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!

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.