Snowbunny In the Desert

This is a two-for one post because the garments looked so good together I couldn’t bear to separate them! Let’s start with the jacket, which has inspired more ridiculous stories and posts on my instagram account than I ever imagined.

The jacket pattern is Simplicity D0899 and I bought it shortly after I moved up to Vancouver this summer. The warm days and cool nights had me wishing I had a lightweight, long jacket that I could throw on over summer dresses, and I thought a linen or silk noil would be beautiful in this very simple unlined trench style pattern. But it turned out that I didn’t have enough fabric in my stash to make it in the kind of fabric I wanted, so I decided to find something nice from The Fabric Store for my next order.

Although I was initially planning to make this in a slightly drapey muted fabric, I kept feeling drawn to this interesting animal print jacquard on the website (as of this post I think they are all out of this specific fabric now, but this is the same textile, I think, but in a different hue). The fabric was pretty much the exact opposite of my original idea- stiffer, bulkier, with lots of body, and in a very bold print- but once it was in my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so the obvious choice was to take a chance and move forward with it!

I think that this fabric is described as “reversible”, which is totally legit, but there was only one side that I was really drawn to. The side of the fabric that looks decidedly animal print-y, is bolder and a little more…garish maybe. I think it could be really cute in like, a skirt or pants or blazer, but for a whole coat, it just wasn’t working for me. However the other side? I was crazy about it! It looked less animal print-y and more abstract, and the feel was softer, more pillowy, and frankly just a bit more interesting to me personally (for some reason I am really trying hard not to shade the other side of the fabric, as if it’s going to be offended, lol).

This jacquard was pretty easy to sew with and definitely not slippery or grippy, but I did need to make sure my needles were sharp so it wouldn’t snag any of the threads on the outside part of the fabric (the inside of the fabric is smooth and flat and has no raised threads). This was a very simple and straightforward make- the jacket is unlined and has no button or zip closure so it’s really just made up of the front and back pieces, sleeves, pockets and collar, therefore it came together very quickly. I considered french seaming the insides but the fabric is fairly thick and I didn’t want to battle the bulk so I decided to finish the seams with my serger, which was definitely the right choice.

I wish there was more to say about the construction of this jacket but there isn’t- it truly was an uncomplicated make! The dynamic look of the garment is not matched at all to it’s simple design, which I kind of love. It’s exciting when you make something with a huge wow factor but no wow construction- it almost feels like cheating! One of my other favorite things about sewing patterns is seeing them made up in fabrics or prints that they might not have been designed for, but still look amazing with when paired together. As soon as the garment started coming together and I tried it on for fit (no adjustments necessary for this one except for shortening the sleeves) I realized that, although I had set out to make a really casual, easy-to-throw-on jacket, I ended up with one of the most lux looking items in my closet!

I am still just so tickled about it! Whenever I put this jacket on I immediately start channeling the personality of a painfully wealthy woman who chain smokes and has so many lap dogs that she can’t remember any of their names, haha. My friend Carly and I have this idea to do a series of shorts based on this woman and her jacket so I will definitely post here if we ever get around to it, but until then, I am enjoying parading around town in such a sleek, sexy coat! It surprisingly goes with EVERYthing!

Next up are these amazing high waisted wide legged trousers from a new-to-me indie pattern company called Fibre Mood that Sophie of Ada Spragg told me about. There are so many really cute and thoughtfully designed PDF patterns on the site that it was hard to choose just one to start with, but I finally decided on the Peaches Trousers to try and get a taste for the drafting. Obviously I am in love with them.

Funny enough, the photos of the pants on the website feature a pair of powder blue Peachers Trousers that I was so obsessed with I knew I would have to essentially make the exact same pair. And I just so happened to have an almost identical fabric in my stash that was perfect for this make, a lightweight crepe wool also from The Fabric Store. I got it years ago from the LA store before it closed down- I had no idea what I would make with it at the time but the look of it was so vintage and the color was so fabulous that I couldn’t not bring it home with me. I never got a chance to sew it up because the width is really narrow and it just wasn’t enough yardage to make anything I was ever inspired by…til now!

The wool isn’t exactly transparent, but it’s so lightweight that the outline of whatever is underneath it is pretty noticeable, so I had to be thoughtful of what I used to line the pockets, etc. I went with a white silk from my stash and it works pretty well, although you can still see the outline of the welt pockets in the back, which I am actually okay with. I usually hate welt pockets on my pants because they have a tendency to bulk up on my butt and jut out in a way that I find unflattering, but for this make I wanted to try them out anyways since the pants would be wide-legged. My theory was that welt pockets stick out on my butt when the pants are super fitted, but if the pants had more ease around the hips, they might lay down and look less obtrusive. Thankfully I was right and now I know that welt pockets aren’t the enemy, it’s just the silhouette they are attached to that matters. Which is great news because I LOVE the way welt pockets looks on pants! Just so professional and slick! Since this was my first Fibre Mood pattern and their directions are written in another language and then translated to english, I skipped over their zip fly and welt pocket instructions and used the ones from the sasha trousers by Closet Case, which I had already made before and was familiar with.

My zip fly is a little wonky up close cause this material was a bit tricky to work with (at least with the fiddly bits- the crepe wool has some stretch but is also really lightweight, so it liked to scrunch up and gather under the machine foot if I wasn’t careful…and it liked to snag, too) but my welt pockets are beautiful and I am so pleased with them! The general fit of these trousers is exactly what I was looking for, and I actually made no adjustments to the size except for letting the hips out a tiny bit after I baste-fit them on my body. I could probably stand to do a tiny sway back adjustment, which I am realizing seems to be necessary the higher my waistband is on a pair of pants, but the fit of these is entirely acceptable for now and I am very happy I made them.

FYI, the top is a handknit sweater I made several years ago from a vintage knitting pattern- I don’t think I ever blogged about it here but there are a few details about it on my ravelry page (which I don’t really tend to anymore, but I knit much less often these days so, whatever). As always, thanks to Claire for the photos, and thanks to everyone on IG who played along with my #dresslikearichbitch hashtag with this coat on IG- it was too much fun and we should absolutely do it again!

 

Oslo Coat + Phillipa Pants + No Frills Sweater

Whoah! Long time, no blog, eh?? Excuse me while I get comfy and settle into these old digs…

I will not bore you with what a busy, roller coaster of a couple months it has been, but if you are on instagram you will know that I have been busy making and planning and storying, but not at all busy taking photographs. Thankfully Claire helped me rectify this yesterday in which we had a perfectly cloudy afternoon to take photos of all my blog-worthy makes from this far into the new year. Today’s blog post brings you not one, not two, but THREE makes that I am really happy with and have been wearing like crazy the past couple weeks.

First up is the Oslo Coat by Tessuti Patterns, a really popular coat pattern that I added to my list of to-makes last year when I decided I was ready to sew up this gorgeous plaid wool from The Fabric Store (I do not believe they carry this fabric anymore because I got it a couple years ago when the LA store closed down, but they have plenty of other exceptional wools to choose from)! Having already made a couple of coats/jackets for myself in the past (like this Kelly Anorak and this Vintage Vogue Coat), I was familiar with coat making but definitely want/need more experience and techniques under my belt, and I knew that Tessuti wouldn’t disappoint. Tessuti has a way of simplifying patterns that might otherwise be complicated by the instructions of a different designer, and I always enjoy sewing up their designs. I was particularly drawn to the Oslo Coat because of it’s subtle cocoon shape. Los Angeles winters are never so cold that you need a heavy parka to get through them, so I knew a casual, relaxed fit such as this would serve me well, and it has (although it has been uncharacteristically rainy this season, which no wool coat is perfectly suited for, but that’s another story)!

As expected, the instructions for the Oslo were straightforward and easy to apply almost all the way through. This coat is designed to be lined and I decided to quilt the blue-gray silk I used with cotton batting, a choice I am oh-so happy with. No, it technically doesn’t get that cold here in LA- particularly if you are visiting from the east coast. But if you’ve been living here for a while, your tolerance of coldness changes and 50 degrees can feel like it’s absolutely freezing (yes, there is a scientific reason for this, something to do with the way your blood changes over time in certain climates, so don’t @ me!). Anywho, I didn’t use full-on Thinsulate, but I wanted a little something to beef up the coat and keep me warm on the chillier days. So I cut out cotton batting to fit my cut of silk yardage, pinned the layers together like I was making a quilt, then spent a few hours on my straight-stitch vintage Singer with my quilting attachment, sewing straight lines in one direction and then again at 90 degree angles across the whole length of fabric. There were definitely some wobbly lines and less-than-perfect angles but I knew they wouldn’t be obvious once inside the coat. After all my quilting was done, I cut out the lining pieces from the pre-quilted fabric and I serged the edges to keep the silk from fraying too much (I also serged my wool pieces once they were cut out because this wool wanted to fray like crazy as well).

I didn’t make any adjustments to the pattern other than in length- I cut off about an inch and a half from the sleeves and a little bit more from the body of the coat, but I missed one important detail here- the body of the coat has it’s lengthen/shorten lines at the hem instead of somewhere further up the coat, like at the waist or hips, which means that when you adjust the length, the pockets stay exactly where they are. This becomes an issue if you are more petite like I am, because the length will shorten but the pockets will stay at the height of someone much taller. The result is that once I inserted all my side pocket details and finished them up, I tried the coat on for fit and the pockets were so far down that my fingers couldn’t even touch the bottom. This was awful news, for what’s the point of having a pocket if you have to literally hold the pocket up with one hand and fish around with the other to get the contents out of it?? Totally my mistake, of course, but I guarantee you I won’t ever make it again! There was no way I could remove the pockets without sacrificing the integrity of the fabric in those areas since the wool got so fray-y and there was so much topstitching that would rough up the textile once unpicked, so I left the pockets as they were and sewed the pocket bags of the lining a couple inches shorter so that there was less depth- thankfully they are drafted with a ton of room so losing that area didn’t affect the functionality of the pockets at all. They are still quite a bit lower than I would prefer, but definitely still usable.

My other snafu is a two-parter that involved inserting a bound buttonhole on the coat. Bound buttonholes of course are meant to be applied before the lining goes in but this meant that I had to base the button placement on where the pattern says it should go vs. where it fit best on my body. Because I made a straight size and didn’t grade up at the hips like I normally do (I figured there would be plenty of ease in the coat to accommodate my butt), the coat gets tighter at my hips- not so much so that it doesn’t fit or isn’t comfortable, but it means that the closure needs to be further to the outside so there is more room in that area. As designed, the button placement makes the coat tighter around my hips which becomes apparent because of the straight vertical lines of the plaid that- when I buttoned it with the original buttonhole, got wavy and shifted inward instead of staying vertical. Ah, hindsight! To remedy this, I just added another bound buttonhole on the other side of the jacket (meaning it closes the opposite way it was intended to) in the proper place that made sense on my body, and I sewed the unusable bound buttonhole closed and covered it with a button (the original design is only supposed to have one button but mine has two, lol).  Although I would love to have foreseen these issues from the beginning, I am totally happy with how I ended up fixing my mistakes and I don’t think the average person would recognize that there was any issue with it at all. I used fabric-covered buttons for this coat which I think looks really sharp and makes the two buttons look more intentional and I also added a loop to the back center neck so that I hang it on a hook if necessary

Before bagging out the coat, I decided to add an inside welt pocket to the lining (which I was contemplating doing, then decided against it at the last minute cause I just wanted to finish the damn thing, but then I saw that llaydybird was making a coat at the same time as me and she made herself an inside welt pocket that came out beautifully, which felt like a sign for me to not be lazy and just get her done!) and I am so happy I did because this pocket is a bit easier to use in terms of putting stuff into than the side pockets of the coat (see above snafu number 1).

The only other issues I had with this make were at the very end when it was time to bag the coat out. There is an approximately 2 inch allowance required for bagging out the bottom of the coat and the sleeves, and for some reason unknown to me, that allowance just didn’t work. 2 inches created a bubble at both hem and sleeves meaning there was too much fabric folded up in there, so I had to go back in, unpick all the hand stitching at those areas and decrease the allowance. I am assuming this has to do with something I did (or didn’t do) and not the pattern drafting, and I think it just comes with the territory of getting familiar with new techniques and working with thick fabrics like wool and quilted fabric. Regardless, I was able to fudge the bagging enough that it mostly lays smooth at the hem and the sleeves are perfectly flat.

All in all I LOVE how this coat turned out- I love the easy, relaxed fit of the raglan sleeves, I love the dramatic fold-over collar, and I love the roominess inside- you can wear a super bulky sweater or even a light jacket underneath and it won’t feel too tight or uncomfortable, and I end up mostly styling this coat to wear open with a lot of layers underneath. Although this is designed as a big comfy cocoon-type coat, I actually prefer it more as a jacket- this is not the garment I reach for when it’s super cold outside. Because I beefed mine up with a quilted lining, it’s certainly warm enough to endure some very chilly Vancouver days (which is where I first wore this make), but because it doesn’t close at the neck, it is not an ideal cold weather coat for me. My preferred coat is actually just a giant scarf that covers up every inch of my chest and neck, lol. For me, to provide adequate warmth, I have to layer this coat up with turtlenecks and scarves, and even then I find myself clenching the collar closed with my hands so no cold air will touch my neck. I considered adding a hook and eye or something to the neck to close it up should I ever need to wear it for colder temps, but I might just relegate this make to cool-not-COLD weather wear and call it a day!

Whew! That was a lot of coat talk! Okay, next we have the Phillippa Pants by Anna Allen Clothing, sister to the Persephone Pants that everyone (including myself!) went gaga over last year. These pants did not disappoint at all, although I did make some changes to them that I should probably continue to work on for my next pair. I love both these designs because of the high high high waist! High waists are not for everyone, but as someone with a long torso and shorter legs, high waists make me feel like I am taller than I actually am and I just love the silhouette on me. They also make me feel more comfortable than lower-rise pants do- there is no risk for buttcrack peepage and I don’t spend my days pulling the pants up by the belt loops to keep them from riding down. The leg shape on the Phillippas is very interesting- it’s a totally straight side seam allowing you to use selvedge denim which is awesome, but it also means that the legs don’t curve at all to your body’s shape, and although I like the idea in theory, I am not quite sure it works on me. When I basted the side seams up and tried them on I immediately thought they needed some work and got to molding the legs to fit my thighs and calves. I might try and leave them as-is next time though- it’s a style I am not used to but it might just be because of habit rather than preference (fine line, ya know?). Because of my tinkering, I think the area around the knees could use a bit more attention- I feel like they look baggy and wrinkly, which is actually an issue I experience a lot of with close-fitting pants, so I should probably look that up in my Pants Fitting For Real People book and see how to fix it.

With these pants I made a size 2 graded to 4 at the hips, and I lowered the opening of the button fly 3/8″ to give my hips plenty of room to get in and out of. Like with the Persephones, I had to take the back darts in about an additional quarter inch, but I kept the waistband straight instead of making it curved like I normally do for pants. Because these pants sit SO high on the waist, and because I already have a low butt, I actually don’t need the curved waistband at all- my body is pretty straight up and down where the waistband of these pants hit. I decided to give the button fly technique used on these pants a second try even though I disliked it so much the first time with the Persephones- I thought maybe I had made a misstep in the construction or something and I wanted to give it another go. Nope. Still don’t like this technique at all. It came out better than my original pair of Persephones which were so bad I had to take the whole thing out and start over with a different technique, but that’s not saying much. I prefer the Closet Case zip fly method or even the Lander Pants button fly method, and if I am not mistaken, both of those employ the “basted closed” method, which I think ends up looking much neater and cleaner.

As far as a woven, non-stretch high waisted pant goes, this pattern is pretty terrific, and I am eager to compare it to the Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans which are a more traditional jean style with the same high waist as these. I don’t remember where I got this black denim from but I believe it’s Cone Mills, and it’s very good quality. As suggested, I made these pants really tight so that they wouldn’t bag out after wear, but I could have made them even tighter- I have only successfully nailed down the ‘non-bagging tight woven pants’ fit once before, with the yellow Persephones I made last year. These are close, but not quite as good at not bagging out after a day of wear. After a few hours I notice that the main place they bag out is in the yoke area of the pants (there is no actual jeans yoke on this pattern, but it’s where the yoke would be- back of pants, below the waistband and above the pockets), and this is actually where all my high waisted woven denim pants bag out, which makes me wonder if I should take out a horizontal wedge from this area on future pairs, grading to nothing at the side seams. It’s definitely worth a try! One thing I didn’t notice about these pants until I tried them on is that they have no front pockets! I am actually fine to just use the back pockets since they are a good size and fit my phone easily, but still it’s something to keep in mind if you prefer front or side pockets on your jeans.

I dont like using jeans buttons with button flies because I think it gives too much wiggle room in the fly area where I want it to be very fitted and tight, so I used Abalone buttons from my stash for this pair. I am on the fence about them, mostly because they keep falling off! While I don’t like the extra room jeans buttons provide, I do like the stability of a hammered button, so I am on the lookout for some flat denim buttons, and in the meantime I might just have to sew some nylon thread through the buttonholes and then melt the ends closed on the other side to keep them in place.

OKAY, FOLKS, we are nearing the end! To close out this interminably long blog post, I will briefly share with you my No Frills Sweater, a pattern by a knitwear designer named PetitieKnits that I randomly found on instagram when I went down a rabbithole of handmade sweaters last year- I was itching to get back into knitting and I thankfully found a lot of inspiration on IG to bring my knitjo back. The No Frills Sweater, like all of PetiteKnits other designs, is very simple but has a beautiful shape, and I have learned that I much prefer sweaters made with thinner yarn, like fingering weight, than I do bulkier Sport and DK. Knitting in fingering weight creates more of a drape-y fabric, which fits my current style and sensibilities in a way that thicker sweaters dont (and again, I’m sure much of this has to do with living in LA).

My skin is very sensitive to 100% wool so I have been using blends with merino, cashmere and nylon/cotton/bamboo lately, which has made a huge difference. I used a Caroline Toes gradient set from Miss Babs Hand Dyed Yarns for this sweater, and it is incredibly soft, only minimally itchy, and a joy to knit up. Of course I ended up running out of yarn to complete the sweater as designed, so my sleeves are only half length instead of full, but I’m still happy with how it turned out, and because the yarn isn’t super thick, I can get away with wearing this garment almost like it’s a t-shirt. I had never knitted up a color blocked or gradient sweater before, so I had to be careful with how much yarn I used so that I would have enough of each color for the sleeves. I didn’t use any specific technique, I think the yarn gods were just on my side to have me eyeball the lengths of yarn I needed so accurately.

This sweater is very uncomplicated, but I did have a bit of confusion around the yoke area which I think comes from the pattern being translated into different languages- the instructions are in english but are written/structured a bit differently than most I have worked with, and it took me a while to understand them. I actually completed the yoke and then immediately frogged it and started it over once I got the rhythm of what I was supposed to be doing with the short rows for the back yoke. But once I had that part to my liking, the rest was just stockinette all the way through, which was nice and relaxing to come back to after such a long hiatus from knitting. I never blocked this sweater once it was complete because it didn’t seem to need it, and I am really in love with the fit. It feels loose and relaxed but not boxy or too big for my body, which has always been a struggle for me with knitted sweaters, and probably one of the reasons I took such a long break from making them.

Thanks to Claire for taking these fantastic photos for me, and thanks to you for getting this far in my blog post! It’s always a joy to share my makes here, from what I learned and loved to what I would do differently next time, and I appreciate you taking the time to read 🙂

Embrace Octopus Sweater

I used to be pretty active on ravelry.com, taking photos of all my knitted projects and jotting down notes to include in my overview of the patterns and yarns I used, but now that I have my own blog and an instagram account, the effort seems tedious and unnecessary. Unfortunately, the result is that instead of transferring project notes to this blog about my knitting, I end up opting out of writing anything about my projects at all, which seems sad. Knitting is technically where I got my first taste of blogging about making things, and since this blog is about all things try and curious -not just sewing- knitting should have a place here, too! (Along with furniture-making, shoe-making, baking, etc…but those projects also seem to get left off the blog more times than not- I gotta do better!)

Anyways, now that I am in LA I don’t knit as much as I did when I lived in NYC or Vancouver, but contrary to popular belief, this city has great sweater-weather! Not just for the mild winters when all you need is a good cardigan (no coat necessary), but also for the evenings, which cool down considerably for the majority of the year, and when visiting the west side of the city near the beach, when the breeze off the ocean makes the daytime much chillier than on the east side and in the valley. Still, I have accumulated more handmade sweaters in the past 9 years than Los Angeles knows what to do with and because most of my older pieces are bulky and thick in order to handle northern climates, I sadly don’t get as much use out of them here. This did not, however, stop me from making the Embrace Octopus Sweater when I stumbled across it on raverly a few years ago. It’s easy to see why- just look at it!

I had been searching for a cool pattern to knit up for Claire for her birthday, upholding the tradition of making her a new sweater each year as a gift. Claire had recently gotten her cephalopod tattoo so I entered “octopus” and “squid” into the search terms on ravelry to see what I could find and lo and behold, this beauty popped right up. I was impressed by how beautiful the pattern was, but I honestly don’t recall being too scared of it. I had knitted several projects with both intarsia and Fair Isle before, so I was familiar with stranded knitting, and nothing about the actual dimensions or fit of the sweater seemed too out-of-my-depth; it was pretty boxy and only required shaping at the shoulders and neck like any raglan sleeved sweater. All that was required of this project was patience, and I’ve got that in spades. So I gave it a whirl, and about a month later (I was on a tight schedule because I wanted it to be finished in time for Claire’s birthday), it was complete, and I mean COMPLETE! Ends woven in, blocked AND dried!

Since I made the first version of this sweater so long ago I won’t bother with trying to recall the details of my experience with it, so instead I will focus on the most recent versions I made, starting in October of 2016. At the time I was working in Savannah and had just completed my first pair of knitted socks, thanks to Sonja’s (gingertakesphotos) inspiration. They were super fun to work on and got me back in my knitting groove after a several months’ long hiatus, so when they were finished I was ready to tackle something big again. After I had made Claire’s octopus sweater a few years prior, I promised myself that I would make one for myself, too, but I knew it would require a lot of modifications since the sweater came in only one size and it was larger than I wanted.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNV8CpkBOaW/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

With all the extra time I had in Savannah, it seemed as good a time as any to get through the tricky bits, so I hunted down the pattern in my files on ravelry and downloaded them (I don’t have a fancy knitting app for cataloguing my PDF patterns, I just store them all in Notability). I was surprised to see that there was a newer version of the pattern than the one I made a few years ago, and this one came in two sizes, but guess what- FOR SOME REASON I DIDN’T USE THE NEW VERSION. Don’t ask me why; sometimes there is no explanation for our ill-advised behaviors, right? I think my reasoning was that I was already familiar with the first version of the pattern and how it fit so it seemed smarter to work with what I knew. But hindsight is 20/20. I should have worked from the newer version of the pattern because it had some adjustments in fit that would have benefited my project. But  the truth is that nothing would have completely saved my second sweater from the knitting fail it became. Let me explain.

I wanted my sweater to be smaller than the version I made for Claire. But since the octopus sweater is based off of a chart that has to be followed precisely in order to get the octopus to look like, well, an octopus, you can’t adjust the size by knitting more or less stitches like you can with other projects. For any non-knitters reading this, most knit projects have their sizes differentiated by the number of stitches knitted with all subsequent sizes following, so your pattern would start out like this:

for sizes S (M, L, XL), cast on 110 (122, 138, 146) stitches, join in the round, then knit 6 (7, 8, 10) rows in stockinette.

The only way to make a larger or smaller sweater for this project is to alter your gauge and/or your yarn: using smaller needles will result in a tighter knit and therefore a smaller sweater, and bigger needles do the opposite. By changing the weight of your yarn you get a similar result- a thinner yarn will yield a smaller sweater than a thicker yarn will. By combining changes in both the needle size and the yarn, you can get tremendously different results without having to adjust any of the specific knitting details of the sweater. It is important to see what your gauge is when making these kinds of changes by swatching the yarn with the needles you intend to use and comparing it to the gauge the pattern calls for. I went down a few needles sizes (which is a mod I make with almost all knitted garments- I have a very consistent but loose knit) and used a much thinner yarn than the bulky kind suggested for this pattern, then I swatched it. It was about an inch, give or take, smaller in width than the suggested gauge of the pattern, which seemed about right, I guess? Honestly it was just a guessing game but I was happy to play along! Unfortunately I lost, big time. I knitted several inches of the bottom of the sweater and it was looking pretty small to me, so I would try it on and discover that it just barely skimmed my abdomen. It was fitted, but it definitely didn’t seem too small and I had plenty of breathing room. “Keep going!” I would tell myself, “it’s fine! You’re being paranoid!”

Famous last words.

Turns out I was NOT being paranoid at all. When I finally cast off the collar of the sweater a couple months later and ran to the mirror to try it on, I could barely get the damn thing over my head! I got stuck at one point trying to pull the sweater over my bust (which isn’t even big!) and had to take a few deep breaths to get the sweater the rest of the way down. To my horror, you could barely tell the sweater had an octopus on it! It fit around my abdomen just fine, but as soon as the sweater got to my rib cage, the stitches started to distort from being stretched out so much and the eye of the octopus was warped and frightening looking. The raglan seams were so spread apart that you could see my skin peeking through the stitches and the actual sleeves were so tight that I was hulking out of it at the biceps. And finally, the whole thing wanted to ride up my belly with each inhale I took. It was a disaster 🙁

still tiny as shit 🙁

Somehow I convinced myself that it would stretch out a lot after I blocked it and magically fit me like a dream as soon as it was dry, but I knew deep down that there was no saving it, at least not for myself. Once my fears were confirmed and it was THE EXACT SAME SIZE after blocking (which by the way has NEVER happened to me- everything I knit stretches out after I have blocked it! lol) I decided wasn’t interested in trying to manipulate it further. People were writing on my instagram page about turning it into a cardigan, cutting it up the sides or middle and adding extra stitches to it, etc, but I was adamant about leaving it alone. I had coveted this sweater for myself for years at this point, and it just didn’t seem worth it to settle for anything less than a garment that was exactly what I wanted. That’s the beauty of making things for ourselves, though- we fine tune, adjust, and rework it until it’s as close to what we want as we are capable of making. And the old adage held true for me- if it’s not worth doing right, then it’s not worth doing at all. To be clear, I am no perfectionist- over the years I have settled for garments that were a little more off than on, a little more wrong than right. But my wonky knitting gauge and miscalculations with this sweater didn’t make it imperfect- in fact, the sweater was very beautiful when it was completed, it just didn’t fit me.

I won’t lie, I was heartbroken when the reality hit me that I had just spent months making what was essentially a knitted muslin. But I also realized that this was a chance to make the sweater EVEN BETTER than it would have been if it DID fit me. Once it was complete, I saw that it wasn’t just the fit that was off- I needed to have chosen different yarn colors as well.

The pattern is written so that the main color is dark and the contrast color (which is used for the octopus body) is a lighter color. I followed this guide for the first version of this sweater, but for my second I thought it would be cool to switch them around and have a dark octopus on a lighter background. This probably would have worked just fine if I hadn’t dramatically changed the yarn I used from a bulky (as suggested in the pattern) to a lighter worsted weight yarn, but because I did, the dark contrast color had to be stranded behind rows and rows of light pink stitches. The result is that the dark blue yarn ended up peaking through the light pink yarn. A bulky weight yarn creates much fluffier, thicker stitches so there isn’t much room for the yarn you are stranding to show through the holes of the knits. Again, HINDSIGHT! Another tricky thing about using the opposite colors as suggested in the pattern is that it makes the chart REALLY hard to read sometimes. The chart is color coded so that dark squares represent the main color and white ones represent the contrast color. Switching your own yarn colors means that you end up reading the chart backwards, though, so you have to re-interpret the white square as dark yarn and visa versa; as you can imagine this can really mess with your brain when you aren’t paying close attention, and I almost always watch TV when I knit. It wasn’t a huge issue, it just tacked on even more knitting time to have to go back and redo stitches that I ended up knitting the wrong way.

Okay, so now I had decided I was going to re-knit my sweater with the proper yarn weight, gauge, color suggestion and using the newer version of the pattern which included two sizes (M and L) instead of just one. I did go down a few needle sizes as per usual but I felt confident that it wouldn’t throw off my sizing too much. I chose a Malabrigo bulky knit for my main color in a deep gray-ish purple that had flecks of light in it and for the contrast color I chose a light pearl gray color that looked exactly like the lighter flecks of my main yarn- I figured they would look good together and tone down any peeking-through of my light colored stranded yarn (I was right!). My contrast color yarn is actually a DK weight, so it’s slightly thinner yarn than my bulky yarn, but I didn’t think it would affect the over-all look of the sweater, and again I was right.

I made just a few more mods on this version but nothing dramatic- I added more length to the ribbing and bottom of the sweater right before the stranded knitting begins because I think that this sweater as written is pretty short and I wanted mine to cover half of my butt. I also think that the sleeves have a weird shape- they start out pretty tight at the wrist and then grow as you keep knitting, but I wanted sleeves that had a little more wiggle room at the wrist before shaping began, so I just added a few more stitches to what I cast on and knit them straight up until the number of stitches on my needles matched the chart count (all this was done before the stranded knitting begins so it doesn’t affect the octopus at all).

The sweater is knit in 4 parts- you start at the bottom of the body and work in the round, following the chart, all the way up to the underarms, then you hold the body on waste yarn. Next you knit each sleeve in the round from the wrist up. It should be noted that one sleeve has almost no stranded knitting except in the top corner where the head is, and the other sleeve has an octopus tentacle wrapped all the way around it. If your stranded knitting is not very consistent and you knit too tight or too loose when stranding, one of your sleeves might fit differently than the other one. I only know about this from obsessing over the notes that other people made on ravelry when making this sweater. Thankfully I have a pretty consistent hand when knitting (stranded or otherwise), so I didn’t have that issue on either or my sweaters, but it’s something to keep in mind. One trick I learned is to knit with the right side of the knitting facing you so that your stranded yarn has more slack (traveling on the outside of the garment with more room as opposed to the inside with a little less room). But in general you have to remember to give your stranded yarn just the right amount of ease- if you pull it too tight your knitting will pucker and gather and fit very tightly, but if it’s too loose you will have loops on the inside that will gape and snag on things (like jewelry and fingers) and it can also create holes in your knitting. It’s not hard to figure out the right tension for stranded knitting but it might take a little practice to feel confident with it.

Rib the neck weave the ends and fin #prettyguts

A post shared by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

When going through parts of the chart that had lots of stitches of one color and not the other, I would strand the unused yarn through every 4 or 5 knits of my other color, catching it in a stitch and giving it a bit of slack before it was either used in the chart again or stranded through. Another trick I learned is to take a break from the chart knitting every six inches or so to weave in the ends. On my first version of this sweater I waited til the very end to weave them in and it took me DAYS to finish- there were probably hundreds of them! I don’t strand through the entire sweater- as you can see in the photos there are places in the chart where there are inches and inches of main color only, and since my tension doesn’t change when stranding or regular knitting, I just cut my contrast yarn off and knit in the main color until the chart shows that the contrast color comes in again. This makes knitting go quicker but it also means you have more little yarn ends to sew in at the end. Weaving them in throughout the process gives your eyes a bit of a break from following the chart and balances out the tediousness of focusing on just one part of the sweater for too long.

After you knit your sleeves, you add them onto your needles with the body of the sweater on it and begin working in the round again and decreasing at the beginning and end of each sleeve. Every time I make this sweater my knits are off at the octopus head- no idea if it’s a pattern mistake or something I am consistently doing wrong, but I always just fudge the rows right there until the chart matches up again (this area of the head is just a big block of contrast color so it was pretty easy for me to make it work without sacrificing the image of the octopus).

After following the chart for the yoke of the sweater in a spiral going inwards, you do some short row shaping at the neck which requires a lot of attention but for some reason is just SUPER fun to do IMO, and then you do a couple inches of ribbing at the neck band and then bind off. The pattern gives you the option to omit the short row shaping and just knit in the round until the charted knits are complete, but doing this gives the neck a very rectangular and wide opening and I don’t think it’s flattering- I followed these instructions on my second version but liked the short row versions of my first and third sweaters the best.

After weaving in all the last few ends of yarn, I tried the sweater on and was pleased to find how much I loved the fit! I had always thought I wanted a less boxy and a snugger fitting sweater than how it was drafted, but it actually felt cozier with so much ease in it, and it doesn’t look huge on me as I had feared- it definitely fits well and I could not be happier with all the choices I made the second go-round, from sizing to color to mods.

 

The best part of this story is that I found the perfect person to send my tiny pink version to, a very fashionable friend of mine named Alice who adores the colors of this sweater and who obviously fits into it SO well- it’s almost like it was made for her!

As for me, I could not even tell you in words how thrilled I am to be done with all things octopi! I learned so much about this particular sweater pattern in the past 4 months, but I also learned a lot about myself, my determination and what I am capable of. As I always say, I wasn’t bestowed with any specific gifts or talents for making, I have just cultivated the ability to be patient with and kind to myself, to allow myself space to mess up without judgement, and to give myself as many chances as I need to try, try again. Fundamentally, creating art isn’t really about how much talent you have- it’s about showing yourself some grace, and that is some self care that I think we could all use much more of.

Happy making, y’all!

 

 

New Etsy Shop to Support Charities

I posted about this on my instagram, tumblr and twitter accounts, but I neglected to write anything about it here- unfortunately when I have an idea that is implemented quickly, my actual blog is rarely the first place I share it. I assume that most of my readers here followed me on social media first and know about the shop, but in case there are any blog readers who don’t, here is a little information about it!

After the election in 2016, I, like many people, felt overwhelmed and fearful about what our future as Americans would hold. I was tired of waking up everyday feeling depressed and anxious, and I wanted to practice self-care (which for me was mainly deleting my Facebook) while still feeling like I was actively fighting on behalf of the movement to protect the rights of all current and future Americans. After returning to LA from Savannah and being confronted with a small pile of handmade things that weren’t getting used and needed to be given away, I wondered if anyone would purchase them if I put them up for sale. I have never been interested in making things to specifically sell for a profit, but I had never before considered making things to sell for charity. Thankfully I didn’t stop to think too long about whether or not anyone would want to buy my stuff, because if I did I probably would have talked myself out of it.

In December I pulled out all my handmade things that were in great condition but were no longer being worn (or had somehow just never made it into my wardrobe rotation in the first place), took lots of photos of them with Claire’s camera, and opened JasikaIsTryCurious on etsy. Some of my first items included the famous Octopus sweater I made for Claire which she had outgrown, a brand new blue linen dress I made from a vintage pattern, and prints of some illustrations that I usually only sell at comic-cons. I was (and am) very transparent about why I opened the shop and where the money is going- this is my small way of contributing to the cause, which is a phrase that was used by abolitionists referring to the work they were doing to end slavery. Obviously the circumstances today are different than they were hundreds of years ago in this country, but there are still MANY parallels- we are still fighting for freedom, still fighting for the rights of all bodies, and it is a cause that I feel passionate about. To paraphrase an age-old call to arms, no one is free if all of us aren’t free.

After collapsing into a ball of anxiety (my first panic attack? jury’s still out on this) at the Women’s March on January 21st and having to leave early, I was reminded that #resistance doesn’t look the same on everyone, and that is okay. Action takes many different forms in our communities and in ourselves, and we should never feel guilty if our personal fight looks different than our neighbor’s- so long as the fight is still there.

My fight is to use my hands, which have fed me, clothed me, nurtured my loved ones and quieted my fears in times of distress, to create art in as many different forms as they can muster. My fight feels powerful, and familiar. My fight may change and grow according to what it is the movement needs from me and what I can offer to it.

All proceeds from my shop will be donated to various charities that will benefit the most under our current presidency. In December, strangers and friends alike helped me raise $500 through my etsy shop, which was then doled out to organizations like Black Lives Matter, the legal defense fund for Standing Rock, and kids of Flint, Michigan. I have several other charities on my list that will be rotated out whenever I have more money to send (I intend to donate in $100 increments) like Planned Parenthood, the Trevor Project, and a legal defense team for immigrants under threat of deportation. The list of charities will be updated as our country continues to find ways to fight for communities at risk.

The shop has been virtually empty since most everything sold in December, so I have been working for much of January to add more items to it, with a current focus on making macrame hanging planters/holders, an artform that my friend Adrienne introduced me to last year and that I am having a lot of fun with (as you can see, I have included a few shots of some of the makes in this post). I have some more ideas of future items to bring to my shop, including a series of drawings inspired by all things sewing, which I am terribly excited about. In all honesty, my emotions have been a bit of a roller coaster since the election and it’s been hard to find balance- I find myself feeling either completed dejected and helpless about the state of our country, or incredibly hopeful and empowered by the movement that so many people are joining. I am hoping that as time goes on, I will find sturdiness. And for all of you experiencing the same emotional turmoil and fear as me, I wish you the same.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

 

Living a Try Curious Lifestyle

trycuriousblog_graphic

It dawned on me recently that my interest in creating things was big enough to merit it’s own little world here on my website. Technically this site is supposed to put me in the ranks of modern actors who update their pages with information on upcoming performances and showcases and classes and resumes, but if I am honest, I have never felt quite “in the ranks” of modernity with my job anyways. My life as an actor is, in my opinion, the least interesting thing about me; I am not the most talented person in my field, and there are plenty of people with my job who are much more well known than I am. But what does make me special is my fascination with creating things with my hands, the incredible amount of patience I have with myself, my trust that there is little in this world that I cannot accomplish. So I (re)introduce to you TRY CURIOUS BLOG, a space dedicated to sharing in the delights of living a try curious lifestyle! I have Claire to thank for this fantastic title, which seems at once fitting and silly and inspiring, while giving a nice little nod to my own queer identity. So far my life in creative curiosity has acquainted me with power tools, shoes lasts, boom mics, vintage sewing machines, onigiri molds and bentonite clay, and I feel a thrill every time I have another opportunity to expand my world. The older I get, the more enthusiasm I have for the process as opposed to the final product, and this has diversified my artistic endeavors tremendously. Thanks so much for being a reader of this blog and for showing your support with comments and likes.

Here’s to living a Try Curious lifestyle together 😉

#MeMadeMay level= unlocked

At the beginning of #MeMadeMay2015 I had high hopes to post here on my blog every single day what I wore and where the pattern came from, but those hopes were crushed on Day 2 when my laziness got the better of me. I decided it would be a lot easier and more efficient on my end to just do a master post of everything I memade and mewore with a few details for each one (I posted everyday on tumblr but not everyone follows me there). Presenting, my first foray into the MeMade hashtag!!!

vintage jumper

Day 1: vintage jumper

I already posted about this little guy here, but to recap, this a 70’s (I think?)  vintage pattern for a romper made of knit fabric.

Day 2: Southport Maxi Dress by True Bias

Day 2: Southport Maxi Dress by True Bias

LOOOVE this Southport Maxi dress pattern, and just finished making another one in a peach polka dot cotton. Straightforward and simple, easy-to-understand directions, but the pattern is based off of a C CUP!!! My boobs are nowhere near a C cup, so when I sewed up the bodice and  tried it on for fit, it was so saggy and loose around my entire torso that I was afraid I was gonna have to take the whole thing apart and re-cut the pieces from my fabric. Thankfully I was able to make adjustments without altering the darts and the side seams- I just cut off the widths of the bodice center fronts and moved the button bands over to accommodate. I love the pockets in this dress, and I love the drape of the rayon challis I used in this version and would recommend that fabric over the 100% cotton I used for my second make, which is beautiful but more crisp looking and less flowy.

 

Day 3: Knit Sweetheart Top and A-line skirt from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Day 3: Knit Sweetheart Top and A-line skirt from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

A lot of my favorite makes come from Gertie patterns, as seen in this post. This is the Sweetheart Top made of knit fabric from www.girlcharlee.com coupled with Gertie’s A-line skirt in a beautiful wool herringbone that you unfortunately can’t see very well in this picture. Both patterns are from the book Gertie Sews Vintage Casual. The skirt has an okay fit for me- her circle skirt is wonderful and fits my figure beautifully, but I think that because the A-line skirt has less material in the hip area, it causes wrinkles and gaps between my waist and hip area in the back. It’s probably not noticeable to anyone but me, but I don’t get as much wear out of the skirt for that reason. The Sweetheart top is a simple make on a serger (I once made three of these tops in one day) with a wide neckline that gathers in the middle front.

Day 4: knitted sweater- Portland Tweed Curved Front Cardigan by Pam Allen

Day 4: knitted sweater- Portland Tweed Curved Front Cardigan by Pam Allen

I called this my Unflappable Darling sweater, and details for this make are on my ravelry project page here. I fell in love with Pam Allen’s patterns after I began knitting sweaters, but before I was good at making alterations to fit my size (I usually have to size down and use smaller needles cause my guage is fairly loose). I love this sweater but it’s hard to pair it with many things in my closet. It’s got a tent-like shape to it, and has a tendency to swallow me up, so it doesn’t get as much wear as I would like. The yarn I used for it is a really bizarre-feeling cotton blend with a unique smell that reminds me of hay. If I made this again I would make it much smaller, and with a softer, fluffier (less barn-smelling) yarn.

 

Day 5: Espresso Leggings by Cake Patterns

Day 5: Espresso Leggings by Cake Patterns

I was excited to learn about the Cake Patterns company when I started researching more indie designers, and I was intrigued by the unique way in which they have you put together the pattern pieces. There is a large page of numbered dots and symbols that represent different widths and lengths for your body, and you connect them all together to create an adjusted pattern for your specific size. I feel like this would be a great pattern for someone who was brand new to sewing, but for me it ended up being really confusing and frustrating, and at one point I just wished that it was less innovative and more familiar like other patterns I was used to- I would have been able to put it together much more quickly. The instructions were very different from any pattern I had made before, and not in a good way- they use a lot of symbols instead of words, so I had to keep going back and figuring out what each little drawing was supposed to mean. On top of that, this leggings pattern suggests that you use a 2-way stretch knit like ponte, but when I made them up in that fabric, they wouldn’t even stretch wide enough to go over my thighs (and yes, I cut the pattern out with the stretch going width-wise). Not sure if there was something off about the knit I chose or what, but it was a high quality fabric that I had used with great success before, so I was very disappointed that it didn’t work for this project. I eventually bought another knit with 4 way stretch (seen in the photo) and it worked fine.  I also bought one of their dress patterns to make for my sister-in-law for Christmas, but I was so confused by the bizarre, multi-step directions that I threw the entire thing (including the fabric!) in the trash halfway through construction. I would not buy one of their patterns again, but I have seen that a lot of people have had positive experience with their Cake Patterns, so maybe it’s just me.

Day 6: Tri-Cable Stitch Jumper by Susan Crawford

Day 6: Tri-Cable Stitch Jumper by Susan Crawford

This sweater pattern comes from Susan Crawford’s book A Stitch in Time Vol. 2 and is the kind of book that I would want to own and display even if I wasn’t an avid knitter. The photos and styling are remarkable and the patterns are beautiful, but the coolest thing about the book is that it includes a copy of the original vintage knitting pattern so you can compare the original styling and photos and instructions to the updated versions. I should have gone further down in my needle size for this pattern because it is just a little bit bigger than I would like, but all in all this came out beautifully and I love wearing it.

 

 

 

 

Day 7: Pencil Skirt in Stretch Knit from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Day 7: Pencil Skirt in Stretch Knit from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

This Comfiest Pencil Skirt made of a stretch knit material comes from a pattern in one of Gertie’s books and has become a real winner in my closet. It gives that wonderful curvy silhouette without the usual confining quality that pencil skirts tend to have.  I ended up adding two darts to the back of my skirt to keep the excess fabric between my smallish waist and wide-ish hips from bunching up and it worked like a dream without taking away from the simple pattern of the skirt.

Day 8: Summer Dress pattern from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Day 8: Summer Dress pattern from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

This is my Bitch You Guessed It Dress which you can read more about in this blog post.

Day 9: Ohhh Lulu Ginger Body Suit

Day 9: Ohhh Lulu Ginger Body Suit

OhhhLuluSews is a pattern company that operates from an etsy shop, and the designs are pretty, feminine and vintage inspired. The Ginger Body Suit doesn’t seem to be in the store anymore, but it is a one- piece pattern with a different adjustment marks to turn it into a two-piece and the option to use swimsuit lycra to turn it into a bathing suit, which I did here. Love the fit after I fiddled with the waist and bottoms for a while, and love the way the pieces are put together which gave me the freedom to make some unique design decisions.

Day 10: Vintage romper pattern

Day 10: Vintage romper pattern

This vintage romper comes from Simplicity Pattern 5503 which I bought a while ago on etsy. It’s kind of amazing- very comfortable and easy to make with an elasticized waist, although the front detail has never laid flat for me- not sure if that’s because of the material I used or what. The fabric was a gift from someone I used to date many years ago who went to Nigeria to visit family and brought me back this gorgeous African wax print. It accompanied me on moves to different apartments and different cities and eventually different states for over a decade til I was finally inspired to use it on this pattern. It was totally worth the wait.

Day 11: GInger Jeans pattern by Closet Case Files

Day 11: GInger Jeans pattern by Closet Case Files

These are my awesome and amazing skinny jeans from Closet Case Files’ Ginger Jeans Pattern. Can’t say enough good about the pattern (wasn’t prepared for my very first attempt at jeans to be so successful!). More details on the process here on my blog.

Day 12: Moneta dress by Colette Patterns

Day 12: Moneta dress by Colette Patterns

I am clearly a sucker for good design and good marketing, because no matter how many times I tell myself to stop buying Colette Patterns because the fit is always waaaay wrong for my body, I can’t seem to shake the habit. I thought that this Moneta dress and the Mabel skirt pattern (not shown) which I bought at the same time were gonna be big successes since they’re made for knit fabric, which is more forgiving in terms of fit issues. Not so. The skirt came out so poorly that I didn’t even make an attempt to try and re-draft it to work for myself, and the bodice of this dress was so awful that I had to re-cut it and make a lot of adjustments to make it smaller since it gaped like crazy at the armholes and was just generally gigantic (I already made the smallest size available). LOVE Colette designs and aesthetic, but I just have to learn to let them go.

 

Day 13: Ohhh Lulu Vintage style bra

Day 13: Ohhh Lulu Vintage style bra

Ohhh Lulu’s Lili Bra is a vintage bra pattern that uses wovens cut on the bias instead of stretch fabric, and it was a really fun make, as referenced here. It’s not the perfect bra pattern for me because it has this weird gapping effect in the nipple area (those puckers in the middle of the cups are filled with air, not actual boob) and I am sure I could adjust the pattern a bit to accommodate less space, but I haven’t yet. Still love this bra tho.

Day 14: Minimalist Cardigan

Day 14: Minimalist Cardigan

I call this my ‘Favorite Sweater’ Sweater because I wear it A LOT. It’s like my housecoat. Details for the Minimalist Cardigan are here and I am also in the middle of making one for Claire right now cause she has coveted it ever since I finished it in Vancouver. Moss stitch is so gorgeous, no matter how simple the pattern is.

Day 15: Nettie dress by Closet Case Files and Therapi sweater by Stefanie Japel

Day 15: Nettie dress by Closet Case Files and Therapi sweater by Stefanie Japel

Two makes in one! The sweater is Therapi by Stefani Japel and the dress is the Nettie pattern by Closet Case Files. The sweater took me 1,000 years to make, because, unlike the Minimalist cardigan, it actually is the size of a house robe, and it’s almost completely in Waffle Stitch, which isn’t very complicated, but it takes way more time than say, stockinette stitch. The dress is a body con dress that took me a little time to get right, only because knits are all so different and some have more stretch and others have less. This dress was at the beginning of my foray into learning more about knits, and this was the second version I made after the first one came out beautifully but encased my torso like a sausage because it was too tight due to the ponte fabric I chose. This black knit with the elephants adorning it is a 4 way stretch with a bit more give than ponte and came out so great… except the fabric started fading immediately after I pre-washed it.

 

Day 16: Pin-up Sweater from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Day 16: Pin-up Sweater from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Another Pin-up sweater by Gertie, in this really terrific crocheted stretch fabric that reminds me of everything awesome about Grandmas, cause up close the fabric looks like a huge doily.

Day 17: 40's Style Sleevelss Blouse and Pencil Skirt from Gertie's Book for Better Sewing and Gertie Sews Vintage Casual and Gertie

Day 17: 40’s Style Sleevelss Blouse and Pencil Skirt from Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing and Gertie Sews Vintage Casual and Gertie

Another two-fer: Pencil skirt by Gertie (from her first book Gertie’s Book For Better Sewing) and 40’s Style Blouse from her second book, Gertie Sews Vintage Casual. Used a stretch woven for the skirt which was an excellent choice- gives hold and shape without feeling like I can’t breathe. I made this skirt years ago so I don’t remember the details but I am pretty sure it was a straight make that didn’t require any adjustments, which kind of blew my mind- it was the first time I wore a pencil skirt that actually fit my body and didn’t pucker, gape and wrinkle all over the hips.

Day 18: Watson Long-line Bra by Cloth Habit

Day 18: Watson Long-line Bra by Cloth Habit

Cloth Habit’s long line Watson bra which I have given so much praise in this blog post.

Day 19: Harem Jumper (pattern by me)

Day 19: Harem Jumper (pattern by me)

I made this pattern which I based off of a Rachel Roy jumpsuit that I own and love to wear. The jumpsuit is made of a silky rayon material and is clearly meant for fancy occasions- I’ve worn it to a red carpet event and a couple of performances. I love the shape so much that I wanted to recreate it using a more wearable material. I bought some ponte knit fabric and, with some rough eyeballing and rougher measuring, I drew out a pattern for it and cut it out. It’s got a slightly different bodice than the original, and I added straps to this one to make sure it was more secure. My biggest obstacle was inserting the zipper onto a stretchy fabric, which I had never done before (with good reason). When closed, the zipper bunched and zigzagged, but I read online that using a stabilizer underneath the zipper tape would help, and it worked like a charm. I am dying to make this again in a 4 way stretch knit.

 

Day 20: Vintage High Waist Shorts

Day 20: Vintage High Waist Shorts

These shorts are the second pair I have made from  vintage shorts pattern Simplicity 7688. The first pair, which I am actually wearing as I type this, are made of a mint green linen and they are on the verge of falling apart because I didn’t know that I needed to finish the edges of this type of fabric  with either a serger or bias tape. As a result, the edges have frayed to the stitched seam lines in some places. I have tried repeatedly to save them with patches places on the inside of the shorts, bias tape to encase the raw edges, and double lines of stitching. They aren’t long for this world but I can’t bear to let them go because they are my favorite! This paisley pair is a close second, but the brushed cotton bags out a bit after wearing them too many times between washings.

Day 21: Vintage romper pattern

Day 21: Vintage romper pattern

This is a second version of the 80’s romper in the African Wax Print fabric, but I used a different type of material for this project and I hacked the strap and neckline-edging from a different pattern, so the end result looks (and feels) super different. I made a belt for this one, too, and the look just seems little more pulled together and fancy than the other one, which I wear more casually. You can’t tell, but the fabric is printed with flocks of birds all over it.

Day 22: Hannah dress by Schnittchen

Day 22: Hannah dress by Schnittchen

Hannah dress by Schnittchen, seen here!

Day 23: Vogue Vintage re-issue

Day 23: Vogue Vintage re-issue

Ohhh, how I absolutely LOVE wearing this dress! It’s stunning! Simplicity 1777, 1940’s Retro reprint, and truly unique in it’s bib detailing coupled with this amazing rayon challis I found on fabric.com. It’s one of my favorite pieces to dress up in.

Day 24: Vogue Maxi dress

Day 24: Vogue Maxi dress

Vogue 8827, as blogged about here.

Day 25: Vogue culottes jumper

Day 25: Vogue culottes jumper

I have been meaning to finish my post on this garment for so long-it’s  queued up and written and everything, just waiting to take some nice pics to accompany it. Anyways, I call it my JNCO’s Birthday Jumpsuit, but in actuality it’s a culottes romper, which required a fair amount of adjusting to make work for me. It’s made out of a double gauze by a company called Cotton & Steele, who has really gorgeous fabrics drawn by a team of super talented women artists, and I love love love this outfit and I need to make it again (and probably again). When I redrafted everything, I forgot to fix the pockets and make them longer to meet the new higher waistline, so they are SUPER short and everytime I put my hands in them I want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Day 26: Ginger Jeans (again) and Knit Sweetheart Top

Day 26: Ginger Jeans (again) and Knit Sweetheart Top

Ginger Jeans again! This time paired with a Knit Sweetheart Top by Gertie, adorned with a million mustaches. (This is a faux action shot, btw, which I feel like I must declare before I start getting comments from people warning me that I am using my power tools incorrectly).

Day 27: Carolyn Pajama bottoms by Closet Case Files

Day 27: Carolyn Pajama bottoms by Closet Case Files

Carolyn Pajamas (sans top) by Closet Case Files.  Easy make with lovely little details. I made mine out of rayon challis and after a few washings they started to look like worn bedsheets, in a GOOD way.

Day 28: Cap Sleeve Lattice Top by Purl Soho

Day 28: Cap Sleev Lattice Top by Purl Soho

This is the first sweater I ever knitted in California territory. Details here!

Day 29: Vogue dress

Day 29: Vogue dress

And this is the first dress that I ever made for myself after I learned how to sew in my Costume Design class in college. I have no idea what the pattern was (I think it might have been Vogue?), but it was such a success that it inspired me to keep going, even though I took a significant break from sewing after I moved to NYC. It fit great (still does) and was made out of a linen from JoAnn’s Fabrics which has held up surprisingly well over the past 14 years.

 

Day 30: Marianne Dress by Christine Haynes

Day 30: Marianne Dress by Christine Haynes

I hurried to finish this dress up in time to attend Autostraddle camp this year. It’s the Marianne Dress by Christine Haynes and it’s a very simple make made with knit fabric that includes a really cute sleeve detail on the cuff of the sleeve.

Day 31: fingerknitted necklace (no pattern, just fingerknitted!)

Day 31: fingerknitted necklace (no pattern, just fingerknitted!)

I MA(Y)DE IT! 31 Days!!!! Here I am wearing my vintage shorts pattern again from a previous day with the addition of my fingerknitted neck accoutrement! Fingerknittin’ Good is one of the craft classes I taught at camp and it was a big success! It’s easy to learn and easy to do if you have fairly good use of the fingers on your hands. It doesn’t require any materials or tools other than the yarn, and when you use a bulky skein, you can create something beautiful in a short amount of time. Fingerknitting doesn’t require a pattern or anything, just the actual activity of repeating the steps over and over again, and there are plenty of tutorials on the internet that can show you how to do it in no time. This ended up being a fantastic camp activity because even the campers who insisted they were absolutely terrible with their hands were able to create a gorgeous length of fingerknitted rope by the end of the hour.

 

And that’s it- my first memademay is complete! I have to admit that when it was all over I felt equal parts relieved and sad. Halfway through the month it had become exhausting to dress up in something memade every day, only because I don’t have a regular job to go to every morning. So unless I have an event or an audition or am meeting up with friends, I just putter around my craft room all day making stuff til Claire gets home from work, and hanging out in my craft room doesn’t require me to wear anything special. My wardrobe for most days (after I run or do yoga) is whatever is clean and at the top of my drawer, which usually ends up being a pair of shorts and a t shirt, or a breezy house dress if it’s hot outside, and I usually wear that for a few days in a row til it’s time to put it in the laundry bin. For much of May, I missed the ease of throwing on whatever clothes were laying around. But on June 1st, I realized I had become so accustomed to being thoughtful about what I was going to wear that I felt like something was missing. No more “Hey Claire- will you take my MeMade picture?” No more triple-sharing photos to instagram and tumblr and facebook. No more recalling little details about what I was doing and how I was feeling when I made the garment. Of course I will still share my new makes when they are finished, but the exciting part of committing myself to a month-long project will be absent…til next year at least. Thanks to everyone who offered encouraging words of support during the month, and thanks to all the other bloggers and sewers who participated by sharing their own makes. Y’all are so inspiring and I look forward to every single new project you create!

#MeMadeMay Pledge- Day 1

Day1_pattern#MeMadeMay is a pledge by sewing/crocheting/knitting enthusiasts to wear something handmade for each day of the month of May. I have never participated in this event before, maybe because I wasn’t sure if I had enough handmade items to don, or maybe because I wasn’t sure if my makes were worthy enough. But I have since poo-poo’ed  my past doubts and decided to take the plunge and join the hashtag. If nothing else, it will remind me to get better use out of some of the things I have made that I rarely wear, and remind me of the makes I have enjoyed so much that I want to make them again. I am going to try and blog for each outfit, but I may have to combine a few posts into one when I am not around my computer to do a one-a-day.

Day1_view2 Here is one of my favorite-est simple garments I have ever made- I like that it was super quick to sew up, but it doesn’t give that frumpy silhouette that a lot of “easy-to-make” garments tend to offer. It’s made of a lightweight knit material and it has an elasticized waist, so you just pull it up or down to get it and out of it. The con to this is having to be all the way naked when you sit down to use the bathroom; the pro is that it’s loose and non-fussy, since you don’t have a zipper.What I don’t like about this jumper is the bias tape used to make the neckline and the straps. When I make this again (and I plan on doing it sooner than later cause it’s the most perfect for this hot weather we are about to be bombarded with), I will nix the bias tape and just cut the bodice pattern with extra seam allowance so that I can turn the edges under and make straps from the self fabric. The bias tape tends to pucker a bit and hang down under the arms, and it’s just not as sophisticated looking as this jumper has the potential to be. That said, this garment is so easy to wear- it works for hanging out around the house or wearing as a beach cover-up or dressing up a little with sandals.

A Walk Down Knittory Lane

I got into knitting almost 10 years ago when I was playing the title role in a musical called Chasing Nicolette at the Prince Music Theatre in Philly. Some time before I was cast in the show, I had been gifted a hardcover knitting book called Weekend Knitting, and I was immediately drawn to the gorgeous photos inside. There were close-up shots of textured, furry wools and shiny wooden needles with loops of squishy yarn lined all the way down to the tips. The models in the photos were beautiful and diverse, and they just looked so happy, like the only thing they wanted in the whole wide world at that moment was to be wearing a meticulously knitted garment while smiling at a camera. There was a really sweet (albeit completely unrealistic) shot of a woman soaking in a huge clawfoot tub while working on a long thin scarf that piled up on the floor next to her (I know this activity is unrealistic because I tried it, and steam from a hot bath makes woolen fibers feel sticky on moist fingers, especially with the added effect of fine condensation that collects on the needles; for me, tub knitting was totally weird/gross/unweildy, but the photograph was inspiring enough for me to give it a try). When packing for my nearly three month long stint at the Prince, I decided on a whim to bring the book with me, even though I didn’t know how to knit. I figured that once we were done with rehearsals and were in full performances, I would have time to learn (I ended up buying a copy of Stitch N’Bitch to aid me in the process) and time to make one of the seemingly simple and beautiful patterns from the book. I wanted to wear my own knitted things that would turn out looking just as exquisite as the projects in Weekend Knitting, and I would be so very happy, smiley, and proud of myself, and I would also be, of course, very warm, which was important when I was living in the northeast.

It was quite the rude awakening to realize, after successfully teaching myself  how to knit and purl on two straight bamboo needles, that jumping from garter stitch straight into a fingerless mitt pattern was going to be very, very difficult. I worked on my project for weeks, taking the stitches out and starting over so many times that my merlot-colored yarn became garbled and knotted and stringy. I threw my glove and needles across the room. I insisted that something was wrong with the pattern, that it was full of mistakes since it made absolutely no sense to me. I am pretty sure I shed some frustrated tears at least once. I flipped through my Stitch N’Bitch book over and over again, re-reading the same passages and trying to apply the clear steps in the pictures to the confusing instructions in the pattern.
But I didn’t give up.
I took breaks, and I got angry with myself, but I didn’t give up.
Eventually I finished my first glove. I was simultaneously elated by my success and devastated that I had to start the whole process over again to make a second one. But I did it. The glove on one hand was smooth and pretty because it was the second one I made, and the glove for the other hand was twisted and warped and imperfect, but I didn’t mind. I could see my learning curve spelled out across my palms, and it was proof that my patience with myself, however stilted, was worthwhile.

It didn’t take long for my knits and purls to become very uniform and consistent, but I was pretty stumped at figuring out how to read patterns so I just stuck to making the same 6 foot long scarves over and over. Years passed before my next attempt at trying another pattern, and interestingly enough, the impetus to dive in again came in the familiar form of a gifted book. This time, our friend Rahul had opened up an amazon package that sat unclaimed in his building’s foyer for months, and he gave it to me, his crafty-ist friend, thinking that I would make good use out of it. It was Stefanie Japel’s Fitted Knits, and, like before, I was immediately entranced by the photos in the book. I chose what looked like the simplest pattern in the book to tackle, a top down V-neck sweater in the round in stockinette stitch with knit2 purl2 ribbing at the edges. I bought my first pair of circular needles and a bright blue soft wool with a bit of shine that didn’t itch my skin. And I just dove in.
And I threw it across the room at a wall several times.
And I know I cried more than once.
And I convinced myself yet again that the pattern directions had major flaws in them, since they didn’t make sense to me.
And I wondered furiously why pattern writers insisted on using so many abbreviations. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH FULL SENTENCES?!?! And I stuffed the project in a bag deep into our closet a couple of times, waiting weeks before my fury had dissipated enough to trick me into picking it up again. But I did pick it up again. And my time away from the project worked. And at some point during this off-time, I had my first aha! moment, where suddenly the pattern instructions were understandable, and I knew how to get past the place where I had been stuck (increasing at the yoke to make room for the shoulders and sleeves had me so stumped my first time through), and I kept knitting and kept knitting, and I actually (finally!) successfully finished knitting my first sweater! I couldn’t believe it! I was so, so proud of myself! Once it was finished, I wore it all the time, with all it’s dropped stitches and wonky uneven seaming at the sleeves, and tension that zig-zagged all throughout the garment, depending on the level of frustration I was experiencing at the time of knitting. But honestly, no one could see how many flaws it had, and my friends were impressed that I had seen the project through to the end. But nobody was more impressed than me. And maybe Claire, who stifled her laughter at my rage and instead offered consolatory hugs and affirming pats on the back after each battle I lost with the sweater.

first knitted sweater, and a baby face

first knitted sweater, and a baby face

At the time, I had no friends who knit and there weren’t as many tutorials online as there are these days, so figuring out how to read a knitting pattern was a solitary, aggravating job. But it wasn’t impossible. It took hunkering down and fierce-dedication-bordering-on-obsession to figure it out, and more than a little patience with myself, and trust that not every single pattern was completely wrong and full of typos and miscounts. But it was absolutely achievable. After the success of the V-neck sweater, I made another one for Claire, to get the kinks out and right all the wrongs I had made in my own sweater, and it came out GORGEOUS, and is a sweater she still wears seven years later. Next I started going through all the patterns in Stefanie Japel’s book, choosing more ambitious projects each time, learning new techniques and challenging my burgeoning skills. And then I had another aha! moment; not all knitting patterns are created equal. This seams so obvious now that I have been knitting for so many years, but after making 6 sweaters in a row that were knitted fairly well, yet still came out kind of weird and ill-fitting, I understood that fit was just as important an element in sweater making as learning how to read the patterns. So was yarn choice. So was making swatches. Just because a sweater looked beautiful in a photograph didn’t mean that it would look beautiful on me in the yarn I bought in the size I made with my particular stitching personality. So the learning curve continued. After some online research, I realized that the talented knitwear designer was quite a bit more buxom than I was, and therefore her patterns, with the exception of the V-Neck sweater which had a tighter fit, left way too much room in the chest area on me. I wasn’t adept enough yet to know how to adapt patterns to my own measurements, so I decided to branch out and discover patterns by different knitwear designers, and then a fateful conversation with a knitting makeup artist from the first season of Fringe led me to ravelry.com, and the rest is history (I am HYMagic on ravelry in case anyone wants to follow).

I thought it would be fun to walk down knittory lane (that is so corny and I am sorry) and take a look at some of my earliest sweater knitting projects. I would never call them failures because it’s only a fail if you learn absolutely nothing from it, and that has never been the case with anything I have knitted…although it has definitely taken me several attempts at the exact same mistake to finally learn the things I am supposed to learn.

Here, we have the Puff-Sleeved Cardigan, a really cute sweater that made me look kind of like a marshmallow when I put it on. It’s too baggy in the chest and under the arms, the silhouette is frumpy, and the peplum is too short and lays down funny. My buttons were so bomb, though. I should have used smaller needles to get a tigher fit, and perhaps a different kind of yarn, because I wanted the look to be fuzzier and look more like fabric rather than a garment where you can see the distinct stitch definition.

Puff-Sleeved Cardigan

Puff-Sleeved Cardigan (I realize that this picture/angle doesn’t look all that terrible, but I never ever wore this sweater after spending months on it, so just trust me that I didn’t feel confident in it AT ALL.

This Back-to-School U-Neck Vest was another one that fit poorly- again, much to loose in the chest area and the arms, and also just kind of baggy all around. I loved the color of this yarn, and the details within the pattern were really cool, but it needed to be much smaller. I usually knit the smallest sizes available for a pattern, and it was around the time of making this sweater that I started to learn (it took many more projects to fully comprehend this lesson) that my personal tension, though very even, is pretty loose. By going down one or two needle sizes, I get the correct gauge.

Back to School U Neck, baggy-style

Back to School U Neck, baggy-style

From Stefanie Japel’s other book, Glam Knits, I fell in love with this BoHo Blouse, knitted it up quickly in a chunky wool, and was immediately disappointed. Too big. Again. Frumpy. Again. I wasn’t sold on this yarn choice either, but in my early knitting days, I found it difficult to envision what a garment would look like in different colors and yarn choices, so I tried to stay within the ballpark of what the photograph showed, in this choice using a heathered wool with different flecks of color in it. Look at how it sags so much in the back and drapes down in the shoulder area. For a better fit I should have gone down in needle size, but in general, I have learned that flowy blouses are just not my thing, and a sweater that conceals my shape on top doesn’t really suit my style. This sweater, like the first one, was never worn and was gifted to my sister-in-law.

ugh.

ugh.

blergh.

blergh.

Okay, I think this sweater is the very first one I made that wasn’t a Stefanie Japel pattern (and for the record, I don’t want this post to seem like I am Stefanie bashing- I LOVE her vintage inspired designs; she is clearly VERY talented, and without her book, I would never have been inspired to try and tackle knitting my own sweaters! One of the sad truths about making your own clothing is that not every pattern is meant for every figure unless you are willing to put in the work to adapt the patterns, and Stefanie Japel’s work was how I learned to pay attention to my personal needs and preferences regarding knitwear designs). The Minimalist Cardigan was the first sweater I made that wasn’t knit in one piece, and although it is a very straight forward and simple pattern to make in all-over moss stitch with the lapel bands in stockinette, there was STILL room for learning. I am so embarrassed to admit this, but once the whole thing was knitted up and blocked and I was supposed to sew all the pieces together, I went to the store, bought matching green thread, and I USED MY SEWING MACHINE…

greensweater_web

greencardi_web…TO SEW THE PIECES TOGETHER!!!! I didn’t realize my mistake until I tried the garment on and stood in the mirror with a puzzled look on my face. Why were the shoulders so bulky?? Why didn’t the seams lay flat like they did in the photos for the pattern? I don’t know how or why I figured it out, but as some point I realized that I was supposed to hand sew the pieces together with yarn and a thick sewing needle made for knitwear. DUH. So embarrassing. Let me tell you, ripping sewing thread out of a knitted garment is painstaking. But once I figured out the right way to do it, the garment fit beautifully, and it is currently my oldest sweater that I have made (I threw out my first blue sweater once I got better at knitting and knew that I didn’t have to wear with holes and knots in them, and all the other garments I made in between were eventually gifted to friends/family).

Almost all the sweaters/knitted items I made after this one are wearable and still in rotation. I still had a lot to learn about my personal relationship to knitted garments and what kind of things I liked knitting the most, but I finally found my knitting groove. I learned to either go down in needle size or make swatches before every new project. I learned that I prefer neutral colored, unfussy wools to bright, funky colors and wild textures. I learned that I like simple stitches with minimal details, and laces only knitted up in flat hues. I learned that I am not crazy about tweed yarn. I learned that I don’t like sweaters with bust and waist shaping, and that I really love working with cables. I hate fuzzy yarn. Knitting socks is my worst nightmare. I prefer the Magic Loop Method to DPNs. And so on and so on.

This has been a ridiculously long post that took days for me to put together, but I get a lot of questions on tumblr about my history with knitting, so now I have a post to link people to should they have any specific questions about how I got into the craft. Oh, and the sweater in the picture used at the head of this post? It’s one of my favorite sweaters that I have ever made, even though I never really wore it much cause it has some fitting issues. I wish I had used a thinner yarn, and had made the sweater longer, and decreased the neckline stitches even more so that the neckline wasn’t quite so wide. This was the first lace repeat I ever used in a pattern, and it took me a long time to get the hang of it, but the result was stunning. I hardly ever wear this garment because it doesn’t work well with a regular bra and is a little too wide in the body, but another thing I have learned over my years of knitting is that sometimes a garment is worth fighting for; I am learning to ignore imperfections and focus on the beautiful qualities of my work more often, like the soft texture and the warm shade of the wool, and how delicate the lace pattern is coupled with the solid look of the neckline ribbing . This sweater works best with a belt and a strapless bra, and it looks really cute over skinny jeans or a pencil skirt, so I am dedicating myself to wearing it more often, despite the changes I wish I had made to it. I forgot how satisfying it is to wear my learning curve, spelled out across my shoulders.

©Robin Roemer

©Robin Roemer