You know how sometimes you see someone, a stranger, and without meaning to, you imagine that whatever they’re wearing and whatever car they drive are the things they have chosen out of all possible options, that these things say something meaningful about their personality and their life? And then you look at yourself, your car, and maybe your clothes, and realize how many other circumstances played a part? I feel like we who make our own wardrobes move slowly (slowly, please cut yourself some slack, it’s going to be a process) towards the point where at least for what we wear it’s true: our clothes say exactly what we want them too. (My car is another story, I don’t know about yours. It does say that I would rather duct tape the mirror back on and buy better food than other possible options …)
This sweater feels like a step towards what I want to say with my knitting. It’s made with Mountain Meadow Wool (they’re a woman-owned company using US wool from the West, committed to eco-friendly practices) in a sheep-grown color (“natural dark gray”) which I love. I feel like the message that real wool is beautiful and good comes through, even if you saw me and assumed I bought this sweater (although if you saw my car you’d know I couldn’t afford it). You can also see that I love texture and value detail, and hate being cold.
I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be my One Year, One Outfit project for 2016. I started planning it in late 2015, started knitting as spring came around, and brought it with me on the road last summer, but it took until this spring to finish. This was a long knit for a whole lot of reasons. The textured stitch patterns just take longer; there was more stopping and checking and thinking than with plain stockinette or one pattern all over. Sweaters are big, and pretty soon I wouldn’t necessarily take this one everywhere I went. Making something only loosely “inspired by” a pattern (the Cotswold Henley by Meghan Babin) takes a lot of thinking, and measuring, and planning, and sometimes ripping out and knitting again. All totally worth it, but time consuming, and sometimes I ended up not knitting because planning the knitting was daunting and I was too tired or overwhelmed.
When we got home in the fall, I really wanted to keep making progress on it, so at first I decided I would work on the sweater before bed, instead of spinning, until the sweater was done. I love spinning before bed, and it has to be said that I did not love knitting the sweater during that time as much. Sometimes I would just skip it. After a while I realized that, although I’m not the kind who likes having a bunch of projects in progress, this was a false choice—it’s actually healthy for me to have a little knitting and a little spinning going on at the same time. I also realized something about how I like to work that I kind of already knew; knitting is an “and” activity for me. I love knitting while traveling, knitting while hanging out with friends, and knitting at meetings, but I really don’t love sitting quietly by myself and knitting. I’d rather do something else with that time. So I went the other way; I started spinning at night again, and hauling an extra tote bag full of sweater-in-progress with me to social events and anywhere else I could see that I might have some down time. That worked much better, and before long the sweater was actually done!
I believe that it’s done and that I knit it, but I’m having trouble believing that I get to keep it, if that makes any sense. In other words, I got pretty much exactly what I wanted. Of course there are a few things I’ll change in the next version, but there always are. I’ve decided that just shows that I’m still on a journey.
I started wearing it as soon as the last seam was sewn, and it went on quite a few outings this May, and into June in our variable mountain weather. The yarn has pilled some, but I’m hoping that how brilliantly it held up to being ripped out and re-knit (ahem) multiple times in certain sections means that the pills will be temporary and not terminal. I drafted Bryan to take the photos of it on me on the last cool day we’re likely to have until fall, and then carefully packed it away. Getting it out when the weather turns again is going to be such a treat!
There are two different stitch patterns, but they’re hard to see unless you’re really looking. I possibly should have gone with something bolder/more contrast, but then again subtle is my jam …
A few knitting notes: I wanted this to fit over my thickest winter shirt/sub-sweater (I hate being cold). I used Karen Templer’s idea of in-the-round “seams”. This is seriously brilliant as far as I’m concerned. Knitting seems so perfectly adapted to be made in the round, to be shaped organically, to be seamless, and I’ve never been willing to give all that up for the structure that seams can add. Now I just might get both! I made a pretty detailed/extensive chart of measurements for various sections of the sweater when I was planning where the “seams” would go and how big the whole thing should be, based on trying on an old sweater and marking it with pins. I’m really looking forward to having that chart and this sweater for planning future sweaters. I’ll be able to look at them and compare pattern measurements and know how big I want the sleeves, or how wide across the shoulders, etc.
Guts: Picked up stitches around the neck/placket, and where the sleeve joins the body. “Seams” closed with mattress stitch between the two stitch patterns vertically in the body, and horizontally near the bottom of the sleeves.
For now, I’m enjoying knitting socks in spare moments. Compared to this sweater, they seem to appear instantaneously! I have a pair almost done already. I think the speed is mostly due to the “and” factor; socks are really suited to occupying my hands while other things are going on. They’re small enough for me to keep the whole project in the bag I usually carry, and I purposefully kept the stitch patterns simple enough that I can keep track without needing to refer to a pattern most of the time—which also means I don’t have to stop much for deep thinking. I could really use some new socks, so I may just make a few pairs before settling down to anything big and complicated again.
I’d love to hear any thoughts you want to share about big versus small projects, or crafts you like to do on your own in a quiet space versus things that are good for groups and busy times, or where you are in your journey of what you’d like your wardrobe to say …
Knitting is an “and” activity for me too – I have a project with a deadline at the moment, and I have to find myself more “and” times – arrange to spend time with friends, knit in the lounge in the evenings in the hope my housemates will join me, etc. My next project is an adult-sized cardigan, and I’m already anticipating the problems as that gets too big to easily take out with me. It might end up being a pretty slow knit itself.
Yes, I think it’s definitely possible to find more “and” times when you need them. Inviting people over or meeting someone for coffee usually works for me … my only advice when you get to the cardigan would be to just take it with you anyway, even if it needs its own bag. Good luck with the deadline!
Hi Tasha! What a fabulously beautiful sweater! I love it and now have to go and explore the company you got the yarn from! I also love those natural, sheep colors, so lovely and muted and when you wear them you become one with the outside natural landscape. Does that make any sense? I know I’m the wrong one to reply to you, but I love to knit and always have many projects going at once. Right now I have Salish-type sweater that I’m knitting up for my sister in a soft, muted, kind of tweedy green. (Did you know that in the British Isles, woven tweed was the first camouflage? You probably already knew that.) Anyways, I also have a pair of socks going that I better hurry up on as my niece will be going to Cornell this Aug. and it gets cold up there! And I also am working on a lace shawl for my sister, mainly because I like to have a lace project going. The yarn is a lace-weight from a ranch in southern CO that I got last year at the Taos Wool Market. (A shout out to the Taos Wool Market, lots of fun!) And my youngest daughter is expecting again and is due in Jan., so I better get to work on a sweater for that little wee bairn! I guess I just enjoy having different things going so can decide what I feel like doing that day. And I almost never use patterns. After I read Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Without Tears, I just started doing my own thing and it’s easier to make it fit that way. I sew a lot anyway, and make patterns, so knitting without patterns kind of fits into that. Right now I’m also spinning some yarn ro make a vest for one of my grandsons. The other day he was sitting by me as I was knitting and he said “Grandma, why aren’t you spinning? I want my vest!!” Ahhhh, always so much to do!! The other thing I wanted to say is I enjoy hanging out with other women and just talking and that gives me time to knit, also You know, as I was thinking over your wonderful blog post, I was remembering how my mother, back when we were kids in the 50s and early 60s, would hang out with her friends and they were all knitting, or quilting, or doing embroidery. Now days, when I hang out with other women my age, and I’m 63, I’m quite often the only person doing any kind of hand work. Kind of sad. Also, last time I replied to one of your posts, I was waiting on a hip replacement. Well, it’s done and I feel wonderful!! Can get out into the desert and pick dye plants! Thank you so much for the work that you do and for sharing it with all of us. You are truly inspiring!!! And sorry this is so long, feel free to not print, edit, whatever!
Hi Heather, I’m glad you’re back on your feet! And please don’t worry about writing too much or just saying what you think—that’s what this space is for. I know that having different knitting projects going at the same time works for a lot of people, and if you like it stick with it! I’m figuring out that I must be pretty easily overwhelmed, I just need to keep things pretty simple, otherwise it all gets tangled up in my head. That said, I do always have something that I’m sewing, something I’m knitting, and usually a few other projects like spinning or experimenting with something new, and I seem to be able to keep that all straight, so it’s probably all in how I’m thinking about it. You’re absolutely right that there are always so many more ideas than time, and I think we all have to figure out how we’re going to navigate that. Any way that you find to balance between trying new things, having fun, and finishing projects now and then is great.
The generational gap you’re talking about in how women think about hand work is real, but (um, obviously) I hope that if we all keep sharing what we know and the joy that comes from making things with our hands, we’ll come back to a time where there is more making going on when people are together, because they want to be making, if that makes sense. Thanks for your kind words, and take care!
Hi Tasha, what a beautiful sweeter. Each time I read your blog it makes me want to make my own clothes. A bit more than a year ago, I started to simplify my wardrobe and keep only the clothes I really like and fit me well, with the idea that in time I will make (part of) what I need, but I still have way too many clothes left to start with that. In the meantime, I enjoy using mending as an excuse to make my clothes more personal. 90% of my socks now have patches 😉
Knitting being an ‘and’ activity is exactly what I like about it. It makes it a great way for a long trip to feel shorter or for a low day spent in front of TV to feel productive.
Hi Sarah, thank you! I think your approach is good, mending is a great way to build skills and start to think about how clothes are put together. I agree, I get so much more attached to anything RTW that I mend, it feels much more “mine” once I add my own touches. And I admire your goal of waiting until you really need something to start making.
I feel like sometimes I get funny looks from my students when I say that maybe my favorite thing about knitting is how portable it is, but it’s true! It allows me the happiness of creating wherever I am, and that is pretty special.
I’d attempted knitting on and off for years, but having it as an ”and ” activity is precisely what got me to finally commit to learning it. I have a couple of friends who crochet, and getting together to catch up often involves yarncraft while we chat. I also found it to be a good activity for the end of my last pregnancy, when sewing at the machine was too uncomfortable. My knitting progress has come nearly to a standstill since, since I haven’t quite figured out knitting over a baby’s head ”and” keeping my toddler from running off with the ball of yarn, and my carpal tunnel syndrome has been acting up. But I’m hoping that I can resolve both issues so that I can finish this cardigan sometime in the next year or so!
Ha ha! Knitting with kids around would be a whole new challenge for sure. I know some women definitely make it work, but from my limited experience with our nieces it can be challenging. Best of luck with that and with your carpal tunnel! When I had issues with my wrists a few years ago, seeing a massage therapist really helped, especially since she gave me a lot of stretches and ergonomic things to look out for as well. You may have tried that already, but I just thought I would mention it … hopefully by the time you have a lot of waiting for kids’ stuff you’ll be ready to knit again.
i love everything about this post! and totally relate. (“subtle is my jam” – love). not that i’ve hardly done any knitting since my little guy was born almost three years ago (sewing seems so fast now!), but it makes so much sense to me to spend time knitting something that you can live in all winter. i tend to have a “uniform” or two every season, and though i have few societal pressures to wear anything different, i do sometimes feel like i “should” change more when i’m at a playdate wearing the same thing. again. but really, i love having a hand knit dress or sweater that i wear for days (or weeks) that’s warm and cozy and loved. and what does that say about me? i suppose i’m pragmatic and i want to be covered in something that is perfectly me. thanks for all your thoughtful words on this!
Janice! It’s lovely to see your words here. We are on the same page too, sometimes I wonder if my friends think I have like three total outfits … mostly what I try to do is just have clothes that go together, so I can pick up the ones that appeal to me on any given day and still look like “me” and be comfortable with the message I’m sending. Slowly I’m building up enough handmade clothes that it really works!
Tasha–I love the texture of this sweater–amazing work!! In response to your question: I love the larger projects, but I find I have to have a range around me so that I can always me knitting. Grab something for the car that’s simple or work on a sweater when I have space to lay out all of my charts. It’s fun to have some variety. But I am seriously committed when I start a sweater and that usually dominates my time. Well done on yours!
Thanks! I think because I tend to have projects in different crafts that I’m working on, I gravitate towards sewing or dyeing when I’m in my space and have free time, and tend to save almost all my knitting for “and” time (except for the planning and math which I can’t really do while being distracted). But as long as I’m patient, I find that I can knit just about anything that way. I’m learning by reading these comments that I get my variety from the different crafts, instead of having multiple projects in the same craft …
Beautiful sweater, and it looks like it will be extremely warm. I love your thoughts on finding time to knit too. 🙂 I have a few “and” projects—right now it’s a simple lace scarf, but normally I do basic socks or even simpler dishcloths. Drop spindling is another “and” craft that I particularly enjoy, especially when I’m traveling.
Thank you! You’re reminding me that spinning in public is great, it seems like people who don’t know much about fiber will come up and ask questions and get excited, whereas if I’m knitting I mainly get questions from other knitters … I should bring my drop spindle on my next trip!
Yes, I always get comments on my drop spindle—especially from kids! They are always so curious about how it works.
Beautiful sweater! Love the idea of “knitting ‘and'” — I’ve never stopped to think about it, but I am usually knitting while something is happening in the background… my knitting resurgence came about to occupy my commute time, and I adore knitting while traveling, or cozying up to a good show with my partner. I find it hard to make to spin, so it’s inspiring to hear how you build that into each day. Ultimately I think what we make says something about us and our materials, as well as the moments we find to make it. This sweater has a beautiful narrative — slow & meaningful.
Thanks Jess! Yeah once I thought of it, knitting “and” was something I knew all along—after all I started seriously knitting when I started traveling a lot with Bryan—but I think at first I thought of it more just because of the portability factor, and didn’t realize that it’s also a good fit because something else is always going on on the road. For what it’s worth, I don’t always find time to spin either, but I do love it when I spin before bed, it takes my brain to a good place where I can unconsciously sort through things, and I often have good ideas while spinning …