Finally ripping out my black cabled sweater opened my mind to the idea of turning disaster into triumph. Making is one of my passions in life and I believe it’s okay to spend money on the things you love. However, I’m also aware that I have a lot of cash tied up in unloved handmade items; wasteful both financially and in terms of the raw materials. I feel ready to stop carrying around an archive of mediocre knits and start ripping and reusing.
This change in my attitude got me thinking again about how my creative life might reflect what’s going on for me internally. I hope it means I’m getting ready to let go of emotional habits that do not serve me, changing to something more positive.
One thing that put me off making the Humboldt sweater when I first considered it two years ago was the cost of the yarn. Even using some recycled yarn, I would have to buy at least two skeins of speckled yarn (around £20 each) as the contrast colour.
As well as harvesting some yarn, unravelling took me on a trip down memory lane. I looked back on some of my old blog posts and tried to track when I started documenting projects here and on Ravelry. Seeing my Bay and Blue Ivy sweaters side-by-side on Ravelry got me thinking.
I remember spending a small fortune on the Rowan yarn during my first trip to Liberty of London when I was doing my doctorate. Though I loved the raw materials, the finished sweater was never me. I’ve probably worn it twice.
The navy cardigan got a lot more wear when I first made it. However, it was never quite the garment I hoped it would be. When I was younger, I was obsessed with designing things myself. I think I got this from my mother, who cannot even stand following a recipe. Now, I prefer to leave the hard work of designing to someone else, adding my own twist in smaller ways.
I think this cardigan was the fourth or fifth knitted garment I ever made and I managed to convince myself I was ready to take on a design project. Although the cardigan is okay, it has been unworn for the past couple of years. One of my quirks as a knitter is that I hate semi-solid yarns. I like things to be a uniform, saturated colour.
The juxtaposition had me. What about making a marl with the navy blue and a faded effect created with the kidsilk haze? I had a slight reservation about how the sequinned yarn would fit in, but I loved the idea.
As well as being less wasteful, I have been thinking recently about how I can downsize my stash. I am moving house soon and, as always, I have too much stuff. However, when I was planning this project, a massive advantage was the fact that I keep all my scraps. I had enough leftover yarn from both sweaters to make a gauge swatch and play a little bit with effects.
When I was working on the swatch, I initially preferred the stocking section (a happy accident). However, looking at it now, I think the garter stitch adds to the soft, dreamy effect of the mohair. I’m so happy with this swatch! The fade looks beautiful. The camera doesn’t really capture it, but there’s a lovely lustre to the yarn too.
Unblocked gauge (5mm)
20sts x 31rows = 10cm
18sts x 29 rows = 10cm
Even though my gauge is off, I don’t think it makes sense to go up a needle size. I want a slightly more fitted version of this sweater anyway, so I will just be very careful when calculating the size I am going to make.
I’m thinking that my mermaid Humboldt could be the perfect project for the Upcycle challenge being hosted by #craftblogclub on Twitter. I think the deadline of 25th June is a little ambitious but it still gives me something to work towards. I took part a couple of years ago and made my Cateralls, so I like the idea of doing something very different.
Original cost of navy yarn: £39
Original cost of Kidsilk: £50-60
Pattern: Humboldt by Anna Maltz
Over the Easter holidays, I took some time to finally unravel one of the first sweaters I ever knit. I’ve vacillated about whether to frog it for a long time. Even though I’m sure I’ve worn this sweater less than ten times, it can be hard to accept that something you spent such a long time making simply did not turn out the way that you had hoped.
Unravelling was a lot more enjoyable than I expected. There is a significant problem-solving aspect to it. You have to remember the order in which you knit the pieces, locate the ends you painstakingly wove in, and sometimes take a leap by yanking away on a piece of yarn that could potentially make your job a lot harder. The sweater had a few areas of moth damage, which is why there are so many little balls of yarn. Wherever there was even one broken ply, I split the yarn.
Since I made this sweater before I started blogging or using Ravelry consistently, I thought I would write a bit of a memorial piece.
I can’t remember how I came to own the book Custom Knits, but this pattern stood out for me straight away.
I remember buying the yarn from Knit With Attitude, back when I lived above a dry cleaner’s in Stoke Newington. Though I had very little disposable income (I was working in a school as a support assistant), I believed even then that it was worth investing in raw materials to match the investment of time in making garments. At that time, KWA was located in a teeny tiny unit on a back street next to the amazingly named Sell-Fridges (a discount refrigerator outlet).
The proprietor was really lovely and suggested this gorgeous alpaca yarn. I have moved house about four or five times since my Stoke Newington High Street days so I’ve long since lost the ball bands, though I’m sure I managed to keep hold of them for quite a few years. I remember even popping back into the shop for advice a couple of times.
I made this jumper when I was in a phase of adding bust darts to my knits. Since I also added waist shaping, it ended up being too tight. I also managed to make it too short. So much for being guaranteed a good fit with top-down knits!
I ended up with 16 variously sized balls of yarn, which weighed 260g. I threw away lengths shorter than a metre or so because life is too short. I froze the yarn due to the moth damage, and I will wind and soak before reusing it.
I think I’m going to use the reclaimed yarn as the main colour in the Humboldt sweater I’ve been planning for what feels like aeons. I think I will have some leftover sugar baby alpaca from my She Loves Wool sweater if there isn’t quite enough.
The experience of unravelling has got me thinking about some of the other unloved knits I have taking up space in my life. I’m hoping that reclaiming and reusing can be more of a part of my journey to be a less wasteful maker.
Pattern: Backward cabled pullover
Just as I was nearing the finish line and working on the final, extremely long, rows at the top of the shawl, I had to take an extended hiatus in order to squeeze in an urgent secret project. Knitting an entire fingering weight jumper in under three weeks killed my desire to pick up the needles for a while. Just as I started work on the wrap again, I hurt my thumb.
However, fortunately it didn’t take too long for me to be able to knit again. Before long, I’d finished the project. I decided to try out a new method of casting off, which apparently looks better on garter stitch. I used this tutorial for the Icelandic cast off.
My shawl came out pretty close to the measurements on the schematic. I blocked mainly to flatten it, and to improve the ‘W’ shapes. Looking at the pics made me realise that some of the lines are far from parallel, but I don’t think that’s noticeable when I’m wearing it.
Pattern: Wonder Woman Wrap (FREE on Ravelry)
Yarn: 1 skein each Ella Rae Lace Merino (Pineapple Soda) and Fyberspates Scrumptious 4-ply (Kiss)
I can’t believe that I’m finally getting to type these words- I have finished making my Sew Over It 1960s coat. Overall, I’m pretty happy with it. Though I’m not that happy with the pictures, this one excites me quite a lot.
This is what the back looks like.
Something I found notable about this project is that I never felt relaxed during any part of the making process. It felt as if disaster could strike at any minute. I suppose that’s the danger of investing such an enormous amount of time and money into something.
All in all, the hand-sewing required after the final class took a full day. There’s a little bit of pulling on the bottom hem that didn’t press out, but I haven’t fixed it because I’m considering taking some length out of the coat.
The next challenge was to select the buttons that would adorn the coat. I took her on a trip to Liberty to try out some different options. Black was the obvious choice, but I wanted to see if anything else tickled my fancy.
In the end, I picked the beautiful black glass buttons in the finished pictures. Nothing wrong with the obvious choice if it’s the right one! I decided to take the coat on a second trip to Soho to have the buttonholes professionally done. Marking out the holes was another source of anxiety. A small mistake could mean that the coat would never hang nicely.
I think my coat enjoyed the second trip into town. I’d rung up DM Buttons the day before to be told that the following day was their last before the holiday, so to go as early as possible. We got to see the Christmas decorations in the early morning light.
Before finding our way down a dark and scary alley to the lovely studio.
It was so cool seeing all the specialist equipment he has to finish garments. And the finished buttonholes look fabulous. I went for bar tacks for any buttonhole aficionados out there.
Getting the buttons to line up took FOREVER.
I have to say that the chances of me making another coat like this are slim. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process, and I’m not entirely convinced that what I can do at home is better than what I can buy. But I am happy with my fabric choices.
My biggest regret is not making the pockets bigger. This is a perennial problem I have with SOI patterns, so be warned if you like a capacious pocket.
Pattern: Sew Over It 1960s coat (size 12 with some fitting adjustments)
Fabric: 3m of wool and lining from Goldbrick Fabrics (I had 1m of wool left over)
Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas included a speed knitting contest, for reasons of drama and tension I guess. Perhaps they were hoping for some shots of wooly sabotage. Speed knitting is a bit of a strange concept because there is almost never a timed element to knitting. Although that could be said of baking, or any number of activities that are subject to televised competitions. In fact, the only other speed knitting I have ever done was making my Rainbow bright jumper due to the super tight turnaround time!
It was so strange to see how they edited all the footage they took of me for the final program. It was even stranger to be referred to as ‘yarn geek Monique’ on numerous occasions. But if the shoe fits…
I didn’t get to mention on the show that most of the clothing I wore was handmade. When I was being filmed at home, I had my better Breton sweater on underneath my favourite pinafore. During the speed knitting challenge, I wore my octopus Betty (as pictured here). And I wore my fuchsia tulip skirt with my finished jumper.
I had initially planned to make a cute mini hat to match my sweater, but I was asked to make a full-sized item. Fortunately, I had a ball of Crazy Sexy Yarn in my stash left over from a wrap I made a couple of years ago. This cowl is basically a Lil Snood Dogg. I would have preferred it to be a bit bigger, but I was limited by the amount of (also leftover) t-shirt yarn I had to cast off with for the circumference. I was then limited by time for the length.
I think it looks pretty good given that it only took an hour, and it’s been pretty useful in the current London freeze.
It was so weird that Jade from WatG was one of the judges! We’d met years ago when I did a knitting audition for them- back when they still sold items made by ‘gang makers.’ It was really interesting to hear how things went for the company.
Yarn: Wool and the Gang Crazy Sexy Wool and a couple of metres of Jersey Be Good
Pattern: Very Lil Snood Dogg
I already wrote about the substantive making of my Port Charlotte jumper, but I added a few elements to make it ‘more Christmassy.’ Even though I knit this sweater specifically for Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas, I was very clear that if I was going to invest so much time (and money) in a project, it had to be something I would love in its own right.
The words on the front are simply some chain-stitch embroidery. A top tip that really helped with this (thanks Jane) was to baste on the design with cotton first, to give myself a guideline. The only time I had to do it was on the train from London to Dorset, hence the uneven appearance. I’m definitely going to remove the embroidery once Xmas is over and done with.
I wore my jumper out and about on lovely day out in Bristol with my friend Jane to get some pictures. Here we are being geeks on the open-topped bus tour.
The yoke looks just as beautiful from the back.
I think this jumper fulfils its purpose of looking good with waisted skirts and dresses.
Something that I wish I’d had some more time to work on was the light-up element of this jumper. I’ve been interested in incorporating lights into my knits for a few years now- this was my reason for backing a project on Kickstarter about making light-up cards.
The card kit didn’t really translate into wearable tech, but I backed another TehnoChic project that came with a load of cool LEDs, which were perfect for this. If I’d had more time, I would probably have knitted little pockets behind the sweater to hold the batteries. In the end, I just slapped them on using Velcro! I’ve been too lazy to get the LEDs out again since the filming, so they’re not pictured in this post.
If you want to see more about this sweater and see how I got on in the Christmas jumper knitting competition, you can see my second small screen appearance of the year at 5pm on Thursday 14th December on Channel 4. I imagine it will be available on demand after that (I hope so because I won’t actually be home when it’s on).
Pattern: Port Charlotte by Kate Davies. I made size 4 and my gauge was pretty much spot on.
Yarn: Titus by Baa Ram Ewe. Around 2 skeins White Rose, Gobstopper mini skeins and some Jamieson&Smith jumper weight from my stash