Saturday, November 21, 2015

Wrapped + Warmed

Since I haven't posted anything knit-ish in ages, today feels like the perfect day to show off my Ludlow scarf. Just like Exeter, this was one of those projects that I thought looked great in the lookbook, but didn't seriously consider making at first (mostly because of the insane length of it, and the mistaken assumption that it would take two years to complete). Then before you know it, blammo: I've got two massive, marshmallowy balls of Cascade Eco yarn on hand, and I've finished the first band of moss stitch in the space of a single summer's eve (summer! I started this at the hellish height of August!! WTF was I thinking?!). Anyways, sweaty wool-covered thighs aside, this was not nearly as epic an undertaking as I feared, and was even pretty...enjoyable?

The wonderful part about this pattern is that all that lovely texture is made by nothing more than different combinations of knit and purl stitches. The results are beautiful but subtle, which makes the finished scarf super easy to wear, especially if you're careful to choose a neutral shade of yarn (although if you went too dark, some of the design might get lost). It also looks a lot more complicated to knit than it is: while you can't turn your brain off completely, the moss stitch bands are pretty mindless, and you get comfortable with the other sections pretty quickly. I personally managed to burn through several seasons of "Engrenages" while knitting this without screwing it up, which speaks volumes! 

All in all, a pretty satisfying knit. I'm not gonna lie: there's something about wearing a massive, oversized, blankety scarf that instantly makes you feel like a majestic winter queen. It's like you're constantly getting a hug! The only other thing I should mention is that the aforementioned two skeins of Cascade Eco wool turned out to fall just ever-so-slightly short of what I needed to finish the project: I had to buy an ENTIRE OTHER SKEIN to finish the last four inches of moss stitch at the end (*shudders slightly with the ghost of fury past*). I'm sure I can find something to do with the leftovers, but head's up if you're thinking of making this and using the same yarn!

In parting, a quick word about showing my hair monster for the first time: the reason I don't normally wear my hair down in blog pics is because it just becomes one more pain-in-the-ass thing to "get right" (I also feel like it takes the focus away from whatever garment I'm trying to show off). Obviously, I didn't care about any of these things today, so behold my hair in it's natural state! Although I did try it up at first, and this gigantic-ass scarf made me look like a pin head...SO MANY PROBLEMS.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jean-Making Supplies 101

Today I want to talk a little bit about all the wonderful stuff you need if and when you decide to embark on a jeans-making odyssey. When I first decided I was going to start making my own jeans, I found that information on supplies was sort of sparse and spread out, so I figured I'd throw together an info post based on my own jeans-making experiences. While this post is unlikely to answer all your questions, I'm hoping to add a little something to the information available to the aspiring handmade-jeans-makers of the world. 

*As with my previous post on ethical shoes, there was no sponsorship involved with this post.

Let's start with fabric.

Denim - The hardest thing for me to nail down was good denim, and I gave up early on trying to find a local supply. Looking online was equally frustrating at first, due to the fact that so many denim outlets only deal with wholesale orders or lack comprehensive descriptions...until I found Pacific Blue Denim. These guys literally have everything you could want, including a huge supply of the kind of denim used for RTW jeans. Their site is pretty easy to navigate, with filters for domestic/import denim, stretch, weight, and mill of origin. They also offer a reasonably priced swatch service, which I cannot recommend highly enough, especially if you are new to buying denim. I impatiently chose to forgo this option, and out of the five kinds of denim I ordered the first time round, only two wound up being usable. This was a stupid and expensive risk to take, so...yeah, swatches.

If you choose the path of wisdom and do order swatches, this is what they look like: about 4x5" (big enough to test sew to see if your machine can handle it), and labelled with all kinds of useful info (including how much they currently have available).

A quick note on denim weights and stretch: personally, I would not make jeans from denim that was less than 10oz or more than 12.5oz. I also prefer 2% stretch, since that's what you'll see on the labels of most RTW jeans. I know that the Cone Mills s-gene denim that everyone's excited about has a different fiber makeup (stretch can be 1%, and there's some poly content to help with recovery), but I don't have any experience with it (Pacific Blue carry it too though!). The Pacific Blue website provides lots of info on the stretch percentage, weave and weight of each of their denims, which lots of other websites don't bother to provide (so helpful). You might also find it useful to know the difference between kinds of twill weaves: the Heddels website has two great articles explaining precisely that, located here and here.

Now some words on cost and shipping. I was incredibly surprised to find out that good quality stretch denim is...not expensive. In fact, I don't think I paid more than $6 US per yard for even the nice heavyweight Japanese import denim I ordered. If you order from Pacific Blue, there is a cutting fee for amounts under 100 yards, but it's per order of up to 5 different denims. 

What is expensive is the shipping, and that's because denim is HEAVY. Obviously, if you're in the States the shipping will be less because Pacific Blue are an American outlet. The shipping to Canada was about $100 US, which felt steep compared to what I paid for the denim, but I rationalized it thusly: if I were to buy 5 pairs of good quality new jeans, the cost would run me about $800 - $1000 (seriously, good jeans under $100 are a thing of the distant past). Seen from that perspective, paying $200-ish for fabric to make 5 pairs of jeans that will fit better than anything RTW can offer looks pretty good.

Of course, you'll need a few other bits and pieces before you can start. Here's a wee list of other supplies, as well as some places to find them:

Zippers - I bought mine online at the Zipperstop, a New York dealer with an Etsy shop. They have tons of different colours, lengths and weights. I prefer 4.5mm brass zippers since, again, that's what you find on most RTW jeans (I find 5mm a bit too wide and heavy looking). If you can't find the exact length you need, just order a longer size and cut it down during installation.

Thread - I use plain, regular polyester thread on the inner stitching for jeans, but go with heavy-duty top-stitching thread for anything visible. Most local fabric stores will carry the Gutermann stuff in navy, black and mustard/gold, but if you need a special colour, check out Oh Sew Crafty on Ebay. They're a UK dealer, but postage is reasonable and fast, and they offer lots of great colours beyond the basic three (make sure you order two spools if you choose the 30 meter ones).

Buttons - I ordered some from Cast Bullet, and also bought some at Gala Fabrics from Unique sewing notions. Both work great, but the ones from Unique have a slightly shorter post, which means they stick out less (only really important if you're using a lighter denim).

Rivets - Also from Cast Bullet, which I would definitely recommend over generic ones. Melissa at Fehr Trade has put together a justifiably lauded rivet installation tutorial, which does a great job of demystifying the process.

I hope this is useful to you! One of the best things about the recent Slow Fashion October event for me was the incredible exchange of information between online makers. Anything we can share about resources, materials and ways of making is so incredibly valuable, and makes hand-making that much more accessible to everyone. On that note, if you have any links, ideas or info to add to what I've shared above, please do so in the comments: it might be exactly what someone's looking for :)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ginger Jeans 1.0: Indigo

So, after what seemed like eons of waiting, planning, and prepping, I finally got off my ass and tackled jeans this summer. This was an inevitable and very necessary step for me: I am not a dress or skirt person, and don't even really venture into non-denim pants territory. I knew I wanted something with a higher waist and a tight fit, and duly picked up the Ginger Jeans pattern by Closet Case files about a year ago. I had also ordered swatches and enough denim for about seven pairs of jeans from Pacific Blue Denim, as well as zippers from the Zipperstop, rivets and buttons from Cast Bullet, and a variety of top thread from my local fabric store. I had all the crap I needed, but for a long time lacked the gumption to cut into any of the precious denim I'd I waited until one day in July, when I had a "now or never" moment and, just a little terrified, started hacking into a very nice 12oz indigo denim from Cone Mills.

Thankfully, Heather from Closet Case files published a supremely useful sewalong for this pattern, which I followed religiously. I cut a straight size 12 to start, and completed the entire front (pockets and fly) and back (seam and pockets) without any alterations or major screw ups. In fact, I was fairly euphoric at how well the fly came together (still don't understand how it works, but it does..."it's a kind of magic!") and what a trooper my machine was at handling the topstitching thread. Then I machine basted the inner and outer leg seams, and hoo boy, welcome to jeans fitting Hell!

 The biggest issues were around the hips and crotch, although the entire leg needed to be made tighter. This wasn't really a fault of the pattern: my hips are more square than curvy, and are pretty long before curving in sharply for a waist that's ten inches smaller. I waded through a ton of potential solutions online (some fairly simple, others unnecessarily complicated), and encountered the term "crotch whiskers" for the first time in my life (lol). Ultimately, I wound up sewing both the inner and side leg seams in at a wider-than-recommended seam allowance, taking a bit more out of the crotch, and curving in more at the waist. 

If it sounds like I found an easy fix and was toasting my genius in a perfect, finished pair of jeans that same day, this was I went back and forth between basting, trying on, and stitch-ripping at least four goddamn times before I felt they were as close to wearable as I was going to get on this round. It was a process that took a few days, with lots of breaks taken and consolation beers consumed.

Still, I got there in the end. Ultimately, I really didn't want to waste this denim on an unwearable muslin, and I wanted the knowledge I gained with this pair to count towards a significantly better one the next time. So I did the best I could, making whatever adjustments seemed necessary, and making copious notes of what I would do differently next time. 

What I really love about this pair is the thickness and recovery of the fabric: as mentioned above, it's a good solid 12oz, and the denim itself is broken weave, which makes a nice, strong fabric that really holds it's shape. I also really like how the topstitching turned out, and the stay-style front pockets are truly a work of genius on Heather's part. 

Things I found a little tricky: trimming the right side of the fly facing on my serger (it wanted to leave a wider margin than I thought looked good), getting the waistband to meet up properly in the middle, and of course, all the fitting crap. All things considered though, making this first pair of jeans was considerably easier than I thought it would be, and full credit goes to Heather for such a great pattern and instructions.

A few quick notes about the inner guts: there are a few different options given for the waist band, and the option that worked best for me was an interfaced denim/lining fabric combo. Even though they're a high waisted style, I prefer a solid waist band that will hold it's shape and not soften or stretch out over the course of the day. 

As for pockets, I used a medium weight linen I had laying around, and only serged the bottom of the pockets together (this was to avoid a bumpy seam that would be visible through the front leg of the jeans). I have a feeling I may regret choosing linen for the pockets at some point, since it does fray, but I've washed these a few times and they've held it together so far.
In the end, the whole jeans-making process was both a huge learning curve and something of an anticlimax for me. I learned a bunch of new techniques, including some new shit about my sewing machine, and of course, the perennial sewing lesson that patience is the key to any successful project. More importantly, I learned that jeans, like coats, only seem scary and difficult until you try them: then you realize they're just bigger pieces of fabric with a few more details, but nothing impossible. 

And when I say this project was anticlimactic, I don't mean it negatively: in fact, what I mean to say is that once I started wearing these jeans on a regular basis, I basically forgot they were homemade. Sure, there was that first time wearing them out of the house where I fully expected someone in the grocery store to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that I had a split up the butt seam. But when that failed to happen, they stopped being "untrustworthy homemade jeans" in my mind, and just became "those things I wear to cover up my lower half every day cuz I can't go around nekkid". They subtly and seamlessly integrated into my wardrobe , and there can truly be no surer sign of success than that.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Murmure si doux...

Finally, for anyone who thought I'd traded actual sewing for just endlessly pontificating about it, I present to you a true blue FO: my Murmure top. Once I had whipped off a few seasonally appropriate tees this summer, my sewing was largely taken up with trying to nail down the perfect button-up shirt for fall. On the one hand, this led to some anal retentive tweaking of my Grainline Archer pattern, but it also pushed me to seek out some new options. I wanted something that was oversize, but not sloppy, simple, but with a few interesting details. So, I scoured the web for all things chic-but-comfortable, and found French indie pattern company Aime Come Marie, who specialize in precisely the kind of classy French insouciance that so many North American style bloggers salivate over.

You can tell by their website that a great deal of thought is put into presentation, from the layout to the packaging. While a precious few of their patterns are available in PDF, the Murmure top is only available in good ol' fashioned paper format (it only took a week and a half to arrive by mail, which seemed reasonable).

The patterns themselves come in a little craft paper folder, with a hand-drawn illustration of the garment on the front, which is all very sweet. I noticed right away that this was the only schematic available, with no back view or finished garment measurements provided. I was also thrown by the lack of seam allowances: nowhere on their website does it state that you have to add your own, and it's only mentioned on the very back of the instruction booklet for the pattern, not within the instructions themselves. While this initially made me seethe with the rage of a thousand dying suns, I eventually calmed down, bust out my ruler, and set to the tedious effin' task of adding seam allowances to each pattern piece.

Of course, adding the seam allowances was ultimately only a laughably small part of the total dicking around I did with this pattern. In a totally uncharacteristic move on my part, I actually make a muslin, and before I even cut the fabric for it, I had already made some substantial alterations to the length of the front and back pieces. I also added extensions to the back yoke, collar stand and collar pieces, because I found the double gauze fabric I was using tended to misbehave when cut on the fold. I also added a separate button band piece, instead of just folding it under as the pattern instructs you to do.

The only major issue with the muslin was that the sleeve cuffs were way too tight (bizarre, since the rest of the shirt is so roomy). So, I Frankensteine-d the sleeve cap from the Murmure pattern onto the sleeve piece of the Archer, and it worked just fine the second time.

In the end, it was all worth it: I love this top, and wear it as much as I can reasonably get away with. The stakes were pretty high, because I'd bought this fabric years ago and was saving it for something really special. The original bolt had long sold out at Gala Fabrics (where I found it), so if I screwed up, it was basically game over (hahaha, no pressure, lol!). I'm also pleased, in the end, that I put the time in to make the modifications I did, because I now have one more close-to-perfect shirt pattern ready to go in my arsenal.

Here's a wee summary of all specs for this project:

Pattern: Murmure, by Aime Come Marie
Size range: S (36/38) - XL (42/44) *I made size M
Unit of measurement: cm, meters
Seam allowances: 1cm for seams, 3cm for hems
Seam allowances included: NO GODDAMMIT (weeps and pours a whiskey)
Final measurements included: nope, and they sure would be helpful
Instructions: French only, pretty easy to follow (if you've made a button-up shirt before, you could probably put this together without having to consult the instructions too much)

Fabric: denim coloured double-gauze cotton (one side has pinstripes, the other is a solid faded blue)


Front - lengthened front so it was 3.5" longer, gave the hem an inverse rather than concave curve using Archer shirt front as a guide; added separate button band
Back - cut size S for this piece to reduce volume, shortened back hem by about 1.5"
Sleeves - used Archer sleeve shape with Murmure sleeve cap, added Archer cuffs and sleeve placket.
Pockets - added these using pockets from Archer (again!), as pattern doesn't include any

Hope this is useful to anyone contemplating this or any other pattern from Aime Comme Marie!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Slow Fashion October Vols. 2 - 4: Worked, Loved, Mended + Worn

Welp, I'm not exactly winning at the blogging part of Slow Fashion October. Things are so damn busy with teaching, and my sewing/knitting/life queue is so out of control right now, that I feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants with literally everything. So, consider this my advance apology for having smooshed so many weeks and topics into a single post, but know also that my exhausted heart is true to the cause! Without further ado, let's take a look at some stuff I wear...
Most Worn:

This lil' group is without a doubt the hardest working bunch of items in my wardrobe.

Top left: My Salme tote, used daily since it's creation two years ago. The upper section and straps are less blinding white now and more, shall we say, "crême de filth", but whatever. I like to think of it as the patina of love!

Top right: My Rusty Setzer, quite possibly the first Brooklyn Tweed pattern I ever undertook. I have made another one since in black Cascade 220, and I'm always wearing one or the other as soon as the weather dips.

Bottom left: My Fluevog Radio RCI boots. I bought these about three years ago, and loved them so much I saved up to buy the exact same in brown. They've held up so well: near constant wear, without requiring any major repairs.

Bottom right: My Built By Wendy coat. This is the coat that keeps on giving, and I could say the same for the pattern, having used it twice. The fabric is a really thick canvas that has stood up to every kind of abusive West Coast weather: in fact, the only wear requiring TLC is to the lining, which has a couple of tears from sheer overuse. Still wearing it this fall!

Most Proud:

My Exeter sweater was a pretty easy choice for my proudest accomplishment. I recall feeling this weird exhilaration when I bought the yarn for it, and experiencing this indescribable feeling of oh-what-you-seriously-think-you-can-make-this?. The process itself was the perfect blend of challenging and rewarding, and the yarn has stood up really well (yeah, Briggs & Little Tuffy!). Truly, I feel like a goddamn woolly queen when I wear it.

Most Loved:

Well, well, what do we have here? An unblogged FO? How embarrassing! It's even more shameful when I admit that I have, in fact, two more pairs of finished Ginger jeans that I completed this summer without bothering to share. The truth is, I tried to photograph these about a week ago, but the light is such shit in my apartment this time of year that I gave up when all my Photoshopping proved in vain. All the same: love these! I do intend to do a full Ginger post, so I'm not going to say anything about them except that they have truly changed my wardrobe. I love the pattern, the fit, and most of all, the fact that they have just disappeared into my wardrobe so seamlessly!

Most Ancient:

What we have here is the last bastion of store-bought clothing in my wardrobe that isn't underwear/socks: a thrifted shirt from a local vintage store, purchased at least five years ago, from the jauntily monikered label "Spare Time". When I first bought it, it fit so huge that my intention was to alter it. Thank heck I did no such thing, since I've expanded my horizons somewhat since then, and now fully appreciate it's generous fit. It's made of acrylic (ew, groooosss!), but I really like the plaid and like to believe it's flattering on me (although I'm pretty sure my students' parents are like "jeez, lady, get a new shirt!").

Most Mended:

My first Nudies are easily the most worn, most abused, most patched-up item of clothing I still have kicking around. When they were new, they fit like a glove and were deemed my sexay jeans. Then, they faded and grew a little worn, but I still wore them pretty much everywhere (even when biking). Then the crotch started to give out in the exact spots where the crotch of every subsequent pair of Nudies has given out, so I dutifully patched them up. Then a few holes appeared at the upper corners of the pockets, and where the belt loops attach to the waist...soon, I was only wearing them to my laundromat-cleaning night job, and whenever all other pairs of jeans were in the wash. Here's the thing though: I had that cleaning gig for five years...and I wore these jeans for every shift. RIP, Nudies 1.0.

That's it! I have some FOs I've been wanting to share as well as some other topical ramblings, so barring anything untoward, I should be back soon...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Slow fashion October Vol 1: Origins

Ah, the sweet sounds of childhood...
I've been wanting to do a sort of personal history of how I got into sewing and knitting for awhile now, and since Slow Fashion October is finally upon us, I finally have the perfect chance! The first post is meant to be a "getting-to-know-you" deal, so let's start way back in the golden and glorious early 80s, when some of the earliest seeds of DIY were first planted in my impressionable wee brain.

I grew up in a small town on Vancouver Island, one of four kids born to a pot smoking mill-worker dad and a stay-at-home mom (who later worked in the explosives industry, post-divorce). Like everyone else of their generation, my parents had some vague and largely unrealized back-to-the-land tendencies, which led them to fill the family book case with craft encyclopedias and can the odd jar of pickles. My dad had some decent carpentry and gardening skills, and I can recall my mom sewing curtains for the kitchen windows, as well as some Halloween costumes. But these projects and hobbies were often small, and not long-pursued. We did, however, go in for secondhand in a big way. As a family of six being supported on a single income, we didn't often have the luxury of indulging in new goods: I distinctly remember getting boxes of hand-me-down clothes from bigger cousins in Ontario once a year, and these being divided between whichever siblings they were appropriate for. And while I appreciated the new clothing my nana sent at Christmas, still covered in tags and smelling of the department store it came from, I was equally happy with my older cousin's holey sweatshirts.

The fabulous L7 and...Twiggy Ramirez
Let's skip ahead to my high school years, where we are now firmly in the frayed and musty-smelling 90s (sorry!). On the one hand, I feel like this wasn't such a bad time fashion-wise to grow up female: you could totally get away with wearing thrifted, baggy, IDGAF clothing, and be considered cool (in the larger world at least, if not in my shitty redneck hometown). On the other hand, Marilyn Manson happened, and I decided to throw my sartorial lot in with his dress-wearing bassist/guitarist, Twiggy Ramirez. Since this was pre-Hot Topic and early, early internet, I was basically pushed into learning to sew for lack of any suitably goth clothing outlets in my locale. However, my skills were rudimentary at best, and my mom's sewing machine basic to say the least. Work space was also incredibly limited, and I can still remember the frustration of trying to cut velour fabric on the carpeted floor of our living room. Still, I muddled through, and my then-baffling fashion sense led me to make a wide range of bizarre garments, including the following:

- a t-shirt with non-stretch lace sleeves and some random goth word hand-stencilled across the chest (and before you ask, no, I most certainly could not bend my arms)
- boot-cut pants made from non-stretch (again!) yellow and black striped twill (which split up the ass seam at a dance)
- faux leopard fur flares, complete with safety pin closure (no zippers for this budding seamstress!)
- a floor-length skirt with alternating satin and lace panels, which I wore to school like I was the goddamn Lady of Shallot

I also scoured the thrift stores for vintage, A-line house dresses from the 60s, which invariably had to be altered, and had my fair share of handmade band t-shirts (including a bright yellow one with the word "Prick" written across the front in black Sharpie, which earned me a trip to the principal's office). 

If any of this is making me sound like some kind of intriguing, small town grunge pioneer, don't believe it: I was most decidedly not cool. I was a tall, scrawny, socially awkward, female version of Joey Ramone, who had things thrown and shouted at me from the moving vehicles of rednecks on a daily basis. Still, this is where I first gained an interest in making my own clothes (however hideous they may seem to me now), and where a basic foundation of skills was laid. Let's move on, shall we?

No Logo, Erin O'Connor on the cover of i-D magazine

OK, 1999 - 2005, the university years: my redneck hometown is a thing of the past, and I am safe and free going to art school in the closest thing Vancouver Island has to a big city. Like every other first year student in the history of forever, I experienced something of a political awakening (WTO! Women's studies! Socialists are still a thing!). I also read Naomi Klein's "No Logo", and my previously vague "fuck the man" feelings became considerably more focused. Whereas previously I distrusted corporate culture and wore thrifted goods because Kurt Cobain did, I now had a lot of very specific information regarding the global manufacturing industry to back my choices up. Fashion-wise, this was a very twee time for me: lots of skinny pants, tight vintage tees, and retro tops with whimsical prints (a kind of Belle and Sebastian-inspired librarian couture). 

Although my sewing skills were mostly used for altering secondhand clothes at this point, I did make a significant jump in skills-acquisition by teaching myself to knit from Debbie Stoller's "Stitch 'n' Bitch" book (yeah, early 2000s Bust magazine!). It was a slow process, but I did manage to make matching garter stitch scarves for myself and a girlfriend (in hideously inappropriate yarn). I also made a few knitted gifts and started a few sweaters that I never finished. The truth was, I simply didn't have the time: for my last years of university, I was working and going to school full time, and there were precious few moments when I could do anything unrelated to projects for my art courses. Towards the end, I even felt resentful of my fine arts practice, because the results seemed so impractical and useless compared to the things I made sewing or knitting (not that I truly believe art is pointless, but...the art I was making was pointless). Anyways, I plugged away at my various interests, finished my fine arts degree, then decided to get outta dodge.

Photograph by Corrine Day, i-D magazine from early 2000s
Like so many Canadian anglos living outside of Quebec at the time, I decided I had become too cool for the town I was in and decided to move to Montreal. I packed one pair of jeans, three thrifted t-shirts (with wolves and motorcycles on them, natch!), a coat that proved to be woefully inadequate for Montreal winters, and caught the Greyhound east. I also brought my sewing machine and serger, both of which took a nasty beating during the trip, but still worked on arrival. Like most transient people my age, I wound up working in a call center and going to shows (mostly music or "art", often involving overhead projectors). My income was so low that I don't think I bought one single solitary item of new clothing while there, except for socks: everything was either thrifted or bought off ebay. I had a million roommates, started a quilt I never finished, acquired way too many vintage sewing patterns, experienced one terrible relationship, drank too much, and came home after two years.

Freja Beha Erichsen, photographed by Cass Bird
Once back on the West Coast, I decided to get serious about a lot of things: I worked two jobs to make ends meets, went back to school to get my teaching degree, cut out the excessive drinking, and ended the remnants of my awful Montreal relationship. I also got way more serious about making clothes: I realized that for all those years, I had considered myself a knitter and sewer of garments, yet I didn't really have a single piece of finished handmade clothing in my closet. So I started to learn more about fabric, researched patterns beyond the Big Four, got my sewing machine tuned up, and set to work. I did the same thing with knitting: I found some pattern magazines and companies that were more in line with my tastes than the more mainstream sources, spent some time learning about different fiber types and yarn weights, and tried to learn new techniques at a rate that was manageable for me.

I'm now 35, and have been back on the West Coast for about eight years. I have a great job as a teacher, and for the first time in my life, I also have the time, space, and income to support my interests (sewing, knitting, being more responsible and ethical about things I need but can't make). I've slowly taken on a lot of projects that would have seemed impossible to me even five years ago (coats, button-down shirts, jeans), and my taste in clothing has evolved as well. This is probably the first time in my life that my sartorial choices are not linked hard and fast to whatever subculture or music I'm currently into, and while that can be a bit disorienting at times, it's starting to work (all part of getting auld, lol!).

Anyways, that's a whole lot of my life in one long-ass blog post. Please share something about yourself in the comments if anything resonates/inspires/helps!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Happy feet

My Poppy Barley Foxhunt boots, bought last year
I've come to realize that while an entirely handmade wardrobe is no longer the stuff of fantasy for me, one thing I will never be able to make for myself is footwear (unless some generous and extremely wealthy patron would like to send me to one of these awesome sounding workshops in London). Since I try my best to make sure that anything I can't make myself is ethically made, this has led to a lengthy and somewhat frustrating search for shoes and boots that are not made by companies with inhumane labour practices. Luckily, there are more and more options for people seeking ethically made footwear, and I've compiled some info on the companies that, given an unlimited shoe budget, I would be most likely to buy from.

Before I begin, let me just say that none of these companies have asked me to mention them (this list is purely the result of my own obsessive internet quest), and that with the exception of Poppy Barley, I don't have any experience actually ordering from these companies. This is really more of an FYI list for anybody thinking of checking out some ethically made shoes, without having to slog through a cyber swamp of garbage.

Also, a quick note on ethical shoe business models: while there are a few domestic shoemakers on this list, most of them make use of what I would call a responsible outsourcing model. For example, a company might be Canadian, but the shoes are made in Peru. The big difference between this business model and the kind used by a company like Nike is that even though the shoes are made in another country, the manufacturing is kept in-house, rather than sub-contracted out to unregulated factories. This (hopefully) means that workers are paid better wages and work in safer conditions.

Ok, if you're still with me, let's look at some damn fine shoes (all photos copyright of respective company)...

From top left, clockwise: Chukka boot, Smoking shoe, Austin shoe, Ecuador Huarache
Company: Nisolo Shoes
HQ: Nashville, TN
Manufacturing: Peru

These guys offer a pretty decent range of styles for all seasons, although they don't yet offer any tall boots. There's a lot of detailed info about their manufacturing process under their "about" section.

From top left, clockwise: no longer available, Adriana Coco, Paloma shoe, Cameron Oxford

Company: Fortress of Inca
HQ: Austin, TX
Manufacturing: Peru

A mix of basic and not-so-basic styles, similar in aesthetic to some of the Nisolo shoes. Lots of info about their manufacturing process, and they offer free domestic shipping (flat rate shipping everywhere else).

From top left, clockwise: Caramel Nomad bootie, Lalibella loafer, Mist suede Nomad bootie, Accent loafer

Company: Sseko Designs
HQ: Portland, OR
Manufacturing: Uganda, Ethiopia
Sseko got their start making ribbon sandals (which aren't really my thing, tbh), but it looks like they've started to branch out into other styles. Their business model is meticulously outlined on their webpage, and is quite an interesting read: the company employs women during the time between high school and university, and matches their savings in the form of scholarships. There's a lot more to the story, and I would encourage you to check it out!

Left: Sabah shoes, right: Mohinder women's flats

Company: Sabah
HQ: New York, NY
Manufacturing: Turkey

Company: Mohinder
HQ: San Franciso, CA
Manufacturing: India

Both of these companies were the result of traveler's epiphanies, and both are committed to supporting the local economies and traditional methods of their shoemakers. The Sabah shoes only come in one style, but you can get them in virtually any kind of leather and colour you can think of. Mohinder shoes currently come in 2-3 styles, but others appear to be in the works.

Left: Plain clogs, right: Halter top clogs

Company: Sven Clogs
HQ: Chisago City, MN
Manufacturing: USA

For some reason, clogs are the one kind of shoe that continues to be produced domestically. These guys have a range of styles and heel heights, although most of their closed-back clogs are only available in mid/low heels. They do, however, have an awesome closeout section where you can get their clogs at seriously reduced prices.

From top left, clockwise: Slip-on oxford, Chelsea boot, Feminine slipper, Hacienda boot

Company: Poppy Barley
HQ: Edmonton, Alberta
Manufacturing: Mexico

Yay, some Canadians! Poppy Barley are one of the few companies listed that offer some honest-to-goodness tall f/w boots. They also offer custom sizing options, so whether you need adjustments for different sized feet or need a particular calf width, they can do it all!

Left: Ngola boot, right: Sogal shoe (shade no longer available)

Company: Oliberté Shoes
HQ: Oakville, Ontario
Manufacturing: Ethiopia

More Canadians! These guys boast that they are world's first fair trade certified footwear manufacturing company, and offer lots of production info on their website. Stylistically, they are more rugged than the other companies on this list, and I personally prefer their men's shoe line.

All styles from the Taua line

Company: Veja
HQ: France
Manufacturing: South Brazil

Ethically made sneakers are truly hard to find, and Veja offer not only a wide range of modern styles, but also complete transparency regarding their manufacturing process (including the challenges they continue to face). They also offer free international shipping on international orders over 150 EUR.

From top left, clockwise: Armelle shoe, Ella bootie, Céleste boot, 1/3 Gardian bootie

Company: La Botte Gardiane
HQ: France
Manufacturing: Villetelle, France

La Botte Gardiane is a French boot making company, although they are also well-known for their sandals. All shoes are made domestically, and they offer a wide range of styles with options for customization. They also offer (beautiful) tall boots:

Left: Cavalière City boot, right: Elloa boot

Finally, a quick word of caution: when compiling this list, I made an effort to choose companies that are transparent with regards to their manufacturing. Most (if not all) of these companies cite ethical manufacturing as a primary part of their business mandate and strive to provide some kind of proof of ethical practices (unlike some global companies that make bland statements about commitments to labour standards without offering anything to back them up). Still, without actually visiting a manufacturing facility, we can never be 100% sure of the conditions people are working in. So if you have questions about a company, ask them! The more we require companies to care about the conditions and lives of their workers, the better for everyone!

I realize this list is far from comprehensive, and am hoping that it can continue to grow. To that end, if you know of a company that produces ethical footwear and has a similar aesthetic to the ones shown here, please leave a link in the comments section!

Hope this helps :)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Oshima with the dust off...

Brooklyn Tweed: I can't quit you babe (oh god, someone plz get my classic rock reference/why am I such a dork?)
What we have here is some major fall cleaning, my friends: a sweater so auld and ancient that to my eternal shame, I no longer remember what yarn I used to make it (!). I actually finished this some time last summer, blocked it, wore it, even took pictures of it, but completely failed to get off my ass and post something about it. So in an effort to get all the woolly skeletons out of the closet, I present to you my fashionably late Oshima sweater!
  If memory serves, this was a relatively easy knit, with the occasional challenging bit. The brioche stitch chest and shoulder sections were especially attention-demanding, although exhilarating to see unfold. I actually put this project aside at one point, a few rows into the brioche part on the front: when I finally picked it up again, I ripped those first few rows to start afresh, rather than try to puzzle out where I was. I also seem to recall having some trouble with the increases on the collar piece, one of which remains a larger-than-it-shoulda-been hole (shameful!).

The only mods I made to this project were to knit the body an inch or so longer, and to give it a split hem. I found the arms excessively long (unusual, given my gorilla limbs), but fixed this by rolling the whole cuff up rather than doubling it over itself. I *may* have also sized down a needle when I knit the collar, cuz I remember thinking I wanted it to have some structure rather than just flop around but...who even knows (sorry!)?
Anyways, I do apologize for the lack of useful info in this post. What I can say with absolute conviction is that I really love this sweater, and wore it to bits last winter. In fact, it's one of the few sweaters I've made recently that will be given a place in this year's winter wardrobe, mainly because it's so damn comfortable! I also love the subtle detail of the directional brioche rib around the collar and shoulders: it's interesting without being all COMPLICATED-CABLES-IN-YR-FACE about it...not that there's anything wrong with that!

Well, this completes my knitterly housekeeping: onwards to fresh projects!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Back again...

Top, left to right: cabled Relax, BT Dunaway scarf. Bottom, left to right: BT Bellows cardigan, BT Ludlow wrap.

Well, here I am, skulking back like a runaway cat. The maintenance of this blog has caused me more existential angst than I care to admit to, but I can say that I've gone back and forth on pulling the plug completely several times this spring/summer. So what's the big deal?

It honestly just became a bit too much work: re-arranging my bedroom every time I needed to take pictures, ass-numbing hours spent Photoshopping said pictures when they turned out crappy, agonizing over clever things to write about each project, uploading each project to Ravelry/Burdastyle on top of the blog, etc etc. Anyone who maintains a blog must have experienced these particular pains in the ass at some point, as well as having asked themselves "why frickin' bother?" on numerous occasions. As I was finding it harder and harder to answer that question, I decided to take some time away.

So, why am I back again? I don't even know. I still don't have any real answers to why this space needs to be, but I don't feel ready to give up on it altogether. I still have some projects to share, and after freshening things up a little bit, I decided to give it another lease on life.

We'll see where and how it goes...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rainy Day Ondawa

Ah, what to say about this project? Where on earth to start? Every single part of it was a joy: the excitement of seeing the pattern when it first came out, picking out the yarn, knitting that amazing cable chart, pulling it on for the first time when the seaming was all done...from start to finish, it was totally rewarding (and I haven't even worn it out head's going to explode when that time comes, lol!).

I suppose you want some details, so: this is Ondawa, a pattern from Brooklyn Tweed's fisherman knits-inspired fall 2014 collection. Also, I did not knit this with Loft. Remember when I was super excited that my LYS had started carrying Brooklyn Tweed yarn? And yet, I seem to be doing whatever I can to avoid actually using it! I don't know what my problem is (that's a lie: it's money!), but I chose to make this instead with Hikoo's Kenzie (a blend of merino, nylon, angora, alpaca, and silk noils). I have a feeling the gauge is slightly bigger than actual Loft, but don't know this for sure because once again: pas de gauge swatch! Not that it matters a whole lot, because I made the second smallest size and it's meant to have quite a bit of ease.

And since we're talking about sizing, I should probably mention some of the weird stuff I did to get the fit I wanted. I didn't particularly want a crop top, mainly because I didn't want to have to wear something underneath it, so I added two more repeats of the central cable. I also didn't want to be swimming in it (19 inches of ease, wtf?), so made a much smaller size than the pattern recommended. And then (because why stop there?), I also made the shoulders wider than the hem when I blocked it. And after all, it fits pretty swell!

This is probably the second most challenging project I've attempted after Exeter, but it's not actually difficult: there's no in-pattern shaping, the cables are all clearly charted, and you're basically just knitting four rectangles. So maybe challenging is the wrong word...ambitious, maybe? Impressive? Then again, I'm always impressed when I do something besides stockinette, so it's good to raise the bar a little now and then.

Oh, and almost forgot the best part: this was done entirely sans cabling needle! I kinda hate the whole "slip 3 stitches to a cable needle and hold in front/back, knit whatever from left needle, tear your hair out cuz this is taking so long, etc etc". Soooooo, I looked up how to cable without the fuss of an extra needle in the way, and found a couple of tutorials. Basically, you re-arrange the stitches on your left needle so that they're sitting in the order you need to knit them in. Some folks would probably find this more of a pain in the ass than just using a cable needle, but not me! Especially when you're cabling every five seconds (sometimes just a single stitch), like in this pattern. So yay, learned something new!

There are actually quite a few Ondawas in progress on Ravelry right now, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of them as finished projects. If you have one in progress and have any questions, feel free to ask!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rusty Slade

So, part of the reason I finally got off my ass to post my Ivory Laurie tee is because I actually really wanted to post this guy...and since I'm wearing the Laurie tee with it in the photos I took, it made sense to show it first (kind of?). In truth, this is my second Slade cardigan (first is still languishing somewhere unblogged, because...yup, laziness!): these are so quick and lovely to knit up that before I was finished that first one, I started up another. While the first was done in a typical-for-me tweedy charcoal hue, I thought I'd cut loose a bit with a pop of colour (to use a perennially annoying fashion term), and acquired some more of the same Japanese Maple Cascade 220 that I used for my Rusty Setzer cowl.

I've kind of gotten in the habit of automatically substituting Cascade 220 for Shelter in my mind whenever I see it in a Brooklyn Tweed pattern (cuz I'm cheap), but in fact I think it is ever so slightly thinner than Shelter. I say this because I knit both my Slades in the same size (41" bust, second size from smallest), but the first I did make in Shelter and the fit is a bit roomier. I was originally aiming for something a bit more oversize, and figured that this being a man's pattern, I only needed to worry about not making it TOO big. With this assumption in mind, I chose a size that had a smaller arm circumference and pretty much ignored all the other measurements, which I might not repeat if I make a third version.

After sewing the arms into my first Slade though, I noticed that the part where the top of the sleeve met the shoulder seemed really big all around. I then embarked on a little sweater surgery: I took apart the seam, and frogged the top of the sleeves quite a few inches. I left off the last arm increase before the shoulder shaping, then knit fewer rows for the sleeve caps (I'm sorry I can't be more specific than that, I seem to have lost my damn notes!). Then I put the whole thing back together...and since I sort of knit the two Slades simultaneously, I had to do the exact same thing with this one (yoiks!).

The rest of the knitting and seaming on this sweater is so simple that I didn't mind having one slightly weird mod to deal with. The only other issue I had was I made the neck ribbing band two short...on both...and blocked them before noticing. When it finally dawned on me that they looked a little off, I went back to the pattern and stared at the schematic like an idiot for 20 minutes trying to find a measurement for the neck band, only to find it much later buried at the end of the neck band instructions (it's 6", suckah!). So I had to unpick the cast off edge, carefully pick up aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall those stitches, and add about three more inches of ribbing to each...and there is nothing more awful than going back and adding more ribbing when you thought you were finished with the damn stuff.

However, all worth it in the end! I do need to block the ends of the neck band of this one again, because they have a tendency to lift up at the hem, but I do love a simple, comfortable, and easy to wear knitting project. I especially love the colour of this one: the perfect warm, heathery fall shade to snuggle up in on those cold days when your soul shrivels at the thought of braving the elements :)