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.

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.



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

7:56 p.m. Finished!


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.


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!


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:


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.

A knitting project that is possibly doomed to failure + two finished projects that I like

I started a new knitting project yesterday after finishing up the last bits on a pair of gloves (photos of that and another recent project at the bottom of this post). Never mind that I still haven’t finished my retro sweater — though it is almost done. I finished knitting all the pieces and blocked them (for non-knitters, that’s when you soak and then lay out your your project to dry flat, stretched with pins so as to “iron” everything out and make it hang more nicely). I’ve sewn up the side seams. All that’s left is to sew on the sleeves, and that’s where I’m stalling because my one attempt failed miserably and I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to have another go. I will get it done before fall weather hits but for now I’m owning my procrasination by starting in on another sweater.

The yarn for it comes from my mother in law, who started knitting a sweater for my niece and got as far as completing the entire front and back but froze when she got to the sleeves. She showed it to me when we were visiting in June/July and explained that she couldn’t for the life of her remember how to do sleeves so she’d decided to abandon it. “You’re not using a pattern?” I asked. I was impressed. No, she said, just winging it. I said, you know there are loads of video tutorials on YouTube, that’s how I’ve learned most of my knitting, but she waved me off. She’s a woman who can’t be bothered with online tutorials, and I have to say that I both like that in her and am also kind of frustrated by it — because she was so close, does she realize how easy it would have been to finish her almost-finished sweater just by watching a ten minute video explanation?

Her solution to the matter was to hand off the partially finished sweater and the rest of the yarn to me. I resisted at first, both because I really wanted to try to convince her to soldier through it, and … also because I think the yarn is kind of ugly. It’s fine for a little girl, but I’m turning it into an adult-sized sweater and I already having some misgivings about that course of action. This is an overhead shot of me frogging it (non-knitters: frogging is unraveling yarn from something that’s been knit so as to reuse the yarn):


(She had also begun a gigantic scarf with it, which is what I’m undoing here.)

So what do we think about the yarn? I of course couldn’t ask her to verify my theory that the real reason she backed off from finishing anything with it was because this yarn is too ugly to live. I don’t like straight garter stitch in general, and I especially don’t like it here because I think it only increases the early 90s vibe of the yarn, and I for one am wholeheartedly against the apparent resurgence of 90s fashion that I’ve been seeing around town. My mother said the exact same thing about the 70s when I started wearing bell bottoms and polyester and platforms in the 90s, so this is perhaps just one of life’s milestone that I must tick off, hating on a younger generation’s clothing choices, but I stand by my statement.

Anyway. I’ve started knitting this sweater and I think the yarn looks slighty better in stockinette stitch, but you decide:


I also think the pattern I’m using is pretty horrendous, but honestly I don’t know what pattern could possibly make this yarn look like it was not initially destined for a five-year-old girl. I just went with a pattern that I estimated would use about the quantity of yarn I had on hand (truth be told, I have no idea what yardage I’m working with here, so it’s just a guess based on volume) and called for the appropriate needle size. We’ll see how this goes.

I’ve asked myself a couple of times why I’m using this yarn to make something for myself, rather than making a sweater for my niece like my mother in law had planned. My response is that I’m wary of arriving for our next visit at the end of the year with a completed sweater that could run the risk of making my mother in law feel like she’s being shown up. She and I have a very good relationship. I really enjoy her company and I think she enjoys mine. She’s not a particularly touchy feely person, and yet the last time she visited she gave me a spontaneous bear hug one day, and I took that to mean that she officially likes me. Still, I feel like completing the sweater that she abandoned is entering into trecherous waters and could be taken the wrong way. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.

I also briefly considered making a sweater for the other little girl in my life, but she currently lives in Alabama and therefore I doubt she would have much use for woolens.

The other reason that I’m making this sweater for myself is that I am in a sort of patch of me-centered making. I’m still fairly new to knitting, having only really gotten deep into it about two and a half years ago. It took me a full year or more to start making things for myself; prior to that I was all about random gifts of mittens and hats to my friends. It felt a little greedy to spend hours upon hours making something for myself — am I worth it? I suppose I’m over that now, especially since I’ve realized that I can make actual clothing, not just accessories, and that’s exciting, isn’t it, when you first realize that? I’m trying to keep my me-centeredness in check, though, because half the fun of knowing how to do this stuff is sharing it with other people.

* * *

Other knitting of late:


Above: The pattern is Spiralini Hat, which you can find as a free download on Ravelry.



Above: the gloves I finished yesterday. The pattern is called Cafe au Lait Mitts, also a free Ravelry download.


A World Through the Hands (video)

A new-to-me video, which I discovered thanks to Root Simple.

So though there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better, and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core because it’s a meditative process. You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today.

Nothing to add here… she says it all.

Now back to my knitting.

(More info here and here.)


Hope for the younger generation

Yesterday I got a *ping*ping* on my WhatsApp from my friend’s daughter Sarah. The conversation as it transpired went like this:

Sarah: Hey Kate, it’s Sarah, I made mittens today

and I’d like to show them to you

[Insert slightly blurry video of her modeling her very finely knit mittens, which caused feelings of shock and admiration and a little bit of jealously to arise within. Yes indeed, I was envious of a ten-year-old.]

Me: WOW!!! I’m so impressed! Mittens are my next project, I made some once but without fingers like those. Was it hard?

Sarah: No not at all, it took me a day to make both

It’s easy

Me: What? Are you joking?? You’re so fast!! [Please note that I was not dispensing patronizing encouragement to a young knitter. I really was in awe of her talents.]

Sarah: No it’s super easy

Me: Are they a kid’s size? [Note pique of interest on the part of time-crunched adult knitter.]

Sarah: No, my mom can wear them

Me: Because I’m going to make mittens for my mother in law and sister in law but I haven’t picked out the pattern yet

Hmm hmm!

Do you have the instructions?

Sarah: Yes but I can teach you

Me: That would be cool! [In my head: thank god, maybe I really will get all my Christmas presents done in time this year.]

Sarah: Yup

but when??????

maybe next week

Me: Dunno. I’m going to be at the garden tomorrow. But you’re at school. [Damn elementary school!]

Sarah: Ah too bad. But at 4 maybe I could come if you’re still there

Me: Ok let’s do that, next week. Mas and I are there every Thursday so that would work

Sarah: Ok at 4

I’ll be there

Me: Great, I’ll stick around for you to get there. But talk to your mom to coordinate. [I’d just realized that Sarah needs to ask permission for stuff like going somewhere to hang out after school.]

So this Thursday? Or next week?

Sarah: Next week

and Mom said ok

Me: Ok cool it’s a date 🙂

Sarah: Ok see you next week

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Craft and gardening and all that? It’s officially considered Work

Busily transcribing the interview I had this morning with a recently retired International Labour Organisation statistician. Her area was work that has not historically, culturally, statistically been considered “real” work, nor factored into GDPs, i.e., “invisible” economies of goods and services that the ILO as of last fall refers to as “own-use production.” Its recently adopted resolution on work statistics very openly declares own-use production to be considered work. With “own-use production,” we’re talking homesteading, housework, even, to use one of Sophia’s examples, knitting a sweater. With this resolution the International Conference of Labour Statisticians has redefined productive work in a literal sense — as not just production that leads to growth on paper, but also growth in communities, growth in families.

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I’ve got a date with a neuroscientist

(from the neuroscientist who took my knitting class this week)

Dear Kate,

Thank you so much for introducing me to knitting! The class was a lot of fun and I’d love to come for a few more but I am leaving on holidays on August 4th so unfortunately I won’t be there for the scheduled part 2.
I hope we will meet again for a session of knitting in the near future.
Best wishes
Oh that’s too bad! I mean, too bad that you won’t be there — holidays are always a good thing. But actually, if you’d like, I’d be happy to meet up with you before you leave for a one-on-one knitting class. Also, I was hoping that at some point I could ask you a bit about your work, because I am very interested in the neurological effects of craft and have been wanting to find someone with a background in neuroscience to enlighten me a bit on the subject. Would you be interested in that, trading a knitting lesson for a neuroscience lesson?
What a nice idea, Kate: I’ll do it with pleasure. 

I have quite a lot of work these days and a deadline on August 1st, so how about we meet the weekend 2-3 August, or the evening of Friday August 1st? Are you going to be around?

I’d like to prepare for this knowledge exchange: do you have any specific papers / news excerpts about crafts and brain plasticity/development that you’d like to talk about? Or specific questions?
My areas are reward and learning, memory, emotions and musical training-related brain plasticity, plus a vast amount of random neuroscience knowledge about other  things. So you see, I’d like to tailor it to what you’d like to learn. 
Looking forward to some more knitting!
As am I!

Thoughts on art and craft + a knitting update

I was at a workshop a couple of years ago with a bunch of other master’s of arts students, and in our discussion one of the attendees said something that really made my blood boil. He was from a small town in the Jura Mountains and said that a few years prior one of the guys in the village decided to organize a local art biennial. Because why should biennials only be reserved for big cities? So this inspired individual got everyone together and actually pulled it off, but in telling the story this student chuckled at the small town naivety over what qualifies as “art” — “So I went, because (ha!), I thought, this would be interesting, and it was all a bunch of craft.” Ho ho. How quaint.

In that vein, some thoughts on:

Craftivism (blog by Betsy Greer)

Functional Beauty and Handmade Political Art (Maria Alina Asavei – Art & Education)

Dark Matter: Activist Art and the Counter Public Sphere (Gregory Sholette)

The Counterfeit Crochet Project

Speaking of that, you ask, how’s the knitting going? Just great, thanks for asking. Here it is:

image (43)

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