Our Relationship with the Tangible World, or How I Learned to Spin

 

first handspun yarn 1

You may be able to guess what this is … yeah baby, my first bobbin of handspun yarn!

 

So it’s like this: My beautiful, wonderful cousin came to visit me (with my beautiful wonderful auntie) and when she went back home, she left her spinning wheel here for me to borrow while she’s at college this spring. Amazing!

I’ve been thinking vaguely about learning to spin for, um, the past two decades give or take, ever since I first practiced weaving with my grandmother. But it just seemed to take so long, like it would add so much time to my whole knitting/weaving process, so I wasn’t ready to commit. Needless to say, that was before the infinite list.

In my new post-infinite-list world, starting to spin seems like the perfect choice; an expression of surrender and adventure all at the same time. Since there’s no way to ever finish all the knitting I’d like to (or weaving for that matter), I might as well make some frickin’ yarn!

 

first handspun yarn 3

 

Spinning is pretty amazing (I’ll talk more about that in a minute), but one of the best parts about it so far is an accidental discovery. In an effort to keep my immediate-onset spinning obsession from taking over my whole life (remember, I’m supposed to be focusing this year), I decided on some rules: I wouldn’t read about spinning except during times when I would normally read something else, and I wouldn’t sit down to spin at odd times during the day. Instead, I would wait until just before bed. So every night at 10 pm, I give myself permission to stop whatever I’m doing, shut off the computer, and spin for up to half an hour before getting ready to sleep.

Oh people, this has been life-altering. A lot of the work I’ve been doing lately has been very abstract: putting my ideas out there to various people and institutions, basically a whole lot of online research and laboring for hours composing messages, many of which are never answered at all. I do hope that good things will come of it, but it’s basically a frustrating process that leaves me floating in inconclusiveness, and for the most part, kind of grouchy.

Then at the end of the day, I put all that aside and sit down to learn, to make something real, to interact with the tangible universe. I’m reminded of this quote from Anaïs Nin about letterpress printing (which I found, like a lot of my deep-thought quotes these days, via Brain Pickings):

 

The relationship to handcraft is a beautiful one. You are related bodily to a solid block of metal letters, to the weight of the trays, to the adroitness of spacing, to the tempo and temper of the machine. You acquire some of the weight and solidity of the metal, the strength and power of the machine. Each triumph is a conquest by the body, fingers, muscles. You live with your hands, in acts of physical deftness.
You pit your faculties against concrete problems. The victories are concrete, definable, touchable. A page of perfect printing. You can touch the page you wrote. We exult in what we master and discover. Instead of using one’s energy in a void, against frustrations, in anger against publishers, I use it on the press, type, paper, a source of energy. Solving problems, technical, mechanical problems. Which can be solved.

 

Although later this spring I will return this wheel to its rightful owner, I fully intend to keep this night practice going with knitting, or drawing, or something else. At 10 pm the computer shuts off, and I make something real for a little while before bed.

Some things you may be wondering: yes, the spinning wheel tempts me all day when I look at it, but in a sweet way of something to look forward to. And yes, if we’re going out at night or I think we’ll have guests staying late (I’m not really a late-night person and tend to crash hard if kept up past my bedtime) I find a half an hour earlier in the day to spin. Yes, this is in addition to the hour I still try my best to find every day for personal projects. I’m discovering that the more up-in-the-air my day’s work is, the more real-world-project time I need to stay happy.  I’m also a firm believer in taking the time your life will allow for the things that are really important to you. And yes, when I wake up at night lately I find myself thinking about twist in fiber, which I like much better than mulling over my worries!

 

first handspun yarn 2

 

Another thing that’s been beautiful about this process (although it sounds funny) is watching myself learn. I suppose I’ve absorbed the mantra I’ve told all my beginning knitting students: “You can do this! Anyone can do it if they just decide to practice it.” I do absolutely believe that this is true, that skill in handcraft is available to anyone who’s willing to start where they are (which a lot of times means training your hands from scratch) and keep practicing. It’s a gift we get just for being human, but it does take work.

Anyway, I’m cheating at learning spinning—the process is brand new to me but the feel of fibers and their qualities, the look and feel of yarn I’d like achieve, these things I already know. Not that I didn’t have lumps and bumps (you can see them!) and moments of beginner’s frustration which I had to push past, of course I did, and do still. But it’s been a long time since I learned something truly new to me, and maybe because of my teaching experience, but this time I’ve been able to let go of the outcome (a really healthy attitude for a first project in any material, I feel) and enjoy it. I’m a little surprised and pleased every time I sit at the wheel and notice that my technique is a little bit better, the yarn is coming out a little more even, or I just figured out some tiny thing that no one told me, it’s there in the materials and my hands to be discovered. When I first started I couldn’t spin from the imperfectly-carded batts of wool leftover from my early felting days, or treadle with one foot, but now I can do both.

 

first handspun yarn 4

 

If you’re not interested in being seduced into the wild world of spinning, stop reading now.

Three compelling reasons to spin:

Spinning is fast! For some reason I always assumed it was the slowest part of the fiber-to-garment process, but it’s clearly not, due to being a more-or-less continuous flow, rather than a stitch-by-stitch motion. It’s fairly shocking how quickly a newbie like me can make enough yarn to knit something out of.

You can make yarn that you can’t buy, and the other people doing so are interesting folks!  This, realized while reading Ply Magazine, was one of the final straws for me: I could see myself wanting just such a yarn for such a project, but it wouldn’t exist commercially … I started reading Ply because of an article about how twist protects the fibers in yarn from wear (by Deborah Robson), and ended up reading every. single. thing. in the Twist Issue, even though at that time I had no plan to become a spinner. The way the articles are presented; with differing opinions, and explorations by people digging around the fundamentals of their craft, captivated me. The intricacies of how yarn is made are interesting even if you’re working with the yarn and not making it … but as I read I also became more and more convinced that if this is how spinners think, they are my people, and I must become one.

Spinning is amazing! There’s something very fundamental about it, an immediate sense of how old and how intrinsic this process is, which draws me in. The rhythm is soothing, and at this point in my learning anyway, it works best if I can concentrate on what’s happening and be present without many words in my head—a lot like meditating, or dancing with someone. Plus you make real yarn from a pile of wool! If that doesn’t seem amazing, then you’re just not paying enough attention.

I have just two tips so far for other would-be beginning spinners:

Read the book The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin. Although it doesn’t have the variety of perspective you get from reading Ply, she lays out answers to a lot of the basic questions I had with clear photos, fascinating descriptions of fiber, and even ideas for making tools you need using a cardboard box and old knitting needles!

Try not looking for a second while you’re spinning. I know it sounds crazy, but I tried it after reading an article by Carson Demers in which he said (among other things) that looking up at least part of the time you’re spinning (or knitting!) is much better for your body. And it turns out that (also like dancing with someone) if you take your eyes off what you’re trying to do, even for a couple of seconds, you become instantly so much more aware of all the other information available to your body—in this case what your fingers can tell about the twist and diameter of the yarn you’re making by feel.

Ok three tips: just try it! Or try something else you’ve been meaning to do, and save it as a treat until the end of the day. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Some Thoughts About Sewing Leggings

 

I’ve been wearing leggings more these past two winters.  I love how warm they are under my skirts.  The fit though, often leaves something to be desired, so I decided to try making my own.  Good decision!  These are totally the comfiest pair I own.  I’m more than a little behind on sharing them, but the plus side of that is I can already report that I took them with me on our spring and summer travels last year, and they served me really well as a base layer under dressier clothes when the weather at shows was chilly, for hiking, and as PJs when camping in cooler weather.

 

green wooly leggings 4

 

I used the Espresso pattern from Cake.  I love that it’s designed so that you transfer your measurements in both length and width right to the pattern to make your own custom size.  Overall the amount of ease the pattern added worked great for me.  These fit just how I’d like them to: not too tight or constricting, not to loose or wrinkly, but like a second soft wooly skin.  The only problem I had with the way this pattern is drawn out is that it doesn’t allow for curves between the booty and waist.  One look at my body would tell you that a straight vertical line in this area isn’t going to cut it.  After a couple of iterations I ended up taking a huge curving dart out of the center back seam, from the waist down to nothing at the widest point.  But since the fabric is stretchy and I basted the seams together first, it wasn’t hard to do.  (I highly recommend basting the seams if you’re making your first pair.  Long straight stitches are just amazingly easier to pull out than zigzag.  Once I had the fit I wanted, I trimmed the seam allowances to match the new seams, pulled out the basting, and sewed the seams with a narrow zigzag.)

 

green wooly leggings 2

 

Once that was settled, I tried them on and marked with pins where I wanted the waistband to sit.  I just don’t like constriction, especially elastic, around my natural waist, and I tend to cut the waistbands of trousers and skirts so that they sit just below my belly button.  I knew that I wanted the leggings to sit a little below that, so they’d layer well with the rest of my wardrobe.

 

green wooly leggings 3

I would NEVER wear only these in public, or show you my booty in leggings on the internet.  And I just need to get this off my chest, because I keep wanting to say it to young women I see on the street: leggings aren’t pants!  But somehow, I’m OK with you seeing the fit on the dressform, even though the whole point of this dressform is that it’s as close to my actual shape as possible … go figure. 

 

I decided to add a wider waistband, which I hoped would make the top more stable and also give it a little more recovery.  I cut two pieces about an inch less wide than the leggings are at the top, and 3″ deep.  I sewed those pieces together, and then to the inside waist of the leggings, also including clear elastic in the top seam.  Then I flipped the waistband to the outside and zigzagged it in place just over the raw edge, and again at the top just under the seam allowance.  I didn’t want the bulk of another turned-under edge at the bottom, and it’s worked out pretty well, the fabric has fluffed up only slightly around the cut and sewn edge.

But, they didn’t stay up.  To be clear, I don’t blame the pattern at all for this, since I was off on a choose-your-own-waistband adventure by this point in the process, all learning around the waistband issues is my own responsibility.  And I did fix it; after considering taking things apart and/or adding more elastic, I decided to try a thin ribbon drawstring, a trick that’s worked for me in the past on a strapless elastic top.  Since I already had a small channel at the top of the waistband from the topstitching, I cut a tiny hole there at each side of center front on the inside, and reinforced it with a little hand stitching around.

 

green wooly leggings 5

 

Then I used a little safety pin to thread the ribbon around.  When I’m wearing these, I tighten the ribbon to the fit I want, and tie it in a firm bow.  Sometimes by the end of the day, I get ever-so-slightly irritated by the one fairly tight, unmoving place around my hip.  But would I gladly trade that for leggings that stay up all day, exactly where I want them, with no dropping crotch?  Yes, yes I would, quite happily.  And when I make another pair, I may experiment with some stronger elastic at the top.

This fabric is mostly wool, with a little stretchy stuff, from The Fabric Store LA.  They have the best selection of fine wool knits I’ve found (also where I got the lovely stuff for these tops).  It’s a bit vague on the site whether or not their swatching service is up and running, but it totally is, just call them and tell them what you’re looking for.  Last time I got a generous selection of organic wools and leggings-appropriate fabrics.  I went with the pattern recommendation of minimum 5% lycra/spandex added, and chose this green with black, double layer knit.  This is about as thick a fabric as I would use, as you can’t avoid a few wrinkles around the knees, etc., but they’re wonderful to wear!  I love the slightly plush inside of this fabric, it makes the leggings even cozier and comfier.

 

green wooly leggings 6

Putting a little tab of ribbon at the back is another idea of Steph’s I like!

 

I’m definitely a sew-your-own-leggings convert.  A fit this good is hard to argue with.  After years of knowing that the only way to get pants/trousers to fit my legs & booty was to make my own, I’m kind of surprised that it wasn’t more obvious what a difference custom-fit leggings would make … but there you have it.  Plus they only take a yard of fabric (on me), have only one main pattern piece, and once you have the fit down they would make up lightning fast.  What’s not to love?

Update: for what I figured out about elastic at the waist in next versions, and making these from repurposed sweaters, click here.

 

On Scheduling Less

And what Zen has to do with the infinite list

 

calendar page

 

When I first realized the truth of the infinite list*¹, I knew it was a big shift, but I wasn’t sure what it meant I should do.  I’ve had a few months to think about that now, and I’m ready to put a few ideas out there. In the language of that NPR post*⁶, I’m advocating utter surrender. And acceptance, and curiosity, and a huge sigh of relief. I’m advocating letting go of the unreasonable expectations we hold over our own heads, for whatever reason. Let’s talk about it.

(You may have noticed that I’m going old-school with the citations here.  Otherwise I was trying to jam too many things into one little paragraph.  All the numbers refer to the numbered list at the bottom of the post, you can find more info about my sources there.)

From the beginning of the infinite list idea, I kept wanting to associate it with Zen, or Buddhist ideas, or mindfulness, but I wasn’t quite sure how or why. So I decided to do a little research. The first book I read*³ mentions a cultural idea of “that’s very Zen” which can mean something is minimalist or tranquil, and maybe those were the ideas I had in my head. As I read further though, I found some actual Buddhist/Zen ideas that did have something to do with what I was getting at. (Both of the books I read were by Zen Buddhists, so I’m not entirely clear on where one ends and the other starts … may need more research.)

 

winter in nm 1(These photos are from a winter trip to New Mexico a couple of years ago.)

 

The Buddhist idea that resonates with my ideas right now the most is that of trying to see past appearances and old patterns, into the truth of the moment. I’m interested in choosing what I will actually make next, and making it, instead of spending lots of time dreaming and planning, but not much time making. I’m interested in finding out how much progress I can actually expect, like how many projects can I really do in one winter, rather than fantasizing that I’ll make them all.

I read this quote by Alan Watts earlier this year*⁵, and it was the best expression of just exactly how I’d like to relate to life I think I’ve ever seen:

“For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones — for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.”

 

It may not seem like it, but this has everything to do with my life as a maker. I spend an awful lot of my time, and thus my life, making and thinking about making. By choice! It’s a major part of how I define myself and what’s important to me, and a great source of joy and satisfaction. But if my making time is crowded with expectations, with piles of projects that MUST be done, one coming right after the other, even with an un-doable number of ideas floating around and tapping me on the mental shoulder all the time, then I’m not present, not enjoying or relating to the moment, even though the act of making something with my hands can be a beautiful expression of myself in a moment in time, if I let it.

 

winter in nm stacked pots

 

I’m scheduling less. I’m vowing to surrender completely to the idea that I can’t do anywhere close to everything I’d like to, and so what matters is what I’m doing now. I’ve been literally writing fewer things on my calendar, and trying to understand how much I can expect to get done in a day, a week, or a month. The longer time frames are the hardest, at least for me, and I’m definitely still working on getting this right. Even so, having a little calendar, weekly goals, and daily tasks which I try to keep at a reasonable level, is helping me feel less overwhelmed and more present.

For a long time I thought I thrived on having a ton of ideas at once, and working on different projects at the same time, a bit of this and a bit of that. It seemed the more ideas I got, the more would appear, and it felt very creative and energizing and full of sparks and life. But lately, partly thanks to Felicia*², I’ve been thinking about focus. That maybe, if I head straight for the things I want, just a few at a time, I’ll actually make more progress? Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a firm believer in taking some little time for creative projects every day, I need it! But I’m starting to think I went too far the other way, until the ideas themselves were at the center, and I was generating more of them and completing fewer. As I’ve been on this journey of working more in the here and now, I find fewer spontaneous ideas popping up into my consciousness, but call me crazy, the ones I do get seem more thought out, more relevant. I like this way much better than a crazy swarm of ideas I’ll never get around to.

I’m letting ideas go. Let’s be clear, I still have lots of ideas that pop into my head, many more than I need. If they seem important/good ones, I try to write them down or sketch them out, to get them out of my head, and have them stay out there until their time comes up, if it ever does. And if not, that’s fine with me too.

Besides the ideas in my own head, I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that more new indie patterns than one person can possibly sew come out just about every month, not to mention all the projects on Ravelry, Pinterest, etc. I do love this digital revolution that’s fueling our maker movement, but I don’t go surfing around looking for “inspiration,” unless I’m actively looking for a pattern or researching a particular thing. This is a really personal choice, and it will be different for everyone. For me, I’ve found that I get much more satisfaction out of sitting down to make something I already have the idea for, than out of looking at new ideas.

 

winter in nm 2

 

Sounds like I’m on the path to crafting enlightenment, right? Well, maybe. Let’s just say I’m still figuring it out. The holidays were a perfect excuse to go back to dreaming of random projects, grossly over-estimating how much I can do in a short space of time, and scheming ways to fit in more making at the cost of other things. But, I made a chicken pattern, and then the chickens! I have no regrets, I loved the things I made, and the results when folks got the packages. At the same time, part of what I’m hoping for from putting this post together is to get back on the path, closer to where I was in November.

 

chickens 2Chickens!

 

So here’s another Zen idea for you: forgiveness, starting over again, and again, however many times it takes.

By the time you read this, Bryan and I will be visiting his family in MI, and then heading to the East coast for an opening of his work at the Griffin Museum, and then a little quality time with one member of my family who I don’t get to see nearly enough. For the two-week trip, I’m taking yarn for a pair of socks to knit, supplemented by a little extra to experiment with, for my upcoming class on socks. That’s it. Ok, and maybe the finishing touches for the mittens I’ve been making Bryan, if I don’t finish them before it’s time to go.  Witness my heroic effort to accept the fact that this, combined with thinking and taking notes about socks for my knitting students, will be plenty (after all we’ll be spending a lot of the time with little ones, who have their own way of taking over your whole life), and that knitting is a really good activity for this kind of time (blogging is not). If I did what I usually do: take my laptop and fantasize that I’ll find time for some research or writing, I’m kidding myself, and that doesn’t help anyone. It just makes me grouchy because I couldn’t realize what I wanted, and then I feel like I’m behind, when in fact it’s a trap I’ve set for myself. This is what I’d like to do with all my plans, not set myself up for disappointment, but focus on what I can do.

By the way, I have no plans at this time to actually become a Buddhist …  But these ideas are pretty compelling, right? What do you think? What path would you like to be on in the next year?

 

Further reading

This post draws on just about everything I’ve read and thought about in the last 6 months, and a lot of it goes much further back. I owe particular debts to:

1. Sarai, editor of Seamwork magazine (and head of Colette patterns).  She asked me to distill an essay about the infinite list from my original post, for the January issue!  I’m excited and proud to be published there, and grateful for the encouragement this assignment gave me to keep thinking about all this.  (Did you know that “focus” was Sarai’s watchword in 2014?)

2.  Felicia of The Craft Sessions, for writing the most thoughtful sewing/making blog I’ve found, maybe … ever?  Seriously, it’s fantastic.  Several of the ideas here have bounced around there first, either in the comments, or in my head as I read what she’d written.

3.  Tell Me Something About Buddhism: Questions and Answers for the Curious Beginner by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel.  If you’re curious too, I thought this was a great book to start with.  Not everything in it made sense to me as I read, but when I started the next book, I realized it made much more sense than it would have without reading this one first!

4.  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.  Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it contains phrases like “Do not think you will necessarily be aware of your own enlightenment,” I really enjoyed reading this book as little further introduction to Zen.

5. Alan Watts was a British philosopher who was one of the first to bring Zen thought to the West.  I discovered this quote via Brain Pickings.  It’s from a book I would really like to read more of, but my library is lacking so I may have to pick up a copy elsewhere:  Does It Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality

6. Although not about making, but about taking in culture, especially books, this is totally relevant: The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything on NPR’s monkey see blog.

Also, I’d like to publicly thank my sweet family, particularly the Albuquerque branch, for being spiritual seekers, and introducing me to the ideas that were floating around in my head when I started thinking about all this.

 

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Tips and Ideas for Sewing Cover Buttons, DIY and Store-Bought

 

diy sewing cover buttons 1

 

As I mentioned in my knitted cover button post, I got into some online research on DIY cover buttons, and I couldn’t resist making up a couple of sewn ones.  Special thanks to Sophie of Ada Spragg for pointing me towards Ebony H’s tutorial for fabric covered buttons on SewStylist!  I love the idea of covering existing buttons, and especially that you can sew through them.  But, I’m kind of a purist, I like things clean, and held together with needle and thread alone.  And I had some more ideas … so, below is my version.

If you’d rather use a cover button kit from the fabric store (I do this a lot too), scroll down (way down) towards the bottom of the post, and I’ll include my favorite tips for those as well.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Measuring & planning the button front

Draw around your button with a fine-point marker.  It’s easiest to use one that erases with water or air, but if you don’t have that, you can use any regular marker that won’t show through your fabric, just keep all markings on the wrong side of the button.  Draw another circle outside the button outline—this is the fabric that will wrap around the button to the back.  It should be just a little smaller (about 1/8″ or 3mm smaller) than the thickness of your button plus half its width.  If your button is bigger, you can have more of a gap in the fabric at the middle of the back.  For these little buttons, I wanted as much fabric on the back as I could get without it bunching up in the middle, so that it has the best chance of staying in place and not fraying as I sew it.  Mark the distance you want outside the button outline at several points, then connect them to make an outer circle.  (This picture also shows the markings for the back piece, which we’ll get to later.)

 

diy sewing cover buttons 2

 

Embroidery (optional of course)

If you’d like to add any embellishments, it’s easier to work them before you cut out the fabric pieces.  I was inspired by this post on The Purl Bee, but decided I’d rather have simple stitching.  I think this would look great if you used the same thread as the topstitching on your project.

Since I used a water-erasable pen, I could stitch on the same side as the marks, following the button outline.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 3

 

Once I was done with my embroidery, I caught the thread ends in the stitching on the wrong side, and trimmed them off.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 4

 

Sew & gather the button front

Cut out your fabric circle.  Then sew a line of running stitches around the edge, around 1/8″ or 3mm inside the cut edge.  Ordinarily I’d use matching thread for this, but as you’ll see, it won’t show, so use contrasting if it’s easier to see.  Start with a knot, or leave a long tail so you can pull on both ends of the thread when you’re done.  The smaller you make the stitches, the easier it will be to pull your gathers in tight.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 5

 

diy sewing cover buttons 6

 

Time to pull the gathers around your button.  At this point it occurred to me that I needed to get the button wet at some point to erase the marker, and it might be easier to manipulate the gathers if the fabric was damp.  It totally was!  So I highly recommend spritzing your fabric with a little water before you cinch it around the button.  This should work for all natural fibers.

Pull the gathers in tight.  Use your thumbnail or an awl, etc. to redistribute any gathers that are bunching up.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 7

 

Once the gathers are set how you’d like them, stitch around the back, a bit inside the edge, with a series of backstitches to hold them in place.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 8

 

The button back

I wanted another fabric piece to cover all these raw edges on the back.  To make one, draw around your button again, but this time just add a tiny bit around the edge, I found 2 mm to be just about perfect (I know you have a metric ruler, fellow Americans).

Stitch another circle of running stitches, this time just inside the line you drew around the button.  Leave a tail of thread at the beginning and the end.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 9

 

Pull on both the thread tails to gather the raw edge to the inside.  It may help to get the fabric wet again.  You can use the blunt end of a needle to push out any parts of the turned-in edge that get bunchy.  This doesn’t have to end up as a perfect circle, since it will be on the back, but roundish is helpful.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 11

 

Once the back looks pretty good, I like to tie the thread ends in a knot, so the fabric won’t come ungathered as I sew it on.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 12

 

You can guess what to do now, right?  Yep, sew the back piece in place, using tiny stitches around the edge.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 13

 

Finish off with a couple of backstiches under the edge.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 14

 

That’s it!  I sewed them on using my favorite method, making a thread shank on the back. You could also sew just through the fabric on the back of the button, rather than through the original button holes, but I think this would leave the fabric on top of the button free to shift around a bit.

The possibilities here are endless … and speaking of endless possibilities:

 

Tips for store-bought cover button kits

I use these a lot (at least I did before I discovered the above technique).  My favorite are the tiny ones (surprise).  Here are my best tips:

1.  Get the kind with the teeth facing inwards, not the ones with the flat metal edge.  The teeth are a lot easier to work with, and you can use them without tools, precisely centering your fabric.  The flat edge also cuts through the fabric over time, meaning your buttons wear out faster.

 

cover button packagesOnes on either side, good, the center ones, not so much.  Her hair!  Can you tell I inherited cover button kits from both my grandmothers?

 

2. Use another layer of fabric, or something thin and opaque like interfacing, under your button fabric.  This prevents the shiny button from showing through, and gives your button a subtle but nice plusher look.  The extra piece only needs to be the size of the button top, since it doesn’t need to wrap around.

 

cover buttons coatI replace the fabric on a couple of these buttons on my coat about once a season.  The ones with a layer of interfacing do seem to last longer.

 

3. The guides printed on the back of the button kit are probably too big for thick fabric and/or knits.  You need enough fabric to secure in the teeth, but not so much that it bunches up and keeps the back from seating in securely.  You may need to experiment to find the right size circle for your fabric.

4.  Pull the fabric up from two opposite sides, and hook it onto the teeth by pressing it under them.  Repeat at right angles to your first two points, and then do the places in between.

5.  For knits, it’s up to you how much you stretch the fabric as you pull it over the button.  Pulling less will make the buttons look more plush.  Try to be consistent, however you like it.

 

cover buttons small wool knit

 

6.  It’s totally possible to use the metal parts of these kits many times when the fabric wears out (like on my coat).  Use any small flat tool to pop off the back, then pull off the remains of the fabric, and start again.

7.  You could definitely use embroidery on these as well (they do in that Purl Bee tutorial), just be careful when centering the fabric—see 4.  You could even use the embroidery to tack your two layers together.

 

cover buttons small wool knit finished

 

I think that’s the lot, for now anyway.  Best returns of the season, everyone!

 

Make Your Own Tiny Hand-Knit Cover Buttons

tiny knit covered buttons finished front

 

These are the buttons I made for my Talamh sweater.  I found some factory-made buttons covered with knit fabric in my button stash as I was starting the sweater, and the idea stuck.  When I finished the sweater, I knew I wanted buttons covered in my yarn, so I made some.  Afterwards, it occurred to me that I might have been reinventing the wheel here, but searching Google and Ravelry turned up nothing like these, so here are the directions!  At the end of the post I’ll also include some links to other ideas I did find, in case these aren’t quite your style.  As always, click on any of the photos to enlarge for a closer look.

 

Knitting the Cover

Pick your buttons to go inside the knitted cover first.  They should be a little smaller than you want the finished button to be, and ideally a similar color to the yarn you’re using to cover them.

These buttons are knit in the round from the center out.  Since they are tiny, there are only a few rounds before you decrease, and secure the knitting to the button.

You want the button fabric to be tight, so that it will be sturdy and the button underneath won’t show through.  Use a much smaller needle than you usually would with the yarn (even if your yarn is thicker).  Here I used size 1 needles, after using size 4 with the same yarn for the sweater.  I’ve illustrated using double points, but of course you could use two circulars or a magic loop if you prefer.

Start by casting on four stitches, using Judy’s Magic Cast On, or another method that starts seamlessly from the middle (this one from Cat Bordhi is also good).

 

tiny knit covered buttons cast on

 

If you increase 4 stitches per round, it makes a flat circle of knitting.  I learned this from Daniel Yuhas’ book, Knitting from the Center Out.  Since a flat circle is my goal here, I knit into the front and back of each stitch, for 8 total stitches in the next round.  (If you aren’t sure how to knit front and back, otherwise known as kfb, just Google it—more tutorials than you’ll ever need will pop up.)

 

tiny knit covered buttons 8 sts

 

Increase 4 stitches again in the next round (ie: knit into the front and back of one stitch, knit one stitch, repeat those two actions around).  At this point I switched some stitches onto a third needle, to keep my little circle from getting too stretched out where the needles join.

 

tiny knit covered buttons 12 sts

 

Since my button is tiny, I only needed one more round of increasing 4 (knit front and back, knit 2, repeat around, for a total of 16 stitches) to reach the size of my button.  You can compare the amount of knitting you have to your buttons, but it can be hard to judge without finishing.  Luckily, these only take a few minutes to make, so it’s easy to try another one if the first one isn’t quite right.

 

tiny knit covered buttons 16 sts

 

When the button is the size you want, start decreasing, so that the knitted fabric will cup around the edges of the button smoothly.  If your button is bigger and/or thicker, you may want a plain round before you start to decrease, but for these little guys I found it made the cover too baggy for the button, so I went straight from an increase round to a decrease round.

I did one round of knit 2 together, knit 1, repeat.  You can see how the cover begins to puff up in the middle as the edges draw in.

 

tiny knit covered buttons decreasing

 

On the next round, I knit every 2 stitches together, until there were 5 stitches left.  If you have a lot more stitches, it may take a couple more rounds of decreasing.  You also want there to be enough fabric on the back of the button so that you can pull these few stitches together at the center back.

When you have just a few stitches left, cut the yarn, thread the end on a sewing needle, and pass it through the remaining stitches.

 

tiny knit covered buttons needle to yarn

 

Knitting Meets Button

At this point the actual knitting part is done.  There are a couple more tricks I want to show you as we sew it together, to make the button come out really nice.

First, before you start to cinch up the knitting around the button, take the sewing needle from the end you finished knitting with, and thread it on the end left from casting on.

 

tiny knit covered buttons yarn tail inside

 

Open out the little circle so the inside of it is clearly visible.  Use the center yarn tail to cinch up the first stitches from the cast on, if necessary.  Then sew around in a little spiral, starting near the center, piercing just the backs of the knitted stitches (use a sharp needle).  This secures the tail, and adds a little extra cohesion to the stitches that will be the button front.

 

tiny knit covered buttons inside spiral 2

 

When your spiral is done, trim the inside tail, and thread the outside/last knitted with tail back on the sewing needle.

 

tiny knit covered buttons ready for button

 

Place the button in the middle of the circle, and draw the edges up with the remaining tail.

 

tiny knit covered buttons gathering back

 

Pull the last stitches tight together in the center back, which hopefully will snug the whole cover nicely around the button.  If it’s too loose or too tight, just start again, make another one with modifications.

Once your cover fits your button, secure it by taking a stitch through one hole in the button, out to the front side.

 

tiny knit covered buttons stitching through button

 

Then take a stitch back, aiming to enter the knitted fabric in the same place you came out (so as not to leave a stitch on the surface) but angle the needle so it goes through a different hole in the button.  You’re putting a loop of yarn through the button itself, to secure the knitting in place.

 

tiny knit covered buttons stitching through button 2

 

I think this technique would also work with shank buttons, you would just want to take a few stitches around/through the shank instead.

Lastly, I stitched around the edges of the back side of the button, adding a little more yarn and securing the stitches there.

 

tiny knit covered buttons reinforcing back

 

Tada!  A tiny knitted covered button, ready to go.

 

tiny knit cover button back finished

 

I sewed these on using a variation of my usual technique (I updated the photos on that post just this week, and love how they came out): sewing through the yarn on the back of the button rather than through the button itself.

 

knit cover buttons sewing on 1

knit cover buttons sewing on 2

knit cover buttons sewing on 3

 

I’d love to try making some bigger buttons using this techinique, too.

 

More Ideas

As if that weren’t enough, when doing research for this post I stumbled on a few other fun things.  Actually, I fell down a bit of a rabbit-hole of cool ideas for DIY covered buttons, both for sewing and knitting, and another post is probably coming soon.  In the meantime …

Kate Davies has a lovely clear tutorial for yarn-wrapped buttons that come out looking sweet.

What about embroidering a design with your yarn on fabric, and then covering a button with that?  There’s a tutorial here on The Purl Bee.

There’s always traditional thread-button techniques, like these from Threads Magazine. Full disclosure: I long ago tried and failed to make sturdy buttons using similar techniques, but I’m pretty sure it was user error.

You could also knit a circle from the bottom up, rather than from the center out, increasing and decreasing at the sides, and then gather it over a button or use a commercial button form.  There’s an example on Knit Darling here. She uses a cover button kit, and rightly points out that those don’t work in small sizes with thick fabrics.  I think you could gather a smaller size over a regular button and secure it something like the second part of my technique (but I haven’t tried this yet to be sure).

 

Not that there aren’t beautiful buttons out there, but especially during this season when we’re surrounded by encouragement to over-consumption, I just love the idea of putting the final touches on a project myself, made with bits and pieces I have around the house. Here’s wishing you all a restful, creative December!

 

Me-Knit Blue Sweater with Lace

Plus some tips for finishing hand knits.

 

blue talamh sweater 2

 

First things first: stop press!  I finished the sweater which I started knitting in Me-Made-May this year!  Between times when I made a real effort to work on it at least an hour a day while on the road, and times when I was back at home and pretty much ignoring it completely, it averaged out to just about 6 months start to finish.  And I’m fine with that, I mean, it’s hand-knitting an entire sweater.

 

blue talamh sweater 5

 

An entire sweater which I’m pretty much totally in love with.  This is the Talamh pattern by Carol Feller.  I wanted a pattern with some lace, but also some edgyness, some modernity, and I thought the lace pattern she used really fit the bill.  I added the wide lace section to the center back (it looks awesome, right?) but otherwise actually made fewer changes than I normally do when I’m knitting someone else’s pattern.  If you’re interested, I decided to keep those notes on Ravelry this time, feel free to check them out!

 

blue talamh sweater 3

 

In this space, aside from how pleased I am with this project, I thought I’d share a bit about finishing, specifically sewing in a ribbon for stabilization around the neck (which totally saved this sweater!) and how I “weave in” yarn ends.

 

Adding grosgrain ribbon

As I was blocking this sweater (basically just getting it wet, stretching the lace out a bit, and smoothing out bumps before letting it dry) I decided to try putting it over my dress form (if it’s good enough for Kate Davies, it’s good enough for me!).  But the sweater kept slipping down, and, rather than pin it up every inch or so, I decided to let it dry flat.  Well, after it was dry and I tried it on in front of the mirror, the same thing happened.  The join between the body and the sleeves is a bit low anyway (my fault, and one of only two things I’d probably change if I make a sweater like this again).  As the neckline stretched wider, the underarms and the whole rest of the sweater sagged downward until it looked fairly ridiculous, at which point I’d tug the neck up again.  Clearly, the loose-ish ribbing at the top was not enough to hold the rest of the sweater in place.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 3

 

I had stabilized various parts of other sweaters with ribbon before, and it occurred to me that I could try it here.  I opened the drawer where I keep bits of ribbon, and there were two lovely grosgrain sections, probably salvaged from recycled sweaters, that both almost matched perfectly!  And each was a width to fit under part of the ribbing on the sweater.  Call it good karma for using up this yarn I’ve had for ages, or proof that if you save the good stuff, it does actually come in handy later.

Pinning the sweater inside out on my dress form to hold it in place, I shaped the ribbon around the curves and steamed it lightly to match them.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 1

 

Note that in order to curve nicely like this, you need authentic grosgrain ribbon, the kind with the bumpy edges, where the thick yarns in it are free to move a bit.  “Grosgrain” ribbon from your local big box store often has tight edges, which are fine for straight sections, but won’t curve worth a darn.

grosgrain ribbon

 

I bought sewing thread to match my yarn as closely as possible, and sewed the ribbon on with tiny whip stitches, at the edge where the ribbing meets the first plain knitting section.  After trying on the sweater to check that it was working, I put it back on the dress form inside out, and sewed around the top edge of the ribbon as well.  If you do this, don’t pull the sewing stitches too tight, just try to keep the ribbon softly snug to the sweater, and not to distort the knitting.

 

blue talamh sweater ribbon 2

 

This worked so well!  Like magic, my sweater now stays in place, just where I want it, and the ribbon is basically invisible from the outside.

 

Finishing yarn ends

There were quite a lot of ends in this sweater, mostly because I’ve had this yarn for over a decade (!).  Part of that time was before I knew how to deal with moths, and the outside of a few of the skeins got rather munched early on, leading to extra breaks in the yarn, and weak places that I decided to treat the same as breaks (ie, not use them, and leave the tails to work in later).  I usually tie the ends or the break/place I don’t want to use into a slipknot, just to keep a little tension on the yarn as I’m knitting around it.

 

finishing knitting 1

 

I’m sure there are other good methods for burying yarn ends, this is mine.  Keeping the tail going in the direction it was headed, I take a short stitch, then a tiny back stitch to anchor the thread, followed by a tunneling of the yarn along the back of the existing stitches.

Don’t pull tightly, or you’ll pucker the knitted fabric.  Leave enough yarn tail so that as the sweater stretches, the tail can move without catching or distorting anything.

Maybe my best tip is to use a needle with a big enough eye to hold the yarn, but a very sharp tip, making it easy to pierce just the backs of stitches, and keep the yarn tails out of sight.  My absolute favorite are “Chenille” needles from John James, available at fine sewing and embroidery stores.

With each end, take one short stitch, catching just the back of the knitting stitches:

 

finishing knitting 2

 

Followed by a tiny backstitch, which functions like a knot to keep the yarn in place.  I start just behind where the last stitch ended, and then continue skimming along the backs of the knitting stitches for the length of the needle. In a stockinette fabric like this, the purl “bumps” make handy diagonals, good directions to hide yarn without it showing on the outside.

If you’re particularly worried about this part of the knitting getting stress or pulling out, (or your yarn is slippery) you could take another short stitch and back stitch, then the long burying stitch. That should hold it!

 

finishing knitting 3

 

If at any point you’re unsure if a stitch might be showing on the public side, just check.  One good thing about stitches is that they’re reversible.

Note that the ends should go in opposite directions, at least with the first short stitch.  Take them in the direction they’d pull from if you kept knitting, so that the two ends cross, rather than pull away from each other.

 

finishing knitting 4

 

On garment edges, a good place to bury ends is often along columns of ribbing.

 

finishing knitting 6

 

When you’re finished, trim the ends so that enough remains on the back for the end to stay there, and not poke through to the front.

That’s about it for now.  Just in case you’re wondering, I did make those matching buttons, and I’ll post about them soon too.  I hope this is helpful, and just let me know if you have more knitting/finishing questions!

 

How to Add Pockets in Seams

finished pockets on

I used to joke about this, but I’ve decided it’s actually true: the lack of pockets is holding women back.  I mean, if our choices are either carry a purse everywhere and don’t let it out of sight, ask someone of the opposite gender to hold things for us, or attempt to stick our phones in our bras, of course we’re going to struggle to be taken seriously.

I do carry some kind of bag most places I go (with essential stuff like my notebook, and sometimes knitting in it), but there are lots of times when just pockets will do.  Everyone needs pockets, good pockets that are actually big enough to put your phone in, and sit down afterwards.

 

I was so exited about finishing this dress that I forgot to add the pockets, and had to go back and put them in! I’ll include a bit about the decorative edging I used at the end of the post.

 

This is why maker & fixer skills are important: instead of complaining about the lack of pockets, we can change it, and add some ourselves.  Guys who don’t have enough pockets in their lives are welcome too!

In this post I’ll go over adding pockets to a seam in your garment, commonly called “side-seam” or “in-seam” pockets.  You can do this as you’re sewing, or retrofit pockets into a garment that’s already finished.  In short, the steps are: 1. Plan your pocket, and prepare the pieces.  2. Sew the pocket pieces to the garment seams.  3. Sew the garment seams, including around the pocket.  If you have some beginner sewing skills, you can handle this.  (Ahem, get some skills here.)  Let’s get started!  As usual, click on any of the photos to enlarge for a closer look.

 

Plan & Prepare Your Pocket

measuring pocket patternFirst figure out how big and what shape you’d like your pocket to be.  You can use a pocket piece from a pattern you have, or trace the shape of an existing pocket that you like onto paper for a pattern.  (If you trace an existing pocket, remember to add extra space—seam allowance—all around it to account for the fabric that will be used up in the seams.)  I used the pattern piece at right, which is a common shape for side-seam pockets.

Figure out where along your seam you want your pocket to go, and mark it with pins.  Measure the length of the flat side of your pocket, the part that you’ll sew into the seam.  This is how much space you’ll need on your seam for the pocket.  If you’re sewing from scratch, you can just center the pocket on your pin marks, and sew it as explained below, before you sew the seam.  If you’re adding pockets to a garment that’s already finished, you’ll need to rip the seam where you want the pocket to go, taking out a space a bit bigger than the pocket piece, to give yourself room to work.  I really like using this method to rip seams.  Don’t worry about tying off the ends of the old seam here, because you’ll sew over them later.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 1

 

Fabric and Piecing

You’ll need two pocket pieces for each pocket you want to add.  Cut them so that they’re mirror images, i.e. so that you can sew the shape together and have the right (public/outside) sides of the fabric touching.

This kind of pocket doesn’t show much, but you’ll probably be able to see a bit of it peeking out.  If you have matching fabric, obviously cutting your pockets from that will make it blend in the most.  If not, choose something you like that you won’t mind seeing a bit of.  The pocket fabric should be fairly tightly woven/sturdy, especially if you plan to carry heavy objects in it.

If you have only a bit of matching fabric, you can cut each side of the pocket in two pieces, so that the matching part is at the top.  When planning this, don’t forget to add extra seam allowance where the pieces meet.  Sew the pieces together into the pocket shape before you attach them.

 

pieced pocketOn close inspection you can see that the two halves of this pocket are pieced in different places, and that’s fine.  The printed fabric matches the outside of this dress, and the white is scraps from the lining.

 

Note: You can also add to a skimpy existing pocket (I hate those!), by cutting off the bottom and adding more.  Rip a bit of the old pocket seams along the sides to give yourself room to work.  Sew each side of the new pocket bottoms to the old pocket tops, then sew around the pocket, overlapping the old seam.  The finished pocket may look something like the one above.

 

Sew the Pocket to the Seam

Once you have your pocket ready and know where it will go, pin one pocket piece onto one side of the garment seam.  Line up the seam allowances, and make sure you place the right side of the pocket touching the right side of the garment piece.  Sew the pocket on, using the same seam allowance as the garment seam, or just slightly narrower.  Start and stop a little bit outside the pocket.  You don’t need to back-tack your seams, they’ll be held in place by other stitches later.

adding ss pockets drawing 2This illustration shows attaching the pocket to a seam you’ve ripped, which is still in place above and below the pocket.  It’s the same if you’re starting from scratch, except that the other piece of the garment won’t be attached yet.

 

Repeat this procedure with the other pocket pieces, making sure that any two sides which will be one pocket are aligned at the same place on the garment seam.

Using your iron, press the pockets open, away from the garment.  Don’t skip this step!  It will make all the difference in a clean finish.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 3Here’s what it looks like in real life, with one side of the pocket sewn on and pressed open, although it’s a little hard to see in the tiny print:

pocket seams one side done

 

 Sew the Seam with a New Pocket

To finish, sew the garment seam, including around the pocket.  When you get to the top of the pocket, sew just inside of the pocket stitching and fabric, to avoid catching anything in the seam that will show.  Stop with the needle down, and pivot at the point where the seam allowance matches on the garment and the pocket.  Keep sewing, around the pocket, and pivot again when you reach a point just inside (towards the garment, not the pocket) the first seam at the bottom of the pocket.  If you’re sewing from scratch, you’ll sew the whole seam above and below the pocket in this step as well.  If you’re refashioning a pocket, you’ll start and stop just enough away from the pocket to overlap the old seam stitching.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 4The stitching for this step is shown in the darkest color, overlapping the old seam, and just outside of the seam that attaches the pocket pieces.

 

Look, brand new wonderful pockets!

If your garment has a lining, you now have two choices.  You can leave it alone, meaning the pocket will sit between the garment and the lining, which is usually good.  On my lightweight dresses, I decided to make an opening in the lining seam, so that the pocket would be inside the lining too, and show less from the outside.  All you need to do for this option is to rip the lining seam at the pocket opening, or leave a gap when you are sewing the seam.  Knot the thread ends, or back-tack your stitching, to hold the edges of the gap in place.

finished pocket inside

 

And Finally, Optional Decorative Pocket Strips

Since I was thinking about celebrating pockets, I decided to make the ones on my latest sundress a little more visible by adding fabric strips that matched the binding and straps on the dress.  Just in case you like this look, here’s how I did it:

1. Cut strips 1/2″ wider and longer (for 1/4″ SA) than you want them to appear when finished.  I made them 1/2″ wide finished, (cut 1″ wide) and slightly longer than the pocket opening.

2. Press the strips in half to mark the center, then press the SA under all around.

pocket decorative strip 1

 

3. Topstitch each strip in place, close to the edge of the strips.

pocket decorative strip 2

 

4. Sew the seam, and around the pocket, as you normally would.

finished pocket outside

 

Have you ever added or improved pockets?  What do you think about how the pockets in ready-to-wear relate to our society’s image of women?  Any other relevant thoughts?

 

New DIY Kits on Etsy, Plus the Hats are Back …

 

Hello all!  I’ve been using my computer time for the last week or so working on brand new stuff … if you can call ideas that have been rattling around in my head for a year or more “brand new” … but they now exist, in real life!  Or at least on the internet.

 

SRCR title page blog

 

Brand new: instructions and materials so that you can make the some of the scarves and blankets I’ve been making the last couple of seasons from cashmere ribbing!  I’ve laid it out for you, with lots of tips on sewing the ribbings, plus directions for three projects.  Make one of these, or make a totally new design of your own!

The color combos I found in the ribbing box are pretty great.  Get these now if you love them—there’s more good stuff in there, but the next batch will be different.

 

4 ribbing colors 1014

 

Plus, Fiddleheads hats are back for fall.  There are some new, incredibly cute pictures of children who shall remain nameless modeling them.  It’s worth a click just to see them all.  And—sigh—I think I said I wasn’t going to do this, but then I suddenly needed to, so I did—I modeled the adult size myself.  The kids are SO much cuter!

 

two friends

 

I’ll be back soon, with more cool stuff!

 

Basting: Thread Magic

 

new backstitch 1

 

I kind of feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t like basting, or thinks they don’t.  It’s a like a magic wand for your sewing.  It keeps things exactly in place for exactly as long as you need it, doesn’t distort your final sewing, doesn’t need to be removed as you go, and can be pulled out when you’re done, leaving no mark behind.

I fell in love with basting many moons ago, while sewing a collar onto a button-down shirt.  I had all the layers of shirt and collar scrunched together ready to sew, and no matter how many pins I put in, the fabric kept shifting under the sewing machine as I went and getting terribly uneven, and/or folding over and catching pieces of the shirt I didn’t want in the seam.  After ripping it all out and starting over two or three times, I decided to baste it in by hand and see if that was any better.  Held by the basting, the shirt and collar seam went through the machine without a hitch, as nice as I could ask for, on the first try.

 

basting stripes

 

Basting just means any kind of temporary stitching, meant to hold fabric in place until you can get the final stitching done.  The advantage is that the basting doesn’t have to be neat and even, or strong enough to hold up with wear, so you can concentrate just on the fabric while you’re basting, and then just on stitching when you’re sewing the final seam.

If I’m in a situation where I want basting, usually it’s because I need more precise control over the fabric, so I baste by hand.  To baste, simply sew running stitches (illustrated at the top).  The stitches can be pretty big and uneven—concentrate on the placement of the fabric layers with each stitch, rather than the stitches themselves.  I like to begin and end with a backstitch, just to keep the basting from pulling apart until I’m done.

Some good places to use basting are: when you want things to align exactly (like matching stripes), when there are a lot of shifty layers (like the collar seam), or any other time when you want to make sure some part of your project will stay in place while you sew it.  For the soft bra below, I knew there was no way the lace would stay in the folds I wanted against the fabric if it was held only by pins.  Plus, basting allowed me to put everything together on my dress form, seeing exactly how the lace would work on a body, and then take the whole thing off the form and sew it.

 

basting lace on form

 

finished soft bra lace

 

It worked great!  When you’re done with the final seam, you can remove the basting easily.  Pick out the backstitches at the ends and grab one thread tail, then you can often pull out a long basting thread with one pull.  Unless of course you sewed over it in the final stitching, but no worries, that happens.  Just pull out what you can at once, you may have to cut and pick out a few small thread bits.

Although it may sound like a technique for more advanced sewing, I definitely recommend basting for beginners too.  When you’re just starting out, learning how your machine handles fabric, especially in tricky situations, isn’t easy.  You can baste practically anything that you just can not get to stay in place while sewing on the machine, get much better results, and save yourself a lot of frustration.  According to The Mary Frances Sewing Book, back when most garments were sewn by hand, it was more efficient to baste a seam first, and then sew it, than to sew the final stitches while trying to keep the fabric layers in place.

Best of luck with your sewing!

 

Thoughts about Sewing, Empowerment, and Body Image

 

As we near the end of Me-Made-May, it seems like a good time to share some thoughts about sewing, empowerment, and body image. Although I get a huge boost of self-sufficiency when I’m wearing the clothes I made, I actually don’t think much about sewing as it relates to how I feel about my body. Except for when I’m making pants. I originally wrote these thoughts as part of a proposed series on the Colleterie, which didn’t get off the ground, but it seems a shame not to get them out into the world. I thought about a lot of this again just recently when I was working on my trousers.

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 4

 

I’m lucky that when I was growing up, my parents always stressed that I’m just fine the way I am. I’ve never had a really negative image of my body. But I have always had trouble finding pants that fit at all, or were remotely comfortable. I would describe my figure in a nutshell as small and pear shaped. When I’m good about exercise, my thighs get firmer, but they don’t exactly shrink. In fact, in High School, when I was doing lots of power yoga every week, and in the best shape I’ve ever been, I just about gave up wearing pants altogether. It wasn’t worth it; they were just too uncomfortable. I have a vivid memory of sitting in class wishing I could just grab the top thighs of my jeans and yank upwards, and that the seams would pop down the sides, releasing my legs.  I never actually tried it, but after that I stopped wearing jeans.

 

grey pants side

 

Since then I’ve explored my style, how it relates to my body, and to how others see me, through my sewing—starting with long skirts. As you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, I’ve also been working on and off for years on pants that actually fit me. It wasn’t until I was making the purple pair that I realized how much not being able to find clothes that fit or flatter could affect my conceptions about my body. Those purple pants aren’t perfect, but they show off my shape and are comfortable—a miracle to me. When I’m standing in front of a dressing room mirror and no pair of pants I try on looks good or feels right, I think that encourages me to feel like I need to change, like my body is not right. I was fairly amazed at how, looking at my legs in these new me-made pants, it was so much easier to say, “I love my body! It’s so cute and curvy!” It’s not my body that needs to change—it’s the pants. From my hair to my thighs, I’ve had the best experiences with my body when I realize not only that I can’t change something, but that I shouldn’t be trying to change it, that the beauty the universe gives me is for me to embrace and to work with, not to fight. And I can only do that if I’m willing to think outside the box, to take the time and develop the skills I need to get what I really want and need.

 

purple cords side

 

To me sewing, and making anything, is all about empowerment. Since I sew, I can break free from the consumer culture that gives me limited choices, while at the same time encouraging me to find fault with everything, in order to sell me more cheap stuff. Sewing is a way out of that cycle, and also a way in to a deeper and better understanding of my own body and taste, my personality, my unique self. Perhaps the best part is that this kind of freedom is available to anyone who wants it, anyone who’s willing to can their own jam or sew their own jeans.  Let’s go get it, people!