Solved: Leggings

 

The best thing about making a pledge or taking a challenge may be that it pushes us to find out what’s possible if we stay within certain boundaries. For example: this winter, I found myself in need of some new warm leggings, and a couple of challenges I had in one form or another meant I needed to be creative about how I got them. The results were so good—almost certainly better than whatever I would have come up with without the challenge.

 

upcycled leggings 1

 

One of my wardrobe goals is to have enough of the right clothes for winter so that I’m cozy (in other words not always cold and therefore slightly grouchy). For the coldest months, it turns out that means wearing an extra warm layer under pants or a long skirt pretty much every day. I’ve already figured out that wool and silk are much warmer than cotton knits (plus I love everything else about wool). I’m still following my fabric-buying pledge from #1year1outfit (until a full year has gone by this summer), which meant I couldn’t hop online and order lovely wool fabrics from New Zealand, even if they are organic. There are a few totally beautiful made-in-USA wool knits out there, but let’s be honest, I also have a budget. I can’t afford to splurge on every project, and I don’t want to for something like this where I frankly don’t care too much what it looks like, as long as it feels good and works well.

I was thinking about going to the thrift store for something else, and somehow I got the idea that maybe if I found a big enough fine-gauge men’s sweater, I could make leggings out of that. Such, such a good idea!

My layout works like this: I cut off the waistband of the sweater, including a little bit above it for seam allowance, and save it for the waistband of the leggings. I flip the sweater inside out and trim off the seams as closely as I can to separate the front from the back. (After making so many hats from reclaimed cashmere, I am an expert at deconstructing sweaters.) Then I remove the sleeves, in this case leaving the sleeve seams intact as much as possible. The front and back often have fairly different shapes (and a lot of times different grainlines) so I separate them completely at the shoulders after the sleeves are off, and cut from them separately. I cut the top potion of the leggings pattern from the front and back of the sweater, however they best fit. The lower leg comes from the sleeves, utilizing the sleeve cuff as the ankle.

 

sweater to leggings drawing

 

I used the same Espresso Leggings pattern as my first custom fit pair—there’s no going back from custom fit! The lower arm of the sweater was actually a little smaller than the original cuff on my pattern, but it stretched to fit over my ankle just fine. I laid the folded leg pattern over the sleeve, and started to cut where the leg became smaller than the sleeve.

For sewing, I joined the lower leg to the upper leg flat, pressed the seam open, and sewed down the seam allowances for a non-bulky join. Just don’t forget to add a seam allowance to the upper and lower leg when you’re cutting.

As I sewed the inside leg seams, I just merged my seamline into the original seam of the sleeve when I got to that point.

 

upcycled leggings 2

 

Working on these, I thought a lot about stretch and recovery in knits. All the sweaters I used had about the same horizontal stretch as the fabric I bought for the very first pair; with 4” stretching to about 7”, or 1.75%, so I could use the same size pattern. The sweaters had almost no vertical stretch though, which made the first pair of sweater-cut leggings feel a bit shorter on top than I wanted, so I slashed the pattern and added ¼” vertically above and below the crotch point.

I ended up cutting the ribbing for waistband much shorter than the top of the leggings, since it could stretch much further. The ribbing alone wasn’t quite enough to hold the leggings up, although I loved how it looked. For the charcoal pair, I added wide elastic on top (it may possibly have come off a pair of Bryan’s boxers with worn fabric). This holds up the leggings no problem. The elastic has the recovery needed, but it actually won’t stretch as far as the ribbing, so I had to cut it a little longer. This can make the waist look a little wrinkly by itself, but it all stretches out smooth on the body.

For the second blue/periwinkle pair, I wanted to see if I could use slightly less wide/firm elastic, so I tried some of the bra-band kind from my stash, which is soft on one side, inside the ribbing. That works too, leggings stay up with no problem.

 

upcycled leggings 3

 

The third green sweater had a narrow hem instead of ribbing at the waist. I decided to use that as a casing for narrow elastic, cutting two sections from the waistband and catching the elastic in the seams. After wearing this pair a couple of times, the jury is still out on whether it could use slightly wider elastic/more pull inside the casing … but if so it would be easy enough to unpick the little vertical seams at the top and sew it in.

 

upcycled leggings 4

 

Overall, I’m super happy with how these turned out! I answered a few leftover questions from the first-ever pair; like would elastic be enough to hold them at the low-waist level I like (a resounding yes!) and would they work in 100% wool (a big yes again!). Despite the fact that the pattern recommends fabrics with Lycra or Spandex, I like the all-wool version much better (the green and grey pairs are Merino, and the periwinkle is cashmere). These float like a warm soft cloud just touching my skin. They feel amazing and don’t bind in any way. If I were dancing on stage in them, I might care that the knees look a little baggy by the end of the day, but since these are under-layers only, I don’t at all.

So I’m officially set on leggings for a few winters at least! We’ll see how these hold up. They should be fairly easy to patch if needed, since I have the pattern and scraps. I consider the used sweaters a sustainable material source, especially since I can utilize ones that have small stains or holes in them (the little stitched leaves on the green pair are covering former holes in the original sweater). Making leggings this way keeps me within my pledge and my budget. Plus they’re awesome.

If you want to try this, go for it! For my fairly-small-but-very-pair-shaped figure, I need to start with a men’s extra-large sweater to cut the pieces as illustrated. Of course, you can patchwork them a little more if needed. The green sweater was in really good shape (except for the holes), so I got it even though it was a little smaller. I ended up piecing in wedges at the inner thigh to make up for not having quite enough width across the sweater body. It worked fine, but it was a little mind-bending to make sure all the pieces had the right shape and seam allowance, so I don’t recommend it for your first try.

Happy stitching!

 

upcycled leggings 5

 

News Jan 2016

 

Arizona Fiber Arts Retreat, Things I Forgot to Mention, and More

 
Lately I haven’t been doing as good a job as I’d like keeping you all, lovely readers, updated when I have something going on outside of this blog.  I haven’t wanted to stick random announcements into tutorials or thoughts that will (hopefully) be read long after the news is relevant, but I also don’t want to pepper you with little posts for each bit of “look at this!” type news.  So I’ve decided to do a periodic news round-up when warranted.  Because this is the first one, there’s some overdue stuff as well as some newer items.

 

Old News

I wrote a few more articles that came out in Seamwork magazine this fall, and the latest one in the December issue.  Although I mentioned some of them in passing, I didn’t really point them out.  There’s one on how fabric is woven, and how to use your knowledge about that to improve your sewing.  It draws on what I learned when my grandma taught me how to weave, and uses a toy loom that belonged to my mom as an example.  The latest article is about five essential hand stitches, and it’s just what it sounds like, a tutorial on my most-used stitches.  I’ve been inspired by all the hand sewing and visible mending going on lately, and I’m happy to add to it!  Maybe my favorite article so far is the one on wool.  It was a total blast to research it, and I’m really happy with how it came out.  It covers some of the history and science of wool, and how to use that knowledge when you’re sewing with it. It also features my favorite (super easy) hand-wash method for all your lovely woolens.

As always, you can read any of the articles in Seamwork for free online.  I’ve also added links to the ones I’ve written in my category page (you can also get there by clicking “Sew” under “Tutorials + Inspiration” at the top of my site) so they’re included with the rest of the sewing info I’ve shared.

 

wool prep thumbnail

 

To wrap up the older news, I joined Instagram this fall, and also never mentioned it here outright.  My inclination at this point is to avoid anything that involves more “screen time”, but there was so much going on there, especially in the fiber arts world, that I decided to try it out.  And I think I like it.  It’s nice to have a place to share quicker projects, things in progress, and thoughts that won’t become their own blog posts.  And there was some surprisingly deep conversation going on there during #slowfashionoctober!  Still I’m determined to use it sparingly.  If you too are on this exciting/elitist/beautiful/frustrating/inspiring platform, do come say hi, I’m @frenchtoasttasha.

 

New News

The winter gathering at Arcosanti has a new name: Arizona Fiber Arts Retreat, and I’m teaching there again this year.  It’s coming up January 22 and 23, and as of this writing there are still spaces in both my classes.  One is on 3D wet felting, and one is making felt cuffs and beads (pictured below) while learning to use attachments, prefelts, and shaping in your felt making.  Click over to their new website for details and to sign up.  Observant readers of this blog may notice my digital fingerprints on the AFAR site, and indeed I’ve been spending a fair amount of time working on that lately.  It’s a bit surreal to be the one in our group with the most web skills, but there you have it!

Knitting classes are also starting up again at Purl in the Pines in Flagstaff.  The first session of my beginning knitting series is this Saturday (complete beginners welcome), along with a “knitting skills lab” where you can get all your questions answered and learn some new techniques.  If you’re interested, head on over to their class page for details.  It’s still snowing like crazy as I type this, but if the forecast holds, the roads should be clear by the time classes start.

 

Felt Cuffs with Tasha

 

I have a more contemplative post for the new year in the works too, but (appropriately enough) it’s taking a while to distill my “Slow” thoughts for that one.  In the meantime, if there’s anything you’d like to see in this space, or for classes etc. in 2016 feel free to let me know!

 

Sustainable, American-Made Garment Fabric — I Found Some …

 
 

Updated 3/2018:

I have a few more sources to add to this list—hooray! There is still a small amount of Imperial Stock Ranch fabric in my Etsy shop too. Some of the story about that is below the list …
 

black imperial fabric 2My idea was to photograph these fabrics in a way that was fresh and felt personal, giving you an idea of what is would be like to wear them, and also conveying how lovely they are and how fabric like this might be all we need. But yes, I am wearing clothes underneath …

 

Since Karen asked, and since I feel like we’re really on the cusp of something here—a growing interest in how our fabrics are made and where they come from which I very much want to be a part of—these are the suppliers of traceable, sustainable fabrics I’ve found so far:
 

Fabrics Made in USA

Organic Cotton Plus is probably the most comprehensive source I have so far. They have a big “Made in USA” section of organic cotton fabrics grown and processed here. They carry lots of undyed and colorgrown fabrics, both knit and woven.

Alabama Chanin is just all kids of cool, sustainable, and handmade, and they sell American made organic cotton jersey in quite a few colors. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but since it’s the same fabric used in their collections it should be awesome.

Community Supported Cloth is a newish venture from Fibershed and Lani’s Lana wool ranch. It’s just what it sounds like; a CSA-style project to make a truly local cloth in CA! As of this writing, the current batch up fabric is available for sale. If you arrive after it’s gone, you can still sign up to be notified when the next batch is ready. I have a sample of this fabric, and it’s really lovely.

Vreseis is the shop of Sally Fox, the pioneer of colorgrown cotton in the US. Everything she does is done with so much thoughtfulness. She’s now raising sheep and wheat to make a true biodynamic farm. Her shop offers a few fabrics, as well as yarns and fiber.

A Verb for Keeping Warm has a small but growing collection of local fabrics, including some from Sally Fox, and others from the same mill that makes the Community Supported Cloth. They also carry some special imported sustainable fabrics, like Khadi cloth from India and naturally dyed batiks. Plus of course their own range of naturally dyed yarns, some of which are made with US wool too!

O! Jolly! is a newer, smaller, knit-fabric-making operation. Her commitment to sustainability comes through a little more in this interview on Ginger Makes (where I found her) than on her website, but she does offer colorgrown cottons, and lists origins and knitting locations for some of the fabrics, including some new wool knits which list the breed of sheep and that they’re American raised—yahoo!

Honey Be Good also specializes in organic fabrics and has a “Made in USA” section, which as of writing has mostly wooden buttons, and some printed jersey.

Fibershed is all around amazing, and has a really helpful affiliate directory where you may be able to find people growing fiber and making yarn and fabric right near you!
 

Fabrics Made Elsewhere

Simplifi Fabric (which I found through Sew Pomona’s list) has a fairly big section of fabrics made in Canada (and a few in the USA).

Hell Gate Fabrics is a new venture from Sonja of Ginger Makes, bringing us fabrics made mostly in Japan, where labor and environmental practices are much better than in many other countries producing textiles. She plans to expand her selection of organic fabrics as her suppliers do.

The Fabric Store is where I found the organic merino jersey (from New Zealand) I used to make these tops. It’s holding up well so far! This store has locations in Australia, NZ, and Los Angeles. Although they don’t have a full-service US website, they do have a very friendly and comprehensive swatch service if you tell them what you’re looking for.

Offset Warehouse carries fabrics from all over, and they are quite transparent about where each fabric comes from and how it was made, if it is certified organic or sustainable, etc. They carry some truly beautiful and low-carbon handwoven/handprinted fabrics from around the world.

Many of the participants in One Year, One Outfit have been doing their own research and listing resources near them. You can find them listed here.

If you’re a nerd like me you can also browse the GOTS listings to find businesses making all kinds of things certified under Global Organic Textile Standards wherever you live. I haven’t made any amazing discoveries by doing this yet, but you never know …

 

striped imperial fabric 1Bryan kept coming up with slogans like “fall in love with fabric again” as we were shooting these photos.

 

More story: sometimes, you just ask the right question to the right person, and then there you are. Remember when I was fed up with the NYC garment district, joined up with One Year, One Outfit, and vowed to contact Imperial Stock Ranch* because they had made a fashion collection using fabrics from wool grown on their ranch and entirely made in USA? Well. I did. Jeanne Carver, who owns the ranch along with her husband, wrote me back. She had some fabric left from the collection (!!). She offered to sell it to me, so I could offer it to you (!!!). Big bolts of two of these fabrics, basically the wool of my dreams, are in a huge box in my studio, and on offer to the whole online sewing community via my Etsy shop. All the details about the fabrics are there.

*The story of the ranch is really amazing, and way too much to tell here. Check out this article if you’re interested, which also has some nice pictures of Jeanne and her sheep.

All in all, the list of sustainable fabric sources is not as sparse as I thought it would be going in. One thing is clear to me: we make a difference when we choose to buy our materials with some thought and care as to how they’re made! The more demand there is for sustainable fabric, the more of it there can be. So, who’s with me? What’s your dream fabric?! Maybe we can make it happen!
 

Maybe I’m Over It

Over the purple corduroys, the NYC garment district, the whole thing.

I’ve been to New York City twice ever, both times since I’ve had this blog.  Both times I went to the garment district, and I haven’t written a thing about it either time. The first time, a couple of years ago, it was just crazy and overwhelming. We had the truck with us, and let me just say I will never, ever, drive any vehicle to NYC again if I can possibly help it, much less one that qualifies as quasi-commercial and definitely oversize. The truck is fine in Chicago, but as it turns out, not all at fine in New York.

 

floyd bennett field camping 3Our truck in the parking area for camping at Floyd Bennett Field, by far the most post-apocalyptic National Park Service site I’ve ever been to.  It’s staffed by friendly New Yorkers who, when they find out it’s your first time in the city, will tell you everything, starting with “So there’s five boroughs …” to making sure you have quarters for the bus.  I am not making any of this up!

 

Anyway, we went to NYC again this past winter, along with traveling to an opening of Bryan’s work at the Griffin Museum of Photography outside Boston. I actually have a dear cousin who lives in Brooklyn, so we made a side trip to go and see her (completely vehicle-free, with only the luggage we could carry). I thought it would be much better and I would love it. It was better without worrying about the truck, but I was still overwhelmed. I’m the kind of person who naturally absorbs most of the stimulus coming at me in a given day, and likes to have a while to process it. There is a whole lot of stimulus coming at you all day, every day in New York—before you even get to the shops full of ceiling-high mounds of fabric in every color.

 

nyc street view

 

The garment district, while fascinating, is not geared for a thoughtful experience. It’s fast-paced. There are millions of choices packed together, but not a lot of background on any of them (any, really, beyond the fiber content and maybe a country of origin). I’ve tried to be more conscious about my fabric choices for a while now, but I knew I wanted some fabric to make another pair of pants, and it seemed ridiculous to be surrounded by what felt like all the fabric in the entire world, and go home with nothing for my project. So after some debate, I chose something purple and stripey and soft, brought it home, and a couple of months later, cut it out.

 

over it purple pants 1

 

And I got exactly what I deserved for picking fabric I had no background on, no relationship with, and so no idea what to expect—it behaved terribly. There’s some stretch in this stuff, which I’ve avoided in wovens in the past, and I’m going right back to avoiding it like the plague. It kept stretching as I was sewing it, throwing off my alignment and topstitching, moving the pockets around even though I basted them in place, etc. Plus, it’s weirdly clingier around my bum than the non-stretch fabric I’ve used in this pattern before.

 

over it purple pants 2

 

Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t the worst pants ever.  I like the color, and they fit me reasonably well, which is enough to almost certainly ensure they’ll get wear when the weather gets cool again. And, they have the nicest inside waistband and zipper tab of any pants I’ve made so far, so I learned something there.

 

over it purple pants 3

 

But, the whole experience just brought home what I hadn’t been able to articulate. In my head, before I went there, the garment district was a mythical paradise of fabric. But it turns out; it’s not my Mecca. It may sound a little blasphemous to say so, but I don’t think the garment district even has the fabric I want. I think I’m over it.

So what, exactly, is the fabric I want, you may reasonably ask? Well, what I really want is unreasonable to ask for in our current culture. I want fabric that not only do I know where it comes from, what labor conditions went into it, and how the fiber was cultivated in the environment where it grows, but I want to feel good about the answers to all those questions. I want to buy some fabric now, see it how it wears, and in 5 years, when I like what I find, buy some more of that exact same fabric. I want fewer, but better choices.

 

floyd bennett field camping 2

 

I have tried before to find some fabric closer to these ideals. I went on an online quest for organic wool a couple of winters ago (when I eventually bought this lovely stuff from New Zealand).  I had a few interesting conversations with fabric store owners through email. Mostly what I learned is that they don’t know any more about the origins of their fabrics than I do.  Often times even by writing to their suppliers, the most information we could possibly get was what factory the fabric came from.

At that same time I wrote to Mountain Meadow Wool, an American yarn company I feel really good about supporting, and suggested they think about making some knit fabric out of their American Merino. I got a really nice response back … but since then some blankets and finished knit goods have appeared in their line-up, no fabric yet … I do get it, I see why market research would indicate a much bigger market and profit by skipping the fabric and going right for finished goods.   Imperial Stock Ranch took it one step further and produced a high-fashion collection. But knowing that they are taking high-quality wool, sustainably grown in USA, all the way from sheep to fabric also in-country, and that none of that fabric is available for sewists to buy (that I know of, I’ll write them too, we’ll see)—it makes my fingers itch. I think it’s phenomenal how much single-breed, known-origin, small-farm-type wool yarn is available to knitters right now, and I know there’s a niche for fabrics made from the same materials.

The fabric for my first pair of purple corduroys was organic cotton & hemp, but made in China (under supposedly good working conditions). The biggest problem with it was that it didn’t hold up to wear long enough to be called well-made. How sustainable is anything that has to be replaced every couple of years, or less?

The best news in thinking about all this, is that there are other sewists out there on similar quixotic journeys to find (or make!) sustainable fabrics, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I can find them. And there is a lot going on right now.

I’m throwing my lot in with one Year, one Outfit, a project on this is moonlight to source “fibershed” textiles in your area, and make them into an outfit by the end of the year. Although I may not make a whole outfit by the end of 2015, I’m pledging not to buy any new fabric for (at least) that time, unless it meets (at least!) these minimum requirements: 100% made in the USA, sustainably grown also in USA, and not dyed with synthetic dyes, bleached, or processed in other ways that use toxic chemicals. At the very least, it will be a kick in the bum to do my homework, and some experimenting!

 

one year one outfit logo

 

While I’ve been thinking about this, some other thoughtful bloggers have also been researching and sharing around similar topics. This post of Zoe’s about organic cotton and whether it’s really better got me thinking about the fabric I really want to find. The other bloggers in the one Year, one Outfit project have done some good research. Mari’s post about what she’s found available in the Southeastern US was really interesting, and there are people around the world taking part and sharing what they find, there might be someone near you.  Then just the other day, Ginger posted about a designer making sustainable sweater knits available to home sewers! If you’re curious, I also definitely recommend listening to this 2010 interview with Rebecca from the fibershed project, which I also linked to from one Year, one Outfit.

Phew!  So, do you want in on some crazy back-to-basics fabric hunting? Interested in dyeing/printing your own textiles (because I think that’s going to be a big part of it)?  Stay tuned, updates will definitely be coming!

 

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.

 

Finally, Some Good Information about Those Nasty Wool-Eating Clothes Moths

moth hole in pantsClassic moth damage on wool fabric

Can you tell I hold a grudge here?  Hmm.  Well, let’s get down to it.  There are a lot of confusing “facts” and misinformation about clothes moths out there.  I’ve developed a system for dealing with them that works well for me, but I still wanted to know, from a scientific perspective, what actually kills them?  What temperatures can they tolerate?  What about water, can you drown moth eggs? Etc.  Some of these questions remain unanswered, and I’d still like to team up with an entomologist some day and nail down some specifics.  BUT (this is a big but) not long ago I stumbled on this post at Juniper Moon Farm.  They are doing some great stuff over there, and this was no exception.  The author, Lisa Stockebrand, lays out some specific advice which I heartily agree with: cleaning is the best response to finding moths in your wool, and you can kill all stages of them with heat or by freezing.

UPDATE: Big thanks to astute reader Gabe, who pointed out that even though this blog has vanished, you can still read the original post in the web archive here: https://web.archive.org/web/20150612112534/http://www.fiberfarm.com/2013/03/moths-a-public-service-announcement

After I read this, I told Bryan about it, and how, even though of course I’d like it if our house was 100% moth-free (it’s not—they were here when we moved in—and it won’t be until all the old carpet is gone, all the baseboards are removed and cleaned behind, etc.) and of course I’m bummed that they have done damage in the past, at this point I’d rather have a system that works for dealing with them.  Sure, it’d be great to have a completely moth-free home, but as soon as one of my knitting buddies accidentally brings over an infested ball of yarn, it’s not moth-free any more, and so I would stick with my system even if I did think we were free and clear.

Less than a week after this discussion, I took a bunch of my felt samples to a small event, where they were displayed right next to an item which had clear moth damage, cocoons on it, etc.  So I had a bunch of felt to treat when I got home, and that got me thinking that now is as good a time as any to let you all know what I know about wool moths so far.

They Do Exist

Unfortunately clothes moths are alive and well in the 21st century.  I guess people who have never heard of them grew up in the age of acrylic (actually worse than moths in my opinion).  Those folks definitely have not cleaned out the houses of older relatives who worked with wool!

Although the moths themselves are definitely up to no good, scouting around for your most precious garments to lay their eggs on, it’s the larvae that actually eat the wool.  They also eat fur, and mixed fibers containing wool or other animal fibers, and can survive on dust bunnies alone, especially if said dust bunnies contain pet hair.  Supposedly they also eat silk, although I have never seen one on a pure silk garment.  There are two common kinds of wool moths (at least here in the US) and they both look pretty much alike: usually tiny (less than a centimeter long) shiny golden moths with tattered-looking edges to the wings, and red eyes.  The eggs are incredibly tiny, and the larvae, when they first hatch, are practically transparent, and thinner around than a sewing thread.

How, pray tell, do I know that last part you may ask?  Well, one time, years ago, we came back from a long trip and there were quite a few moths flying around the house (the woolens were packed away but I was still pretty mad).  After crushing the first couple dozen I could catch, I decided to capture a few and leave them in jar to see what would happen, in the spirit of “know your enemy.”  Probably the most interesting and disturbing thing I found out was just how practically invisible the larvae are when they first hatch.  I could easily give an item a thorough inspection and not see one at all.  Probably the second most interesting thing I found out was that yes, a couple of days in my freezer does seem to kill them.

moth and larvaIf you click on the links at the bottom of Lisa’s post, some of them have photos of actual moths.

They Can’t Eat It if You’re Using It

This is the most important thing I’m going to write in this post, so take note: moths are not a threat to woolens you’re using, only those you’re storing.  I have lots of wool clothes, and I just love them.  I wear them all winter long, without worrying a bit that little things with wings will attack them.  That’s because if you’re wearing something, it’s out and about, it’s in the light (which clothes moths don’t like), it’s brushing up against other things, it’s being cleaned and then worn again … in other words, even if a moth did lay eggs on it, chances are very high the eggs would be destroyed or brushed off before they hatched.

Store it Well if You’re Not Using It

When the weather warms up, I wash my woolens, bit by bit usually, and store them for the summer, in a suitcase in the garage.  Dirty clothes are more likely to attract moths, not to mention it’s not good for the fabric to let stains and oils just sit there.  In a weird way I kind of love doing this, and especially love opening up the suitcase in the fall when it’s full of wonderful things for winter.  I hand wash everything except a large rug and my not-me-made coat, which go to the cleaners.

I also use plastic tubs to store yarn and fabric scraps, and some plastic bags inside those as well.  When I worked at a museum, I learned that airtight plastic bags are not really a good choice for long term storage of textiles, you want some airflow, otherwise the air in the bag will become different enough from the air outside that just taking the textile out can damage or destroy it.  But while plastic bags aren’t the best choice for preserving your grandmother’s wedding dress, they should be fine for keeping your yarn stash organized, as long as you open them now and then.  In my mind, the absolutely ideal container for wool storage is one that seals tight to moths but not to air, which is why I use a suitcase (with a tight closing zipper) for summer storage.  Whatever you use, make sure it closes tight enough to keep a little moth from wandering in.  Moths can eat through paper bags and cotton to get what they want, but they only will if what’s in there really grabs their attention.

Cold definitely slows moths down, and may kill them if the conditions are right.  I’ve had good results storing wool for felting, and materials for making my cashmere hats, in big plastic tubs that stay on my back porch year round.  About half the year, it’s pretty cold out there, and usually freezes at night.  I keep my knitting yarn bin out there for part of the winter too.  The rest of the time it stays in the garage.  I’ve also had good results storing wool yarn and fabric scraps that I’m not going to use right away in the garage, either in plastic tubs or in a cardboard box with the seams taped shut.  Again: treat/clean things, then store them.

Two Mistakes You Don’t Have to Make

As my friend Tom says, “You don’t have to make this mistake, I have already made it for you.”

1.  Don’t bring home a new wool rug without having it cleaned, especially if it’s imported and/or has been stored for a while.  Seriously, take it straight to the cleaners when you buy it, then bring it home.  Same thing with any old yarn or sweaters someone donates to you.  Treat them (see below), then wash them, then use them.

2.  Don’t assume that something which has been hanging in your closet for a while is moth-free, and put it away.  Treat it and/or clean it every time before you store it.

How to Kill Clothes Moths

If you find moths in your house, I can’t recommend a better strategy than what’s in Lisa’s article, which I linked to at the top.

It appears, from the incident with the jar of moths as well as other anecdotal evidence, that the ordinary freezer attached to my fridge is enough to kill moths, although that has not been scientifically proven for all stages of moth life.  There was also an incident in which a moth attack got started in a storage bin (see 2. above) but then halted, and the larvae appeared dead when I found them.  I have a theory that, while the temperature was not low enough to kill the eggs, at some point it did freeze hard enough to kill the larvae.  This was in the garage.  This is just a theory.

When I brought home my felt samples that were possibly exposed to moth eggs, I decided to try treating them with heat, since I could cycle through everything I needed to treat in a day, rather than over weeks if I used the freezer.  Lisa recommends temps over 120° F for at least 30 minutes.  Washing in water over that temp also works, but I decided I’d rather keep the wool dry so that I could store it right away.  I’ve also steamed small amounts of yarn above boiling water, the way you would a vegetable, and that should work as well, as long as the heat penetrates to the middle of whatever you’re steaming.

I did put a pan of hot water on the lowest oven rack, so that the heat I was exposing the wool to wouldn’t be completely dry.  The lowest temperature my oven will set at is 170° F, and I went for 200° just for good measure.  I put an old towel directly on the middle oven rack, and put the wool items, not too many at a time so that the heat had a chance to penetrate, on top of that, and set the timer for 40 minutes before taking them out and putting in the next batch. At the end, the only thing that showed any signs of scorching was where the towel touched the sides of the oven, so I suggest folding your towel so that it doesn’t touch the oven walls.  I keep a baking stone on the top rack of my oven, and I left it there to hold heat.  If you wanted to, I think you could also do two racks of wool at a time, as long as you allow time for the oven to heat back up after you load everything in.

wool in oven When one batch was done, I put it somewhere clean, and while the last batch was heating, I wiped out the plastic storage bin I keep the felt samples in with a damp cloth, and let it dry in the sun.  The cleaning part always seems like no fun at first, but once I’m doing it, it occurs to me that it was high time anyway, and it feels good in a spring-cleaning kind of way.  When I put the samples back in the bin I felt confident that they were good to go.

This is in Lisa’s article, but I’d like to emphasize it: please please do not use mothballs.  This is another thing I learned from working at the museum: mothballs are truly horrible, they are toxic to all kinds of creatures, including me.  I’m pretty sure I left a few brain cells behind while going through their collection of furs.

And Finally, Spiders

A thought about spiders: another time we returned from our summer journeys to find that moths had hatched in the house, but this time most of them were in a spider web in the studio.  Ever since then, I have let spiders be in the house (except if they’re in the sink, the bathtub, or building a web somewhere very inconvenient) instead of trying to relocate them outside.  It started me thinking that the spiders, being so much smaller than I am, and adapted to eat bugs, and hungry, might be much much better than I was at finding moth larvae under the edges of the carpet, etc.

I can’t say for sure what difference leaving the spiders has made, but I will say that over the past few years, all these strategies combined have meant that I only see a couple of moths a year (and, um, SQUASH them) and more importantly, I’ve managed to keep all the things I care about from getting munched on.

There’s a lot here (phew!), but I still promise to update/post more as I learn more!

A Hedgehog Anemone Hat

Plus, another way to fluff up knitted tendrils.

 

hedgehog hat outside 2

 

I know—what??  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please bear with me for a minute.

First, the hat.  This is one of Cat Bordhi’s designs, the Arctic Anemone Hat.  It just looked SO fun to knit, I really wanted to make one.  But I couldn’t see myself wearing it . . . I could see my mom wearing it, though.  She loves all kinds of sea creatures, hedgehogs, and plants with unusual spiny pods—so it definitely fits her aesthetic.  I had planned it as a surprise, but it ended up being so much better that I told her (when she was thinking about knitting one); I got to ask her what color she wanted, and get her to try it on as I went, and consult her about design details.  We decided to make the tendrils a little shorter, more like hedgehog quills, which I think went well with the grey color.

 

hedgehog hat outside 1

 

This was such a win-win.  The hat was every bit as fun to make as I thought it would be, from the moebius band (yes you can knit a moebius strip—from the inside out) to making the tendrils, it was a blast.  And, my mom loves it!  It looks so cute on her, too.  Actually, it looked really cute on every single one of my relatives who tried it on.  I knit this hat mainly on our Thanksgiving trip, so all my relations saw it in progress, and wanted to try it on when I finished.  However, Mom hates having her picture taken almost as much as she likes unusual creatures, so I decided to photograph the hat in the natural environment.

The only reason I got it back for long enough to photograph it at all, is that Cat’s directions suggest you use a superwash wool (one that’s been treated so that it won’t felt) and fluff up the tendrils by running it through the dryer.  I have a dryer, and mom doesn’t.  This definitely worked.

Before:

hedgehog hat before fluffing

After:

hedgehog hat after fluffing

 

But after fluffing, I began to wonder if there was another way to do it.  I’m a fan of untreated wool, and I wondered if I could get some tendrils to fluff up by steaming them.  After all, what’s happening in the dryer is: dampness, heat, and agitation.  I tried it out on a sample, knit with organic, not-superwash wool yarn.  This worked too!

Before:

tendril sample before fluffing

After:

tendril sample after fluffing

It might not produce quite the fluffiness of the dryer method (keep in mind that the yarn I used was also not as thick), but it wonder if the tendrils would continue to fluff up a bit with washing and wear?  I got the best results by using my iron—not touching the tendrils, but holding it above them and putting on lots of steam for a few seconds.  Then I picked up the sample, and, holding it upside down, gently scrunched and shuffled the tendrils around.  I decided on upside-down because the tendrils tended to wilt downwards with all the steam.  It also seemed to help some that were reluctant to fluff up if I sprayed them with a little water from my plant/laundry mister, then steamed and scrunched.

At least with my sample, it would have required a nearly impossible amount of effort to felt anything using the steam, and gentle fluffing.  However, wool + water (usually much more than this) + heat + agitation does = felt, so be advised.  I would agitate the base of the hat as little as possible while it’s steamy, just concentrate on moving the tendrils around and scrunching them up.

sweet tomato knee socks frontOne more note: in honor of knitting more lately, and knitting something that was so fun without even changing the pattern very much at all, I have finally decided to stop lurking Ravelry and using it only as the world’s absolute best pattern search (you can be shocked, I don’t blame you).  I’ve gone back and posted some of my favorite knitted projects from the past few years, whatever I could think of that I still had and/or had pictures of, and there are a few more of those still to add.  I even posted a few yarns from my stash that might find a better home.  If you’re on Ravelry too, come and say hi, I’m FrenchToastTasha.

Even if not, happy making!  I suggest making something that’s just plain fun to create, at least every once in a while.

Convertible Knitted and Felted Mittens

In which I remodel my mittens to make them better than ever, and show you how to calculate shrinkage when felting your knitting.

 

purple mittens finished 2

 

My friend Tom once commented that many of my clothes have stories behind them, and these mittens are no exception!  In fact, I’m going to tone it down here, story-wise, and stick to only the most interesting and relevant of the many angles I could go for.

 

A Very Short History of the Original Mittens

I started knitting these as my take-along project on our trip to Italy in February of 2010.  I knitted the main parts from yarns that we dyed the first time I ever did natural dyeing, with my grandmother and a bunch of dear family members in 2008.  (I’m telling you, I’m skipping  a lot of stories here).  My goal was glove fingers for finer dexterity, that could also be covered by a mitten flip-top for extra warmth.  Typically for me, I consulted a few patterns, but didn’t end up really using any of them.  I didn’t have enough purple for the fingers and the flap, and because I love purple and green together (one of my favorite color combos for the hats) I decided to get green yarn.  No one else was impressed with this decision, and I can now admit that one of my students at the time probably put it best when she said they looked like “dead fingers.”  So, moving on, when I discovered that they were too slippery to drive in, I sewed on a bunch of patches from faux suede samples in different colors.  Ignoring whether or not this made the green fingers look any better, and also the fact that all the fingers had come out too short after felting, I wore them all the time, all over the place, skiing, shoveling snow, etc., through last winter.  By the end of that season, one of the fingers had developed a rather large (and cold) hole in the end.

 

purple mittens before

 

A Plan for New and Improved Mittens

When I got them out this fall for the season, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do more than just fix the hole.  You see, if I was going to fix the hole, it made way more sense to knit on a little more finger, so that it would be actually the right length.  And, it would be ridiculous to do that for only one finger.  And, if I did it for the rest of the fingers, I would either have more green fingers or an even more ridiculous color mash-up than before.  I decided to start over on the fingers, and this time, do the math.

As fate would have it, last winter I sent my blog friend Alessa some American patterns, and she sent me some yarn and other lovely stuff from Germany (these mittens really are more full of stories than average, even for me).  Thanks Alessa!  One skein of the yarn (on the left below) was a lovely variegated purple in 100% alpaca.  Alpaca felts like a dream, and is just as soft felted as not.  I saw it in my yarn bin and knew it would be perfect for new fingers.

 

package from AlessaIs that not the most-awesome-looking tin of chocolate?

 

How to Calculate Shrinkage for Felting Knitting

Lots of times I tell my students that knitting can either be all math; full of charts, calculations, and exact numbers of stitches, or no math at all; flowing along and decreasing when it looks right to you.  In my mind, the happiest mix is somewhere in the middle.  When you’re felting, it really helps to have a least a little math, which comes from making a sample in your intended yarn and measuring how much it shrinks, especially if you need it to come out a certain size.  (I neglected to do this for the first fingers, and you saw how that went.)

I started out with a tighter gauge, then decided to increase my needle size, because looser knitting will felt faster (you can see from the before and after that it also affects the percentage of shrinkage).  I’m using two strands of the yarn since it was fairly fine, and I wanted the fingers to be nice and thick and warm when finished.  You don’t have to take a photo, but do measure and draw around your sample.  Also make a note of how many stitches are in your sample, they will disappear into the felted texture and you won’t be able to tell later.  (This is about the smallest sample that will give you an accurate idea.)

Before felting:

purple mittens sample before

After felting:  (As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge if you wish.)

purple mittens sample after

 

Here’s the math part, it’s not too scary: divide the felted measurement by the unfelted measurement, to get the percent of the original measurement after shrinking.  F/U = %  I did this across my various measurements and got an average of 79% for the width, 84% for the height.  I wanted both, because I had noticed when felting the fingers the first time that they wanted to shrink more in height than in width, no matter how I stretched them out, which meant that I had not added enough extra knitting in that dimension.

Now that you have your percentage, apply it like this (there was algebra involved but I did it for you): the unfelted measurement (the one you want so that you know how much to knit before it shrinks) equals the felted measurement (how big you want it to end up) divided by your percentage of shrinkage (.79 or .84 in my example).  U = F/%  Clear as mud?  Try it, you’ll see what I mean.  You end up with a number a bit bigger than the felted/finished number you put in.  You can check it by putting it back in the first formula and see if you get the right percentage.

For my finished/felted measurements, I used the width of the previous fingers (by now chopped off), which I liked, and measured the height of my fingers sticking out of the mittens, adding a little extra for the thick knitted fabric to go over the top.  I calculated the unfelted measurements, then used the gauge from my sample to figure out how many stitches to use for each finger.  You can’t have a fraction of a stitch, so round up or down, whichever is closer or you want to err on the side of.  I knit until each finger was about the calculated unfelted height, erring on the side of a bit extra at the top, which turned out to be a good idea!

Just in case, I made one finger as test (the index finger on the right below) and felted it before knitting the others.  It came out great.

purple mittens unfelted fingersEven though the old fingers were felted on, I was able to snip the green stitches and pull them out, leaving the purple ones which I could pick up and knit from.  It helped that the palms never got totally felted.

Other Improvements

The thumbs were too short as well, plus worn mostly through in one spot from gripping.  And having only one layer of knitting (the part between the thumb and palm where the stitches tend to stretch open no less) meant that my thumbs were sometimes cold.  I fixed all that.  At this point, there was no stopping.  Since the thumbs were somewhat loose, I decided to knit inner layers for them.  I thought that I might need to slash the top of the mitten flap and extend it too, but after felting the fingers, it fit snugly over them, which would be warm, and I could add a bit of ribbing on the palm side for a little more length and to help hold the flap down.  Neither of these new additions would be felted, and both were small, so this was the no-math part.  I made adjustments visually, pulling something out if it didn’t seem right, and tried on the thumbs a lot to fit the shape to my hand.

 

purple mittens knitting extras  This may be hard to believe, but according to my notes, the wool I used for the new ribbing is the same as the original flap and thumb!  So it has definitely faded with sun and wear and washing.  Fortunately I like both colors.

 

A Minor Miracle of Purple Suede

Finally, I needed something for grip on the fingers and palms.  (I’m telling this story whole, it’s a good one.)  I want to be able to drive and grab ski poles and my keys, etc., and I didn’t want to go back to the multicolored bits of Ultrasuede.  I briefly considered using some light green suede elbow patches I got along with a sweater for recycling . . . and was fortunately dissuaded by friends.  What I ideally wanted was something that would match the mittens.

Almost on a whim, I dropped into a rather old-school shop downtown, which sells saddles and leather and a few seemingly random bolts of blanket wool and skeins of rug yarn.  I remembered that the last time I was there, over a decade ago, they had a bin of leather and suede scraps, and I thought if they still did, I might be able to find something close.  I was the only one in the little shop, not too long before closing, and the woman working said that no, they didn’t have any scraps.  I had the mittens with me, I showed her what I wanted to do.  Suede and leather started at half a hide for $24, there were black and green and red . . . and at the end of the rack, four smaller, scrappier pieces, all in dusky, slightly mottled shades of purple.  Not just purple, four distinct purples that each were so exactly what I needed that they looked like they were dyed to coordinate with the mittens, and left on the end of the rack by magic.  “Oh,” she said, “You could use those!  They’re $9 each.  We sold all the red, all the black . . .”  Hardly believing my good fortune, I picked the color I liked best out of the thicker two (two were quite thin), paid for it, and practically skipped down the street towards my car.  A few times, when I’ve been intensely searching for a supply I cannot find, probably which doesn’t exist, I’ve dreamt that I went into a shop and found exactly that thing, only to wake up disappointed.  This is the only time, so far, it’s ever happened in my waking life.  I have a rather large piece of somewhat smelly purple suede left in my studio to prove it!

 

purple mittens finished 5

purple mittens finished 3

 

I love love love these mittens.  I finished sewing on the suede over our family Thanksgiving trip, and just in time too, when we got back our town had a major cold snap, not getting above freezing at any time for over a week, unlike our usual mountain cold nights but mild days.  I’ve worn these cross-country skiing, I wore them to art walk downtown at night (during the below-freezing week), shoveling snow, driving, and never one cold finger have I had!  Felted alpaca is like little down blankets for your fingers.  I can easily wriggle my fingers out of the mitten top for fine tasks without using the other hand.   Having placed the suede patches where the wear was on the old fingers, plus the part of my palm that I use when I grip things—surprise!—they are in the perfect spots.  I recommend the inside of the thumb especially.

 

purple mittens finished 4

 

If you want to make your own version, I’d start with a glove pattern you like.  Either refer to a flip-top mitten pattern, or make up the flap as you go (Basically:  I picked up sts across the back of the hand, cast on across the front and did a few rounds of short rows for a curved shape, joined everything into a round and knit, decreasing following the shape of the fingers underneath).

I realize that I haven’t talked about the actual felting, in fact that felting is probably the thing I know the most about that appears the least on this blog.  Maybe I’ll do something about that in 2014.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about making mittens or felting in general, feel free to let me know!

Happy Solstice, everyone!

 

purple mittens finished 1

 

Making a Lining for a Simple Top

In which I concede that yes, some wool is itchy.

 

lined MD top front

 

My grandmother wove the fabric for this top, and she sewed it!  She gave it to me many years ago, but I’ve never worn it much, because when it touches your skin, the fabric is super scratchy.  You all know how much I love wool, and I try to advocate for it, so I usually say that it doesn’t have to be itchy!  But the truth is, of course, it varies enormously with everything from the kind of sheep the wool came from to the way it’s processed, leading to everything from super snuggly high-end next-to-skin layers all the way to heavy duty outerwear.  (And here’s something I can’t get out of my head since I read it, that we might not even want all wool to be soft, we want some to be hard-wearing too.)

Ok, so say that you do have a scratchy wool garment that touches your skin, what to do?  Line it!  I’ve had vague plan for lining this top for a few years, a plan which gradually clarified itself and worked out details in my head, as I realized that I could satisfy my clear need for more sweater layers using almost exclusively things I already had.

 

lined MD top side

 

This top is a very simple construction which seems to have a been a favorite of handweavers in the 1970’s.  It’s just two large rectangles for the front and back, and two more folded over for the sleeves.  It has slits at the side seams for a little more movement, and the edge of the fabric is just turned under to make a bit of a curve at the front and back neckline.

 

lined MD top reinforcementI’ve been storing this in my brain and knew I would use it!  A couple of the older sweaters I’ve re-used for Fiddleheads have a sturdy ribbon reinforcement at the underarms.  I know this is a point of stress for this top, as the stitches had already popped there, and I’m not going to want to undo the lining to fix it again!

 

I thought it would be pretty simple to line this, and I was right.  There is a lot of minor fudging going on here, and it doesn’t really show, since it’s um, the lining.  I measured all the dimensions of the top and cut the lining the same size, plus seam allowances.  I knew that that would make the lining a little bit baggy, since it’s the same size and inside the top, but I didn’t want to make it too tight, or make this project super fiddly.  For such a simple garment this worked well.

Since the issue with the itchy-ness of this top is where is touches my skin, I knew that I needed an edging that would stick out past the wool at the neck and sleeves.  I had two candidates for lining fabric in the stash, both blue rayon.  I really liked how the color and slight twill texture of one looked with the wool fabric, but it was a little heavy for lining and has more potential as a garment on its own.  So I decided to use the first fabric for just the edging strips, and the lighter weight, darker colored rayon for the main lining pieces.

 

lined MD top sewing detailsI’m trying something new here, a lot of the sewing details are in this photo.  I hope that it will both be visually more clear what I’m talking about, and make the main text a little less dense.  Click to enlarge and read!

 

No doubt, this project has a LOT of hand stitching, mainly backstitch.  Fortunately, I love handstitching.  It has all the advantages of knitting in that it’s soothing and portable, I could work on it anywhere, and while talking to people on the phone, etc., so it actually went pretty fast.  Plus, I didn’t want the stitches to show on the outside, and since I could place and pin the fabric as I went, handstitching gave me the most flexibility to see how things were coming out, and pin under more or less to adjust.

 

lined MD top inside done

handwoven by Dottie MillerSo, many little stitches later, there you have it!  Lined garments just feel so finished, and kind of luxurious when you put them on, don’t you think?  And, the itchy issue is 100% gone, to the point where I forget all about it. (Remind me not to cuddle small children while wearing this . . . )

 

lined MD top front cowl

 

Now I just have to figure out how to wear it.  I’m not used to having wide 3/4 length sleeves, and sometimes catch them on things . . .  The first time I wore this into town, I thought it looked better with a cowl or scarf on top.  But looking at these pictures, I kind of like it on its own.  I live in layers, and this one is a bit tricky to layer on top or under, so I think a cowl or scarf will be a good option when it’s cooler.  The weather has been so mild lately that I was really comfortable taking pictures outside in just the top.  It may be a sign of impending doom, but I might as well enjoy it, right?

 

lined MD top side cowl

 

Totally, that’s what I thought.  What are you working on for winter, assuming we get winter?