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.

The Respite of Knitting

I’ve had some challenging things going on in my life lately, like leaving school, starting a new full-time job, breaking up with my boyfriend, and losing a dearly loved aunt to cancer. When my father called to ask if I wanted to spend the weekend at the shore, I barely let him finish his question before I said I was packing my bag and on my way.

I realized recently that none of my knits were portable, so I scrambled through my queue to find something with a minimum of materials or complexity. One skein of lovely laceweight yarn, an easy-to-memorize lace pattern, and one little needle thrown into my bag, and I’m well on my way to a fluttery, beautiful scarf.

Obviously I was knitting at the beach, and no, I’m still not sure I pull off that flopsy beach hat look. I’ve also knit a little here and there during train rides and ferry rides. i like having a simple, soothing project to contain whatever is currently going on in my mind in an orderly, gentle form.

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.

Knitting all the time

I think that being a knitter is similar to being an artist, or a scientist, or a chef, in that as you go about the day, you don’t really ever stop being what you are, yet it’s not the only thing that defines your existence. As I ride the ferry, I always notice the knit items people are wearing, examining their construction, the fit, the lace or cable pattern, and in the same way that I look at paintings as if I had a brush in my hand, I wonder how I would make this thing, what I might change about it, and so on.

But mentally knitting, obviously, isn’t the same thing as physically taking needles and yarn and producing something, which is why I’m so delighted to have stolen moments here and there to make progress on a bunch of projects, old and new.

First, look what’s off the needles and awaiting blocking…

This is my Upstairs shawl/wrap/scarf, with which I am utterly enamored. I will go on (and on) about this project in its own FO post, but I will say that the thought of blocking it and having raggedly, pointy, stretched-out edges broke me down, and I bought blocking wires. I look forward to seeing how they work out.

I stayed with my family in New Jersey through Hurricane Irene, and the several days we were without power gave me quite a head of steam on a project I haven’t mentioned before.

This is a summery laceweight shrug knit in seafoam stitch, and even though it will probably be a while (like, the next three seasons) before I get to wear it, I’m pretty enthused with what I think it will become.

I pretty much always have socks on the go (I will do a whole sock catch-up soon), but these had been abandoned a while ago in my knitting basket. I can’t really remember why, save for the tedium of working with bamboo needles, but once I started them back up again, I whipped through a heel and have been moving up the leg.

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I love this snowflake lace pattern, and I keep thinking about where else I might like to use it (probably a cardigan or shrug?) since it is that perfect blend of organic and geometric, deceptively simple, and really quite lovely when stretched and worn (saving that for the FO post, again, soon).

Now I didn’t knit this, but this is a spectacular alpaca hat my parents picked up for me during their vacation to Peru in August.

I am so smitten with its colors, style, and decadent, soft warmth that I’m actually willing the weather to get colder so I can wear it outside of my apartment. My father bought my mother an insanely gorgeous alpaca cardigan, which I have to remember to photograph the next time I visit.

Mmmm, alpaca….

And saving perhaps the best for last, I have finally started a new sweater for my mother, which is technically her Christmas gift from ohh… 2008? This is not her gift this year, but rather something I’m going to try to get done soon because I feel bad promising people knits and not following through (I’ve done this with both parents and my brother, so yeah, bad habit of mine).

You may recognize it as the Cable-Down Raglan, a pattern I’ve admired for a long, long while. And yes, I have the yarn (and now the skills) to make one for myself too.

I had started a different cabled sweater for my mom years ago, but the more FO photos I’ve seen on Ravelry, the less I think that sweater will be particularly flattering for her, and it would make us both feel terrible to spend all this time knitting some elaborate cabled sweater that she never wears it because it looks bad. I admitted that this hesitation was most of why I’d stalled out on her super-belated Christmas gift, and she was relieved that I didn’t plug ahead on a feckless project. When I showed her the Cable-Down Raglan and photos of women with similar shapes and how wonderful they looked in it, she became enthusiastic and encouraged me to go forward with this one instead.

True to form, she picked out another heathered purple yarn, and I must say, I’m pretty pleased with the way it’s coming along. I really hope she likes it!

So these are but a few of the projects keeping my hands busy lately. I often think that if I focused on just one project at a time, I could whip out the FOs left and right, and this may be a strategy I can employ once I get some of the long-hibernating WIPs out of my basket and off my needles. But in the meantime, we’re coming into autumn, or Knitter’s Paradise, and I’m happy to have my hands full of wool again.