Geranium Dress(s?)

I still remember the first time that I sat down at a sew machine (7th grade home economics if anyone is curious) and have made a couple of things over the last couple of years (a dice dress, a dog bed, some catnip toys, a pillow, a gnome bag and a chili peppers dress to name a few), but the last couple of months I’ve been revisiting sewing as a way to learn new things and hone existing skills. Some of this may be because I finally caved and bought my own sewing machine after working on a vintage one and a hand-me-down for so long. It’s fun to sew on a machine with settings and features that you’ve purposely selected for yourself.

During our winter break, I found myself taking a break from knitting to make an everyday bag out of some purposefully selected gnome fabric. Working with leather and rivets for the first time, I realized that sewing has the ability to provide me with something that knitting doesn’t anymore: feeling like a beginner.

It’s fun to be a beginner at something because you get the thrill of completing something while also needing to patiently work through mistakes and mishaps. You get to smile at your imperfection as opposed to thinking: I’ve been doing this so long it should be better. I’m more patient with myself as a beginner, something that feels good as we reach the final stretch of this pandemic.

When my coworker mentioned a local fabric store was offering virtual classes, the timing felt right. It was time to learn the whys around things and maybe be pushed into trying a few skills I didn’t think I was ready for. So I signed up for “Sewing for Baby” and ordered fabric to make a bib, burp cloth and a little dress.

Let me just start by saying, I think baby clothes are the perfect way to learn new skills if I haven’t said that on this blog before. The projects are small enough that you’re finished quickly, while being complex enough that you can learn some new skills. The burp cloth and bib force me to practice smooth (and tight!) round edges, while also diving into the land of hammer in snaps (which I’m still not 100% sure I’ve secured properly). I’m currently waiting on 3 fat quarters to make 3 more of each because practice practice practice. These simple projects have helped me get to know my machine and have shown me that slow is all well and good, but some speed can actually give you more control.

The baby dress, however, has been so fun to make that I want to make like eight more. Geranium, by Made By Rae, is considered an intermediate sewing pattern and is the cutest little dress. This pattern is so beginner friendly, while also having different options so that you’re not making the same thing over and over. Between the detailed instructions and Mary Margaret from Notion’s videos, I learned so many things while making my niece a little dress for her birthday. Sleeve ruffles, finishing seams, making button holes with my machine, sewing on buttons with my machine, correctly gathering a skirt — so many new skills leading to so many new what about this questions.

Isn’t that the best part about learning a new skill though? Discovering what you can do and learning all the things you didn’t know you didn’t know? I’ve signed up for a dress making class via notion that starts later this month and am looking forward to learning more about what I don’t know. I’m also already plotting my next Geranium dress, it’s safe to say that this “sewing thing” is going to start competing with my “knitting thing”!

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

Knitting outside the lines aka Flax Light Modifications

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’re already aware that I have a tendency to modify whatever I’m working on. Sometimes the modification is small, like in my second Stonewall sweater, where I removed the waist shaping, or my Wish and Hope baby cardigan where I gave up on the lace panels. Other times I remake the original object and it still looks like the original object, like my Azalea top. And sometimes you look at something that I’ve made and think “I mean the basic shape is the same but I’m not really sure you captured the original pattern”, like my Warp Speed sweater. The point I’m trying to make here is that sometimes I set out with the intention to modify and other times it just happens as the project progresses. Which sort of leads to the question: am I creative or just coloring outside the lines?

Sometimes, I think I’m creative (re: Winter Moss Hat). Most of the time, I think I take pieces of things that I like and put them together. This would lean the answer to the above question heavily to the side of coloring outside the lines. While not trying to discredit myself, I genuinely don’t think that I have the vision that a lot of my favorite designers have. I feel a strong appreciation for what they do and they inspire me, but that ah-ha moment that I imagine happens when they sit down to knit doesn’t happen for me. When I design, I design something that I want but can’t find elsewhere.

Enter Flax Light and my current pandemic knitting habits of the baby sweater. There seriously could not be a better free pattern out there for knitting outside the lines. I’ve added three more Flax Lights to my project page and tried out some new yarn with each.

A teal baby sweater with a waffle texture throughout.
Jo Flannel Flax Light, Knit by iswimlikeafish

Justin’s Flannel Flax Light, knit with Boss Sock by Junkyarns in Jo is perfect. I love the way that the colors and texture look like the ocean. Alicia Plummer is currently working on a children’s version for her flannel series, so I do feel a little bad that I’ve done the modifications required to knit a baby sweater, but I also can’t help but loving the final result. Boss sock was nice to work with as well, soft and silky as it slipped through my fingers. Not a lot of blooming during blocking, but that doesn’t really surprise me because of the general springiness of the yarn.

Jo Flannel Flax Light, literally named for each component because this is my 8th flax light (according to Ravelry), knit up in five days and the only thing I changed about the pattern was adding the texture to it. This version, and all of the other versions I have knit, does not take advantage of the short row options that have been added. This version is one that I can see myself knitting again, partially because I’m obsessed with the textured stitching of Plummer’s Flannel series and partially because it was so much fun to knit.

A lime green knit baby sweater with purl rows every fourth row to create a textured stripe.
Kryptonite Flax Light, Knit by iswimlikeafish

The next flax light I started was knit using Birch Dyeworks 80/20 Sock in the color Kryptonite. When I chose the colorway for this sweater, my goal was for something fun and gender neutral. AKA something that wasn’t pastel or gray. If the color alone didn’t get me excited, the name of the colorway (Kryptonite) did. Is it wrong to love the idea that a baby is wearing a sweater in a colorway named after Superman’s one weakness? How can you not appreciate the idea that the bundle of joy being wrapped up in this sweater brings the strongest of the strong to their knees?

If I compare Birch Dyeworks 80/20 Sock to Junkyarn’s Boss Sock, and am honest, there isn’t a huge difference in the way that they knit up. This comparison is particularly interesting because I haven’t knit the same project with slightly different yarn back to back like this before. Even considering the amount of time I spend knitting socks in graduate school, I tended to bias my purchases towards a particular brand of sock yarn (*cough cough* Alegria). This observation either means I’m not enough of a yarn snob to notice the difference (entirely possible!) or that the fibers are similar enough that purchase comes down to color (slightly more likely). Both yarns should hold up well during machine washing and I anticipate just a little bit of shrinking.

A light blue, dark blue and grey stripped baby sweater with orange cuffs.
Sunfish Flax Light, Knit by iswimlikeafish

In terms of sweater modification, I purled a row every 4th row to give the sweater a textured stripe. Honestly, not as interesting a knit as my Jo Flannel Flax Light — I hit the first sleeve and started wondering why the project wasn’t done yet. The second sleeve involved a lot of “you’re almost done!”, which ultimately implies that I felt the sleeves should have knit up faster.

Flax light number three (or number 10 according to Ravelry) is the least gender neutral if you’re focusing strictly on the idea that blue is for boys. Knit in Woolens and Nosh Targhee Sock, the body of the sweater is blue and gray stripes with the ribbing boasting a bright orange color. When I think of a sock yarn, Targhee sock is what I think of. This yarn feels durable and soft, which probably means that the final result will be a stiffer (less drapey) sweater. Though still superwash, Targhee Sock feels more like a wool than the merino yarns above (I’m not sure why that’s a thing for me these days, Merino is wool too!). Please don’t make me pick a yarn that I enjoyed the most, I can see myself buying all three again!

The only modification I made in this sweater was to eliminate the sleeve garter stitch panels. The stripping felt like enough of a design element on this tiny sweater.

Three folded baby sweaters, the top left is a lime green knit baby sweater with purl rows every fourth row to create a textured stripe. The bottom left is a teal baby sweater with a waffle texture throughout. The final sweater is folded to the right and in the middle of the previous to, it is a light blue, dark blue and grey stripped baby sweater with orange cuffs.

In Stillness Cardigan

A young woman taking a photo of herself with her back to a mirror in hopes of showing off the texturing of both the front and back pieces of the cardigan she is wearing.
In Stillness Cardigan, knit in Wool of the Andes Worsted

I’ve dabbled in test knitting, most of which was done while I was a new knitter and didn’t want to pay for patterns. During my time working for Webs, a place I would have stayed if the desire to become a librarian hadn’t been so strong, I spent a lot of time knitting up samples for the store in exchange for store credit. And in grad school, I had the pleasure of knitting for the Fibre Company in exchange for yarn, a sweater for a sweater if you will. I’m not a designer, though I hope to design my dog a sweater or two that I can share with other dog lovers, I lack the creative eye that so many designers have. Despite my feelings on deadlines, I would actually love a job where yarn companies sent me yarn to knit up into various garments (seriously though how does one get a job like that?).

When Alicia Plummer posted on her Instagram, I couldn’t help but reach out and politely ask if I could knit up her pattern. For me, it’s hard not to love Alicia’s patterns. They’re simple and often play with texture and color in a subtle way. My only complaint is that I don’t have hips and her waist shaping looks wonky on me — though through no fault of her designing. This is more or less a roundabout way of say I had a fangirl moment when she said yes and had to remain calm when the email with her pattern arrived in my inbox.

A young woman takes a selfie of herself in her bedroom mirror wearing a hand knit grey cardigan.
Wooden buttons selected by Mars, the poet in my life.

I know it was a worsted weight cardigan and I’ve been working in fingering weight, but when you factor in the busyness of the holiday season, it knit up fast. Each stitch sliding across my needles as I listen to my Uncle discuss how he was doing post chemo or my mom discuss the wonders of her new job. Ironically, this pattern helped me sit in stillness during a chaotic time of the year. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I was a little sad to sew on the last button.

The sweater is not for me, it was never going to be for me. As the cardigan began to take shape, I knew it was destined to rest upon my Cioci shoulders. To give her strength when the world tests her, but also to thank her for her love and kindness through the years. Perhaps, and I say this a little guiltily, also because I was charged with seeming and knitting the button bands of one of her incomplete sweaters (she’s a crocheter and doesn’t often knit) and I can’t bring myself to finish it (while seeming does suck, I’m actually worried the sweater won’t fit her).

I can’t decide whether to mail the finished sweater or enjoy the long drive that separates us to give it to her in person. Either way, I think I’m going to modify the pattern by adding buttons to the front (sewn on, probably in the same texture as the top part) and finish seeming her sweater before putting them both into her hands.

 

On deciding to crank out a few hand-made gifts after all

An in progress photo of a baby sweater with both sleeves set aside on stitch markers. The body of the sweater is just about ready to be bound off.
Harvest, knit in Rohrspatz & Wollmeise Pure held double

A couple weeks ago, my sister announced that she was pregnant with her first child. As I eagerly await the gender reveal*, and hope that they don’t change their mind on learning the sex of the baby, I realized there was no reason I couldn’t cast something on my needles to add to their Christmas gift. They’re excited, I’m excited, I have some yarn that looks like a rain forest, new born sweaters don’t take very long…. so it looks like I’m taking back what I said about not knitting for anyone. (Remember that post I wrote about it’s ok to change your mind?)

Naturally, as soon as I said that the flood gates opened and I started to think about whether or not there was anyone else I should be knitting for for the Holiday season. I’ve had my loomed warped for a month or so with a table runner I’ve been working on for my mom, it now has an end of December deadline on it. I found this interesting/simple sewing pattern for handmade hand warmers and have a handful of friends that spend their time ice fishing or generally suffer from cold hands. In other words, I made it less than a week before caving and creating a spreadsheet of projects to complete before the end of the holiday season.

I can’t help it! The desire to keep people warm is in my DNA, as is the desire to create. So on that note, I have some last minute gifts to crank out. Here’s to my sanity!

upload_medium2.jpeg
Completed Harvest with matching Barely hat

*I’ve read a few articles discussing how gender reveal parties are inconsiderate to future transgender children. I will love this baby no matter what, but will also enthusiastically knit little tutus if it’s a baby girl (unless she’s anything like me, then she’ll stop wearing them in favor of outfits more equip for climbing trees). I can’t help it, they’re so stinking cute. To be fair, I would also knit them for a little boy, without judgement, if he wanted them.

On habitats: Part 3 Synthetic Plant Fibers Continued

The “On habitats” series is designed to help me (us) take a moment and reflect on where the fiber in our yarn comes from. Part One of this series looked at Natural Plant Fibers, Part two: Synthetic Plant Fibers took a look at tencel, bamboo and corn. We’ll finish off synthetic plant fibers this week with soy, rayon, and modal.

soya-83087_960_720
https://pixabay.com/photos/soya-beans-soy-bean-legume-green-83087/

Soy: According to Interweave, the first time soy was used as a textile was in the 1930s, when Henry Ford produced car-seat upholstery by blending soybean and sheep’s wool. Soybeans have a high protein content and are currently being produced in large quantities by the United States and China.

There are five main steps to creating soybean fiber, the first being the extraction of oil. Soybeans are cleaned, cracked, decorticated and dehulled before being conditioned and steeped in hexane. The hexane solution collects the oil, which can be extracted and reused. The soybean is then passed through a steam pipe to be rinsed of the solvent.

Next, the soybean is soaked in a 1% sodium sulfite solution for around an hour then filtered. This results in a creamy-white powder that is then dissolved into an alkaline solution. This solution is then allowed to age until it develops the proper consistency for spinning. The fiber is then formed by wet spinning or forcing the spinning solution through a spinneret.

Finally, the fibers are treated to baths that help it develop stretching and hardening properties. From here, the fiber can be blended and dyed.

This process doesn’t appear too bad, until you begin to look into the beans themselves. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the soybean industry is causing widespread deforestation and displacement. Many are calling for transparent land use and an increase in proper safeguards, but until those come to pass this may not be the best yarn for an environmentally focused individual.

texture-2119287_1280
https://pixabay.com/photos/texture-tree-annual-rings-2119287/

Rayon: Rayon has an interesting history as an alternative to silk starting in the 1860s when the French silk industry was threatened by a disease affecting the silkworm. In 1885, Count Hilaire de Chardonnet patented the first successful process of creating a silk-like fiber from cellulose and is considered the father of rayon (despite more cost-effective ways of being created nowadays).

The major sources of the cellulose used for creating rayon include pine, spruce, hemlock, and cotton linters (residue fibers which clung to cotton seeds after the ginning process).  Regardless of whether wood pulp or cotton linters are used, the materials must be processed to extract/purify the cellulose. This results in sheets that are steeped in sodium hydroxide, dried, shredded into crumbs and aged in metal containers for 2-3 days.

Next, the crumbs are combined and churned with liquid carbon disulfide and then bathed in sodium hydroxide again. The honey-like solution (look and feel) then has any dyes or delusterants added before being filtered and stored to age (4-5 days).

After aging, the solution is forced through a spinneret and into an acid bath. Once bathed in acid, the fiber can be spun into yarn.

Unfortunately, the chemical by-products of rayon have received a lot of attention as they generate a lot of water and air emissions (the worst being zinc and hydrogen sulfide). Producers are currently trying different techniques to reduce pollution, and as the demand for rayon grows so does the demand for new technologies that make rayon better and cheaper.

beech-472095_1280
https://pixabay.com/photos/beech-tree-forest-late-summer-472095/

Modal: Modal comes from pure beech tree chips and is more or less a variety of rayon. The main difference between modal and rayon is that rayon can be made of variety or materials, while modal is only made from beech trees.

In other words, modal is made using the same process as rayon and has the same concerns. That being said, like rayon steps are being taken to make the process better and cleaner.

Main Takeaways: I think the main thing I’ve taken away from my readings on synthetic fibers is that there is no way to make them perfect. Even if the process to make the fiber is sustainable, the farming technique often isn’t (although the same can be said about cotton, which is not synthetic). All in all, I’m not sure there are many changes that I will make to my knitting — as I work mostly with animal fibers — but the curiosity around using bamboo yarn is no longer there. As this project continues, it will be interesting to learn about how chemicals are sneaking their way into my knitting. I may end up breaking my spinning wheel back out and going straight to the sheep! Or at least upping my yarn snobbery to organic yarns, depending on what I learn about man-made synthetics and animal fibers.