Sunday, 18 January 2015

Becoming A Competent Knitter (in a year!)

Lest I lose track of what great progress I've made in my knitting I'm going to document some of it here.
At the beginning of December 2013 I could knit only wonky rectangles. I asked for Learn To Knit Love To Knit for Christmas and had bought Debbie Bliss's How To Knit after borrowing it from the library. Over Christmas - my first one without coursework in four years - I spent lots of time curled up in chairs and sofas, teaching myself to knit in the round and to increase and decrease. After Christmas itself I embarked on a pair of the armwarmers from Learn To Knit Love To Knit, and two more pairs quickly followed for friends with January birthdays. (Ravelry pattern page, pair two, pair three)

Pair #1
Pairs #2 & #3
 After this I was more confident that "real knitting" was just lots of little techniques joined up (like many apparently complex things). I had seen lots of Miette cardigans about on the internet (including Lladybird and GKs Agenda's KAL) but lacework seemed a bit much still - I wanted something plain but not a baggy, shapeless thing or a tiny shrug I'd never wear. Kristina of Little House By Hand posted about her Shapely Boyfriend cardigan - her first knitted cardigan - and it was exactly what I wanted. The pattern is free and is on Ravelry and on the Knitty website.
I bought my circular needles in Lidl (and they work fine for now, maybe I'll go deluxe and get interchangeable ones one day) and got to work on a tension swatch. I extended my tension swatch and tried out the increases and decreases plus a few practice buttonholes. My Ravelry notes have more detail, but suffice to say I got gauge with my cheap 30% wool yarn (via eBay) and set off. The cardigan is knit top-down in the round so I was able to see it taking shape and try it on once the arms were off the rigid stitch holders.

#mmmay14 Day 31: Going for broke on the last day of #memademay . Waitrose won't know what's hit it.

I finished Shapely Boyfriend in mid-April and wore it *loads* during Me Made May - it was definitely a big factor in my being able to exceed my Me Made May target - this blue-grey really goes with everything. There are a couple of cons to this cardigan - the bust could do with being a little wider and the back drapes over my bum in an unflattering way - but it's still very wearable and I had an idea of how to deal with these in future makes.
After Shapely Boyfriend I still had an absolute tonne of the yarn I used so I thought I could safely try out Miette and not be wasting anything if it went wrong (there's my can't-have-nice-things instinct again). Again I swatched and practiced the increases and decreases (different ones) and got going very soon after finishing Shapely Boyfriend. My Ravelry notes document some of the difficulty I had forming the neckline (new technique) and counting right on the sleeves. I finished it on a rainy day in Cornwall. I was a little sick of it by that stage but I made a point of finishing it and it looked pretty cute with my navy truffle (now semi-retired due to fading).

Ruffle-less truffle & Miette

This Miette re-confirmed that cropped cardigans aren't a thing I wear a lot - they look really odd & unflattering with hip-level skirts, so this is reserved for wearing with dresses. My next Miette - and there will be more, the stitch pattern is lovely and the bust fit is great - will be a longer version with longer sleeves. The advantage of knitting such a popular pattern is that there are heaps of helpful Ravelry notes, tips, tutorials, and instructions on how to lengthen and adapt it. It's also convinced me that I ought to buy another Andi Satterlund pattern -the difficulty is deciding which!


I then embarked on a second Shapely Boyfriend, a shorter version. This version suffered a bit from lack of inspiration - I was more excited about sewing and socks - , the need to make Christmas and birthday presents, and my newfound gym habit. Shamefully I started the poor thing in July and have not actually completed it yet. It's been awaiting buttons since mid-November but I don't have any that are quite right - I need to take it shopping with me! I used some very very cheap wool from a local Draper's and could have been more excited about the colour so I think that hasn't helped me get up the motivation to finish it.

Three of my most recent complete projects - if you ignore the yarn tails & lack of buttons... #bpsewvember

The length is just about ok - I think I could have gone slightly longer. Once the buttons are on I'll be able to tell if it rolls up when done up - the ribbing might be a bit much for such a slopey part of my body. I don't think it looks toooo much like an overgrown bolero...

4/5 days of black and white photos - knitting in low light. Tagging @llewsah if she'd like to join in
Raglan increases on the Shapely Boyfriend
Next it was Christmas knitting time! This year, giftwise, I knitted one and sewed a few. This was probably about right in the end although I could have started the knitting earlier - I might have managed to get a completed photo of my sister's cowl that way! I made her a variation on the famous GAP-tastic cowl. I searched all over for the right shade of H&M mustard, had a false start with some cotton DK from eBay, and eventually struck warm-toned gold in Wool in Bath. Wool is a nice little shop full of the kind of good quality wool that makes you want to buy it all and roll around in a big pile of yarn all day (as opposed to the apathy-inducing neon or pastel acrylic that does for yarn in some shops). Anyway, I bought King Cole Merino-blend aran and it's lovely. There was a slight *cough* design feature *cough* in the finished cowl - it ended up twisted round twice, but by the time I'd noticed it was too far along to go back and the whole thing is long enough that the twist just adds cose.

Mustard Cowl
Cose in the making, cose in the wearing
So - that's all the knitted items I've completed. My current ongoing project (ignoring some crochet blankets that are languishing slightly) is my first pair of socks! I've been excited about these since I bought the yarn at Tiger in August but I only let myself cast on after the purply boyfriend was finished. They're Wise Hilda's Basic Ribbed Sock pattern - available on Ravelry and on her website.
I started off while sitting in bed with ice on my sprained ankle, got a good chunk done waiting for my x-ray, and started turning the heel over Christmas. I hate picking up stitches along edges so I've stalled a bit currently. I'm starting sharing lifts again this week so I should get some more knitting in soon. I don't know yet if they'll actually fit but since I don't really like wearing socks this was always more of an academic exercise. I just love the colourway of this yarn - maybe I should get some more and make a shawl? Not when I have a huge stash!

First sock!
Dark, but you get the idea
Speaking of that stash I think I'll have a look at it and try to come up with some projects - I have a few in mind already, both for myself and for presents.

Here's to another year of self-taught new skills, steady progress, lovely knitted things, and enjoyable knitting!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Top 5s of 2014

Top 5 2014 #sewingtop5

Oh yes! I'm very belatedly jumping on the bandwagon with Gillian's Sewing Top 5s so I'm going to put everything into one post.

My best make - no surprise. Its my TNT, my most worn work skirt - and my most instagrammed - and I need to make more in other colours. I had a very definite vision when I made this and I bought the fabric especially. I didn't expect to buy stretch cotton

Top 5 Hits: What have you worn or loved the most?
I'm going to put these into chronological order since my sewing really has moved on in leaps and things that were hits earlier in the year are no longer. I'm including knitting as well because I can.
1. Navy truffle - my first completed wearable dress, the fit wasn't perfect and the fabric is crappy but I wore it to work quite a few times
2. Shapely boyfriend - my first completed knitted garment. It's been worn a LOT thanks to the simple shape and versatile colour. Since the yarn is nothing fancy it's looking a bit worn and bobbly but apart from that it's stood up to washing pretty well.
3. Red stretch cotton skirt - has become a go-to garment. Slight stretch makes it super comfy - more so than my later black & white spotty skirt. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted and I made it. With pockets :-)
4. Purple bird dress - Fitting effort met forgiving fabric, resulting in a fun and comfy swooshy party dress.
5. Black plantain - First knit bands, flattering shape, soft fabric. Yes - I can make t-shirts!

Truffle, Truff, Truffou, Lilouffle - the road to decent fit is paved with muslins #bpsewvember
Top 5 Misses: What went wrong or never got worn?
1. Coral truffle #1 - too big, too see-through but a good exercise and a high note to end Me Made May on
2. Teal corduroy skirt - fabric from hell was stretchy, slippy, moulty and the resulting skirt was strangely floppy. Worn a couple of times for MeMadeMay but barely ever since.
3. Black & white spot skirt - Cute but I really do need a full bum adjustment - the CB seam is stretching out. The fabric is fading a little too but at £6/m I can't really complain.
4. Miette cardigan - really cute but I don't wear cropped cardigans, at least not in winter. I'll give it another chance this year and have plans to make a longer version.
5. Dress muslins - so many odd ones. Wearable muslin of Lilou was a mess - it went through a stage of having strange fabric n*pples!

Fun - meeting other sewists at #NYlon2014 and being happy & comfy wearing things I made to friends' weddings #bpsewvember

Top 5 Highlights: Tell us about 5 non-sewing highlights of your year!
My sewing highlights are all my firsts - knits, dress, etc - , Me Made May (part1, part 2), the #NYLon2014 meet-up, and #bpSewvember. I'm much better at Instagramming than blogging...
1. Celebrating friends getting married - two lovely couples had two lovely (and very different) weddings and I wore my purple bird dress to both. I also got to go on accompanying hen and stag weekends which were both experiences to remember. I fulfilled my goal of visiting a pop-up restaurant, learned to make fascinators, met friends-of-friends I'd heard so much about, and discovered the delights of padron peppers.
2. Boy got a new job! One that means we're not planning to leave Bristol any time soon, mostly to our relief - I like the idea of living somewhere else for a bit but the reality scares me a bit. Hopefully having this more settled and the new job being more strictly 9-5 will mean we manage more adventures next year. He'll have some work trips which I probably can't/won't tag along with for the most part as they're more serious than academic conferences.
3. We didn't know at the time, but we had what is probably our last Cornwall holiday in the cottage we usually go to. We felt like we'd "done" Cornwall pretty thoroughly but there's always more! We finally tracked down Botallack mines and the image of St Agnes from all the postcards. Our plans for this year aren't formed yet but we've thrown around ideas including: find another Cornwall cottage to rent, try Norfolk, drive around Scotland, go somewhere warm.
4. Stockholm & Norfolk - two rather different but exciting holidays with friends. A weekend walking around Stockholm, enjoying being somewhere new and different. I'd like to go back to Stockholm, probably in the summer. A weekend boating on the Norfolk Broads with a lovely group of friends. We somehow packed a lot into one weekend but also felt super-relaxed, Erica is an excellent hostess.
5. Owning a car - This has made a lot of the above possible. I have been sharing lifts to the office and gained almost 2 hours a day by doing so. We took my car to Cornwall. I've been able to take off home/to Southampton/to Bath/to Norfolk/to London and be on my own terms. Christmas at home was much easier knowing I could escape when I wanted!
6. Cheeky bonus which kind of incorporates number 5 - I did grown up things. I finally got registered at the dentist and had fillings done, I had an eye test and bought new glasses, I bought a car, I signed up to and went to the gym (though a sprained ankle has stopped me for a while). Now I need to make that smear test appointment... (all women in the UK are invited for one when they turn 25)

Re-trying-on I conclude that this might be OK if I add width to the front. A good 4" but I hadn't FBA'd and have a big rib cage. Interestingly front length is almost right. Guessing I can widen the gathered edge, waistband, and skirt fairly simply... Mayb

Top 5 Reflections: Looking back, what have you learned about sewing or yourself?
1. I already knew it, but I'm a self-impeding perfectionist. I definitely need a few fitting adjustments from standard-shaped patterns but I also need to let myself settle for "good enough". I don't want to waste/ruin my nice fabric by making something that won't be great from it so I'm in muslin limbo, forever thinking I need to make more muslins to get the fit better before I cut into good fabric.
2. I've tried to give away stashed things that I won't realistically use for myself and have enjoyed doing so. I think that I maybe have a fear of things being wasted - it's much easier to give things (all things - clothes, mugs) to someone who I know needs them and/or genuinely is excited about using them than to just send them away to a charity shop or put them in the bin. I feel like if I don't know what's happening to something then it's being wasted and that is somehow very scary. At least I've found a way out of this.
3. I'm not great at finishing stuff, but I've got better. Finding that balance between giving up in frustration and killing the fun by slogging on too long on something that isn't working is tricky. I've got a few UFOs and half-fitted patterns that need sorting out but for at least one of them (above) time and distance (and improved skill in the meanwhile) has showed me that it's not as bad as I thought.
4. I'm not fearless, I just expect a lot of myself. I will merrily start trying to do a new technique and be annoyed with myself for not doing it well. This is stupid. I am not some kind of wonder seamstress. Some part of my brain expects me to be able to do everything I've heard of and I retain information well. I can give you tips on all sorts of things that stem from reading, not from experience. This is the wrong way around. I should go slowly and highlight new techniques to myself and practice them rather than steaming ahead and then getting frustrated when it doesn't work. Princess seams are a good illustration of this - I just tried to go for it. Nope.
This is probably the reason for number 3 - if I've half ruined things it feels worse to fully ruin them than to just do nothing. This is also nonsensical.
Gosh. That all got a bit heavy and psychological.
5. My best projects have been the ones I've been excited about. I've stuck at them and enjoyed wearing them. If I'm not so bothered I lose interest while sewing and am more likely to give up when stuff goes wrong. If I have a clear vision and am excited about wearing an item I'm more likely to end up with something that I love. The red skirt is an example of this - I had a very clear idea, I went to Fabricland and bought specific fabric, and I've worn it loads despite the zip coming undone all the time.

Technique: stabilising knit seams with ribbon for #bpsewvember  #plantaintee instructions have you incorporate the ribbon in the seam (which I didn't get on with last time), Tilly's #sewingcoco has you apply the ribbon before sewing the seam, and Sewaholi

Top 5 Goals: What do you hope to achieve in 2015?
1. A nicely decently fitting bodice and skirt - possibly a block to compare to new patterns
2. Better stitching on knits. At the moment everything is stretching out a lot when I sew - maybe a walking foot would help? For now I'm just going very slowly.
3. Finish items, reduce UFO heap, reduce mending pile.
4. Use time well. I have lots of little pockets of time - 30mins or so - and I tend to slump on the sofa with crochet/knitting/internet rather than making concrete progress on a project. This should change.
5. Make things I'm excited about and enjoy the process. Stop setting myself mental deadlines.  Boy always says I sound so unhappy when I'm sewing and it seems like it's always going wrong. This is supposed to be a hobby! I need to stop expecting perfection from myself and just make progress.

Thanks Gillian - this has been really interesting. I didn't know what I was going to write beforehand but it's really spilled out and I've learnt things :) I've also realised, as always, that I've done far more this year than I thought. Hurrah for that!
I've really enjoyed reading everyone else's Top 5s over the past week or two.
Happy 2015 and happy sewing!