin photos. (Her blog is now dormant but not forgotten, and she’s still got best blog header ever.) And yet like always with this Our Tools, Ourselves q&a, I learned some new things about her! And hope you will too.
Thanks so much for doing this, Iz!
. . .
Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
I’m mostly known as a knitter but I was a sewer first — my love for it is what led to my career in the garment industry (patternmaker turned designer). Once sewing became part of my job, it stopped being a hobby and knitting took over. I crochet on occasion but it’s limited to small projects like baby toys or dishcloths. I do know how to spin, even went so far as shearing my own fleece, but I don’t do it as often as I should. Weaving is on the to-learn list!
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
I’m all about metal interchangeable needles for speed and convenience. I hated knitting at first because of the plastic Aero needles my mom taught me with — the yarn squeaked all the way across and required so much effort to move! I settled on bamboo because it was sold at all the big box stores but during the slouchy hat era, I struggled to find fixed circulars in the length I needed. That’s when I learned about magic loop and the versatility of an interchangeable needle set. I bought a nickel-plated set from Knit Picks and still use it eleven years later — no squeaks! The yarn glides! Now when I teach people to knit I let them know other materials are an option and to not get discouraged if their work isn’t moving easily.
I don’t crochet regularly so my hooks aren’t as curated, they’re just what my Mom passed down years ago. It’s a mix of materials and very incomplete.
I also have a stash of handmade bowls to hold my flat-bottomed, center-pull yarn cakes. I don’t have to worry about setting my yarn on an unclean surface and the added weight prevents the cake from flying when I need to pull.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I made my own pouch for my interchangeable needle set because I couldn’t find one that fit my needs (compact, not flappy, and no extra pockets or slots). Loose hooks and needles are in a variety of handmade cups and vases. I think it’s important to be able to see everything at a glance — if things are hidden they won’t be used.
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
I have a WIP tray that I lug around the house with projects I work on the most. The ones I work on less go in their own Field Bag and on a shelf. That way if I ever have to bring my knitting somewhere I can grab and go.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
A hand-turned nostepinne given to me by my university TA. She read I was using toilet paper rolls and spoons to wind, and sent me hers as she had no use for it. Eleven years later, it’s still my favorite thing to wind with. I’ve tried other nostepinnes but they aren’t as comfortable to hold. This was also my first knitting-related act of kindness that’s made me more comfortable with the idea of giving neglected tools away where I know they’ll be loved.
Do you lend your tools?
I don’t because my tool collection is so pared down and only comprised of things I use. I’ve given books and older tools when a friend shows interest, though!
What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?
Most of my making is done at home in the evenings after work, but my favorite place to knit is anywhere on vacation. I love that the FO carries memories of the places it’s been, and it’s a pleasant reminder when worn.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I don’t think there is any, really. I knit less frequently overall since my last tendonitis flare up. I don’t recall being a seasonal knitter before then either.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
I’ll let the readers decide which category this falls under but I will never cut a knot. I will always undo it, even if it takes hours, because I’m scared of being short on a project. That includes joins where the yarn was split and I’d only be saving 2 inches. I also have a fear of my ends coming loose on an FO so I will weave far more than I have to. I used to weave tails up to 10 inches long until I frogged a project and realized the absurdity — now it’s down to 4 inches.
What are you working on right now?
The Midsummer Rose Shawl has been my main focus, but I do have WIPs of varying difficulty around, for when my mood or location requires something less intense.My mom taught me to always finish a project before starting another but I couldn’t follow that for very long.