Handmade Summer Wardrobe Assessment

Getting dressed during warm weather is always a struggle for me. I feel underdressed and un-stylish if I'm not wearing multiple layers, making the classic summer uniform of a dress + sandals or shirt + shorts feel blah. I also feel like I have more fit issues in summer clothing--but it's more likely that fit issues become more apparent the less you have on! An ill-fitting shirt can be covered up by a bulky sweater come cooler temps, but no such luck in the summer.

These feelings, coupled with the fact that my handknit wardrobe leans towards cold-weather coverage, has led me to focus on planning some summer clothing projects. My hope is that by integrating more handmade pieces that I love into my warm-weather wardrobe, I'll be more excited to get dressed in the summer. I'll be playing along with the Summer of Basics Make-along, plus likely embracing a few extra projects. Those project ideas will be discussed in my next post. Up first: taking stock of what I already have and what's in progress!

From L to R: Holla Back Tank, linen tee, Sugar Maple, Nachfalter

From L to R: Holla Back Tank, linen tee, Sugar Maple, Nachfalter

Honesty time: I'm not sure how much I will actually wear these, but I'm going to make a strong attempt (a la EmSweWeMo) and take stock at the end of the season of what got loved and what didn't. I've started rotating a selection of my handknit garments into my dresser, since the bulk of them live under the bed in storage containers and thus are always out of sight. By choosing 3-5 pieces and keeping them close at hand, I've found myself wearing them more often. 

Interestingly, two of these pieces I didn't knit myself, proving my lack of attention to this seasonal category of knits! The linen tee was from a friend's handknit wardrobe (she didn't want it anymore), and I think is knit in Rowan Linen. It was a very timely acquisition, as I'd been planning to make a simple stockinette linen or linen blend tee at the time! And Nachfalter is the original sample from Holla Knits, Allyson was culling her handknit wardrobe and I asked for it.

Tellingly, the piece I'm most excited to wear is the linen tee since it's easily the most versatile. The length, fit, and/or color of the other three pieces dictates that I can only wear them with certain bottoms. (They're also all done in wool or wool blends.) I realized this last summer, which is why I started knitting a basic grey Choose Your Own Adventure Tee in Quince & Co Willet.

Finishing this languishing WIP with time to wear it this summer is my goal! It's also my only cotton knitting, so I think this will get much more usage than the three wool/wool-blend tops in my summer wardrobe.

Next week I'll share my Summer of Making plans and my future handmade summer wardrobe goals!

How to Shop at Webs--America’s Yarn Store

Here’s a not-at-all-secret fact you might not know about me—I worked at Webs for almost seven years in various capacities.

All photos in this post © Webs/yarn.com

All photos in this post © Webs/yarn.com

Webs is a huge destination for many in the fiber community, and I saw countless stunned, amazed, and overwhelmed reactions from first-time customers during my time working there. Part of that was spent working the retail floor, so I’ve lived through multiple Tent Sales, busy Saturdays, holiday shopping seasons and regular old weekdays! If you’ve never been to Webs at all, or if you’ve shopped there before but never during a big sale, keep on reading for my insider’s perspective on how to shop America’s largest yarn store.

The front half of the retail store.

The front half of the retail store.

The Basics: Skip this part if you’ve been before!

  • The retail store is in Northampton, MA. If you’ve ordered online before and saw Easthampton, MA printed on your invoice—that’s the shipping warehouse. Don’t go to that address hoping to shop!
  • The front half of the store is full-priced items, most of which are eligible for the Webs Discount.
  • The back half is known as the warehouse, and that IS shoppable and is different than the shipping warehouse. (Yes, confusing nomeclature.) The warehouse is full of Webs’ own Valley Yarns Line, and yarns marked down in price like closeouts and discontinued yarns, occasionally overstock and so on.
  • Bathrooms are in the front of the warehouse.
  • A few years ago the store started printing ‘store maps’ that are near the front door. Since the store and warehouse are (mostly) sorted by weight, this points you in the general direction if you already know what you need. See what these maps look like here.
  • To work in the retail store, staffers must have fiber knowledge and preferably multiple disciplines. So don’t hesitate to ask them questions! Depending on the day of the week, you might get unlucky if say, you have a complex weaving question and the staff members who weave aren’t working that day, but generally there is good coverage for most questions.
The back half of the retail store, or the warehouse as its called. Yes, it's shoppable!

The back half of the retail store, or the warehouse as its called. Yes, it's shoppable!

Hack: Stop at a bathroom before hitting the store.

Especially during busy sales or weekends, don’t get stuck waiting in line for the bathroom when you first arrive—stop right before you reach the store! If you’re coming from I-91 North or South and get off at Exit 18, there’s a gas station with a Dunkin Donuts on your right before you reach the turn for Service Center Road. You can also stop at that gas station if you’re coming up from Holyoke on MA Rte 5/10. If you’re coming down 5/10 from Hatfield, you’ll pass multiple gas stations and fast food places before you hit the main intersection of downtown Northampton.

Have a plan.

How prepared you want to be is up to you. I suggest bringing a list that at the very least reminds you of projects you’d like to work on or gaps in your stash, ie ‘yarn for Tea Leaves Cardigan and Color Affection’ or ‘purple fingering weight yarn.’ This can keep you in check if you’re on a budget and become intoxicated by yarn fumes, or if you get overwhelmed easily and forget what you need. A more thorough list of specific yardages is helpful, especially if your pattern calls for a yarn that is no longer available, a little known indie yarn, or a yarn that Webs doesn’t carry. Telling a staff member you need 1000 yds of DK weight yarn for a certain type of project will get you to the right shelves faster. Knowing the names and colors of yarns you’ve been eyeing online is even better! If you can bring your pattern with you, whether it's on paper or your tablet/phone, that can help shortcut things.

Tempting shelves of Madelinetosh!

Tempting shelves of Madelinetosh!

Hack: In-Store Pickups

If you know you HAVE TO HAVE a certain yarn, I suggest ordering it in advance with an In-Store Pickup. In a nutshell, Webs has both a physical retail location (in Northampton) and a shipping warehouse (in Easthampton), where the bulk of inventory lives. The website displays the total amount of inventory for an item, meaning there’s no way for you to know how much of that total will actually be in the store when you arrive to shop. Ordering an In-Store Pickup guarantees that yarn will be in the store, reserved for you when you arrive so you’re not disappointed. You can read the guidelines on Webs’ FAQ page (note there’s a lead-time). I would place an ISP if your order falls into one of these scenarios:

  • The total amount in inventory is close to the number of skeins you want (ie, inventory says 7 and you want 5.)
  • You want a large quantity in one dyelot, like for a sweater or blanket project. Especially so if you are looking at hand-dyed yarns!
  • The yarn is limited edition, a closeout, or otherwise a one-time-only, get-it-while-you-can scenario.

You can always place an order in the store at checkout for any missing or out of stock yarn to be shipped to you when it arrives, but you know…then you have to wait.

When to shop.

This is not a hard and fast science, since you never know who will show up! To avoid crowds try to shop on weekdays and in the middle of the day. If you must shop on a Saturday or during a sale, I’ve noticed crowds tend to thin around lunchtime as people leave to grab food, so if you can wait and pop in then you’re likely to have more elbow room and less competition for that skein you’ve been eyeing.

If you're planning on traveling from out of the area and are looking for local accommodations, consider checking the calendars of Smith College, which is located right in Northampton, and the other four colleges in the area before planning your trip. Rooms can be hard to find around graduation, which frequently overlaps with Tent Sale, and during other big events of the year. Also note that Webs isn't too far from Rhinebeck, so many people will duck into the store on their way to or from their Rhinebeck weekend causing some extra traffic on those dates.

These are the tents of Tent Sale.

These are the tents of Tent Sale.

Expert Level: Tent Sale.

The annual Webs Tent Sale is a weekend event that occurs in May as part of the extended Anniversary Sale. This year it's May 20 & 21, 2017. Along with yarns from the Anniversary Sale that are already on sale, lots of special deals get put out under big tents in the parking lot. Stuff like a bag of yarn for only $10! It’s a really big deal—bus loads of knitters will field trip to the store on Tent Sale Saturday! If you have a chance to come to the store on a regular day first to get acquainted with the layout, that will help you navigate more easily. Saturday is the most popular day, since it’s the only day of the weekend that includes the Fleece Market of independent vendors selling their wares in the parking lot. To survive Tent Sale:

  • Go to the bathroom before arriving. Really. The women’s bathroom at Webs only has three stalls and the men’s bathroom is single-person.
  • BYO water or beverage of choice.
  • Bring a well-planned list so you can be as self-sufficient as possible. There’s not enough staff to go around, especially in the morning, and you’ll save time if you can find things yourself rather than having to wait behind 10 other people to ask a staff member.
  • Tent Sale is an all-hands-on-deck event, so there will be Webs staff from the warehouse or other departments working who are not fiber crafters and don’t know where anything is. Be patient with them! This is also not the weekend to ask for intricate, hands-on help with your projects in progress as there are just too many people attending.
  • If you can arrive slightly before or right at opening, you can get directed to a parking spot faster and be ready to spring as soon as things get going. There is usually a very narrow window at the beginning of Saturday where things are easily navigable, and then it’s a madhouse until early afternoon. Before then, the line to checkout stretches the length of the store and back into the warehouse!
  • Unless you really, really want to have first crack at special deals or want to shop the Fleece Market, I’d say come late afternoon on Saturday or wait til Sunday for less chaos.

Have you shopped at Webs before? What's your favorite tip for a newcomer?

Examining Bottom Up Set-In Sleeve Construction

If you listened to Episode 49 of the SweetGeorgia Show and shared their befuddlement on my design Ribbons and how the upper body is constructed, this post is for you! 

Bottom up set-in sleeve sweaters are my absolute FAVORITE way to work sweaters in one piece, but with the popularity of top-down knitting this method seems to be unfamiliar to some. (Other designs of mine worked this way include Turners Falls Cardigan, Polonaise Cardigan, Cables 'n Cats, Kitsunetsuki Cardigan, and Praline Pullover. Can you tell this method is my absolute favorite?!) I like this method for a few reasons. As a designer, my brain groks it much more easily than top-down sweaters and I can write and grade these designs across multiple sizes without knitting them myself. (Ribbons was knit by one of my awesome sample knitters, Joni.) As a knitter, I like getting the big, boring chunks of knitting out of the way first by completing much of the body and sleeves before finishing with the more interesting yoke. And of course, you get the bonus of attractive, well-fitting sleeve caps that have the appearance of set-in sleeves without requiring any seaming!

My drawing skills aren't the best, so here's my attempt to better illustrate this construction method for you. 

To reach the point shown above, you'll knit the body from the bottom up until the body reaches the underarms. For a cardigan, the body is knit flat; for a pullover, the body is knit in the round. On the last row or round, you'll bind off or set aside some stitches located under the underarms. This is so you can seam or graft the underarms closed once the sweater is finished. After that, put the body aside and knit the sleeves in the round from the cuff until they reach the underarm as well. Like with the body, you'll be binding off or setting aside a few stitches where the underarm is located before continuing. You now have one body and two sleeves...time to combine them!

(I reused scrap paper so apologies for the text showing through a little!) This step is the most fiddly and it's helpful to use a longer circular needle at first to accommodate the large number of stitches all at once. From here on out, I'll be speaking as if you're knitting Ribbons (or a cardigan) as opposed to a pullover, but the only difference is knitting flat vs knitting in the round. Otherwise the concept is still the same.

The joining row is worked on the RS. You'll knit across the right front of the body until you reach the stitches that have been set aside for the underarm. At this location, you grab one of your sleeves and knit across all the sleeves stitches (excepting the sleeve stitches which have already been set aside for the underarm.) Once the sleeve stitches have been joined onto the same needle as your body, you continue to knit on the body on the other side of that underarm gap. Knit across the back until you reach the second underarm gap, then knit across the second sleeve stitches to join the second sleeve to the body. Continue knitting the body on the other side of the second underarm gap, and knit to the end of the row which will leave you on the left front of the cardigan. Your work should look like this now:

Arguably, you could try it on if you wanted to but it's not going to stay on due to a super wide neckline! Now we need to shape the yoke to create the look of set-in sleeves and to ensure the cardigan becomes you know, an actual wearable thing. That will stay on.

This is the part that confuses most people, since the directions can look like a mess of decreases. It helps to remember what the armhole and sleeve cap of a traditional seamed set-in sleeve look like, since we're going for the same effect. We're simply recreating it as a 3D shape, instead of working it in 2D and relying on seaming to transform it into a 3D item.

A shaped armhole (left) starts with a series of bind-offs followed by a section of more gradual decreases to create the curve needed to accommodate your shoulder movement. A set-in sleeve cap (right) is designed to match that armhole curve on the front and back armhole, so each side of the sleeve cap also begins with a series of bind-offs followed by decreases. You'll generally wind up doing more decreases on a sleeve cap than an armhole, since you're attempting to create a bell curve to ease the sleeve cap into the top of the armhole.

How does this translate into Ribbons? The instructions look something like this:

  1. Decreases are worked only on the body.
  2. Decreases are worked on both body and sleeves.
  3. Decreases are worked only on the sleeves.

The rate of these decreases depends on the design itself, the gauge, and the sizes offered, so these steps might not all be followed if enough decreases can be satisfactorily completed in another step. For example, my Turners Falls Cardigan is worked in bulky yarn and I went straight to Step 2 for the yoke decreases since I had far less stitches to work with and didn't need to perform decreases only on the body.

When all yoke shaping is complete, you wind up with:

  1. A small amount of sleeve stitches.
  2. Stitches on the fronts equaling the intended shoulder width.
  3. Stitches on the back divided into three zones: the back neck, and stitches on either side equaling the intended shoulder width. These side zones should contain the same number of stitches as the fronts.

You finish off by working 4 short row sections. The first shapes the right front shoulder while slowly eating up some sleeve stitches to create that rounded top of the sleeve cap. The second section shapes the back right shoulder and eats up the rest of the right sleeve stitches. You repeat this process for the left side, so you're left with equal sets of stitches on the front and back for each shoulder. Then you graft, 3 needle BO, or seam to join the shoulders, and graft or seam the underarms closed!

The end result?

A beautiful, wearable cardigan with flattering, well-shaped shoulders and sleeves!

Are you ready to conquer a bottom up set-in sleeve sweater now? Let me know if you enjoyed this post and want to see more technical content from me!

Bijou Basin Ranch Himalayan Trail Review

Disclaimer: I was sent a skein of Himalayan Trail for free in exchange for this review.

Bijou Basin Ranch's Himalayan Trail was my first experience knitting with a yak-based yarn. As a former yarn-store employee I've fondled lots of exotic fibers, but haven't used most of them since I prefer to stick with yarns that promise to wear well, rather than reaching for softness. A 75% Yak Down/25% Super Fine Merino fingering weight blend, Himalayan Trail retails for $25 and nets you 200 yards for that price, putting it in luxury yarn territory for most people. 

On first glance, Himalayan Trail reminded me of some 100% Cashmere yarns I've seen, thanks to its visual softness. You know how some yarns have a strong halo? This yarn doesn't have a halo per se, but a general blurring of the edges (as if it were a photo that's slightly out of focus, if that makes sense), rather than having tightly twisted, strongly defined, crisp plies. However, once you start to work with it the yarn feels hardier than 100% Cashmere, no doubt due to the merino content. My swatch has been kicking around my office for two weeks with no visible pilling, shedding, or other such fiber malarkey.

Some yarns know exactly what they want to be, and Himalayan Trail is one of those yarns--lace, lace, lace! I tried a stockinette and brioche swatch for kicks, but didn't get very far on either one because it well, felt wrong for this yarn. Knitting lace with Himalayan Trail was a joy and it blocked very crisply with only a steam block.

Note that the color in the photo above is not true to life, I edited the desk shot with an emphasis on high contrast and strong, saturated colors. I'd say the other photos in this post are truer to life. This is Pistachio, and it has a subtle, slightly under-saturated look to it, with shifting bands of color thanks to the hand-dyeing process. Bijou Basin dyes a range of colors in-house (like this one) and frequently collaborate with indie dyers for limited edition offerings.

At only 200 yards, your pattern options are limited to smaller accessories for a single-skein project. I particularly like Collister by Kirsten Kapur (top) or Straightforward Mitts by Mone Dräger (bottom).

Untitled design (8).png

What would you make with a single skein of Himalayan Trail?

Brioche Cowl FO

In January, my good friend Kirsten gave me a beautiful skein of local wool she had hand-spun and hand-dyed. It's wooly and sheepy, but not irritating, and the resulting yarn is lightweight and airy rather than being a dense, bulky yarn.

DSC_0324-2.jpg

It's beautifully thick-and-thin, ranging from super bulky to super fine and plied with a weaving yarn. It's the kind of thing I wouldn't actively spin myself since I can't intentionally spin irregular yarns, but I love the play of color and texture! The skein was giant so I decided to knit a cowl end-to-end in the hopes of using up every last yard.

I chose brioche because it's fun to knit, I don't have many brioche accessories, and I thought it would play nice with the yarn's varying thickness without having to settle for garter stitch. Not that I hate garter stitch, but sometimes you want something more interesting! I cast on provisionally and knit on a US 10.5 needle until the strip was long enough to loop around twice, blocked it flat, then twisted it intentionally and kitchenered it closed. Surprisingly, I didn't use up all my yarn! I think I have enough left for a pair of super simple fingerless mitts, or at least that's what I'm hoping for.

I'm anal-retentive enough that I didn't like how the edges waved in-and-out when the yarn had a particularly thick or thin section. I wet-blocked it using blocking wires along the edges and stretched it to the max for this more open fabric, and in hopes of getting nice straight edges. The edges looked great when I took the cowl off the board but after a few wears the yarn is back to its original wildness. Life blocking lesson: don't fight the yarn. I KNOW this but I also like to see how far I can push the rules ;)

This was a really satisfying, quick knit and it's a great addition to my cold-weather accessory wardrobe. The teals and blues go with a lot of my clothing and I like how versatile long cowls like this are, with the choice of leaving it open or looping it double. Thank you so much for the yarn, Kirsten!

New Designs: Seismite & Ribbons

I know I hinted at less designs...but these were completed awhile ago! Such is the nature of the biz, us designers are always working months in advance so I'm not necessarily busy when releases finally come out.

First up is Seismite, a fun and free hat pattern I released earlier this month. If you'd like to snag this one, just sign up for my weekly newsletter to receive it.

Photo by Lindsey Topham

Photo by Lindsey Topham

I dyed the yarn myself under the tutelage of the Kangaroo Dyer and this project is perfect for it! It was my first attempt at dyeing a speckly yarn and while the speckles aren't as pronounced as the skeins I've seen from official dyers, I'm pleased with the watercolor effect I wound up with. I only used up half the skein, leaving me with enough yardage for a second Seismite or some fingerless mitts.

I also contributed a cardigan to SweetGeorgia Yarns' Spring with SweetGeorgia Vol. 2 collection for spring. Meet Ribbons!

Photo by SweetGeorgia Yarns

Photo by SweetGeorgia Yarns

This long stockinette cardigan features graduated stripes of eyelet texture along the hem and cuffs, allowing you to play with fun color combinations! The set-in sleeves are shaped with decreases since you work everything in one piece from the bottom-up, which means no seaming. It's a simple, easy-going silhouette that works with jeans or a dress. I wouldn't wear it with this dress, I was only taking a modeled photo to share with my sample knitter Joni!

On Designing Less & Knitting More

A few months ago, I made a conscious decision to take on less design work. As I get older I find I want more time to myself and I care less about growing my business. That's not to say I'm giving up on designing, but I've become more and more content to do this my way, at my pace, rather than worrying about what I need to do to become the next big thing. Working full time once again has forced me to face my limitations and accept them.

Back in 2012-2014, I was working full time and spending almost every night and all weekend knitting samples. If I wasn't going to finish something in time, I forced myself to stay up late knitting it. I passed on events and time with friends unless they were going to come over and hang around while I knit. I remember going back home to visit a friend from high school and I was working on the Heliopath Vest. I sat in the middle of a party knitting it while everyone else around me was doing shots. (I mean, I did some shots too...but I made myself complete a chunk of knitting first! No drunk deadline knitting allowed!)

Honestly, there were times in that era when I HATED knitting, despite how much work I was accomplishing and how hopeful I was for my burgeoning design career. I told myself I had to stay on the grind and the next release would be it, I would reach the next level of exposure....then it was oh well next year it will happen....then it was if only I had more time to work on my business... 

Since then I've slowly gravitated towards using sample knitters, which has been a huge boon on my productivity and my sanity levels. I love my sample knitters! But even when I first started to use sample knitters, I was still taking on too much work. I have some designs I'm not proud of, because I know I could have perfected them if I had more time and wasn't as overburdened. I hate that I have work in my portfolio that makes me feel that way, and I want to avoid that from happening.

I've been talking a long time about slowing down and working less and finally, I feel like I've put that into practice. I'm relying on my awesome sample knitters to help me out for those third-party submissions that really speak to me but otherwise, I'm sitting those submission calls out. The FOMO is hard, really hard! But instead of working on 5 designs at once, I'm working on 2 or 3 and only knitting actually one of those, and there are plenty of stretches where that one design is the only thing on my plate. It's leaving me plenty of time to focus on other things in life that matter to me: spending time with my honey, exercising, cooking new things, and oh yeah--selfish knitting!

So I guess the point of this is...2017 might look different here. More FOs, and less releases. I'm ok with that though.

My two current selfish WIPs

My two current selfish WIPs

My Favorite FO of 2016: Tinder

This was a long-haul kind of knit, but SO WORTH IT! I started it in January 2016 and finished on December 31st. 

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Tinder has been one of my dream wardrobe pieces since it first came out. I stashed the yarn for it back in...2012 I think? It's Valley Yarns Greenwich, which was a limited edition run of 2-ply wool. It's a little too heavy for this design but I forced that round peg into a square hole! By purposely knitting it at a different gauge, that is. You can read more about that from my post when I started the project.

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So as a knitting designer, why knit other people's patterns? Certainly I have enough of my own work I could focus on. Andrea Rangel calls this 'professional development' and she is SPOT. ON. Jared Flood packed lots of tricks into this that I would have never thought of on my own, like seaming the raglan seams with a half-stitch seam allowance so you wind up with a single stockinette stitch delineating those lines. I also like to see how other people write and layout their patterns.

I continued to follow the sage advice of Karen Templer and made damn sure everything was to my satisfaction with this baby. That included such fun as seaming the sides twice, when I didn't like my first go at it, and unseaming the raglan seams to reknit the sleeve caps with a different rate of decreases when they pulled too much across my shoulders the first time. It was maddening but utterly, completely, worth it. 

I love this sweater. I think I've worn it at least once a week since finishing it, which is really noteworthy for me. The combination of this, plus my EmSweWeMo experiment has made me so much more aware of what I'll actually wear. There are several pieces I planned to keep that now I think I'll offer up in a future sweater auction because clearly I need more easy going long cardigans in my life. GAME CHANGER.

2016 Retrospective

I'm back from my self-imposed 'winter vacation' (reduced social media presence and less design knitting), which was great! I really enjoyed the extra time to relax, work on some personal projects, and play Rise of the Tomb Raider. I know, I'm behind in my video game releases. I don't even try to play things right when they come out, I just get to them when I get to them! Like Fallout 4, which I still haven't finished... Any gamers in the audience, by the way? Comment and tell me your faves!

Ok, back to knitting which is what most of you are here for! At the beginning of 2016, I was working part-time in order to devote more time to my design business in hopes of growing it. Then I was offered a promotion to a full-time position and I decided to take it, which threw quite the wrench in my business plans for the year. Ultimately, I'm really satisfied to be back in the workforce and I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish this year as a nights-and-weekends-only designer.

  • I released 11 self-published designs and saw 11 designs released from third parties for a grand total of 22 new designs!

Self published designs:

Third party designs: 

  • I ran another successful Instagram KAL in conjunction with Spun Right Round in the fall.
  • I started my weekly newsletter.
  • I grew my Instagram following to 1k.
  • I hired Knit Fitch to design my beautiful new logo & brand package.
  • And I came up with some great creative content this year, like EmSweWeMo and hosting my first ever sweater auction for charity.

I have a bad habit of never feeling like I am doing enough, but looking back at 2016: I did enough. I did MORE than enough.

What are you hoping to see from me in 2017? I have some ideas up my sleeve, but I'm also open to suggestion! 

Ramblers Way Sustainable Wool Clothing Review

The clothing I review here was provided to me free of charge, but all opinions are my own. There are no affiliate links.

Last month I was contacted by Ramblers Way asking if I wanted to review their ethical 100% wool clothing line. To date, the only non-yarn or knitting related item I've reviewed are Allbirds Merino Wool Sneakers because well, they're wool. While I occasionally get emails about reviewing random products, I've always held the policy that I will only put content on this blog that's potentially interesting to knitters. Ergo, more wool wearables.

As a Massachusetts girl who is perpetually cold, even indoors in a sweater with the heat on and a blanket over her lap (don't judge me), I was intrigued to see if wool clothing was the missing link for my body temperature issues. I chose three different pieces from Ramblers Way in order to get the best overview of their line and have the most woolly variety. All are made from 100% Rambouillet wool, woven into a jersey or ribbed fabric.

Karen Templer's numerous posts on ethical fashion as part of her Slow Fashion October movement do a far better job at engaging with the subject of ethical, sustainable, slow fashion than I ever could, so I recommend jumping down that rabbit hole if you want to learn more or need a refresher course. Ramblers Way chooses to focus their efforts on using organic wool and dedicating themselves to a 100% US manufacturing process. You can learn more of the specifics on their Our Company page which primarily talks about wool, though they have Pima Cotton garments as well. In regards to that, my contact at the company said, "90% of Rambler's Way Pima Cotton is grown in California's San Joaquin Valley using pesticide-free and low water growing methods."

Shown in Black, Size Small

I've looked at a good number of ethical, sustainable, US made/sourced clothing companies before and most stick to basic silhouettes. While it makes sense financially, it's a little disappointing for someone like me who wants some extra pizazz in their pieces. I was really excited about the Women's Cowl Neck Swing Dress for this reason! I'm 5'3", and I can get away wearing this as a mini-dress with tights as shown here, though for wearing it to work I'm sticking with leggings or skinny jeans for a tunic look. Their site calls it knee-length, which it's definitely not for me, so I'm not sure what they based that on.

I like that it doesn't gap at the armholes and that the armholes aren't so deep that my bra is exposed. I will note that it picks up and shows cat hair LIKE A MOFO. Also because of that, I probably shouldn't have worn it with a white sweater but I'm obsessed with my Tualatin and can't stop wearing it, sorry not sorry.

The fabric is thin and doesn't feel much different from traditional t-shirt cotton jersey fabric, though there's a little more texture to it. I think I expected 100% Wool jersey to feel, well, woolier! Combined with a sweater I felt warm and cozy, but due to the length and the open-ness of the silhouette, I don't feel like it's exceptionally warm on its own.

Tank shown in Charcoal, Size Small & Leggings shown in Grey Heather, Size Small

Tank shown in Charcoal, Size Small & Leggings shown in Grey Heather, Size Small

Let's start with the Women's Wool Leggings. I am not showing you modeled shots for two reasons: 1. You can see my underwear through them, and 2. Unflattering waistband/crotch area. I'm okay with that since based on the style of the waistband, it appears like these are meant to be long underwear or pajama style pants rather than leggings-worn-as-pants. They would be fine under a dress or skirt too, but these are not the leggings you let your butt peek out in.

I like these a lot for lounging around the house. They are comfortable and warmer than I expected since the fabric is thin, but they're not the warmest leggings I have ever worn. Occasionally I felt like they were prickling my legs a little, or maybe that was my leg hair stubble pricking the leggings. (It's winter. We all know leg shaving is low on the priority list.) I wore them under jeans to help Mark shovel out the car during Saturday's snowstorm, and that combination was really great. I don't do outdoor wintertime sports, but I'd hedge that these would be a good layer for those of you that do.

I like that there is only one leg seam (shown below right), and it's overstitched? Totally covered with thread? I don't know what this kind of seam is called and Google didn't help me.

Tank back seam, left, and legging seam, right

Tank back seam, left, and legging seam, right

The Women's Wool Tank with Center Back Seam is my favorite of the three. It's shown in the first photo lying face-down so you can see the center seam detail that runs up the back. It fits like a standard tank top, but oh man! The other two pieces are jersey fabric while this is ribbed and somehow the ribbing makes all the difference. This feels warmer, softer, and more luxe.

As a knitter, a wool tank top is the BEST IDEA EVER. If you're like me, you have a bunch of handknits that for whatever reason, look best with only a tank top underneath. But then it's cold and a tank top isn't enough to cut it under that sweater, so you wind up not wearing those sweaters and they lie fallow. A wool tank top + wool sweater is so stinking cozy. I want more of these!

This might be TMI, but I've worn the tank top and the leggings multiple times without washing and they have yet to be smelly or gross. Ramblers Way does list this as a benefit of wool on their website, and I definitely don't wash my sweaters often (or ever), but I also rotate those more frequently and they're not right next to the skin, so I was pleased at how well these are repelling odor so far.

The eternal question: Are they worth the money? I would give a resounding YES to the tank top. It's eternally useful and it just feels good on. I want to pick up some other colors when they have a sale (and when I have some free funds for clothes) because let's be honest, this stuff is pricey. It's not out of line from other sustainable/ethical clothing companies though. While I like the cut of the swing dress, the fabric doesn't feel special enough, doesn't scream "I'M MADE OF WOOL!", and isn't warm enough to justify that level of financial investment. I am really enjoying the leggings for lounging, though I wouldn't need more than one pair and it seems indulgent to spend $$ on another pair of leggings that I'll mostly wear at home. If you'd wear them as a layer for winter hikes, skiing, or snowshoeing, I can see these being a smart buy.

You can browse Ramblers Way on their website or at one of their retail stores if you're in Maine or New Hampshire.

Would you try 100% wool clothing?

EmSweWeMo Week4

The final installment of my November experiment to wear every sweater in my collection is here!

Day 14, 11/24/16

Day 14, 11/24/16

For Thanksgiving, I decided to rock my Dark Rainbow Sweater for a comfortable, food-baby-friendly look. I really like this sweater. It's cozy, the length of the body and sleeves is good for me, and it's not boring! The only downside is I'm a little nervous on how this single ply yarn will wear. I feel like I haven't worn this often, yet the elbows seem a little thin and it's got a lot of pills already. Fingers crossed it holds up okay!

Verdict: Keep.

Day 15, 11/28/16

Day 15, 11/28/16

EmSweWeMo made me realize how much I wear this tunic-y top, so much so that I bought a second one during Modcloth's Black Friday weekend sale in a berry color that will look great with this sweater if I want to go more matchy-matchy. This is Stripe Quartet, which is more suited to transitional temps and early fall, but it works this time of year with accessories on standby in case I get cold (a cowl and long fingerless mitts, primarily.) I really like this and need to remember to pull it out sooner in the season!

Verdict: Keep.

Day 16, 11/29/16

Day 16, 11/29/16

In case you couldn't tell, I was running out of weather-appropriate garments for this which is why there are some random tees and other pieces thrown in! I knit Watershed ages ago but don't wear it much because well, it's kind of useless for a New Englander. It's pretty, but it doesn't offer any warmth. Good thing it's really pretty, because that's why I'm keeping it, but I'd like to wear this more often!

Verdict: Keep. Make an effort to wear this damn thing though!

Day 17, 11/30/16

Day 17, 11/30/16

Why not end the month with a sparkly bang, eh? As my one and only Rhinebeck sweater (for 2012) I modified my Holla Back Tank pattern into a Holla Back Pullover.

I haven't decided how I feel about this yet and would love your thoughts! I'm undecided if this would be better if I continued to knit the sleeves so it would be long sleeved. To be honest, it looks cute here but I feel like this is one of the only ways to wear this piece (the other being with just a tank underneath, which doesn't work for winter.) I also don't know if I'm a sparkly yarn girl after all.

Verdict: Potentially on the chopping block!

Phew! So what's next? I'm going to stew a bit on the thoughts that came up during EmSweWeMo, but I'd like to have a final decision on my handknit wardrobe before the end of the year, so I can start 2017 fresh! 

EmSweWeMo Week 3

It's time to take a look back at the third week of my EmSweWeMo experiment! If you've been out of the loop, you can catch up on Week 1 & Week 2.

Day 9, 11/15/16

Day 9, 11/15/16

You probably recognize the Heliopath Vest. While Interweave styled this with a skirt for the Unofficial Harry Potter Knits photos, I tend to rock this in a more androgynous look when I wear it. I love how textural Imperial Yarn Columbia is, and the gold color goes with so many options in my wardrobe. I pretty much consider gold a neutral!

Verdict: Keep, duh!

Day 10, 11/16/16

Day 10, 11/16/16

I posed this question about the Eastbourne Sweater on my Instagram to mixed results, so I'll ask it again here: unravel the sleeves into cap sleeves, or keep it as is? Honestly, I can't decide! I don't wear this much because in my head the sleeves are weird, but in this photo I think I look pretty cute.

I did realize throughout this experiment that I need to pull my 3/4 length and shorter sleeved sweaters out of my wardrobe sooner! I wait until November-December to throw on real wool sweaters, and by then it's too cold for abbreviated sleeves. Meanwhile, the rest of fall I'm wearing the same boring storebought cardigan with 99% of my outfits.

Verdict: Keep. With or without sleeve alterations though?!

Day 11, 11/17/16

Day 11, 11/17/16

This is one of my favorites, if not THE FAVORITE outfit of this whole experiment. I love this vibe! It's comfortable, it's modern, it's still knitterly, and it's interesting. I am going to repeat this exact combination a whole bunch and just switch out different shoes.

It's an altered version of the Short Row Sweater from Purl Soho, and up until this photo I would have told you it was an impulse, dumb knit that I never wore because well, it's kind of odd. It was an excuse to knit something fast and find a use for Madelinetosh yarn in Spectrum. (Because: gorgeous.) But I super love this look!

Verdict: Keep, all because of EmSweWeMo!

Day 12, 11/18/16

Day 12, 11/18/16

Yay, crochet! I didn't make this sample of the Cirro Tee, I just happened to model it for Webs originally and then bought the sample later on when it was on sale because I liked it so much. 

Obviously this is a spring/summer garment, but I like to try and push myself to use those types of handmade garments out of season as well! This was a fun 'casual Friday' look (even though every day is casual at work) and I quite enjoyed it.

Verdict: Keep.

Day 13, 11/21/16

Day 13, 11/21/16

While I love my Praline Pullover, I feel like it doesn't fit into my wardrobe anymore. The super cropped length isn't flattering on me with pants, which is what I wear 99% of the time. I think it looks great with high waisted pencil skirts or fit and flare dresses with a high waist, but I almost never wear those.

Verdict: Storage. This is a design sample in great condition and I've used it in all the trunk shows I've done (...all two of them...) so I want to keep it around for that, but I don't think I'll wear this much.

We're almost at the home stretch, just one more week of outfits to finish musing over!

Indie Gift-A-Long 2016

The Indie Gift-A-Long has begun! Through 11/30, you can use coupon code giftalong2016 on Ravelry to save 25% on designs from myself and hundreds of other indie designers. Shop indie to support small businesses and kickstart your gift knitting with the events that follow after the sale period! Until the end of the year, there will be prizes, contests, and fun in the Indie GAL Group.

You can see all of my eligible GAL offerings here, but I wanted to showcase a few that I thought were particularly good for gift knitting...and a few that are good for selfish knitting!

CAST ON NOW:

Got time to crank out another gift or two? Aventail is the perfect use for a single skein of fingering weight, and knits up quicker than you'd expect despite the fine yarn. The brioche is addictive and rhythmic, and the eyelet lace edging doesn't require following a complicated chart.

If you want to wow your recipient with a giant wrap, check out the Millers River Shawl. Thanks to bulky weight, this baby is super warm! It's knit from end to end and mostly in garter stitch, so you can zone out while you work on it and you won't be struggling with hundreds of stitches on your needles at once.

11TH HOUR GIFT KNITS:

Oops! So you just found out that Cousin Sally is coming to your holiday event. Or maybe your coworker hinted he's got a gift for you. Either way, if you need to bang out a gift fast you can count on these two projects to fit the bill! Shock Star Slouch uses a skein of DK weight yarn (assuming average yardage), and the mix of textured stitches plays nicely with solids, tweeds, hand-dyeds, speckles, and more. If your giftee isn't a hat wearer, why not whip up a pair of Brooklyn Bridge Mitts? To ensure it knits up even faster, choose the short wrist length and nix the individual fingers in favor of the easy whole-hand opening. 

GONNA NEED AN IOU (OR, TREAT YO SELF!):

Look to these showstoppers if: a) your recipient isn't looking to receive their handmade gift until the 2017 holidays, or b) you need to spoil yourself with a fresh new project come January. Stripe Quartet is all stockinette, all stripes, and a whole lot of fun! If your New Year's Resolution is stashbusting, you can use those remainders up in a crazy, stripey cardigan. Sport weight yarn knit up at a slightly loose gauge means you won't go crazy struggling with size 3 needles.

If you're ready to challenge yourself next year, go all-in on a lace pi shawl like Papelillo. The patterns are given in written and charted form, so you can ease yourself into reading charts or attack them from the beginning like the beast that you are.

Happy Gift-A-Long!

EmSweWeMo Week 2

Let's get on with the experiment!

Day 5, 11/8/16

Day 5, 11/8/16

I have mixed feelings on my Haubergeon Sweater, though the reaction at work was very positive. (Except when I got cold and put on a really big shawl on top my co-worked dubbed it very Stevie Nicks which is...not my jam, let's just say.) Anyways, I love this yarn and the general look, I just have some misgivings with the shoulder and underarm area. I am not sure if the shaping for the saddle shoulders is too far over to be flattering, it feels like there might be a bit too much fabric in the underarm area, and the sleeves are a tad tight on me. I don't think anyone notices this other than me, I'm being nitpicky!

Verdict: Keep on probation. If I wear it regularly it's a keeper, if not it's getting culled from the sweater herd.

Day 6, 11/10/16

Day 6, 11/10/16

I can't not love my Gilt Sweater. It's so cheery! This is a new way to style it for me and I'm happy with the combination. I've been trying to push myself this month, partly because I am taking selfies all the time and partly because I want to get out of the rut of jeans + tee/tank + sweater. I like a challenge!

I need more laceweight-held-double garments in my wardrobe because the fabric on this is amazing. So light and floaty but surprisingly warm!

Verdict: Keep.

Day 7, 11/11/16

Day 7, 11/11/16

The Cirriform Cardigan is another one that's tough to style. I like it with a longer tunic top, as shown here, but I think it would work with dresses as well. I'm ok with this piece not being super versatile because it's really just a great big yarn hug. It's a sweatshirt in disguise; if I'm having a blah day and don't feel like putting much effort into my outfit I can wear this instead of a sweatshirt and still feel...sweatshirt-y. You know, warm, comforted, enveloped. 

Verdict: Keep.

Day 8, 11/14/16

Day 8, 11/14/16

My Turners Falls Cardigan is another difficult piece to style. I designed it because I loved seeing cropped sweaters on other women, then realized once I had one of my very own that many people wear these with skirts or dresses and I'm more of a jeans/leggings person. Floaty tunic top to the rescue! (Sense a theme with this experiment?) It looks good buttoned as well, but I need to reinforce the button band with ribbon since it gaps and the buttons slip out. I made the buttonholes too large I think!

Verdict: Keep, but reinforce button band.

EmSweWeMo Week 1

As from my Knitted Wardrobe Assessment post:

Instead, this November will be my personal EmSweWeMo, Emma's Sweater Wearing Month. I'd like to wear every weather-appropriate handknit garment in my wardrobe at least once in November, and journal how I feel about wearing the item. I'm hoping that this will help me better assess how much of my knitted wardrobe I could actually use if I kept it more visible, and how many pieces I'm holding on to for the wrong reasons or a vague 'someday, maybe.'

Here are the results of Week 1!

Day 1, 11/1/16

Day 1, 11/1/16

I was home sick on Day 1, so I chose a cuddly, somewhat raggedy sweater. This is the Victoria Buttoned Raglan, a now-discontinued Valley Yarns design I bought at a Webs sample sale. I almost feel like it 'doesn't count' since I didn't make it!

While this sweater is close-fitting, there's enough room for me to comfortably wear long sleeves underneath as I am doing so here. I wish the body was a few inches longer and it would be nice if the split neckline was engineered as more of a cowl neckline so you could button it up when cold. It needs a good sweater shaving though!

Verdict: Keep, but attempt to shave the pills off. If unable to salvage from pilling, I'd keep this as a home-only lounging sweater.

Day 2, 11/2/16

Day 2, 11/2/16

Acute-ly Preppy was an ambitious statement piece, and for me, that's all it's going to be. I love the concept of this sweater but don't like it on my body. Something about where the ribbing ends on my body and where the hem hits, combined with the lack of waist shaping, really does me no favors. TMI: I also feel like it makes my boobs look weird. I don't know! All around, I don't feel confident or cute wearing this, and I have too many sweaters to waste time wearing one I don't feel right in.

Verdict: I haven't decided what I'm doing with the rejects. Either sealing them in one of those vacuum space saver bags just in case I ever need them for anything, or possibly auctioning them off and donating the proceeds. I'd love to hear ideas if you have them!

Day 3, 11/4/16

Day 3, 11/4/16

My notes on the Tea Leaves Cardigan say it all: "Got 3 compliments!"

I knit this gem 6 years ago and this outfit is a testament to holding onto pieces long enough for them to seem fresh to you again. I was really over this sweater and this type of silhouette, which blew up in the knitting world a few years back. I usually wore it with a regular t-shirt & jeans, so the sweater framed my stomach and it wasn't always flattering if I had a post-lunch food baby or what have you. I thought I wanted to get rid of my Tea Leaves, but I tried it with this flowy top on a whim and I love this look!

Also, Tosh DK is insane. This is barely pilly and only a tiny bit loose around the elbows, not bad enough to be called saggy. 

Verdict: Keep. Take time to make the effort pairing this with slightly dressy and/or more fashionable outfits.

Day 4, 11/7/16

Day 4, 11/7/16

My Idlewood is also 6 years old! Clearly, I had excellent taste in 2010...which was the year I started working at Webs so that explains it all.

Overall, I'm really happy with this. The pockets are sewn on a little poorly, it looks very handmade, but I'm okay with that. I do wish it was a little longer, I clearly remember getting impatient knitting this and binding off too soon because I just wanted it to be done. I really need to learn to curb that urge because it's haunted so many of my FOs. Either the body isn't long enough or I did short/three quarter sleeves instead of long sleeves. Learn some damn patience already Emma!

I would like to figure out how to make this more versatile, it's great for super casual looks but I'd like to work it into more polished outfits as well.

Verdict: Keep. Wash before wearing it again, something I meant to do last winter and never got around to...

I'll be back with Week 2!

How to Start (& Keep Up With!) A Regular Email Newsletter

"You put together fantastic newsletters EVERY WEEK!! How do you do it!?" - Teresa

I received this question in my inbox this week and realized it would make a great blog topic! Obligatory disclaimer: This is my method, this is what works for me. Maybe you can find some helpful info here and maybe you'll be shaking your head at me if you're a seasoned email marketer!

Decide what your goals are.

I'm looking to build a stronger relationship with my customers and potential customers. I enjoy having this blog for my long-winded thoughts, but it's more of a time and energy investment to update it and I realize that not every customer wants to read blog posts. I see my newsletter as a quick way for my customers to better get to know me, my designs, and my brand. Obviously I'm looking to make money from my designs, but I'm personally against sales-y emails that only push, push, push products or services. I want to offer content that's interesting whether or not the readers wind up buying one of my patterns.

I also am hoping to use my newsletter to convert some of my Instagram followers into customers and dedicated fans. I'm always mindful of the advice that any social platform can be taken down, so if you're counting on Instagram (or Facebook, or Twitter) as being your link to your customer base, you'll be in trouble if that platform is suddenly taken offline for good. An email list connects you directly to your customer AND you don't have to worry about losing your following.

Knowing your goals will help determine the type of content you share, how frequently you send your newsletter, the tone of voice you use, how you promote your newsletter, and so on.

Choose an email service and format.

I use MailChimp because it's free until you have 2,000 subscribers, so you can get your feet wet and figure out if you'll really commit to a newsletter before committing to a paid service. You can create a generic template for your newsletter and edit the content in it as you compose emails (called campaigns in the MailChimp universe), which helps save you time and keeps a consistent look across your emails. I chose to use fonts similar to what's on here for consistency's sake. I'm in the middle of a logo design and branding process with Knit Fitch, so once that's complete I'll likely change my website and my newsletter template to fall in line with that.

I send weekly newsletters since I believe it's important to keep a regular line of communication open with my customers. I would have longer newsletters if I sent them less regularly, and I prefer to keep things short and sweet. I ran a quick survey a few weeks ago asking my newsletter subscribers what their preference was, and overwhelmingly they also preferred weekly newsletters. Always nice to have some reassurance that your audience is in sync with you!

Content, content, content.

This is probably the hardest part and I'm guessing what Teresa was most curious about! I definitely have weeks where I struggle with this, especially if I'm working on the same project for weeks on end. In my newsletter survey, I asked people what they liked to read about and learned they were most interested in knitting tips, behind the scenes, and photos. Of course, your customer base might be different--ask them what they like!

My default template includes several regular sections, and I will admit I was heavily inspired by Andrea Rangel's awesome weekly newsletter. (Pro tip: Subscribe to other people's newsletters in your industry to see what they do!)

  • My newsletter opens with a photo, anything that I've photographed recently that I think is visually interesting or relevant to the content of the first section. 
  • My first section is general chit-chat. I might talk about something in my personal life I've been doing, a project I'm working on, a struggle I'm having, or hint at a new project. 
  • The middle section is the longer meat-and-potatoes portion of the newsletter. In the past I've: showcased my progress on a design WIP, talked about a new release, provided a knitting tip, spotlighted designers, patterns or links I'm currently into, or announced a KAL or event.
  • After that I always include Instagram of the Week, which is the photo with the most love from the last week on my Instagram account.
  • The final section is a wildcard. Regular themes include Q&A and a color story mini mood board, but I've also shown off finished FOs of my designs from customers. 
  • It finishes with a link to the Weekly Newsletter thread in my Ravelry group and my signature.
The opener of a past email.

The opener of a past email.

Having a template makes it easier to plan ahead week-to-week. I like to let the chit chat flow naturally, so I don't plan that ahead unless I have something I REALLY want to say. I know I only need to come up with a good topic for the central chunk of the newsletter, and the rest is much easier to let fall into place.

Figuring out ways to recycle and re-purpose your content is a really easy marketing hack. I really enjoy photography and try to post to Instagram once per day, so in order to save time during the week I do mini photo shoots where I'll shoot a bunch of stuff for Instagram posts for the following week. Those photos can be used in blog posts, to open my newsletter, or in the main content section if it relates to what I'm talking about. Similarly, I'll include a blurb about this blog post in my next newsletter and include a link to it, so those who are interested in reading the full piece can check it out if they want to.

When I'm stuck on what to highlight in my next newsletter, I'll refer to my list of newsletter ideas that I have on my desktop. Whenever I have an idea that I could use in my newsletter or turn into a fully fleshed out blog post, I add it to the list which definitely helps when I'm not feeling super creative.

The master list

The master list

Promotion

Aside from promoting your newly formed newsletter across your social media platforms, you can encourage people to sign up by offering some incentives. Free products, coupon codes, or useful information like free PDFs/ebooks are some tried-and-true methods. I've also seen some designers encourage would-be test knitters to sign up for their email list since they open testing spots to email subscribers first. 

Hard Mode: Data

I'm not going into this because I'll be honest, data analysis is not that fun to me. I do it in my day job, but I'm not at the level in my design business where I feel I need it and I'm not about to voluntarily start doing data analysis for funsies! If you do geek out on this kind of thing, MailChimp automatically reports on your open rate and click rate so you can see what newsletters took off and which ones flopped, as well as more detailed stuff like who opened your newsletter how many times and what links got clicked. You can also integrate your Google Analytics account with it which is great if you want hard numbers on where your revenue is coming from. (IE: Does Pattern A sell well on customers coming from Instagram, while it sells poorly with your newsletter audience?) Google Analytics is super cool and they have free training videos to figure out how to use it, should you desire to travel down that path.

Once you set aside time in your schedule to create a regular newsletter, like any other habit it quickly becomes second nature. If you can commit to a few months at first, you'll soon develop a rhythm of making time for your newsletter while developing your voice and style. 

Knitted Wardrobe Assessment: A Continuation

Check out my wardrobe analysis by the numbers here first.

When I was writing the last post, I had these two exact sweaters in mind as pieces I'm definitely not into anymore. They have several features in common, can you spot them?

L: Dreamer's Braided Pullover; R: Cables n Cats

L: Dreamer's Braided Pullover; R: Cables n Cats

They have more of a cropped, high hip length and they're super fitted. For a while I preferred clothing with negative ease but in the past few years, I've come to appreciate the ability to layer and the comfort of clothing that's not quite so skin tight. Both of these sweaters are so fitted, especially in the sleeves, that I can only wear tank tops under them. I've also discovered that no matter how well my pants fit, even if they're not going to give me plumber's butt when I bend over, I really prefer a longer sweater with more coverage. So while they look fine in the photos, they're really no fun to wear. Now that I've pinpointed I don't like this silhouette, I'm going to make sure to avoid it in the future no matter how cute it looks on someone else. I definitely still fall prey to that trap from time to time!

As I dug through my sweater stash, I was anticipating pulling out piece after piece I wanted to get rid of. Instead, I found myself rationalizing a lot of my handknit pieces despite the fact that I don't wear them very often. Not exactly the climactic triumph of me vs my sweater stash I was imagining!

I'm okay with having stuff as long as it doesn't become overwhelming, which is where the problem is starting to lie with me as a maker. I have three under-bed storage containers set aside to house my knitted goods and they're almost bursting. Arguably, I could just buy more storage but am I utilizing my knitwear to the best of my ability? Is that extra storage space going to be worth it?

I love this blog post from Tanis (of Tanis Fiber Arts) and this part in particular: 

Here is the thing, approaching this week's topic, I had mixed feelings. I thought that I was going to sit down and hash out my struggles with my need to make, both on a personal level - I can't not make! - but also on a professional level - it's my job to make! - and the reality of the realization that I currently have enough sweaters to last me an entire lifetime. I absolutely do not need any more sweaters.

I can't not make.

I can't not make.

I can't not make.

Therein lies the rub. I have an almost pathological need to make. Even if I was not a knitwear designer, I would still be producing knitted items at the same frantic pace, or at least regularly enough to amass a collection close in size to the one I have now. I wear a small fraction of what I've made on a regular basis. There's just not enough days in the year, and since I do still have a non-handmade wardrobe full of items I love, my pool of available clothing items to choose from is even more inflated. Often I choose store-bought items over handmade because I don't want to 'ruin' my hard work or spill something on it. But leaving my hard work in a plastic bin tucked under my bed is just as much of a disservice as loving it and wearing it until it gives up, perhaps even more of a disservice.

I think I'm going to set myself a challenge next month. November is NaKniSweMo, National Sweater Knitting Month. Instead, this November will be my personal EmSweWeMo, Emma's Sweater Wearing Month. I'd like to wear every weather-appropriate handknit garment in my wardrobe at least once in November, and journal how I feel about wearing the item. I'm hoping that this will help me better assess how much of my knitted wardrobe I could actually use if I kept it more visible, and how many pieces I'm holding on to for the wrong reasons or a vague 'someday, maybe.'

 

Slow Fashion October & Knitted Wardrobe Assessment

Not familiar with the concept of slow fashion or haven't heard of Slow Fashion October? You can get up to speed on Slow Fashion October over at Fringe Association (here's the overview post), on Instagram at the @slowfashionoctober account, or by browsing the IG hashtag #slowfashionoctober.

I haven't sorted out my thoughts on slow fashion. I'm all for it as a concept, but as an individual with a finite amount of time, money and resources I find it hard to put into practice 100%. I don't buy a ton of new clothes (though the ones I do are from problematic retailers most of the time, I can't quit you Gap/American Eagle!!), I thrift regularly and of course I'm always knitting. Sometimes I feel like this has resulted in a disjointed wardrobe, which is partially fueled by my disjointed fashion preferences. I don't have a neat, encapsulated style. I knit and enjoy knitting a lot of things I don't wind up wearing much, so I often find myself reaching for store-bought sweaters more than my handknits. Case in point: my most beloved cardigan is this number from Madewell.

Let's be honest: sometimes store-bought is pretty useful. While I'd love to eventually knit a me-made version, my desire to knit a fingering weight, extra-long black cardigan is smaller than zero. The recent shift to colder temperatures had me digging in my sweater wardrobe and I realized my lack of hand-knit long sleeve cardigans. That's right, my FAVORITE layering silhouette is practically absent from my handmade wardrobe. I have exactly 2, and neither is a classic, easy-wearing piece. Cirriform Cardigan has asymmetrical fronts and Turners Falls Cardigan is cropped, so they only work with certain outfits. Fortunately, my potato brain somehow subconsciously realized this wardrobe gap because I have two long-sleeve cardigan WIPs, my Tinder in go-with-everything grey and a cabled design number in natural Ashland Bay Dakota.

Part of my lack of long-sleeve, long-silhouette pieces is my laziness. I have designed a surprising number of sleeveless, short-sleeved and 3/4 sleeved sweaters because I get really bored knitting long sleeves. Of course, now that I use sample knitters I've started pitching more designs with long sleeves since I don't have to knit them myself! And knitting a body that's 17-19" long from the underarms? No fun either.

In order to ascertain just how unbalanced my knitted wardrobe is, I classified my FOs by type, leaving out the pieces I plan to trade or sell in the near future because I don't like how they fit or just don't plain wear them.

To no surprise, accessory categories take the top 3 spots (hats, cowls, shawls).  They're just so fun and bite sized! Then it starts to get weird. For someone who A) lives in New England, B) works in an overly-air conditioned office, and C) is always cold, I have more tanks/vests and tees than anything else. PAST KNITTING ME IS DELUSIONAL. Granted, I do like to argue that these pieces can be worn well into fall and winter if layered appropriately (which is a blog post for another day) but COME ON. 

In case you were thinking that maybe I sensibly had knitted a whole bunch of long sleeve pullovers...you would be wrong. I have 2 of those as well.

I have several sweater quantities in my stash that I'd like to use up, and armed with this data I'm going to spend October acknowledging some hard truths and making some long-term plans so I can knit sweaters I WILL wear, and not just sweaters I will enjoy knitting.

I'll check back next week with a catalog of what I'm purging and why to help me nail down what I need to be mindful of in my future knits. Unflattering photos and all!

Mirth Tunic in Knitscene Winter 2016

I have a new design in the latest issue of Knitscene! Meet the Mirth Tunic.

Sleeveless seems kind of weird for a winter issue, doesn't it? I proposed this piece as a design in a winter issue that includes people knitting in warmer climates who don't need full ski sweaters. I'm also partial to tank top-y shells being worn as vests, and I think this one will look just dandy with a button-down beneath it, or a blazer layered over it.

It's hard to see in the photos, but all the waist shaping takes place on the back in the same formation as princess seam shaping. It helps bring a nice tailored shape to the tunic without distorting the edges of the front cable and lace pattern.

The lace and cable panel is simple to knit, yet it creates a big visual impact in worsted weight yarn (more on that later.) If you prefer a cowl neck with more drape, pick up more stitches or increase until the neck is the width you want. You can knit it shorter for a roll-neck look or go extra long for a really dramatic cowl!

So...about that yarn. It's Mountain Meadow Wool in Salem, a springy wool yarn wrapped in silk thread. As my sample knitter worded it, "In swatch form, the yarn looked rather rustic, but I was pleasantly surprised as well at how well it worked in the garment." If you choose to use Salem, have some faith! It does appear very wooly and naturally textured at first, but it relaxes gorgeously when blocked revealing a hidden elegance. However, Mountain Meadow Wool calls this a DK weight which I disagree with. Both my sample knitter and I were able to achieve a worsted weight gauge on a US 6 without any struggle. When compared next to other worsted weight yarns I had handy, you can see how the yarn works at such a gauge.

From L to R: Salem; Valley Yarns Northampton; Fibre Company Cumbria

From L to R: Salem; Valley Yarns Northampton; Fibre Company Cumbria

I would suggest swatching with a light worsted, worsted or aran weight yarn for this project. Throw the label of 'DK weight' out of your mind and go with a yarn and needle combination that will give you the listed gauge without creating an overly loose or overly tight fabric. I held a small swatch of the lace panel up to the window so you can attempt to judge the tension of the fabric.

If the tunic was completely stockinette and didn't have the lace panel in front, I would feel comfortable wearing it without a layer underneath (ie, I don't find the stockinette fabric inherently open or revealing.) If I had a stockinette swatch to demonstrate this alongside the lace swatch I would have, but it's not anywhere I can easily find! What can I say, my office is not entirely as organized as it should be.

You can find the Mirth Tunic here on Ravelry to add to your queue, or to purchase the individual pattern from Interweave, a new option they've started offering for magazine patterns.

Playing with Color: San Drea Shawl

Recently I released my San Drea Shawl, a stripey garter stitch and short row shawl that uses 4 different colors.

The sky is truly the limit here, as exemplified by my amazing beta knitters and their creations!

Clockwise from top left: Jamie, Julia, Barbara, Andrea

Clockwise from top left: Jamie, Julia, Barbara, Andrea

Jamie combined a modern grey background with bright contrast colors and did fewer lace repeats.

Julia used an eye-catching trio of bright colors, including a variegated, which are set off by the white main color.

Barbara broke out tweed yarn for the background, and added some stripe action to the lace border.

Andrea modified the colors sequence of the stripes to her liking, and finished with a simple garter stitch border instead of lace.

I used yarn I had in my stash, which dictated my color combination and fibers (ie, using a single ply yarn for my main color and a plied yarn for the contrasting colors.) I quite like the combination of textures in my shawl, especially since the single ply Manos del Uruguay Fino has great drape, but you can go crazy here!

If you need more inspiration, check out the following color combinations I put together. For these combos, I followed my formula of single ply main color, 2 solid plied contrast colors and 1 variegated plied contrast color.

Top to bottom: Manos Fino in Antique Lace; Manos Alegria in Cactus Flower, Antigua & Thistle

Top to bottom: Manos Fino in Antique Lace; Manos Alegria in Cactus Flower, Antigua & Thistle

Top to bottom: Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in Cloud Dweller; Madelinetosh Tosh Sock in Arctic, Prairie Fire & Blue Nile

Top to bottom: Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in Cloud Dweller; Madelinetosh Tosh Sock in Arctic, Prairie Fire & Blue Nile

The best way to find a color combination for this kind of project is to go to your LYS or your stash and just play! Have fun putting color combinations together, no matter how weird they seem. You never know where you'll find magic.