All about that lace, ’bout that lace, no cables…

(Actually I have no truck with cables, but I couldn’t resist the rhyme.)

This weekend, cranky about the snow, I finished knitting a bright pink seamless lacy sweater. I didn’t weave in the ends or find / sew on buttons yet, but I’m already really happy with how this one is coming along. And if the temperature ever rises consistently out of the 30s this spring, I’m looking forward to wearing it over floral, springy dresses.

Soon, I really hope.

Thinking nautical thoughts

Working for a jewelry company, I frequently encounter charming, beautiful things that I’d love to own and will probably never be able to afford.

Like this 1930s bracelet I came across last year that uses nautical flags to spell out “I LOVE YOU.” Lacking a spare $14,000 for this one, however many thousand a Cartier “DEAREST” would cost, or even the several hundred dollars that contemporary charm versions run, I had temporarily disregarded my vision of a nautical bracelet spelling out my name.

For a lark, I read The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach today. I was feeling a little homesick for the super preppy town where I grew up, and on a rainy Smarch day, I could all but taste salt water and feel the sun on my face while sailing.

One of the recurring references was to needlepoint belts and accessories, which I had all but forgotten from my childhood. There was also a cute quip about how the only acceptable “monogramming” of one’s car was perhaps to put small nautical flag decals of initials under the driver’s side door handle.

It all came together in my mind. Nautical flags totally lend themselves to grids! I charted out my full name and more commonly used nickname.



VICTORIA


VICKI

(Definitely prefer the way “Victoria” looks.)

And then I remembered the symmetry of my first, middle, and last names, with 8, 4, and 8 characters respectively. I compiled a 20-flag grid and voilà, an afghan pattern has all but written itself:

I thought surely someone would have already written a nautical flag afghan pattern, but a quick trip through Ravelry only brought up a crochet pattern. I am confident that with some graph paper and/or knitPro, I can come up with what I want and make myself a super-preppy afghan.

As for the bracelet, I have a few ideas I want to try, maybe including an entirely new craft. I’m psyched.

The most beautiful embroidery I’ve ever seen

I recently stopped by the beloved Metropolitan Museum of Art (from which I now live a mere three subway stops away!) to catch the gorgeous exhibit Kimono: A Modern History before it closed. What an incredible treat!

I was stricken by a bit of wall text describing the word kimono as basically “a thing to wear,” and how that has changed from the Japanese equivalent of a t-shirt or sweater into the beautiful, intricately-detailed historical costume that more typically comes to mind in the West. The exhibit was wonderfully presented, starting with traditional Edo Period kimonos, incorporating the kimono into contemporary fashion of the 1920s and 30s, and eventually presenting playful printed cotton under-kimonos that reminded me so much of men’s boxer shorts today.

I was truly dazzled by the embroidery and details, and though I apologize for the iPhone-quality photos, I hope you’ll be able to see what was so enchanting about these pieces.

Edo or Meiji period Over Robe (uchikake), mid-19th century, satin embroidered wit silk and gold thread, couched gold thread

Edo period Uchikake

Gorgeous floral embroidery

Detail view of bird and botanical embroidery

Detail of an Unlined Summer Kimono (Hito-e) with Crickets, Grasshoppers, Cricket Cages, and Pampas Grass, Meiji period, early 20th century, Paste-resist dyed (yuzen) and painted silk gauze with embroidery

I was so charmed by the dyeing technique and gorgeous design of a plain cotton kimono.

Kimono-Shaped Coverlet (Yogi) with Lobster and Crest, Meiji period, mid-19th century, Plain-weave cotton, resist-dyed and painted with dyes and pigments (tsutsugaki)

I loved a section that discussed how the kimono and details were blended with and incorporated into Western fashions for export.

Dressing gown (Yokohama robe), Meiji period, 1879, Plain-weave silk with silk embroidery

And it just plain blows my mind that such a beautiful garment would be available in a department store as a souvenir.

Iida & Co., Takashimaya Department Store Evening Robe, Meiji period, c. 1910, plain-weave silk with silk embroidery

Obi with Thistle, Meiji period, second half of 19th century, brocaded silk with metallic thread

(I adore this thistle pattern.)

Court Lady’s Garment (Kosode) with Swallows and Bells on Blossoming Cherry Tree, Edo or Meiji period, mid-19th century, silk crepe (chirimen) with silk embroidery and couched gold thread

The way these birds and flowers were embroidered is just exquisite.

Whenever I spend any time with Japanese art or culture, I wish I knew more about Japan’s history and aesthetics. I was so enthralled with the different types and styles of embroidery and textile treatment that my mind is still spinning. In addition to adding fuel to the fire of my wish to learn embroidery and to do more with textiles, it made me intensely curious to learn more about Japan and the art of the kimono.

If you are like me, I’d recommend the exhibition catalogue by Terry Satsuki Milhaupt (currently sold out on the Met’s site) or watching the wonderful Sunday at the Met – Kimono: A Modern History lecture online.

Mint mint mint

“Mint” is one of those borderline onomatopoeia synesthetic words for me, where reading or saying the word instantly evokes the crisp freshness of mint itself. Similarly, when I look at mint greens, which are among my favorite colors, I feel like I can taste mint chocolate chip ice cream, toothpaste, or something similarly creamy and refreshing.

I had this vision of a mint green pullover top, to wear with crisp white blouses and breezy skirts in those early months of spring where it’s not quite chiffon season, but I wish it were. I’m using a free pattern from Cascade Yarns (PDF link) by Vera Sanon, who designs brilliantly simple, usually seamless, highly wearable knits.

I’m working in Caron One Pound, which I’ve found turns into this beautiful, creamy soft fabric when washed and fluffed dry at a low temperature (you can read more on my love of manageable acrylics here).

I’ve got a good feeling about this one.

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.