Behavioral Analysis

I’m obsessed with data and finding ways to quantify and analyze behaviors. I also have a fairly torrid love affair going with Excel, so I finally answered a question that had been rolling around in my mind for a while:

What projects do I actually finish?

I looked at the 70 projects I’ve completed over time, and I broke them down into types.

Percentage-wise (rounding up and down) it’s approximately:

Accessories 3%
Baby 3%
Hats 17%
Scarf / Wrap 16%
Shrug / Bolero 13%
Socks 35%
Sweaters 10%
Tops / Tees / Vests 4%

I found this breakdown fairly interesting, as one of the main reasons I wanted to learn to knit was so I could make sweaters and shrugs to wear over dresses, yet combined they comprise less than a quarter of my knitting output. Of course it can be argued that counting each pair of socks as a project is disproportionate with the arduousness of creating a whole sweater, but math-wise, I seem much more likely to finish a pair of socks than anything else.

Next I considered whether I am as selfish a knitter as I think I am, and if that has any influence on the types of projects I finish.

11 gifts and 59 projects for myself. Yes, I am knitting about as selfishly as possible.

I am most likely to make you a hat or a scarf / wrap if I’m knitting you a gift.

And I am most likely to make myself socks or wintry accessories (hats and scarves). Even though I really want sweaters.

So without further sorting the data and filling in a bit of subjectivity, I seem more likely to finish smaller or easier projects (hats, scarves, socks) whether they’re for myself or others. Not a huge surprise there. And while I didn’t compile data on it, I know that I almost never wear any of the non-sweater tops I’ve made, whereas I wear the sweaters and shrugs quite frequently. They may be a larger time investment and a higher degree of difficulty, but I get a lot more enjoyment and use out of them, so that’s time and energy sometimes better spent.

Then I turned to pattern sources, to answer a secondary question inspired by the amount of money I’ve spent on magazine subscriptions and books over the years.

What pattern sources yield the most finished projects?

I would have guessed that I knit the most projects from knitting magazines, but I would have been quite wrong.

I knit about 39% from independent or self-publishing designers, 17% from online magazines (Knitty, the late MagKnits, Knit on the Net, and so forth), 14% from patterns I made up, 13% from magazines, 11% from yarn company patterns, and only about 6% from books.

I was quite surprised because of these sources, the books tend to be the most expensive, followed by magazines, yet my habits tend to be inversely proportionate to the cost. Whoops. I was also surprised by how many projects came from patterns that I had devised, but these were obviously quite a bit simpler (scarves, bags – essentially big rectangles that may or may not have had lace patterns incorporated).

And, I can’t forget, I’ve started a lot more projects than I’ve actually finished. But that was exactly the intent of this analysis. My hypothesis was that I’d be much more likely to finish patterns from paid sources, since I was literally more invested in them, but surprisingly, the split was 80% free patterns, only 20% paid.

And now I see where my apparent love and support of independent designers is not actually what it seems. Most of the self-published patterns I’ve finished were free. Otherwise, the free patterns came from online magazines and yarn companies (Cascade, Berroco, and Lion Brand, specifically).

And of the paid patterns, I was right, that I mostly finish those from magazines (almost exclusively Interweave Knits) followed by books and every once in a while I support an indie designer financially as well as in spirit.

So while there has been an excess of pie charts, I actually learned a lot about myself as a knitter. I may have a library full of magazines and books, but I am much more likely to finish free patterns I dig up from self-published sources and independent designers online.

I knit way more socks than anything else, although what I really want to knit are sweaters and shrugs.

And I could really stand to finish a few more gifts and pay to support all these independent designers whose work I obviously adore.

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.

Well hi there

Gosh I’ve missed this space. I have an actual reason I’ve been away, but I also have some lesser reasons too.

I know a lot of knitters go full-tilt in the fall, whipping up new sweaters and afghans and what have you for the cold months. I seem to be a different type of knitter, coming back to life in the spring and summer.

Now that the trees have finally bloomed and I’ve had a few delightful evenings sitting outside sipping Prosecco, I am looking forward to nice things around here.

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.

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)

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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.

FO: Whisper Cardigan

Pattern: Whisper Cardigan by Hannah Fetig, from the Spring 2009 Interweave Knits. My project page is here.
Size: Large-ish
Yarn: Knit Picks Gloss Lace 2-ply laceweight, 70% wool / 30% silk, in Malachite; I used about 2.44 skeins, approximately 122 grams, which was 1074 yards/ 981 meters.
Needles: Size 7 (4.5 mm), Size 4 (3.5 mm) and Size 2 (2.75 mm)
Modifications: Lengthened sleeves and back.

Started: April 27, 2012
Finished: May 17, 2012

No surprise, I adore this sweater. Projects like this sweater are the reason I wanted to learn how to knit. I was able to turn some thin wool/silk string into a garment that is my favorite color, customized to my size, in a beautifully-designed style, the likes of which I could never find in a store. And I had fun doing it!

Recently on Twitter, Bette Midler asked, “Are they ever going to make dresses with sleeves in them again? Am I doomed to a life of sweaters and coverups?”

Unfortunately for Bette and I, no, they really aren’t. I snarkily replied to her Tweet (which also called on Tim Gunn) by pointing out that the last winner of Project Runway, Anya Ayoung-Chee didn’t even know how to make sleeves. But really, am I just shopping in the wrong stores, or is there a serious deficit in spring/summer dresses (or even fall and winter dresses) with sleeves that adequately cover the arms? At best, maybe you can find a fluttery cap sleeve, but that doesn’t really cut it.

I am nuts about sleeves both for modesty (I just don’t think underarms are appropriate in professional or non-beach settings) and because my arms always get cold in air conditioning and at night. I also really don’t like how fat and flabby my upper arms are right now, so for nicer occasions (or really any occasion) I don’t want to put all that on display.

I love this sweater because it gracefully covers my arms without completely obscuring my dress. It keeps me comfortable in air conditioning, but because it is so lightweight and breathable, I was equally comfortable in 78-degree sunshine. Fluttering around weightlessly, it added a draped, feminine touch to complement my dress without making me look buttoned-up and constricted, too prim, or too childish, as shrugs and cropped cardigans sometimes can. I think it will also work well over tank tops and sleeveless blouses for a more casual look. In short, as a garment, this one is perfect.

dscn4381

And at 120 grams, it weighs next to nothing, so it makes a great carry-along in case I ever do want to bare my arms, without adding bulk or weight to my bag.

dscn4384

Because this is my second time knitting this pattern, I already knew the changes I wanted to make. I lengthened the sleeves by 10 rows at the end of decreasing so they would come down past my elbows. I lengthened the back and “skirt” portion to 11″ below the ribbing, so that it would hit in a place I liked, especially when I sat down. I found the parts of the sweater that curved forward (formed by increases at the edges) perfectly covered my midsection while seated (it’s wrinkled in the back in the first photo after I spent the afternoon at the ballet, but it was sorted by the time I got home).

I already knew how much I love this yarn. In this color, the little twirly edges remind me of tendrils, which makes me love it even more.

The slightest issue I had while wearing it – which was probably caused more by the neckline of my dress – is that occasionally it would fall open more on my right shoulder than I wanted it to (I had my purse on my left shoulder). I tried it on over a tank top when I got home, and it was fine.

I’m incredibly pleased with this sweater and this project. I was delighted to see that working exclusively on one project – even in laceweight yarn – produced pleasantly speedy results. The turnaround time was faster than the 3 weeks indicated because I started one sleeve before finals, then finished the entire sweater the week after. As I noted in an earlier entry, if I can speed up my ribbing, it would have taken half the time.

So Bette Midler and I can quit despairing about dresses not designed with women like us in mind. We may not get sleeves on the dress, but I can totally whip up something fabulous that I love to wear. You can bet there will be even more laceweight, seamless sweaters in my future.

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FO: Featherweight Cardigan

Pattern: Featherweight Cardigan by Hannah Fetig, from Knitbot. My project page is here.
Size: M (40″)
Yarn: Knit Picks Gloss Lace 2-ply laceweight, 70% wool / 30% silk, in Aegean; I used about 2.38 skeins, approximately 119 grams, which was 1074 yards/ 957 meters.
Needles: Size 5 (3.75 mm) and Size 6 (4.0 mm)
Modifications: Used kf&b increases, worked 1×1 ribbing on the collar.

Started: June 9, 2009
Finished: April 25, 2012

Oh boy, what a saga this sweater has been. Though it was literally years in the making, it was worth it. I’m thrilled with it, and it’s everything I thought it would be.

(Please excuse the wrinkles – this is after it was rumpled up in my overnight bag.)

It’s perfectly lightweight, but substantial enough to keep me warm in the enthusiastic air conditioning of NYC (this time was at the NYC Ballet, where I usually freeze). It’s crisp and trim enough to look professional, with an airy drape and fluttery quality that make it really enjoyable to wear.

The only real modifications I made were in working kf&b increases, offset by one stitch from the raglan “seam” and working 1×1 ribbing for the collar and band edging so it wouldn’t roll. The ribbing was suggested in the pattern, and I like the way it relates to the 1×1 ribbing at the lower edge.

I’ve probably professed my unending love for seamless sweaters before, but I seriously can’t say enough good things about how tremendously satisfying it is to make a laceweight sweater that is basically flawless. This pattern is brilliant, simple, and fun. It has gotten me positively addicted to laceweight, seamless sweaters (expect more soon), and I’m thrilled with the results. I’m equally thrilled with the yarn and its genuinely lovely color.

I just plain love this sweater.

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