I need to stop it with the impulse sewing

This year I’ve been trying to move into a seasonal rhythm with my sewing and knitting wherein I’m sewing and knitting warm weather clothes in the fall and winter, and sewing and knitting cool weather clothes in the spring and summer. I tried relining my winter coat in late October last year, failed miserably, never figured out how to fix it, and thus proceeded to freeze/wear four layers during the winter for lack of a decent coat. I vowed to do it differently this year, to make things ahead of their season, and I’ve more or less managed to do so.

I started moving on to fall-winter stuff at the beginning of August, with socks and a gigantic, cozy sweater (still in progress — it’s the Linen Stitch Pullover on Ravelry if you’re on there). No sewing, though, until yesterday.

Yesterday I started to make a shirt. At the beginning of making this shirt, I said to myself, out loud, “this is doomed from the start” — and wouldn’t you know it, I was right! Incidentally, I said the same thing to myself at the start of this skirt. It does get tiring being right all the damn time.

Note to self: stop trying to self-draft or copy anything more complicated than an A-line skirt.

I wanted to take my time, to French seam the interior to within an inch of its life, to hand baste the pieces together instead of pinning them. I did all of that, and yet it still failed. I will repeat the reason why it failed, more for my benefit than yours, as I’ve done this over and over again and yet I still keep doing it over and over again: I am not at a skill level where I can self-draft or copy anything more complicated than an A-line skirt.

This was very definitely an impulse sew, a bad habit of mine because my impulse sews almost always turn out poorly. It happened like this: I was drinking my morning coffee, knitting a pair of socks for Alvaro, and listening to the Thread Cult podcast (I just discovered it recently) and the podcast planted a bug in my ear that said: Go sew! I have a shirt that I’m due to make for a friend, but it’s with a pattern (Lou Box Top) that I’ve made twice and I really wanted to do something new. I started going through my small collection of patterns, but the patterns I have are all for summer clothes, or else I don’t yet have the right fabric, or else they’re vintage patterns for someone with a 20-inch waist. I was motivated to sew but not motivated enough to deal with enlarging a pattern. I also went through the two sewing pattern books I have, but it was the same story there. My next stop was my closet, and that’s how I landed on the very bad idea of trying to replicate a shirt with sleeves.

This is the favorite shirt that I picked out to copy:

It’s a slightly cropped trapeze-cut top that I got at a second-hand shop in Boston a couple of years ago. It fits me really well around the shoulders and underarms, and there are no darts so I wasn’t going to have to fuss with trying to figure out how to add them to the pattern. The fabric is kind of stretchy and felty (sorry for the technical jargon) and the fabric I was using for my copy was pretty different — a woven cotton with a slight stretch — but I thought it would work anyway. I’m pretty sure I was right on that actually; the fabric wasn’t the issue, but rather the cut. Or maybe the seam allowances weren’t big enough? I wish I could tell you where I went wrong, but if I knew where I went wrong I would be over at my sewing table right now fixing it.

Luckily the fabric I used is not one I particularly love. It was within the heaps of fabric I bought in Madrid last Christmas. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t particularly nice either. I got it at a small indie craft shop that had mostly quilt fabric, and I really just bought it to buy something. Alvaro and I had taken the Metro all the way to the other side of the city to go to this particular shop because I’d read an online review, and so I felt like I couldn’t walk away empty handed. A silly reason to buy something. After maybe a few minutes of “well, that was a pointless trip,” neither of us would have cared one way or another.

I think I can probably salvage this somehow, turn it into a sleeveless top maybe. I recounted a bit of my escapades to Alvaro and he suggested that I make a quilt out of my projects that didn’t work out. I’ve filed away this excellent idea for down the road. I like the image of rolling myself into a cozy, quilted cocoon of past failures as I wail in frustration at another sewing project gone awry.

All things considered, I don’t feel particularly bad about this. I did learn some lessons about construction, and I got to practice French seaming on more difficult shapes like rounded shoulders on sleeves. Fun fact as an aside — I learned how to do French seams at the sewing workshop I went to during our vacation (volunteering at a castle restoration project in the north of France, another blog post for another day). I had never seen such a thing, and I didn’t even know what it was called in English, but in French it’s called couture à l’anglaise… which means “English seams.” I only learned the English name when I got home and was scrolling through other people’s sewing projects on Instagram. I think this is hilarious and weird, like neither country wanted to take credit for inventing such a magnificent sewing technique.

Another thing I learned: I need to actually plan my upcoming sewing projects, and that means investing in some patterns and warmer fabric (i.e. not thin cotton and cotton gauze, which is all I have). I’m not planning on sewing a whole new wardrobe. I was thinking three pieces: a cape (already have the pattern for that, and it’s going to be obscenely dramatic and I can’t wait), and two undecideds. Here I was, thinking I had leg up on winter because I’m knitting a sweater in August, and actually I have no idea what’s in store for my sewing machine and me.

 

 

Live blog: This %&#!@/# skirt

11:52 a.m. I decided to make a quick skirt this morning because I have the day entirely free to work on my PhD research (which involves sewing, so making a skirt is relevant) and also because we’re leaving for vacation on Friday and I thought it would be nice to have a skirt that was somewhere in between schlepping clothes and clothes that I might wear in a not so schleppy but still relaxed environment. We’re going to spend one week volunteering with an organization that restores medieval castles in France, and then one week that’s open and unplanned but that will probably be spent beach camping. I don’t want to be wearing my camping rags for two straight weeks, but I’m also not going to want to wear my normal uniform (nice-ish skirt and top) because we’re going to be camping after all and I’m not going to roll up to the campfire in a pencil skirt. It’s also going to be moderately hot so no jeans. I settled on a lightweight denim skirt because it would be an in-between and also a plain, versatile color.

This was supposed to be an easy skirt. No pattern, but I’ve already done a few self-drafted things, and all the techniques I planned to use were things that I’d done before. It is now nearly noon and the skirt is nowhere near finished — instead it’s lying crumpled up on my ironing board, where I hurled it about a half an hour ago after I had to rip out the waist gathering for the fourth time.

In my entire life, I don’t think I have ever let loose such a constant string of expletives over such an extended period of time as I have this morning. But I am determined to finish what I started, and so I’ve decided to switch back and forth between finishing this %&#!@/# skirt and venting here about finishing this %&#!@/# skirt.

Problems I have encountered thus far:

  • Mis-measuring the waistband
  • Machine sewing the zipper — I nearly broke my needle so I’ve decided to finish it by hand
  • Ruching attempt #1: thread snapped as I was trying to make the gathers so I had to rip it all out

  • Ruching attempt #2: same as above
  • Ruching attempt #3: same as above
  • Ruching attempt #4: I finally managed to not snap the thread, and was quite pleased with myself and so went on to sew up the side seam. Then I tried it on and somehow (I don’t know how, because I measured the stupid thing for the love of all that is holy) the circumference of the waist was so huge that it wound up around my ankles.

The attempts at ruching led to a realization, which was that I don’t like ruching. I’m not just saying that because it seems that today for some reason I can’t get it right, but it occurred to me that I would probably never buy a ruched anything in a shop, so why am I going to make something with ruching? (The answer before was that it’s an easy technique, but just because something’s easy doesn’t mean I should do it.)

Anyway, the skirt still needs some sort of waist gathering, and so I’ve settled on pleats. We’ll see how this goes. I’ll report back soon.

12:32 p.m. I made pleats with a fork using a tutorial that I saw on YouTube the other day:

My machine didn’t have enough space for the fork handle, so using brute force I broke the fork handle in half.

I just tried on the skirt, which is now pleated, and it fits but only if I don’t breathe. So now I’m going to take out a pleat at the back on either side of the zipper and see if that helps.

12:43 p.m. It fits. Praise the universe. I’m going to go have lunch now.

1:41 p.m. I had a quick lunch and jumped right into dealing with the waistband.

Don’t want to tempt the fates or anything but I think I might have done it right the first time.

2:04 p.m. I have a suspicion that we have invisible house gnomes that sneak over and mess up this skirt when I’m not looking. I tried on the skirt before I added the waist band and it fit perfectly. Then I added the waistband (which I cut to the exact same length as the circumference of the top of the skirt) and sewed it on. I was so relieved and so happy with myself because I managed to fix the waistband around the top of the zipper more neatly than I’d ever done before on the machine. I’d been having my doubts this afternoon as to whether I really liked the skirt or if I was just making something to make something. My zipper success made me decide that I did indeed like this skirt. A lot.

Then I tried it on. And… too tight. How is this possible? And on top of it there are three or four pleats that just up and disappeared, so it’s pleated all around and then you get to this spot where it’s just flat. I really, truly, cannot figure this out, hence the gnome theory. I feel like I’m going insane.

It pains me to do this but I’ve decided I’m going to throw in the towel, at least for today. I think today is just not my day for sewing, so I’m going to go for a run to clear my head a bit and then get some research reading done.

This probably means that I’m not going to have this done by the time we leave on Friday, but the more I’ve struggled with sewing today, the more I think that it’s somehow a sign that my approach to this skirt is at odds with what I want to learn from sewing. Of all the things I’ve sewn thus far, the ones I like best are (newsflash) the ones I took my time making. Nothing that I’ve just whipped up in the course of a morning because I decided that I “needed” whatever it was right now.

So I’ll leave things there, and will put away this nightmare of a skirt to deal with some other day.

Scrap busting

I’ve now been sewing long enough to have accumulated a certain mass of fabric scraps and I’m wondering what to do with them.

This may not look like much of a scrap crisis, but I don’t have unlimited space for storing sacks of the odds and ends that come off of my sewing projects. Nevertheless I’ve thrown away nothing, holding on to even the tiny shreds with the idea that I’ll use some of it for stuffing the dressmaker’s dummy I’m going to make one of these days. There are larger scraps as well, not large enough to do much of anything with, but some of it is too nice (soft, pretty) to just use for stuffing.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of using this thing called the internet sooner, because in the past week I’ve realized that there are plenty of ideas for how to use fabric scraps if you simply google “what to do with fabric scraps.” Instead I first began finding inspiration the old fashioned way, by browsing through books in a shop. Specifically this shop:

This is Liberty London, which I had never heard of prior to two weeks ago when I was in London (for first-year PhD presentations — mine went well, which I’m happy about because to me giving presentations is marginally preferable to jumping into a pit of snakes). One of my fellow first-yearers, Hannah, an out-of-towner like me, said I should go check out Liberty for their fabrics. I did, and you could say that I liked it, as I spent two and a half hours wandering around the fabric department. I managed to walk away with just a few purchases that would not require me to mortgage my home if I had a home mortgage. (Those purchases will be showing up here in the coming months as I make things out of them.)

Hannah had already gone to Liberty that week, but on a bad day, when the place was packed with shoppers and things were too chaotic and she was too pressed for time to really look through the fabric or anything else for that matter. This is a shame, because even going to Liberty to browse is pretty fun, and that’s coming from someone with an intense dislike of department stores, which I always find overwhelming and odd-smelling. Liberty’s another story — everything is so pretty. It’s a little cozy bubble of hardwood and twinkle lights and exorbitantly priced home furnishings and soaps. And ideas for projects that I could make myself, as I would find out. Since Hannah had had a stressed visit her first time and I was game as anything to go back, we went again together on our second to last day with the goal of finding some fabric that I would use to make a shirt for her.

We found her fabric, and also spent some time in the haberdashery, which is all full of fun things to make your sewing room Instagram ready (gold tipped pins, whimsical scissors, leather-bound maker’s journals). I sometimes dream of having one of those perfectly organized, color-coded and clutter-free craft rooms. This is not my fate, and I’m fine with that. I have embraced my mismatched clutter.

The haberdashery had a bunch of great books on sewing, but I have a temporary moratorium on book buying in place so I just took photos of some of the pages that interested me. Specifically, those pages were what to do with all my fabric scraps. Some ideas:

I thought this was not a bad idea at all, because I have limited flat surface space in my sewing area and so wall-mounted storage would free up some of my tabletop. (I don’t have a reference on this book, but I believe the photos above and below are from a book that’s published by Liberty itself, about what to do with fabric scraps.)

Alvaro makes lamps, I sew stuff = collaboration!

We also took a tour through some other sections of the store. There was a floor plan next to the elevator that listed something on the fourth floor called Les Couilles du Chien, which means “the dog’s balls” in French. We of course had to go check that out. It was just more stately home decor. Nothing to do with dogs, nor their balls.

The bath department was the most fruitful in terms of finding inspiration for scrap projects:

Left to right: an eye mask filled with lavender buds, an eye mask with soft cotton fabric on one side and knitted cashmere on the other, and a nice travel case for toiletries. This is where I think most of my scraps will get their new lives, as little luxuries I’ll give to friends. I know more than a few people who would be quite happy to have a lavender eye mask for overnight train trips, long haul flights to visit family back home and crawling into bed after a bad day at work and/or dealing with cranky toddlers.

(The other obvious option for my scraps is, of course, to make a quilt. But as the daughter of a quilter — a woman more meticulous than me — I’ve witnessed the extreme precision demanded by quilting and I find it intimidating. I’m going to have to work on my patience a little more before diving into that.)

This is all, I hope, going to help my efforts to produce less waste as I sew because I’ve been getting concerned about the amount of waste I feel I’m producing. In the grand scheme of things I suppose it’s not all that much, because I buy mostly second hand and as local as I can get, but I’m looking for ways to further improve upon this. Some scraps are hard to avoid unless you’re working with a zero-waste pattern (PS — there are some great tips at the end of that article for creating less waste when sewing), so for the moment at least I can find ways to use up what I’ve got left over.

And now, I’m going to go (carefully) cut the fabric for Hannah’s shirt.

Prehistoric underthings

Did you know that some of (or the?) oldest known clothing artifacts in the archaeological record are sexy undergarments? No? Me neither. The book I’ve been reading lately is Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, and in it she traces the (pre)history of women’s development of fiber crafts from the Upper Paleolithic onward. There are many things that have jumped out at me thus far, such as the parallel development of floor and warp-weighted looms in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, respectively — a history that may sound decidedly uninteresting to some, but I find it interesting, and Barber’s telling of it definitely is. But one of my favorite stories so far is about a genre of garment that baffled archaeologists at first, and also apparently still baffles Homer scholars (which I discovered when I went searching for artistic renderings of Aphrodite’s “girdle”).

I thought I would share a short extract from the book here, from the section talking about the discovery, controversy and Barber’s analysis of so-called string skirts. Please don’t mind the page numbers — I included them in the transcription in case I want to go back and cite any of this in the future. (I got Women’s Work from the library so it has to go back someday.)

*****

from Barber, E.W. Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years. New York/London: W.W. Norton & Co. 1994.

[p. 54] Acquisitiveness is a Neolithic invention. String nets to catch a meal and carry it home for the family, plus wraps to keep warm and a few small tools and light containers to hold and prepare the food, for thousands of years were possessions enough. The heavier crafts like pottery awaited the advent of permanent houses to store things in.

Hence the first craft other than chipping stone blades and carving wooden implements (…) and the first important craft not dangerous to the children must have been the fashioning of objects of and with string and fibers. We have no direct record of who did what chores in that distant time, but we will not be far off in surmising that the women were already involved in this innocuous task while they tended their toddlers around camp.

It is also on a carving of a woman that we found our first clear evidence for fiber string. Let’s return to look at this woman again.

Her skirt is fashioned of cords suspended from a twisted hip band and hanging only in the rear. Almost all the Venus figures are completely naked, but a few others wear clothing. All these come from Ukraine and European Russia, which lie as far toward the eastern end of the Gravettian culture as Lespugue lies toward [p. 55] the western. A few of the Venuses from the site of Kostienki wear simple bands or sashes, but the Venus of Gagarino sports a string skirt: a shorter, tidier skirt than her French sister, and this time hanging only in the front, but covering just as little, which is to say, nothing at all of what modern Western culture demands that a woman keep covered.

A skirt so skimpy, made of loose strings, can’t have been very warm, and it certainly doesn’t answer to our notions of modesty. So what was it for? Why did people who owned so little go to all the trouble of making and wearing a garment that was so nonfunctional? And what’s more, why did women choose to wear such a thing for so many thousands of years? We have representations of women in little string skirts, here and there in this same broad geographical area through the next twenty thousand years, and even, around 1300 BC, some actual string skirts preserved or partially preserved for us in the archaeological record.

[p. 56] During the Neolithic, as people settled down in one place to practice the new art of farming (making it much easier for us to locate where they lived), we find an increasing array of clay figurines of women in string skirts, from sites in central and eastern Europe — the old heartland of Gravettian culture. (…)

In Denmark and northern Germany, moreover, in addition to figurines, we have the remains of string skirts on the bodies of young women buried in log coffins during the Bronze Age, late in the second millennium BC. One of these skirts, made of woolen cords stained a rich brown by the acidic groundwater that preserved it, is complete; we can inspect its mode of manufacture.

The thick plied cords that form the skirt were anchored by being woven through a narrow belt band, from which they hung down [p. 57] to a length of about fifteen inches. At the bottom they have been caught together with a twined spacing cord, which serves to keep them in order. Below that, the ends have been looped into an ornamental row of knots, making the bottom edge so heavy that the skirt must have had quite a swing to it, like the long, beaded fringe on a flapper’s dance dress. The belt band on which all depends is so long that the skirt was worn wrapped around twice, rather low on the hips, and tied in the center front with the generous ends of the band. Other finds of less well-preserved string skirts show much the same design features, except that some were finished off at the bottom by encasing the ends of the cords in little metal sleeves. These, too, would have given the skirt a consider-[p. 58]able swish to it, by their weight, as well as caught the ear with the click and the eye with the gleam of metal.

European scholars were horrified, when the complete skirt was dug up at Egtved, that their ancestresses should have worn so indecent an apparel and proclaimed that the lady must have worn a linen shift underneath it, now disintegrated without a trace, to hide her nakedness. The figurines indicate otherwise. The Egtved girl at least wore a woolen blouse, but the spry young girls in the bronze images wear nothing at all but a string skirt of the same design, and a rather short one at that.

[p. 59] In no case do the string skirts — whether Palaeolithic, Neolithic, or Bronze Age — provide for either warmth or modesty. In all cases they are worn by women. To solve the mystery of why they were maintained for so long, I think we must follow our eyes. Not only do the skirts hide nothing of importance, but if anything, they attract the eye precisely to the specifically female sexual areas by framing them, presenting them, or playing peekaboo with them. In all the Venus figures the breasts, belly, and pubic area are heavily emphasized; that is how the sculptures came to be called Venuses. Hands, feet, and head are often barely carved at all. (…)

Our best guess, then, is that string skirts indicated something about the childbearing ability or readiness of the woman, perhaps simply that she was of childbearing age, having reached menarche but not yet menopause, or perhaps that she had reached puberty but was not yet “married” (whatever that might have meant in the particular society: still a virgin, or still without child, or still without regular mate) — in other words, that she was in some sense “available” as a bride. The notion of marriage, as opposed to mere mating, is so important to the human race that the need to negotiate this problem has been seriously suggested as one of the most powerful drives toward the development of language. Indeed, [p. 60] clear signals as to the marriage status of women are common around the world, from the tiny gold band around the fourth finger to signs visible from far away, such as the squash blossom hairdo of the unmarried Hopi girl and the glittering coin-covered cap of the newlywed Mordvin wife. Depending upon the society, such a marker might carry with it a considerable sense of honor and specialness, certifying the wearer as possessing the mysterious ability to create new human life.

If this is the case, then we do well to look at the gently comical tale which Homer tells, in the fourteenth book of the Iliad, of how Hera set about to seduce Zeus.

Hoping to divert her all-powerful husband’s attention from the battlefield of Troy for a while, Hera goes to her divine apartments to dress herself in a way that her spouse will not ignore. She washes, puts on perfume, braids her hair, and dons a “divine garment” and golden jewelry. Then she carefully ties around herself, for this special occasion, her girdle fashioned with a hundred tassels.” Finally she goes to Aphrodite, goddess of sexual love, and asks sweetly if she might borrow Aphrodite’s girdle as well. In other words, to make very sure of her quarry, she asks to use the divine archetype of all such girdles, into which, Homer says, “have been crafted all the bewitchments — in it are Love and Lust and Flirtation — persuasion that has stolen away the mind of even the carefulest thinkers.” Aphrodite obligingly takes off her special girdle (she wears it constantly, it seems, as a badge of her office) and places it in the hands of the queen of the gods, instructing her to put it on under the fold of her breast. (This is the literal wording and describes exactly how the Venus of Gagarino wears hers. But the modern translators, not understanding the garment, usually tamper with the passage.) Aphrodite tells Hera that with this girdle on, “what you wish for in your mind with not go unaccomplished!”

[p. 61] Nor does it. Zeus spots Hera coming toward him on the mountaintops, forgets everything else, and demands that she lie with him then and there.

What could this be, this “girdle of a hundred tassels,” but our string skirt? The form is right, in fact unique, and the signal that Zeus picks up — that it has to do with making love to a woman — is very close to what we have surmised. That the archetypical one is owned by Aphrodite falls closer still; in her hands we might almost call it a mating girdle.

The string skirt is still alive and well, preserved in many a folk costume in the old heartland of the Gravettian culture of twenty thousand years ago: south-central and eastern Europe. What’s more the symbolic function that we deduced from the ancient examples is preserved right along with the form.

Far to the east lie the Mordvins, just east of Moscow and west of the Volga River and Ural Mountains. They speak a Uralic language related to Finnish and the other northernmost languages on the European continent. Well into [the twentieth century] custom had it that a Mordvin girl would don a long black string apron at the time of her betrothal. Hanging only in the back, like that of the Venus of Lespugue but wider, it marked her as a wife. Its function, claims a Finnish woman who has researched the local costumes thoroughly, was that of “the symbol of a married woman,” and as such it “belonged to the same category as the woollen and often fringed loin drapings of the Southern Great Russians, the Bulgarians, the Serbs and the Rumanians.” Women wore very simple ones for every day, but quite elaborate ones for festive occasions.

 

 

Input costs

I’ve started talking a bit with a seller on Etsy, which started because I bought some beautiful fabric from her that she estimated to be from the 1930s. I sent her a message asking how she figured out the age of fabric, because I was curious, and that started a whole back and forth conversation of the sort that is had between two people who love old things. And in case you’re wondering the same thing I was:

The two Worlds wars are quite big guides for 20th Century fabrics because each one marked the end of non essential textile production for the duration and styles and technology changed quite dramatically after each one. So there might be a little bit of overlap, a small factory picking up with the pre-war production afterwards.

The older fabrics are always narrower than modern copies and mostly you will find that the textile is much finer. The one you bought has a very dense weave, if you look the individual threads are very fine and the threadcount is very high.

This is the fabric I bought:

The woman who sold this to me lives in a village in France, not too far from where I live, and I’m starting to want to go visit because it sounds like a place that is packed with the ghosts of clothes-making past: “My 85 year old neighbour tells me that his grandfather used to weave sacks from hemp for a living. The bakery opposite my house used to be the place where they unwound cocoons from silk worms, washing the filaments in the clear mountain water before sending them to Lyon to be twisted and dyed into threads for the silk industry. There used to be a couture school in my village, so that although the area is rural with a historic peasant culture, early photographs of the village girls show them wearing incredibly stylish clothes that they have made themselves.”

I only discovered Etsy last month when it occurred to me that maybe I could find some interesting fabric there that I can’t get here. I was hesitant about buying something so tactile online, but I haven’t been disappointed, especially because there are loads of vintage fabrics and for that the pickings are particularly slim where I live. I did a search for sellers of vintage fabric in France — both to buy local(ish) and avoid import taxes at the border <– I’ve learned about the latter the hard way — and even with relatively narrow search criteria it was really, really hard to narrow down my shopping basket to my budget because there was so much to choose from. Everything’s arrived and so now I’m starting to get to work on what to make with my not-technically-new-but-new-to-me stash. With the above three meters of fabric I’m going to make a dress with the Belladone pattern from Deer and Doe, and I’ll eventually find a good pattern for the others.

I turned to Etsy for fabric (and to my local sewing shop, which I’ll write about in another post) because my stash was filled with a mish-mash of second-hand things I got at thrift stores in the name of recycling, but which I don’t really like all that much, in addition to a big heap of cheap cotton jersey that I got in Madrid when we were there visiting my in-laws over Christmas.

The story on that:

Madrid has an enormous variety of fabric stores, of course because it’s a big city but also because it was historically a center for textiles and clothes making. The area around Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor in particular is packed with fabric shops and haberdashers. While out on a family walk my mother-in-law led us down those streets so I could check it all out, but it was so intensely overwhelming that I couldn’t think about buying anything: picture the busiest farmer’s market you’ve ever seen, multiply it by 100 and replace vegetables with buttons and that is Madrid’s textiles and haberdasher neighborhood: big, loud shops with a long counter separating the public from the salespeople, walls of buttons and zippers and ribbons and more stocked behind the counter and shoppers pointing and shouting over the counters at the salespeople to move a bit to the left, now up, and yes those buttons, those! Since I didn’t have anything specific in mind, and it wasn’t really an environment for browsing, I admired the chaos and we continued on to go stuff ourselves with cotton candy at the Christmas market and buy my niece a fluorescent green mermaid wig and Santa hat, which she wore together for the entire rest of the day.

I had grand plans to get lots of stash fabric during our time there (because Madrid is way less expensive than where I live) but somehow never got around to it in the two weeks we were there. Finally, the day before we left, while everyone else was lying around in a holiday food and wine coma, I set off by myself to go fabric hunting. I wound up in the La Latina neighborhood based off of some online reviews of fabric shops there, but it was already late and things were closing soon and I didn’t have any clear idea in my mind of what I was looking for. And I also made the mistake of going to the biggest store on my list, and I can’t really deal with big stores because too much choice blinds my senses. So I wandered around this big store, not liking anything and feeling slightly stressed, when finally it occurred to me that what I really needed (and when I say needed, I mean wanted) was a bunch of jersey in solid colors. I suddenly had a vision in my head of churning out piles of basic t-shirts. I would fill out my wardrobe with startling speed and thus be able to start wearing all my brightly colored and patterned things that I had hitherto never really worn because I never buy or make basics. Hell yes, that was the answer. I would become a basic-making machine.

So I bought a grand mass of cheap cotton-ish jersey from origins unknown, and I now deeply regret that purchase. I’ve made one black tank top with some of the fabric from this haul, and I’ve worn it maybe five or six times and it’s already fading and pilling, despite the fact that I wash everything but my running clothes and my schlepping clothes on the delicates cycle. Contrast that to the blue shirt refashion I wrote about in my last post, which I have worn repeatedly over the course of more than a year and it shows no signs of age — and it had already been worn by someone before me! I have no idea of its age, but judging from the dressmaker’s tag on the inside of the original dress I would guess the 1970s or so.

My Etsy seller pen pal pointed out this difference in quality in not just fast fashion clothes today, but also fast fabric: “I know from my older neighbours that when they bought new clothes, or the fabric to make them, they chose the best quality they could afford and expected their clothes to last. A big contrast with lots of mass produced textiles now that don’t always survive the first wash.”

The price of a lot of the vintage fabric I’ve found on Etsy is well within what I can allow myself to pay for fabric, and I’ve also discovered several French fabric companies producing very nice organic textiles today (found them thanks to my local sewing shop) that are a little more expensive but that are still within budget for smaller things like t-shirts. (Because we’re also talking cotton and the like, not handwoven silk, so it stays manageable.)

The contrast between the flimsy jersey I bought in Madrid and my purchases since then is astounding. Meter for meter what I bought in Madrid is much cheaper by far, but much cheaper fabric makes clothing that falls apart and looks old after four wears. The black tank top I made from the cheap stuff is already teetering on the edge of becoming schlepwear, and it takes me way too much time to sew even a simple shirt for it to reach bumming around the house status after a handful of wears.

I know I’m not the only sewist who has gotten lost along the way and started getting into a mindset of mass production, because I’ve seen and heard similar stories and comments along these lines. It’s funny that we fall into this trap. I’m chalking it up partly to being over enthusiastic in newfound skills and creativity, but I think it’s also symptomatic of the world we live in: having a full closet and options options options is the current normal. That is most likely the big reason why I was pulled toward mass production, rather than seeing sewing as my Etsy friend’s eldery neighbors saw it, always buying the best I can afford so I can make things to last, rather than simply replicating the very industry I try so hard to shun.

 

 

Finished the red skirt + what happens when you don’t know what you’re doing

An update on the red skirt:

That, folks, is a finished skirt, and I am extremely happy with it. I finished it on Monday but I haven’t worn it yet because yesterday was chilly so I got to pull out my Roses sweater, and today is a work from home day, which means sweatpants and a tea pot by my side. Tomorrow is going to be a scorcher again so that is when my new skirt will get its debut. But enough about weather, let’s talk zippers. (Apologies for the photos, which show the skirt as being three different colors. The photo above shows the true color. At least to my eyes.)

I thought it was going to be tedious hand sewing the zipper but it actually wasn’t tedious at all and came together more quickly than I had expected, about one episode of House of Cards. (That is how I timed my sewing this past week, but we’ve finished the entire season already so I’m going to have to find a new unit of measurement.) I am very happy with the job I did on this. Maybe it’s not perfect, but I’m less and less sure of how to measure perfection in sewing and knitting, and against what standard of “perfection” I measure the things I’m making. For me, this skirt is pretty near perfection. I like the fit, I like the color, I like that I just winged the whole thing and thus it is of my own design (although it’s not exactly breaking any new ground in design). I also like that I decided part way through to take a breather, go buy a better zipper, and be patient with it instead of just hacking my way through and calling it wearable.

On that note I also started refashioning a shirt that I had already refashioned from a dress last year. This was the original dress and the shirt I made out of it:

Those are some awkward photos but in my defense they were meant to be a little self-mocking. This was the first shirt I made, and I sent these photos to my mom, as one does when one is a woman in her mid thirties and has just done something she’s proud of. When Mom got my email she called to my dad in the other room, “Bob, come check out the dress Kate just got at a thrift shop!” and then only showed him the first photo, which she said made his face go slack with horror. (She’s funny like that, my mom.) Dad finally said, “But …Why?” and then she showed him the following two photos and he perked up and said he thought I was mighty clever. I thought I was mighty clever too at the time.

This was the first shirt I made. It was a rainy day and I was binge watching sewing videos on YouTube, trying to figure out what to do next with my new sewing machine because I was getting bored with pillow cases. I came across a video or a blog post, can’t remember what it was, which showed a tutorial for making the simplest shirt ever, basically two squares of fabric (something synthetic or jersey, just not anything stiff) cut to the width of your shoulders/hips. You sew up the sides and the top, leaving holes for your arms and head, and then flip the fabric around the holes inward and hem that as well as the bottom. And ta-da, you have a shirt.

Hungry as I was at the time to make something wearable, I whipped one of these up using a dress I’d gotten at a thrift shop for the express purpose of chopping up and creating something new. I really like the fabric — it’s dark blue with a tiny red and white flower motif, some sort of mystery synthetic, but it’s not hot like polyester and it has a nice flow and a slight sheen to it. I wore this shirt a lot, but as time went on and I started understanding garment construction a little better, I began seeing all sorts of little and not so little things that bugged me. For one, in my rush to create, I used dark green thread because I only had three spools of thread at the time and dark green was the best choice among them. I also did something pretty lazy with the hem, which is hard to explain without diagramming it for you, but trust me, it wasn’t good. You couldn’t see it from the outside, but I averted my eyes every time I put it on. (Just to be clear, it wasn’t stapled — I’d already moved beyond staples.) I had also, as my instructions had instructed, turned in the fabric around the neck and armholes and stitched that, instead of adding facing and understitching.

I mean, come on. No facing and understitching? Amateur. <—- Kidding! I was (and still am) a beginner so give me a damn break. But that doesn’t mean that I have to let my beginner’s moves relegate this shirt to the back of my closet. This past weekend I decided to do things up right, so I set to work ripping out the arm and neck hole seaming as well as the corner of the bottom hem that also needed a redo. I was not prepared for how long this would take. I had apparently used a very tight stitch gauge when I initially made this, and so ripping out everything took approximately four episodes of House of Cards. It was a thousand times more tedious than hand stitching the zipper in the skirt up top, probably because I had expected the stitches to come right out and so I was mentally unprepared for the work. But I got through it.

I’m not sure what the lesson is in all of this. I suppose it falls between “Jump first, learn to swim later,” and “Take the time to do it right the first time.” I’m not entirely comfortable with the latter because, although it’s true in some sense, it also would have killed my enthusiasm on that rainy day when I first made this shirt. When you’re starting to learn how to sew (or anything else), there’s something to be said for charging ahead with a project, just to give it a go, and to be okay with knowing that you will possibly/probably be ripping out seams a year later. I think it was necessary to just recklessly dive in when I was first starting out. These days I’m trying to take things more slowly and get them done right the first time, but that’s also because I have more sewing knowledge now (knowledge that I gained from doing, from making mistakes, from making bad mistakes that ruined some very pretty and irreplaceable fabric, and knowledge that came from asking for help).

The day after the deconstruction, I started reconstructing: I reshaped the boat neck and the sleeves so things would fit better, and then I cut the pieces for the facing, sewed them on, and ironed and pinned them down. Yesterday I picked up dark blue thread that is a near perfect color match, and some time this week — maybe I’ll start today — I’ll do the understitching. And then this will be finished and I will start wearing it again. And possibly take it apart a year or five years from now when I will have learned better ways of doing things.

 

Elasticity

It’s summer here in France, and has been for several weeks already. I haven’t managed to do much in the way of warm weather sewing, due to a combination of being buried in work, buried in school and caught off guard by a month and a half of dodging life curveballs. I made one tank top: that is the totality of the House of Kate’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection to date.

It has only been in the past year or so, since I’ve started sewing, that my wardrobe has started to become slightly more functional. Prior to starting my sewing adventures I had sworn off buying new clothes, not because I had too many (things are still pretty spartan in the old closet) but because the only shop-made clothes I could afford were of the sweatshop-made variety and I was not okay anymore with financially supporting that system. That’s not to say I stopped buying clothes period, just that I began instead buying the odd thing here and there in second hand shops. Over the years I’ve slowly accumulated some interesting pieces, but the issue with my thrifting is that I’m attracted mainly to bright colors and loud prints, and a functioning wardrobe (functioning for me) cannot be had with bright colors and loud prints only.

(Side note: not a value judgment against anyone else, this is just my thing. I recognize that not everyone is going to have the time or desire to scour thrift shops and pick up sewing. That’s just what I do. There are other ways to reduce one’s participation in the sweatshop system, starting with reducing our consumption of clothes to begin with and taking good care of the ones we have so they don’t wear out so quickly. Okay, side note over, moving on.)

Anyway, what do the sudden jump from winter to summer + my slowness to sew warm weather clothes + my non-cohesive wardrobe have in common? Together they are the reasons why I keep opening my closet and pulling out the exact same thing nearly every day.

Poor me! I was caught off guard by the heat, thinking that I still had another month to sew up some wardrobe liaisons, but I don’t, so I keep wearing the same three things because nearly every summer weight thing I own clashes. I said this to my friend Arlène the other day and she said I should just start wearing my multicolored flower prints all together and call it trend setting.

The other afternoon Arlène and I met up for a drink, and when it was already pushing 80 degrees at 10 a.m. that morning I decided enough was enough, I was going to quickly whip up a new skirt, because I had had it with my regular rotation. It wasn’t going to be anything fancy, just straight and cotton with an elastic waistband, but that last part is where I immediately ran into issues. I have never sewn anything with an elastic waistband before, but in my beginner sewist hubris I decided that I knew exactly how to sew a skirt with an elastic waistband and so I set about doing so. I measured my hips at their widest point, measured the length I wanted, and cut my fabric, a slightly stretchy red cotton blend. Then maybe because I was jamming too hard to the music mix I’d put on, I made the fatal error of forgetting how the laws of physics work (specifically elasticity).

I wanted the skirt to hit me at my natural waist, so I cut the elastic to fit it. Then I cut a wide belt (the elastic was pretty wide), because I had an image of a wide-belted, high waisted skirt that billowed out slightly at the hips. I was already complicating things on what should have been an uncomplicated skirt. I attached the belt part onto the skirt part, folding the top of the skirt part regularly into little pleats so that the width of it would match with that of the belt (which I was very proud of — I did an extremely neat job with those pleats), flipped the belt inwards in half and ironed it flat, and then went to go try it on before adding the elastic. And of course, I couldn’t fit it over my hips, because the belt was cut for the circumference of my waist, not my hips, and the fabric belt was not stretchy so it obviously was not going to stretch over my hips.

This led to some swearing, complicated by the rising temperatures in our 8th floor apartment and the fact that my sudden decision to complicate things was taking more time than I’d anticipated and I had other things to do plus a friend to go meet. So I decided to hell with the elastic, I would just do a zipper, but this was complicated because I had already basically sewn together the entire skirt apart from its closure device, and putting a zipper into a garment that’s already pretty much made is no easy task, for me at least. Like a mule I ploughed ahead anyway, and sure enough I did such a hack job of putting the zipper in that I stopped half way because things were just getting too embarrassing. Also, the only zipper I had on hand that I thought even sort of went with red was a yellow one, but when I was putting it in I couldn’t stop seeing Ronald McDonald. I finally gave up, laid the skirt down to rest, took a shower, put on one of the three outfits that I’ve been wearing lately and went to go meet Arlène.

I was frustrated for sure, but the thing is that apart from the elastic and zipper debacles I was really liking how the skirt was coming out, and I was feeling pretty proud of the fact that I could put something like that together with no pattern or instructions. Now I’m going to try to get to the point of all of this: I decided that I could wait a little while longer to wear this nice red skirt. The following day I went to my town’s sewing shop and bought a red zipper, and then took my time carefully unpicking the yellow zipper while watching the first episode of the new season of House of Cards. I’m debating on whether to hand sew the new zipper, given the difficulties that I had machine sewing the old one, and so I think I might go with hand sewing. It takes a lot longer in theory, but it’s a surer bet that I’ll get it done right and it’ll no doubt look a lot neater since I think I can sew it onto the inside fold without taking the rest of the skirt apart. I think that’ll work at least, we’ll see. At any rate, I have about a dozen more episodes of HoC left to go, and summer’s not going anywhere, so I have time.

 

Stress knitting

I’ve been doing a lot of this lately:

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Knitting and watching Democracy Now! And knitting while watching Rachel Maddow, The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver, retreating into a little cocoon of worsted weight wool and lefty politics. I stayed up all night watching the election returns on November 8-9, which for me here in France meant staying awake until 9:30 a.m. on November 9 and then sleeping for most of the rest of the day while my mother-in-law, who was visiting that week, was busy cooking comfort foods in bulk. I woke up to a pot of chili and three big trays of croquetas in the fridge. Later on we were discussing the election and Alvaro started to say “Do you think that Franc–” and then stopped and we burst out laughing (the way you laugh when you’re utterly horrified) because he almost said Franco when he meant to say Trump. Brains go where they go for good reasons sometimes.

It was at 2 a.m. GMT +1 on November 9th (8 p.m. EST on November 8th) that I began knitting a hat for a friend’s November 10th birthday. Until then I’d been sitting in bed in the dark with my knees hugged to my chest watching a live stream of the election on my laptop, wearing headphones so I wouldn’t wake up Alvaro. I guess I needed something to occupy my twitching hands while I watched it all go down. I knit through the rest of the early hours of that day, through Trump’s acceptance speech, until I started making mistakes because my fingers were going numb along with the rest of me. When I woke up I started knitting again, and wound up finishing the hat in less than 24 hours. Then I immediately began working on another hat in the same pattern for another friend, and when I was done with that I knit a baby sweater — for no one in particular, but I know quite a few people who are having babies these days so I thought I’d make one in advance, since I generally have a hard time getting my act together to deliver new baby presents on time. Plus there was something comforting and hopeful about knitting something for a future human being. Welcome to the world, kiddo, sorry it’s doomed but at least you’ll be warm. Now I’m knitting a hat for Alvaro (see above photo) because I’d promised him one this winter, and it’s officially cold here now so I needed to get moving on it.

Along with all the horrifying stories told on the news and by comedians who these days make more sense than many, I’ve also been hearing things from people I know and care about. My mother’s friend went to see Wanda Sykes in Boston and watched Sykes get drowned out by audience booing when she called Trump a racist; said friend reportedly went home and straight to the liquor cabinet. A friend of mine who is a black woman told me that her cousin had recently moved to western Massachussetts, and a few days after the election people in his new town started receiving KKK recruitment flyers.

Meanwhile, I’m in France. Here we are also in the midst of election season and we are also in danger of electing a head of state in the image of Trump. Plenty of people here are saying it can’t happen in France, that France is not the U.S., but that is exactly what people in the U.S. said after Brexit. The town I live in is nestled snuggly in a right-leaning region of the country, a region that sees itself as kind of French, but mostly as an entity of its own, idealogically different from those suspicious metropoles that are home to dangerous leftists with dangerous leftist ideas. We went to our town’s Bastille Day celebration, which was held two days after a murderous nutcase plowed a truck through crowds of people at the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice. Our town’s right-wing mayor gave a very long speech on the threat that the “islamistes” pose to Frenchness. It didn’t seem like most people were really paying attention, as they were too busy tucking into their plates of sausage and fries, but there was some occasional shushing of the picnic chatter from the people who were listening to what the mayor had to say. When he finished talking the band played the Marseillaise, and the party went on.

To some people, those like the mayor and Marine Le Pen are dog whistle blowers; to others they are white noise. But either way, they are producing noise and it says: raise the barricades.

Meanwhile, I’m knitting. Through the noise and through my stress. I’ve also signed up as an online volunteer in a network created by some progressive friends of a friend in New York. They quickly assembled after Trump’s win in order to mobilize volunteer support for NGOs and community organizations which, instead of working to further human rights for all US citizens and residents, are now scrambling to protect the gains they’ve already made. I wish I could do more, but not being physically present in the US makes things difficult. I’m open to suggestions if anyone reading this has any.

 

 

 

 

Live blog: finishing the Roses sweater

I started knitting my first sweater back in March, a sweater pattern whose very name indicated that it would take three hours to make, and here we are approaching mid September and it’s still not done. I can’t blame this state of affairs on the pattern’s dishonesty; I’m a pretty slow knitter to begin with, so there’s that, but more importantly I stalled on the project when it came to sewing it together. I waited until a visit to my parents in June for the blocking and stitching, but that was really just procrastination because I already know how to block things, and I could have looked up sweater sewing tutorials online, though I did prefer the idea of asking my mom to show me. On that visit I managed to get the sides sewn up, but one attempt to attach the raglan sleeves failed miserably. Good job actually that I had decided to opt for a mom tutorial rather than YouTube, because as helpful as YouTube tutorials are, they cannot actually fix your project for you when you make a massive mistake.

Mom managed to undo the wrongs I had done, and luckily because it was just about sewing on the sleeves the mistake could be removed without permanent damage to the rest of the sweater. So she did that, and then I think we watched The Daily Show, and since then (late June) I haven’t managed to summon the courage to try again.

UNTIL NOW!

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Live blog is closed, thanks for reading! I’ll be back soon with exciting updates on my other projects.

7:56 p.m. Finished!

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6:51 p.m. I am back, plate of grapes and cheese at my side, sweater in my lap, about to continue the saga of weaving in ends + Richard’s battle with Hooli over intellectual property rights.

6:04 p.m. Alvaro asked if I wanted to accompany him to the grocery store, and I’ve decided that this would be a good idea because I’ve been at this for five hours now and need a break, plus I can pick out my snacks of preference for the home stretch.

5:45 p.m. Still weaving in ends. Now watching an episode of Silicon Valley to keep me company while I weave away.

5:14 p.m. Newsflash: weaving in ends is very tedious.

4:30 p.m. Sleeve #2 done.

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Commence weaving in loose ends.

3:55 p.m. Issue resolved.

3:40 p.m. Never mind about the walk. I am starting to doubt my abilities to finish this before nightfall. Just realized in pinning the front side of the second sleeve that I misaligned the pinning on the back side so now nothing’s lining up. Not sure how I managed to do that. Shall commence unpinning now and will pull out the stitching on the back side of sleeve #2.

3:29 p.m. The second sleeve is finished down to the armpit seam. Moving a little bit slowly maybe, because it’s a beautiful day outside and I have a nice view of the mountains from my desk so I keep stopping to look out the window. I’ve decided to go for a walk after I finish seaming.

2:48 p.m. Finished the first sleeve!

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2:11 p.m. I have reached the first armpit with no incident of note, and the seams line up. This calls for a lunch break.

1:35 p.m. Well, I made it up to my first pin:

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I think I’ll take a break now to ponder the meaning of it all.

Last Sunday I went rock climbing for the first time. It was at an indoor climbing gym, a fact which did nothing to lower the terror level in my parents when I told them about it.

I have a tendency to get a little dizzy at certain heights, but I wouldn’t say that I have a full-on fear, and I was thus completely caught off guard by the near hysteria I felt when I turned around halfway up the wall and saw how far away the ground was, how far away Alvaro was, holding the other end of the rope that was keeping me from certain death. When I would look down to check on my footing and saw that he was looking the other way for a second to relieve the strain in his neck from looking up all the time, I would bug out and yell down to him to keep his eyes on me (please!), even though I knew logically that I was not going to fall because I was roped in with a secure knot, and he could feel the tension in the cord and knew without having to look up whether he needed to pull it tighter. Plus, there were five-year-olds climbing the same wall as me. Still, I felt like I was hanging in an empty void, and had to battle with my inner voices that told me I was going to fall. It took me the entire four-hour session to even start to trust that I was not going to fall, and if I did I would be suspended by a cord, and so therefore I could reach out for a hand hold without fear. Every time I got to the top of a route I couldn’t believe it, that the voices had been wrong. The adrenaline rush for me came from this.

I’ve been going on and on about this to whoever will listen, and all listeners have nodded a bit but at some point have teased me for taking a Sunday afternoon at a rock climbing gym as such a profound personal experience. I’m telling you, though, it was. And I give you full permission to mock me for thinking that sewing up these sleeves is starting to feel like the same sort of experience.

1:17 p.m. I’m going with the following video:

I like how she’s making a sweater with the same ugly yarn that I’m using for sweater #2.

So here we go.

1:06 p.m. This video is not at all helpful. I scanned through to the end and realized that it’s just diagramming how the pieces go together, which even to me seems pretty obvious. I need stitch instruction, not diagrams lady! Also, confirmed, I should have sewed the sleeves before the sides.

1:00 p.m. I’m only 2:57 through this video and already I’m pretty sure that I went about this the wrong way from the get go (ie, sewed up the sides first). GAHHHH!

12:49 p.m. I know that I will definitely not be watching the video tutorial whose blurb reads: “So you’ve just finished your knitted sweater — now what? Now comes the fun part: You get to do the finishing!” Or maybe that’s sarcastic, in which case I like the tutorial maker’s sense of humor, so I probably will watch the video.

An archive of yarn scraps + re-learning crochet

In late November 2013, I decided to learn how to crochet because it was cold and blustery and getting dark at 5 p.m., and I was getting bored in the evenings. One night I thought, enough is enough, and began brainstorming ways to amuse myself that wouldn’t annoy the neighbors or my living companions. You might say, well, read a damn book, but I spend most of my days reading on screen or in print, and there comes a point in the day when your eyes start to cross and your brain reaches maximum capacity, and you just need to do something with your hands. I also wanted to find an activity that I could do around other people, so as not to be anti-social, and something that entailed learning a new skill. Crochet it was.

By spring 2014 I had already switched to knitting because knitting patterns are more abundant and because knitting takes up 1/3 of the yarn that crochet does, and I do have a craft budget after all.

Now, after nearly three years of making things with yarn, mostly knitting, I’ve found myself with loads of little odds and ends from finished projects — balls of yarn too small to make much of anything, but too big to chuck into my gardening bag to use for tomato ties. I’ve been hanging on to it all with the idea of someday making a big, crazy blanket with it. Friends, that day has arrived! And I’m back to crochet for it.

My chosen pattern is the humble granny square, which is one of the few crochet patterns I like the looks of. And my grandmother made granny squares so I’m considering this an hommage to her. (I’m realizing now that I talk a lot about the grandmas on this blog. For future reference, Kay = mom’s mom, chemist and conspiracy theorist, and Roses = dad’s mom, superstar athlete and binge reader of Harlequin romances.) Grandma Kay was a granny square making machine. She made big blankets, lap blankets, baby blankets, drink coasters, and dozens of doorstops made out of bricks covered in stitched-together granny squares that are now a thing in our family, scattered throughout the homes of her children and grandchildren.

This project isn’t exactly going to be breaking new ground in design, but that’s not the point. I’m excited about it, because in addition to serving as an excuse to procrastinate on the stitching together of two nearly finished sweaters, this blanket is a refresher course for everything I forgot how to do in crochet (pretty much everything). With seven different stitches to learn/re-learn, it’s a complete package.

I picked a starburst design that looks like the one Grandma Kay always used, the tutorial for which can be found here. Warning: this video tutorial moves extremely quickly. If you’re new or just getting back to this like me, you’ll probably have to pause and go back several times while working through your first few squares. That said, it’s a great tutorial with easy-to-understand instructions and clear shots of the stitches.

Nevertheless, despite following Miss simplydaisy of YouTube’s excellent instructions, my first square turned out like this because that’s how learning works:

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My fault, my stitches were messy and I was off on the counting right from the start; as a result, when I finished the circle portion and moved on to the square, nothing lined up and I wound up having to squeeze several stitches into the same loop in order for it to finish up in a square shape. In the end, wonky as it is, it’s a quadrilateral, so close enough for jazz as they say.

Square number two came out better, still has a few little mistakes, but it’s an improvement:

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The blue yarn in both squares is left over from a tobacco pouch I made for my friend Lucas, and the red is from a Steve Zissou hat that I made for Alvaro last winter. I hadn’t meant for it to be a Zissou hat, that’s just how it turned out. Alvaro loved it so I pretended it was on purpose.

In addition to the crochet re-skilling and the grandma hommage, reminiscing over scraps is the third reason why I’m into this project — it’ll be a record of all the things I’ve knitted for myself and the people I love. Sort of like the college graduation quilt my mother made me, a kaleidoscope of triangles cut from my old Little League and summer job uniforms, Beatles t-shirts, high school graduation robe, the red velvet dress I wore in the role of Mrs. Claus in my first grade Christmas play Wake Up Santa!, the rainbow bed sheets I had in elementary school, the t-shirt I got at my first ever stadium concert (Diana Ross, I was ten years old, and she called me up solo to dance with her on stage, and the only dance move I knew was the Roger Rabbit so that’s what I busted out, and Ms. Ross, bless her, was just like well, okay! and started doing the Roger Rabbit right along with me)… I love this quilt because it’s a record of my childhood, and also a symbol of intense motherly love because my mother had been secretly stashing away all of the above with the idea of one day learning how to quilt so that she could make me a t-shirt quilt when I graduated from college. Pause on that for a moment, and digest it, and consider the foresight it demanded. I think Mom’s t-shirt quilt far surpasses my granny squares in nostalgic poignancy (I cried when she gave it to me), but I’m using it as a reference for this record of the hats and scarves and gloves and little bags and socks and sweaters that I’ve squinted at, sworn at, hunched over, sweated over, and finally finished and worn proudly or offered as a present to the special people in my life.