Summer break, so I’m knitting and thinking about clothes

I did something today that was simultaneously unusual and utterly in keeping with my most ingrained habits and tendencies.

I cast on for a new project.

I’ve been at my job just over a year now, and I truly love it. I recently got a very nice promotion, so apart from the few weeks where I rarely left the office before 8pm, it’s going swimmingly. The downside is that its demands plus my still very long commute leave me with little time or energy to do the crafty things I used to enjoy so frequently at home. My company is closed for the next two weeks, so I am trying to take advantage of the time off to get my home life back in order.

While ordering Roman shades for my bedroom (I’ve been living with the vinyl blinds my landlord provided when I first moved in back in 2010… which I’ve since broken) I also did a little bit of online clothes shopping for some summer pick-me-ups. I’m pretty picky about the value of clothing, especially after working in retail and coming to really understand the vast difference between fabrication, wholesale, and retail pricing.

I bought two more pencil skirts just like the dozens in my closet, and while they were seriously marked down, I kept thinking, “These things have three, maybe four seams and a zipper. Why do I routinely spend so much money on something I could so easily make?!” I have owned a sewing machine for years (it may or may not still be in working order). Back in 2007, I bought two patterns and fabric (which has all since been lost or wrecked) with the sincerest intentions to learn to sew skirts and dresses. But I never sealed the deal, and I have no idea why not.

Another thing that occasionally troubles me when buying clothes (especially at such discounted prices) is that I can’t really know if they were produced in ethical labor conditions. I try to shop only from companies with solid reputations, but unless you are making the clothes yourself, you can’t actually be sure that no one was exploited or mistreated for your super cute new sundress (not that this qualm has stopped me from buying anything lately – but it does hover in the back of my mind). It is my hope that I can learn to sew basics like skirts and dresses, maybe even blouses, and that in addition to benefitting from custom sizing and choosing the fabrics of my dreams, I will no longer have a closet full of morally ambiguous textiles.

But I’m getting quite a bit ahead of myself. That aqua-blue yarn you see above? It’s cheerily on its way to becoming this:

The Viennese Shrug, from Interweave Knits Summer 2005. I’ve been wanting to make this lacy shrug since 2007 (I had a lot of good ideas back then) and just like my intended sewing projects, somehow never quite got around to it.

But that good-intentions-poor-follow-through habit is precisely the one I plan to break, starting now.

Business Casual Knits

Something I’ve alluded to but maybe not directly stated is that one month ago I started a full-time job in a fairly conservative, upscale office. I love my job, and I’m happier than I ever imagined being every day (thank God).

I did notice, though, that my wardrobe was a bit of a mish-mash of pieces that didn’t immediately seem to add up to higher-end business casual attire. I read a very helpful article on Jezebel, How to Dress for Work, and I adopted the advice of a sort of “work uniform,” the same type of clothes layered together each day. For me it’s been either pencil skirt + blouse + cardigan, or dress + cardigan, with stockings and heels. Simple, easy, and surprisingly comfortable.

You may notice that the word “cardigan” appears twice in my work uniform repertoire, and you would correctly assume that I have a lot of cardigans in my closet. My love and need for cardigans was one of the big reasons I learned to knit years ago. So as I look through my queue and think about projects I’ve imagined myself wearing in some distant future, my focus has now turned toward the more “business casual” or office-ready garments.

My definition of office-ready may be a little different or pickier than others’, but for the time being, I am seeking flawlessly-finished (in my parlance, that would be seamless), finer-gauge, classically detailed, versatile styles that still have a bit of visual interest and personality to them. That works out rather tremendously because those are exactly the type of sweaters I most enjoy knitting anyway.


© Cascade Yarns / Vera Sanon

One such endeavor is the lovely Summer Waves Cardigan (PDF), which I’ve started above. I’m planning to lengthen the sleeves, and I’m toying with adding one of the lace repeats from the collar band to edge the sleeves. I picture wearing this over a summery dress, with a skinny belt.

I hope it looks as nice in the office as it does in my imagination!

FO: Peggy Sue Cropped Cardigan

Pattern: Peggy Sue by Linda Wilgus, a free pattern from Knit on the Net. My project page is here.
Size: L (42″)
Yarn: Knit Picks CotLin 8-ply DK weight, 70% cotton / 30% linen, in Sprout; I used less than 5 balls, approximately 250 grams, which was 615 yards / 562 meters.
Needles: Size 6 (4.0 mm)
Modifications: Omitted waist cables, knit button band in garter stitch, continuously with body.

Started: June 18, 2010
Finished: August 15, 2011*

* – Actually, I finished knitting it July 19, 2010, then I took until August 15, 2010 to block it. Then I thought about buttons for a year and finally sewed them on August 15, 2011. Then I waited another 9 months to actually wear it out and photograph it.

In an unprecedented streak of FOs, I have another little cropped cardigan. I realized recently that if I wear my hand-knit garments when I meet my mother for the ballet, I can ask her nicely to photograph me with a scenic Upper West Side backdrop, at a time when my hair is brushed and I am (more or less) put together. These results obviously vary, and while my mother is a very talented photographer on her own, I don’t think she particularly excels at snapping flattering shots of me. But to be fair, I’m probably not going to like any photographs of myself until I am at a healthier weight, so I’m going to shut up and be content that she obliged me in taking any photographs at all. And get to talking about the knitting.

I like this style of cropped cardigan very much because it gives modesty to low-cut spring or summer dresses, without adding bulk or a bunch of fabric around one’s waist and back. I’ve noticed that a lot of “summer cover-ups” that can be found in stores tend to hang past the hips and obliterate any sense of the silhouette. I think they try to make up for the one-size-fits-all lack of shaping with open weave crochet and a sort of beachy vibe, but to me, that tends to accentuate the frumpiness. I realize this is totally a personal bias, but for me, I want something that seems a bit more tailored, while still having the ease and softness of a sweater.

This project involved a lot of pausing and deliberating, which could rightfully be interpreted as dragging my feet. I loved the original design straight off. At the time though, I had an intense cable aversion, after working too many teeny tiny cables on socks, so I decided to omit them and put ribbing in their place. Predictably, the design sort of depended on the cables pulling the sweater in at the waist, which mine does not do. I further modified the shape by continuing in stockinette longer than I should before switching to ribbing because I didn’t want the switch to hit at a weird spot on my bust-line (I’m sure everyone has that one top with the seam that insists on riding up and making it look like your breasts are falling out the bottom).

These modifications probably would have been alright if I had added in a little waist shaping or continued the ribbing longer, but I was limited by both the amount of yarn I had to use and by the total lack of elasticity in this cotton/linen blend. I genuinely love the yarn, and I was impressed by how comfortable it was to wear and the nice drape it had – but it is not a clinger in any way. It gives the sweater a sort of popover feel, without veering too far into boxiness, so it still feels nicely retro and feminine.

It’s also entirely possible, based on the wideness of the neckline, that I’ve knit too large a size or that my gauge was completely off. I honestly never checked because I liked the fabric I was getting. Ah well.

One of my biggest concerns was that the button bands not gap at all, even in the slightest. This fixation may be part of why I was okay with a roomier size. I took a page from a seamless baby cardigan that I had knit, working the button bands at the same time as the body of the sweater. I chose to work them in garter stitch, instead of moss stitch called for in the pattern, because I reckoned that would match better with the ribbing I was planning. I also off-set the buttonhole by one stitch, so that there was slightly more fabric on the outer edge of the band, and I sewed the buttons a little bit off-center as well.

I’m glad I paid attention to the buttons. They can make or break such a simple garment. I’m trying to be mindful of this type of finishing detail, much as I loathe sewing on buttons, because in the end, I’m really happy with these. They’re a shiny plastic that is a nearly perfect color match for the yarn, with pretty abstracted flower shapes that pick up the springtime, garden idea. I was careful to sew them all exactly horizontally (despite their appearance in this photo) so the front band would have a uniform feel. Considering I will most likely exclusively wear this sweater buttoned, I’m very pleased that the bands don’t gap at all and the whole thing looks tidy.

I think if I had it to do again, I’d knit this sweater in a stretchier yarn, or I’d go another direction with a fluffy mohair or angora. I would also get over my aversion and knit the cables because I think they would have impacted the shape significantly.

Still, this is a cute and wearable top. Its seamless construction made it both highly enjoyable to knit and incredibly comfortable to wear. Now I just have to get the Buddy Holly song out of my head.

(link)

Previous Entries on this Project:

I speak lace

I love learning and speaking foreign languages. I am fluent in Spanish and Italian, and I’m working on French. I love picking up fundamentals of grammar in other languages, and I genuinely enjoy discovering the quirks and peculiarities of a given culture’s modifications to a base structure.

One of the things I love best about languages is the way they stick in some part of the brain, whether used or not, and come up to the surface as needed, Italian words and Spanish idioms rolling into conversation naturally and comfortably. I find that lace-knitting is its own language, and I love that I am becoming slowly, modestly fluent in lace.

I had started my Wakame Lace Tunic way back in early 2010, over the holidays when I needed to take my mind off of an emotional situation (that’s always the way with me – I bury my feelings in lace). I put it aside just after establishing the sleeves on the back, when I got too busy with my graduate thesis. I packed it up when I moved to Staten Island, and I only just took it out again the other day.

Luckily, I speak lace. I’d left myself all the information I needed with the amount of stitches on the needles, and I was able to read where I was at in the first sleeve repeat. With a quick perusal of the pattern, I came right back up to speed, and I’ve been just chattering away with this gorgeous tunic since then.

I’m enjoying it immensely, and like most lace projects, it’s a great comfort for me during another emotionally trying time (I’ll talk about that once it’s all settled). I can’t get past the cleverness in the construction of this garment, and I look forward to making more progress as I zip up toward the end of the back and get ready to start the front.