A panoply of (sometimes) lovingly handmade crud.

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Once again Halloween rolled around and once again it was a week before a party that I started thinking about a costume. I had a little time in central London so wandered around a ‘vintage’ store for some inspiration. I wanted a costume that would work with my teeny weeny Afro. Initially I was thinking Moss from the IT crowd.

As I looked at the dubious vintage items (a bugbear of mine is ‘vintage’ stores that are overpriced and have crappy, samey clothing), I started to feel inspired. I quite wanted to go for an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia costume but didn’t want to buy a new wig- maybe I’ll go as Ango Goblogian if I stumble across the right secondhand wig another time.

I had just seen the new Joker movie and wondered whether there was mileage in that as a concept. I’ve seen on Instagram (good targeted advertising I guess) that they sell hair wax that’s capable of producing vibrant temporary colour on Afro hair and doesn’t look crispy and awful.

Note: I’ve been meaning to write about the experience of cutting my hair but haven’t got around to it. I definitely surprised myself with how strongly my feelings about my gender were tied up with my long hair. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that I felt much more drawn than usual to dressing as a male character.

Anyway, when I went charity shopping a couple of days later, it was the character of the Joker that appealed to me the most. I spotted a red jacket and went to look at some reference images. What would the odds be that I could find a red suit, green shirt and yellow waistcoat all in my size in five days? Would I become desperate enough to violate my ethics and buy something new?

Spoiler alert

I visited the secondhand shops near my work and came away feeling a little apprehensive. I made the decision to just buy any item I could find that suited my needs- more on this later. As I returned to my office after lunch, I recalled that nearby Chiswick High Street has a fantastic selection of charity shops. Since I had some containers and could pop into the Source as well, I hopped on my bike and went over that very afternoon.

Chiswick sorted me out beautifully. The first thing I spotted in the Shelter store was a bright red jacket for £15. I tried it on and it fit. I decided not to buy it immediately just in case I came across something better.

The next shop came up trumps with a pair of red trousers- I had to ask the volunteer to take them off a mannequin for me. Not perfect but definitely good enough for my needs, especially since they were £6.50. I bought them straightaway so the lady wouldn’t put them back on the mannequin.

The thing I was most worried about was the waistcoat. I’d hardly seen any waitscoats at all on my search, and is a yellow waistcoat an item anyone would want aside for for costume purposes? But the Barnado’s shop contained a golden floral one. Again I didn’t buy it straightaway. It wasn’t quite perfect and I had a couple more shops to visit.

I wandered down to the shop at the end of the road, where my eye was immediately caught by a green silk shirt. It was more olive than I wanted, but a beautiful silk shirt from Whistles seemed too good an offer to pass up at £20- it’s something that can definitely slip into my work wardrobe when spooky season is over and done.

Classy AF

I quickly walked back up the street to collect the waistcoat and jacket, which was a great match for my new pants. It seemed silly to waste time looking any further. I was irrationally terrified that other shoppers would have snapped my items up, but I needn’t have worried.

The only big misstep I made was with the very first item I bought; another red jacket. For the first time, I investigated a weird junk shop that’s opposite my office. There’s no indication of what it is on the outside, just some rails of clothing. I went in and there are hundreds of poorly sorted items and no lighting. It’s so strange. There were people wandering about using their phones as torches. I wish I knew the story behind it.

I found a red men’s jacket in there and hastily bought it for £15. In the gloom of the shop, it had looked okay if a little big. As soon as I tried it on in a proper changing room, I realised that it wouldn’t do. I looked like a little kid in their dad’s suit. When I bought the second jacket, I donated the first one at the same time. No sense bringing it home to take up space when I have absolutely no use for it. I hope that Shelter will be able to make some money back from it at least.

Overall it felt really serendipitous that I was able to get everything I needed within only a couple of hours. Normally my cardinal rule of secondhand shopping is not to go looking for something specific. But this time, it worked for me. As my friend Cayleigh pointed out, perhaps even the men’s red jacket was part of the magic of that day of shopping. There may be some reason that it needed to find its way to the Shelter store in Chiswick.

In the end I paid £49.50 (not including the stupid second jacket) for my costume, which I know is far from cheap. The silk shirt I know will go into my normal wardrobe. And, in fact, I felt really fabulous in the red suit. I wonder if there’s a viable market for renting a single costume only suitable for a size 10 woman. Actually, two costumes since I still have my Wonder Woman dress from last year. I feel grateful that I am fortunate enough to be able to pay a premium to live according to my principles.

The one thing I bought new was the hair wax for £11. I had to use around 1/3 of the pot to get decent colour on my hair. I quite liked the definition that it gave my curls, though it did make my hair quite hard.

Yes I did go out for dinner dressed as the Joker. And yes my two companions were wearing normal clothes.

Candid Joker

This bubble tea tastes funny

How dare you take the Joker's photograph

It was so much fun to dress up in a completely different way to normal. I’ve never worn a trouser-suit before and actually I was living for it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve worn a suit as an adult full stop. I will 100% be looking for any excuse to wear my red suit again. The biggest surprise was probably how hot I was! I suddenly have a new respect for men in three-piece suits on the tube. Continue reading


I’ve finally managed to get some pictures of my mermaid Humboldt sweater! I finished knitting it months ago, but it was far too warm to wear it for some modelled pictures. I took the sweater up to Edinburgh, where I was competing with my quidditch team in Highlander Cup VII (we won by the way) and managed to get some pictures.

All in all, I spent over a year working on this project. I consider that to be time very well spent. I was able to transform two garments that weren’t getting any love into a new sweater that I hope will bring me joy for many years to come.

Sweaters taken from Ravelry

When I first learnt to knit ten years ago, I was definitely more of an ‘item’ knitter than a ‘process’ knitter. I was desperate to finish projects, sometimes staying up all night to get them done. As the years have gone on, I’ve become aware of how important it is to plan a project. To swatch, to measure, to research yarn. As I’ve spent time on these preparatory stages, I’ve started to enjoy them for their own sake. I feel confident that all the work will pay dividends. And there is pleasure to be taken from the planning itself- from being meticulous, from experimenting and thinking deeply about what I am creating.

Fortunately, this fits in perfectly with my burgeoning anti-consumerist values. Just because you’re a maker doesn’t make you immune from the pernicious influence of fast fashion. It’s easy to feel like you need to churn out a certain number of projects each month, or that you need to compulsively buy yarn or fabric for your stash. I don’t want to become a Smaug enviously guarding a big pile of fibre. I want a carefully curated wardrobe full of items that I enjoy making and wearing.

This is probably the most alterations I have made to a pattern:

  • Very different gauge
  • Worked pattern with less ease than recommended
  • Held yarn triple to incorporate ombre effect
  • Provisional cast-on and tubular cast-off used throughout
  • Altered neckline

I also did so much ripping that I have probably knit this sweater 1.5 times:

  • Unravelled a load of the body because I wasn’t happy with the ombre
  • Unravelled most of a sleeve to incorporate all of my remaining turquoise yarn
  • Unravelled the neckline twice to get it to look the way I wanted

I’m glad that I am much more at peace with ripping and re-knitting these days. Again, it is part of the process.

Pattern

Humboldt by Anna Maltz

Yarn

3 skeins Malabrigo sock

4 balls Rowan Kidsilk Haze*

2 balls Rowan Kidsilk Haze Glamour*

I have nearly one ball of the lightest blue Kidsilk and a couple of small balls of the sock yarn remaining

*I held the Rowan yarn double, which is why I used so much

Original cost of materials

Sock yarn: £39

Kidsilk: £50-60 (six balls @8.95 = £53.70 but I can’t remember what I actually paid)

Cost of additional materials

Two balls of KidSilk haze @ 8.95 each = £17.90

Ravelry project page

Previous posts in this series

Planning

Ripping out a cardigan

Frogging a sweater

WiP Weds 1

WiP Weds 2

WiP Weds 3

WiP Weds 4


Without tempting fate, this should be my last WiP Wednesday about this project. I did quite a lot more work on this sweater after my most recent post about it, which I think is worthy of some blog space.

Finishing the sleeves was quite straightforward and I joined the sleeves and body for the yoke. It was quite fun to work the marlisle pattern again, which was just as well because the first few rounds of the yoke feel incredibly long after the relative speed of the sleeves.

Checking the finished projects on Ravelry, I saw that there was a lot of variability in the necklines. Some knitters (including me) write quite detailed notes on their projects, while others don’t add anything. It was hard to tell how my project was going to turn out. I added a lifeline before working the neck shaping and I’m glad that I did.

A few rows into the neck shaping as written, it became obvious that the pattern is for a boat neck. Boat is one of my least favourite necklines- I just don’t think it suits me. I ripped back to my lifeline before going on holiday.

In the end I decided to tackle changing the neckline in two ways. I added more increases (every other row rather than once every three rows) along the raglan seams in the body on both the front and back. Since I have quite broad shoulders, I don’t like excess fabric  to accentuate that part of my body. I also changed the short-row shaping on the front neckline.

I had to do some more ripping when I accidentally knit the additional raglan decreases before I had calculated the changes to the neckline shaping. I used a combination of eyeballing and maths to work out how I wanted it to look. I think I’ve mentioned before that one of my pet peeves is having a t-shirt showing when I am wearing a sweater. I just think it looks messy. So my aim was a close neck that should cover the layer beneath.

I visually estimated the number of stitches I wanted left and then calculated which rate of decreases would get me closest

I took some pictures of the notebook pages where I did my quick maths. Kate Davies wrote a recent blog post about knitting and creativity. It discusses the idea that knitting is ‘relaxing’ at the expense of allowing knitting to be creative, engaging and absorbing. This relates to the idea that ‘women’s work’ is something straightforward and mindless, or even frivolous.

Even when following a pattern, knitting can involve a lot of processes that are not remotely relaxing. Undoing work can be frustrating. Figuring out how to change a design is a highly creative problem-solving endeavour, bringing to bear all the knowledge one gains through years of practice. It is an engineering project. Part of the reason I write all of these WiP posts is to give an impression of the work that goes on behind the scenes. When you say, “I made it,” most people have no idea of what that actually means.

In the end, I didn’t have quite enough of the light blue kidsilk to finish the sweater, so I had to buy one more ball. Somehow I hadn’t noticed that the balls are £8.95 each last time I went to John Lewis! I will have most of a ball left over.

The neck ribbing is virtually done now, so the final stage will be the finishing. I am using I-cord edging throughout, which I hope will give a very clean finish. It’s currently a bit warm for a sweater, but knowing English weather I imagine I will find an opportunity to get some pics once this garment is ready to wear.

Previous posts in this series

Planning

Ripping out a cardigan

Frogging a sweater

WiP Weds 1

WiP Weds 2

WiP Weds 3

Ravelry project page


This sweater has been in my WiP basket for several months now. Shortly after my last blog post (and taking this photo), I ran out of turquoise yarn.

I was also a bit uncertain about how to do the ombre on the sleeves. All in all, I was not feeling so inspired by this project, but fortunately that gave me the impetus to finish my She Loves Wool sweater that had been similarly languishing.

Looking at this photo with fresh eyes, I felt that it probably was time to start changing colours soon. I think it will make sense visually to have the colour change over my elbow.

Another complicating factor was the yarn. I had hoped that I had salvaged enough from my Bay sweater for this whole project but, alas, that was not the case. Even worse, I wasn’t sure which colourways of Kidsilk Haze I was working with.

I’m sure Stitch’n’Bitch, my bible in my early years as a knitter, recommends that you never throw ball bands away and thus avoid these problems. I know I followed that advice for quite some time, but old ball bands are a super annoying thing to have lying around the house. I’ve discarded them all in various house moves.

img_6209

What would make sense in the modern world would be to record this information on Ravelry. Now-me generally does that (I would like to be more fastidious about including all info, including dye lots), but unfortunately the Monique of 2013 did not. I have the colour recorded as ‘blue-green.’ I was fairly sure that the colour was ‘peacock’ but when I checked the Rowan website, there are two other shades that fit the bill. I had hoped to buy the extra yarn on eBay, but in the end I made the pilgrimage to John Lewis, praying that they had the right colours in stock. I took my swatch with me to compare.

img_6210

Not an exact match, but perhaps it is unreasonable to expect the colours to be a super close match when you buy extra yarn over six years later.

I wasn’t sure whether I would have enough of the lighter colour either, but I decided not to buy more at this stage. What I will do to try and circumvent that problem is make the section with the sequins longer than originally planned. I also wanted to use up the Kidsilk Haze Glamour.

I spent quite a bit of time knitting over the May bank holiday weekend. I was coming off an incredibly stressful week, and I needed the time to myself.

I finished the second sleeve and realised it made more sense to use up all of the turquoise yarn in the sleeves. Hopefully this will mean I have enough of the pale blue to finish the yoke without having to purchase any additional yarn.

I tried my best to make the sleeves match by weighing the yarn as I went along. Unfortunately I only have digital food scales that measure to the closest gram. Not especially helpful with mohair, which is incredibly light. Hopefully a local drug dealer will donate a more precise scale to one of the charity shops I frequent.

I have now ripped the first sleeve back to the turquoise area to insert the remaining yarn. The sleeves are lovely and quick to work so should be on to the yoke soon.

Before unravelling the first sleeve

I really really hope I am going to come out with a sweater that I am happy with. I have put a lot of work into recycling two old garments into this piece so I will be quite heartbroken if I don’t like the way it turns out. That being said, I am having a cropped sweater moment so it should slide seamlessly into my wardrobe as long as all goes to plan.

Previous posts in this series

Planning

Ripping out a cardigan

Frogging a sweater

WiP Weds 1

Ravelry project page


I fell in love at the London Knitting and Stitching Show around a year ago. The second I saw Lauren from Guthrie and Ghani’s Kelly anorak, I was gone. I immediately bought the pattern, zip and some of the beautiful waxed cotton they had in stock.

I had this Liberty tana lawn in mind for the lining from early on in the process. I think it’s a cute print but since buying I’ve felt that it’s a bit twee for a dress (even for me). However, I think the cotton lawn below goes better with the main fabric so I will use that instead.

I felt a bit weird asking to have photos taken in someone else’s coat, but also necessary.

Lauren made the 6 and I initially thought that I would do the same even though my measurements are closer to the 12. I am going to compromise and go with the 10.

I can see that the fit of the 6 across the shoulders is good, which means that what I probably ought to do is a full bust adjustment (FBA). I was reading someone else’s blog post in which she mentioned not liking making FBAs. I thought that was silly until I realised that I am exactly the same. When I first bought my sewing machine, I was quite keen on the old FBA and made one on my Bettine dress pattern. Since then… nothing. I think part of it is the fact that none of my RTW clothes have FBAs and yet they fit fine. Although, realistically, whenever I buy a shirt I have a choice to get a size that fits in the shoulders but risks gaping at the bust, or is slightly large in the shoulders with less risk.

For me personally I think it relates to my perception of my body. I was quite a bit larger when I was in my late teens and early twenties. My bust was absolutely enormous- I wore G cup bras. Since losing weight a few years ago, my bust has reduced a lot in both back and cup size. This has been such a relief and a big part of the reason I feel so much happier and more comfortable in my body. So, to me, I don’t have an especially full bust anymore. At the same time, most clothing and pattern companies draft to a B or C cup, so an E cup certainly is still an outlier.

When I wiggled around in the jacket a bit more, it was clear that I would need a bit more room. You can see in the side photo especially that the fit isn’t quite right. I’m so glad I risked social awkwardness to get the pics! I will also need to lengthen the sleeves and shorten the body. I really like the length of my purple SuperDry raincoat, which is shorter than the Kelly.

I’m hoping that I can try to enjoy the process of making this jacket. I’ve commented before that this has been something I have always found difficult- I am very outcome-oriented. However, this jacket will require a lot of patience from me. I will need to do extra things that are not in the pattern booklet. I will probably need to learn from mistakes.

Lauren’s blog post contains a lot of helpful information. I had a few dilemmas about this project, like whether to line or underline, how much to shorten the body. I paid £10 for a 26″ zip but really I want this jacket to be around 24″ long. I’m reluctant to spoil the lovely zip by shortening it.

Eventually I decided against buying the lining expansion pack. The main reason I would have bought it would be to tidy up the guts of the jacket.

I was also a little heartbroken to see that Guthrie&Ghani are now stocking the waxed cotton in yellow. Owning a yellow rain jacket is a small dream of mine. It’s definitely in the back of my mind that I may make a second version… Perhaps with a simple cotton lining for warmer days.

After doing some prep in early January, including buying the technical fabric to quilt my lining, I hit a roadblock. I didn’t have any thread in the correct colour. My work finally took me near the Goldhawk Road and I was disappointed to see that the shop where I normally buy my notions was closed.

I remembered that some stalls in the market sell bits and pieces and I managed to find some thread that matched my lining fabric. I didn’t feel comfortable using this random non-branded thread for sewing the shell of the coat, so I will probably wait until I am in the Oxford Street area to visit John Lewis or Liberty. But at least I can now make a start on the lining.

It has just hit me- have I become a thread snob???

I popped to Liberty but forgot that they have gutted their haberdashery section. I will have to make a trip somewhere else before I can start sewing the main fabric.

I found some time to quilt my lining recently. I followed the directions in Lauren’s blog post (linked above). I will say that it was quite tricky to get the lining to sit flat on the insulation. I found it helpful to roll the fabric up as you can see in the timelapse below. It’s also important to press your fabric before putting it on the insulation.

As Lauren says, the quilting is a time-consuming process. It took me several hours. But I enjoyed it- it’s quite meditative.

I am now ready to cut out!

Costs

  • 2.3m waxed cotton from G&G £65.55
  • Liberty tana lawn £23.25
  • Pattern £16
  • Zip £10
  • Extra insulating material and snaps £30.60
  • Thread £3

Total £148.40


Some of my precious sewing time during my time off work was devoted to patching my two pairs of jeans. I already posted a tutorial on how I do this and I followed the same technique.

I very nearly threw the lighter jeans away when I moved house in June, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even though I haven’t worn them since summer 2017, I love these jeans. I possibly kept them in case I wanted to replicate the fit in case I ever make my own jeans (at this point looking unlikely but who knows what the future has in store).

Annoyingly I didn’t think to take a picture, but the fabric around the seams on the inside leg of these jeans was completely worn away. You can see in the photo above the way the denim is pulling apart.

I was sorting though my clothes and I examined the jeans again. I think I previously dismissed the idea of patching over the seam, but suddenly this seemed like a great idea. The seam allowance is perfectly placed to cover where the denim is damaged. Shouldn’t a patch over the top hold it all together nicely?

You can see how heavily the jeans are already patched. I marked out with pins where I wanted to add new patches.

As with all of my jeans repairs, I made the patches with denim left over from my first day dress.

You may be able to see that I made the patches on the incorrect side of the fabric but you shouldn’t see this from the right side so I didn’t bother to remake them.

Weirdly intimate to show a picture of my crotch

You can see that I’ve basically reinforced the whole crotch area of these jeans with an extra layer of denim. I was a bit concerned that they would feel uncomfortable but they’re absolutely fine.

I just noticed that my ‘new’ jeans (purchased in September 2017 and worn quite heavily since) have just developed their first hole. My jeans always wear in exactly the same way.

This was a very straightforward patch job. I slightly thought about preemptively patching the areas that I know will wear away next but in the end I didn’t bother.

I almost feel like it is a personal challenge to see how many years I can keep these two pairs of jeans going. I’m fairly confident that I have had the brighter blue pair for around five years. It’s interesting how my conception of something being ‘worn out’ has changed in a fairly short period of time. This project has also reminded me how hardwearing jeans are- even though jeans are now a staple, this harks back to their history as a garment for hard physical labour.


Not long after writing my last blog post, I tried on my Humboldt sweater and realised that I wasn’t happy with how the gradient was looking. When I calculated how long I wanted each section of colour to be, I didn’t know that I had made a mistake when measuring my Port Charlotte sweater and therefore the dimensions were out. Also, the ribbing section is much more navy than turquoise, meaning that the turquoise section looked way too narrow.

The only viable solution was to rip back to where I finished the turquoise part.

This marl is pretty difficult to photograph! When I was looking yesterday, I couldn’t see much of a difference but now I can. I spent quite a bit of time examining the pattern schematic to try and think about the look of the gradient rather than just calculating it and I’m hoping this way will work out nicely. I will also have to think about how to do the sleeves, which will be much longer than the body.

I’ve managed to finish knitting the body and I think the length is looking as I want it. It feels so weird to be deliberately making a jumper too short!

I managed to cast on my first sleeve so that I could work on it on a flight. Despite the current heatwave in London, I’ve been making decent progress.

Now having a bit of a dilemma about how I want the gradient to look on the sleeves! Maybe it’s time for another lifeline…

Pattern: Humboldt by Anna Maltz

Yarn: Recycled Malabrigo sock and Kidsilk Haze

Ravelry project page