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Delphines and Lace

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Hello again friends! I have been falling behind on the intended posting schedule of one blog post each month. As I am currently fever-ridden and useless, a blog post seems the safest venue for any feeble attempts at writing. I am not going to admit how long it took me to string all of these words together, but you should be impressed. Sometimes when I have a fever I can’t figure out how to read.

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Here we have the Delphine Skirt from the book Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes. I have made several projects from these patterns, but most have yet to be blogged. The Delphine Skirt is a workhorse pattern – A-line, knee length, basic waistband. I made one out of purple uncut corduroy at the beginning of last summer, wore it frequently, but could not figure out what was bothering me about the fit. I loved the skirt, or at least I wanted to love it. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of the skirt and started making this lace version that I figured out the problem.

You can see the fabric pooling at the small of my back in the purple skirt – the zipper even buckles! This was mostly tolerable in the soft corduroy, but the stiff lace and underlining of the second skirt was much less forgiving. To fix the problem on both skirts, I pinched out the excess fabric at the bottom of the waistband and re-sewed the waistband seams. I ended up taking out two inches of length at the center back and easing it out to nothing at the side seams. This did shorten the length at the back on these skirts, but I plan to add length there on any future skirts. In any case, you can see in the picture of the lace skirt that the back is not noticeably shorter, and the fit is much more comfortable for the swayback adjustment.

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The fabric combination on the lace skirt is so pretty I sometimes hesitate to wear it. This is, of course, rather silly as the lace outer layer is a sturdy polyester lace and the under layer is cream cotton broadcloth: both substantial and washable. I cut out the pattern pieces for both layers and then basted the lace and cotton layers together around the edges of each pattern piece. When sewing the skirt together, the combined lace-and-cotton pieces functioned as if they were one piece of fabric. The edges were all finished with rayon bias seam binding. I had planned to hand-stitch the hem, but I found that the lace was complex enough that machine stitching was not noticeable from the outside. Also unnoticeable from the outside? wrinkles in the underlayer! This skirt is basically wrinkle-proof, and I love it.

I’m excited about the lace skirt in particular this summer. It has been a nicely dramatic winter white option, but I think it will pair well with all sorts of brightly colored t-shirts and blouses. The fit on this skirt still needs some perfecting, but I have some warm brown wool twill that will eventually make an awesome Delphine Skirt.

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Christmas Knitting and How to Block a Beret

This delicate beauty is a modified version of the free pattern, Foliage Hat, by Irina Dmitrieva. The lace pattern itself is stunning and easy to memorize. Once you knit through one repeat of the leaf pattern, you can see how the stitches fit together and how the leaf pattern interlocks with itself. I always prefer lace patterns to be charted, and the chart in this pattern is a perfectly accurate one. My many misadventures while knitting this hat were in no way the fault of the pattern. I can only blame reckless knitting without a swatch. It’s a real problem with the youth these days.

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This hat began last October with some Malabrigo Silky Merino yarn in the colorway Wisteria and vague plans for knitting a Christmas present for my mother. After deciding on the Foliage Hat, I knit through one repeat of the lace pattern before noticing that the knitting was coming out very soft and open. While the knitted fabric was beautiful, I worried that it wouldn’t survive contact with water without losing its shape. My super-scientific method* of testing this theory was to dunk the knitting, needles and all, in a sink full of water. My fears were confirmed when the hat grew to a ludicrous size as soon as it hit water.

*Seriously kids, don’t do this at home, especially with bamboo needles. You will ruin the finish on the needles which can take ages to fix. 

My attempts to fix this problem were similarly well-considered and scientific: I messed around with the gauge until I thought it looked right. The pattern recommends that you knit the hat at 5 stitches per inch, but I ended up knitting it at 7 stitches per inch. The knitting still relaxed while I was blocking it, but it was much more controlled. The tighter gauge also meant that I needed to increase the length  which I did by knitting seven repeats of the lace pattern instead of the suggested four.

Once the hat was knit, it needed to be blocked to have the beret shape. This bring us too…

A Very Technical and Precise Beret Blocking Tutorial

What on earth do I mean by blocking? Blocking is the process of gently washing and shaping a knitted item. It is the last step of any knitting project, and depending on the project, can make a significant difference in the appearance of the knitted item in question. I tend to knit with wool and wool blend yarns because they respond so well to blocking (the shape they are given while wet remains after drying).

  • To block a Beret or Tam o’Shanter style hat, you first need a hat to block. I suspect that this blocking method would work with any basic stocking cap (or toque or beanie or whatever the heck you call these things. Why are there so many hat names for the same thing?) You want the hat to fit comfortably on your head. I think they block more easily when the band at the opening is a bit snug but that is not strictly necessary.

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  • Once you have a hat, you will want to complete the water-based portion of blocking. My favored approach is to fill a sink up with warm water and a bit of shampoo. You don’t want to use a harsh detergent with wool unless you want it to shrink and felt, and shampoo is for hair anyway, right? It works pretty well with sheep hair too! Dunk your hat in the water, swish it around once or twice and leave it to soak for a bit. Once the hat has hung out in the water for a while, gently squeeze the water out of the knitting and roll it up in a towel to speed up the drying process.hattowel
  • Take your partially dried hat and go explore your dishware. This is a time when having an unruly assortment of plate sets is a good thing – it increases your chances of finding the perfect plate. You are looking for a plate that can fit into the hat snugly. If the plate is too big, you won’t be able to fit the hat around it, and if it is too small, it won’t stretch the knitting enough to get the shape you want. Shift the hat around until the knitting is evenly distributed. I prefer the hat opening to be on the top of the plate, so the crown of the hat sits over the raised bottom edge. hat plate back
  • Let the hat dry completely. This will take at least 24 hours. Be patient. Flip the plate over a couple times as it is drying. If you are so inclined, feel free to coo over how pretty your knitting is.DSCN0865
  • Once the hat is completely dry, carefully take the hat off the plate. Now that it has dried, the wool keeps the shape it was stretched to while drying. I am always amazed by how different the final product looks from where it starts out pre-blocking.DSCN0868

You can now wear your hat on the adventures of your choosing, or give it to your mother for Christmas depending on your current hat-related needs. The same basic blocking methods apply for washing wool sweaters, mittens, etc. except with fewer plates involved. Knitted lace is its own beast, but lace actually comes out pretty well using this highly sophisticated plate method.

Testing, Testing Vogue 1423

I always enjoy looking at new patterns when the big pattern companies put out their seasonal collections. It is entertaining to see the alternately terrifying and terrific styles and poses and fabric choices they come up with. This fall, I was immediately fascinated by Vogue 1423. It has a nice, classic shape with seriously complicated cut-outs at the neckline. The overall lines of the dress – the slight a-line skirt, the princess seams and the short sleeves – are all things I like in a dress, but the crazy neckline had me fascinated.V1423

While I have had the pattern for a month or two now, I kept waiting for the internet to supply me with someone else who had tackled this dress. I wasn’t completely sure that taking this project on was a good idea, and I am completely okay with spoilers as to where the particularly tricky parts of  a pattern can be found. At this point in time, however, Google search continues to fail me in this regard. With some extra free time over Christmas Break, I present to you a muslin of Vogue 1423.

Behold, the socks of great dignity

Behold, the socks of great dignity

It actually fits without adjustment to the pattern which is a real shock. I worried that the shoulders or the bodice wouldn’t fit correctly because I have no desire to make substantial modifications to a bodice this complicated. I wore the muslin around my parents’ house for a couple hours quite comfortably. I think I will use 1/2 inch seams rather than 5/8 inch seams around the waist area to accommodate the lining. It fits correctly as-is, but a touch more ease will be preferable with the additional layer of fabric.DSCN0892

There are lots of seams and pieces to match up in this pattern, but the pieces match up and ease well. The most important thing is to be very precise with your markings and seam lines. I was a touch lazy in sewing exact seam allowance at a few spots in this muslin, no more than usual, but enough to make things sloppy when precision matters. Figuring out where the pattern requires real exactness now will hopefully save some frustration when I make the “real” version of this dress. To be honest, I expected this pattern to be more difficult to make.

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This muslin is made in clearance fabric in a blah shade of beige that wrinkles easily. I’m still debating over what fabric to use for this dress, but it might be some mystery synthetic-blend suiting in a dark brown. We shall see!

This knitting pattern is named “Maize.” Insert the pun of your choosing.

And for the month of November, we have a last minute, super short, I-forgot-I-have-a-blog-because-I-occasionally-have-a-life blog post.

Here, I made some fingerless gloves. They are pretty nifty.

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These fingerless mitts were made with the free pattern, Maize by Tin Can Knits. These were a quick, easy knit. I extended the wrist cuff by a few rows but otherwise followed the pattern exactly. I like the clean design, the overall reverse stockinette stitch and the way the small section of ribbing flows from cuff to cuff  for visual interest. The yarn used here is Malabrigo Rios in the colorway Archangel (a colorway I have had my eye on for… five years now?). There is still over half of the skein left. These came out just how I wanted, and I have already been wearing them everywhere.

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And here we have the obligatory cat picture with our resident diva and camera hog. She was being particularly dramatic and unhelpful here. Truly, her life is a misery.

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Baby Sweaters: In which there is actual yarn and it is actually autumn

There comes a time in every young person’s life when suddenly, seemingly without warning, there are babies everywhere. Reactions to this state of affairs are varied, but when my Facebook newsfeed started overcrowding with tiny people who need knitwear,  I was rather more than excited. I got bitten by the baby sweater bug sometime last winter and descended into the black hole of baby sweater patterns that is the internet. Beguiled by the rationalization that as babies are smaller their sweaters must go faster, I dreamed of happily knitting endless, tiny, adorable sweaters.

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Sadly, the tiresome constraints of real life squashed this delusion, as did my horrified realization that knitting a sweater for a baby out of sock yarn means that it takes roughly the same amount of time to knit as a sweater in worsted weight yarn for a grown-up. Ah well. The months have past, my fervent ardor has cooled, and I am left with an embarrassing number of baby sweater patterns bookmarked on Ravelry.

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Last January, I began knitting Nova for my disturbingly adorable second cousin. I used two sock weight yarns that I had on hand: Knitpicks Stroll Tonal in Golden Glow and Araucania Itata in a grayish periwinkle color (both machine washable, no worries!). The little knitted dress has stripes AND buttons at the shoulders, so naturally I was powerless to resist.

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It was a fairly simple knit with miles of stockinette stitch made bearable by the simple pleasure of switching colors every six rows. The only real modification I made to the pattern was to knit the sleeves flat and then sew them up before joining them to the body and reducing for the yoke. There is absolutely no reason to be fiddling about with rows and rows and rows of tiny stitches in a small circumference on double point needles when knitting the sleeves flat is faster and less fussy.

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At some point last Spring, I also knit up Ewan, a cardigan pattern with lots of texture. This cardigan was made with Berroco Comfort DK in a dark blue-green for a friend. (I am ashamed to admit that I may have boxed up half the sweater, a ball of yarn and the knitting pattern for the baby shower). If I were to knit this pattern again, I would knit it all in one piece from cuff to cuff. The pattern has you knit from each cuff to the center back and then graft the two pieces together. If you are a grafting virtuoso, this is no problem, but it makes for rather too much grafting otherwise.

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While planning this post, I discovered that it is a bit tricky taking pictures of knitting if you have no one to wear the garments in question. My stuffed bunny, Bunny made a valiant effort but was not entirely up to the task. The roommate’s cat Re seemed eager to volunteer, but I didn’t want to risk the inevitable tangled disaster that would follow. Models these days – there’s just so much drama.

Lilou dress and Lazy alterations

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The pattern for this darling dress comes from Tilly and the Buttons book, Love at First Stitch. This post is not a book review, though I may write one at some point. (My academic brain actually wants to write an annotated bibliography of sewing resources which might be my nerdiest idea ever.) I will confess that my summer sewing was entirely spent with patterns from this excellent little book, and I have loved each one I’ve worked with so far. If Love at First Stitch had been around when I first started sewing, I never would have panicked and run away to hide among skeins of wool.

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This is the Lilou Dress, made with only small alterations for fitting reasons. The fabric is a dark blue, finely woven cotton that I picked up in the clearance section at G Street Fabrics. While this dress was definitely an experiment to test run the pattern, I was shocked by how nice this fabric is as I worked with it. It’s practically silky, doesn’t wrinkle unduly, and the drape is an even balance of crisp and fluid. I want yards and yards of it in every color. But the quality of the fabric pushed me to finish what was meant to be a wearable muslin very carefully and even to add embellishments.

I wanted to do something clean and subtle to enhance the prosaic expanse of dark blue. I dithered between embroidery and all sorts of beading ideas before settling on simply duplicating the lower portion of the neckline with seed beads. I have literally zero experience with sewing beads on fabric (case in point – I bought three vials of seed beads and maybe used an eighth of one) but at least knew enough to pick up a special beading needle. Sewing the beads on in sets of three got weirdly addictive.

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I am between sizes, so I went with the larger one and used an inch seam allowance at the center back. The fitting problem wasn’t initially apparent, but I really should have raised the waist on the bodice by an inch. As the zipper was already installed and the lining stitched down, I remedied this problem the lazy way by shortening the shoulder straps. All things considered, maybe I should have made the next size down?

To demonstrate the Macgyvered straps: I began with the nicely finished shoulder strap, unpicked the seam, slid the front strap into the back strap, and hand stitched it in place on both sides of the strap with teeny, tiny stitches. It’s not the best solution as this approach can make the fit wonky in other ways, but it is serviceable.

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The Lilou Dress falls in my favorite category of sewing projects: classic silhouettes with interesting details and room for variation. The nicest feature of this pattern is the arrangement of the pleats which align with the darts in the bodice. Next time I make a pleated skirt, I may just add a waistband to the skirt from this pattern. The bodice is fully lined, which, my goodness, I had no idea how much more comfortable a lined bodice would be. It adds a couple more steps, but I am slowly finding that meticulously finishing makes for a more comfortable and longer lasting garment. Gusty sigh. This must be what it’s like being a grown-up.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying

Pretentious post title? Check.

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I didn’t want to bring Robert Herrick into it, but considering the dress and the date, I couldn’t resist. Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” undeniably has some creepy overtones. Yet the poem calls for a more deliberate enjoyment of fleeting moments, a perspective which is very relevant in this last week of August. Blooms, summers and lives all end. I’m beginning another busy semester of teaching, research and writing, and while that is exciting, I will miss mellow summer days.

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Summer flowers may have an expiration date; the flowers on this dress do not. I adore the bold red flowers on this fabric, perhaps in part because I rarely go this bold with my clothing. The dress is made from stretch cotton from G Street Fabrics. The fabric is relatively heavy and not very drapey, so the finished result is more structural, especially in the bodice. I used Simplicity 1460 for the pattern (which I have made previously here). I used a lightweight, solid shirting for the blouse last time, and the pattern works well with both. Design features like the double darts are more subtle with the crazy flowers in this version.

I am super impressed with the versatility of Simplicity 1460. This dress has the same sleeve and neckline options as I used before but turned out as a very different garment. There are still other sleeve and neckline variations to the pattern which I might experiment with at some point.

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The blouse pattern was very simple to convert into a dress pattern: I just extended the length of the peplum to 24 inches. The resulting skirt is pleasantly full without being heavy or overwhelming. Who wants to haul around a huge skirt that gets in the way? Not Me. My preference for skirts is based primarily on the fact that they are not trousers, so comfort and ease of movement are rather important to me. This dress would look cute in a shorter length as well, but the large scale fabric pattern demands a knee-length skirt (the flowers look huge and ridiculous with a shorter length).

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After a few wears, it became apparent that I should have shortened the waist by an inch as it currently hits enough below my natural waist to be annoying. Since tearing the whole thing apart to fix this currently holds zero interest for me, the dress will be staying as is for the time being. Wearing a belt does help, and it makes for cheerful, comfy, and office appropriate summer wear. I have more completed summer projects to blog, but I’m starting to get the itch for cozy fall clothing. Cool weather can’t come soon enough!

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