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Miette Cardigan, un-Penelopied

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As my apartment only recently regained internet access after the first significant thunderstorms of what promises to be a beastly DC summer, a wool sweater has never seemed more seasonally irrelevant. When I began knitting my version of the Miette Cardigan, I suspected that it would be completed just as the weather got warm enough to make wool layers ill-advised. In fact, the cardigan was entirely knit in mid-May, just as the spring semester ended. A brief jaunt back to PA meant that there was time to block it and wear it once or twice before it got intolerably warm.

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Because the cardigan is made with worsted weight wool (rescued Cascade 220 in Vermeer Blue) it is warm, substantial, and cozy. Yet the loose gauge (16 stiches in 4 inches where worsted weight yarn is often knit to 20 stitches in 4 inches) makes the cardigan light, drapey and airy, and extends the usability of the sweater into somewhat warmer weather. I found the sweater perfectly comfortable for temperatures in the mid-60s, and I am fairly intolerant of anything that even suggests overheating.

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The actual knitting process for this sweater is entertaining and fun. It the closest a sweater pattern can get to instant gratification knitting – the gauge and shorter sleeves/body make it quick to knit, the top-down construction and lace pattern keep it an engaging project, while the stockinette sections are mindless and restful. After a knitting hiatus, I felt like I was being wooed back by all the fun parts of knitting with this project.

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Trying out a new sweater pattern is always a gamble, even more so than a new sewing pattern in terms of time invested (in terms of material reclaimability, knitting always wins). Until the sweater is entirely knit, it is impossible to tell how all the pieces will hang together. Will the neckline stretch weirdly under the weight of the sweater? Will the sleeves be too big? Too small? But because all of the shaping of the sweater happens as it is being knit, it is far too late to make modifications to the pattern once the sweater has been entirely knit. This makes for a wildly different construction experience than sewing where, aside from those absolute changes made with a pair of scissor, a garment can be endlessly taken in and let out until it fits just so. Despite all of the cross-applicability of drape and fit and construction knowledge between sewing an knitting, the two crafts require different kinds of planning. I’m still not sure how they are different, but they certainly are.

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The Miette Cardigan pattern is knit from the top-down, which allows you to try the cardigan on as it is being made (this works best if you actually take the sweater off the knitting needles… which I didn’t do). This only gives a vague idea of fit, but I suppose it would help fend off any major disasters. The only change I made to the pattern was to add an additional repeat of the lace pattern to the length of the sweater. The added length makes the cardigan a shorter standard length, rather than the “cropped” sweater of the pattern. I’m not sure why, but my sleeves ended up hitting longer than 3/4 length but before my wrists. I rather like them that way, but I hadn’t expected them to come out that long.

I sincerely adore the color, and those coordinating buttons came from my Mom’s button jar(s), a mish-mash of buttons heirloom and more recent that fills three jars and part of a drawer.

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On an informational note for my non-knitter readers, when I mention “blocking” I mean the process by which knit stitches are set and the finished knit project is shaped. This involves wetting the wool, arranging it into the desired end shape, and then allowing it to dry. Wool has a remarkable knack for taking on a new shape when wet and then remembering and retaining that shape once it dries. There are a number of methods for accomplishing this, but I prefer to take my knitting and dunk it in a sink full of warm water and a bit of shampoo. With the way I drag projects all over, the yarn usually deserves a good bath. The key thing at this point is to avoid felting the knitting, so it needs to be wrung out very gently. I usually roll the knitting up in a towel to get most of the water out before laying it flat and shaping it to dry.

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Here you can see the cardigan pre-blocking. Note the general rippling lumpy-bumpiness of the sweater. The stitches are uneven, the borders sit weirdly and it looks like it has been crammed in the bottom of a bag. (which it totally has)

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And after blocking, waiting for buttons, it looks like a sweater! Which is always pretty exciting when you think about starting with a few balls of yarn – or in this case, a half-forgotten sweater. I am not unraveling this thing again, but I like to think Penelope would be pleased anyway.

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Pulling a Penelope (without the missing husband, creepy suitors, or battle in the dining room)

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In January of 2011, on the tail end of my season of frantic knitting, I made a sweater that was never worn. Literally. I mean I put it on to take some pictures for record-keeping purposes, but I never wore the thing for regular, sweaterly duties. There are many reasons the sweater was never worn – I moved to DC where there is less cause for warm woolen garments, it ended up fitting weirder than anticipated, but mostly, my ideas about what I am looking for in a sweater changed. I like buttons. If I’m going to wear a sweater, I want it to stay shut without me fussing with it. I like more tailored shapes. The flowy, unstructured sweater thing just annoys me. And I like set-in or similarly shaped sleeves. Gravity drags the bulk of a knit sweater out of shape even with a neat, structured shoulder. Drop-shoulder sweaters just feel sloppy and not office appropriate (which rather defeats the purpose).

The sweater in question is the Hampton Cardigan. To be fair, it has an unusual construction which I found very rewarding to knit, but my cardigan preferences ended up conflicting with the resulting sweater. Sometimes this just happens.

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I love pretty clothing. I love to make pretty clothing. However I am also brutally practical about said pretty clothing. If it is not useful, what is the point? When this poor sweater sat in my trunk unworn for two winters, I started to give it suspicious glances. It was clearly not pulling its weight. When I recently started getting the itch to wear a blue-green sweater layered with certain clothing, the suspicious glares turned speculative. In its current form, the sweater would not serve. But what if it was something else?

This is the beauty of knitting. You start with some string, you create and shape the fabric and form of the garment at the same time, with complete control over its outcome, and if it is not to your liking, you can rip it back to its component parts and begin anew. Talk about infinite possibility.

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However, the decision to frog a sweater is a serious one. There is a great deal of time that goes into knitting, even if most of mine happens while I am doing other things (computer-based hands-free reading = knitting time). But over Spring Break, I gathered my courage and frogged it. For those not up with the knitting lingo, “to frog” is the preferred verb for undoing large quantities of knitting and returning the yarn to its initial wound state. This supposedly originates from the similarity of “rip it” to “ribbit” – the act of ripping out stitches is said to mimic the sounds made by your average frog. In similarly charming parlance, “to tink” is to undo a row or two of knitting by undoing one stitch at a time, “to knit” backwards.

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I had hoped that I would be able to get away with not washing the frogged yarn, but it came out so crinkley that it was necessary. Someday I will do a nice, long post about wool and blocking and explain why. In short, I made the yarn uncrinkley by dunking it in water and waiting for it to dry.

So what will I be doing with all this pretty, newly free yarn? Which is, by the way, Cascade 220 in Vermeer Blue. I will be making the Miette Pattern by Andi Satterlund. It is fairly close to the sweater I have in my brain, and while I am perfectly capable of making up the sweater as I go, I have neither the time nor the mental energy to do that math. So for now, it is turn off brain and get busy fingers. Well I say turn off brain – I mean do your schoolwork.

Bridesmaid Deconstructed, Ottobre

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And today, the Bridesmaid Dress Reinvention Saga draws to a close.

Having already made an exceptionally successful skirt, I wasn’t terribly concerned about what to make of the remaining bridesmaid dress fabric. While there was one layer of lining left, I was satisfied that the effort of cutting apart the dress had already been rewarded. Yet the question remained: What do you do with bridesmaid dress fabric when you have already made a skirt? As the earlier attempt to make a strapless top had mixed results, a top of some sort seemed logical.

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The pattern of choice ended up being a classic shell with a good square neckline and sensible looking darts.  Nothing earth-shattering here, but a simple and flattering pattern for a classic sleeveless top is an infinitely useful pattern to have on hand. I did not have any delusions that it would turn out perfectly, especially after how fantastic the skirt came out (success like that tends to be followed by disaster). However, I did hope for a wearable muslin, a test run of the pattern, so to speak.

The pattern hails from the Fall 2009 issue of a European sewing magazine, Ottobre. It is alternately referred to as the Carmen top or Pattern #11 in the magazine. Ottobre is one of those sewing magazines with shiny, pretty pictures of people wearing the patterns all sewn up and with the patterns themselves torturously mashed on top of each other on one or two big pattern sheets hidden in the back. For this reason, and this reason alone, nothing had been made out of the magazine previously, despite some very wearable options.

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I worked with a color copy of the nightmarish pattern sheet, tracing out the pieces onto a roll of brown craft paper. This was a very necessary step as many of the pattern pieces for each pattern overlap each other. You can see the back pattern piece in the picture above. I was trying to follow the orange lines. I knew that all the orange lines belonged to my pattern pieces which helped… a little. They were utter insanity to trace. I don’t know if these kinds of patterns get easier to work with the more you use them, but it felt like a practise in absurdity. Has Ottobre been conducting a social experiment in which they try to give their readers migraines and seizures?

Certain failures in my pattern-copying skills led to two notable omissions:

1. I left out the paired waist darts on the front piece. This first mistake ended up being a mercy because it helped mitigate the severity of the second mistake.

2. I forgot to add seam allowances to the pattern pieces. For whatever reason, Ottobre and many other European pattern companies do not include a seam allowance in their drafted patterns. The seam allowance is the bit of extra room at the edges of a pattern piece that provides a space for the seam to be sewn. To deal with my lack of seam allowances, I just made the seams as narrow as possible to minimize the amount of fabric taken away from the space of the garment. This isn’t a huge problem for the most part, but the shoulder straps are too short now. Leaving off the front waist darts leaves just enough ease through the torso to make it wearable.

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The end result fits better than it has any right to fit. I am reasonably certain that if I had added seam allowances like I should have, the top would have fit nearly perfectly. As it is, the bust darts are too high, the shoulders could use a smidge more room, and overall, wearing it enforces uncomfortably perfect posture. So, it is a wearable muslin. I am satisfied with the project, especially since it’s not as if I lost anything by goofing up leftover lining fabric.

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As soon as I finished sewing my new green top, the first thing I did was make new pattern pieces with all of the darts marked, and most importantly, SEAM ALLOWANCES. Thank goodness for big rolls of wrapping paper.

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I want to wear my green top a few more times to work out the fit issues. Mostly, the added ease of actual seam allowances should get me to a sensibly fitting garment. I have some drapey magenta  fabric in mind for another attempt at getting this pattern right.

Verdict? somewhat mixed results, but still wearable and useful. The pattern is solid, so next time, with actual seam allowances, should be even better. Working with the remains of my bridesmaid dress pushed me to look at fabric differently, and I certainly learned a good bit about persuading slippery fabrics to behave.

Bridesmaid Dress, Deconstructed

This past October I had the honor of being a bridesmaid in my dear friend Megan’s wedding. It was a lovely, lovely day. The bride and groom were married in a sweet ceremony, the weather cooperated…

and I found wearing the floor-length, strapless chiffon gown to be much more comfortable than anticipated. Huzzah!

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Congrats!

However, I don’t find much call for floor-length, strapless chiffon gowns in my daily life. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have much call for a strapless, knee-length dress either, at least not in comparison with a swishy skirt. I like my clothes to be both pretty AND useful. Fortunately, the shade of green is charming and the bodice fits perfectly. I can work with this.

The first thing I did was toss the whole thing in the washing machine on a gentle cycle. This was a calculated risk. While the care tag indicates dry clean only, the fiber content is a polyester/cotton blend which, in theory, should be perfectly washable. Moreover, I have no desire to be putting the time and effort into modifying or making something that needs to be dry cleaned regularly. I have no problem hand washing things, but dry cleaning just isn’t going to happen. Happily, the dress survived the wash, and all the mysterious stains acquired while wearing it all day indoors and outdoors, around food, in the grass, and on playground equipment washed away. Mind you, I had some terrified moments while the chiffon layer was drying until I realised the weird splotches were just the water evaporating unevenly.

My initial scheme was to cut off the dress at the hip, hem the top half to make a corset-top sort of thing and make a ruffley skirt from the rest of the dress. Strapless isn’t really my thing, but it seemed a waste not to take advantage of the excellent and comfortable fit that I had through the torso. Peplums are apparently big right now, so if there would ever be a time for such a top, this would be it. For the skirt I was envisioning something knee length and swishy, with lots of gathers. Something a bit like this:chiffon skirt1The plan was to use the lining of the dress for the under layer and the backing of the waist – the structure of the skirt, really – and the chiffon would get gathered and sewn to the underlayer. Of course, this plan did not survive contact with reality.

The first thing I did was separate the top part of the dress from the rest of the fabric that would be used to make the skirt. I painstakingly measured down six inches from the waist, keeping this length as even as possible all the way around. I had decided somewhat arbitrarily that this was the correct length for the top.

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While cutting the dress apart, I got to see some interesting dress construction options. You can see the very bottom of the bodice boning in the picture below as well as the lower lining layer. There were TWO underlayers to this dress, which seemed odd at first, but made more sense once I saw how the bodice attached to the skirt part. The lower layer is attached much more roughly and really is a lining, while the upper layer is a finished skirt and the chiffon layer is a second, highly gathered, finished skirt.

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The dress zipper was longer than the top section I cut off, which made things a bit awkward, but zippers are easily shortened when necessary. Once I had cut everything off as evenly as possible, I popped it on to check if my crazy scheme had worked. There’s no sense in hemming three layers of fabric if it doesn’t work.

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I suppose that it did, for certain values of “working.” It still fit comfortably.

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But no. Just no.

It’s so ruffle-y and odd looking and it looks like I cut off the top of a bridesmaid dress. While this is precisely what happened, the goal was to get something that did not look like the cut-off top of a bridesmaid dress. I think the real problem here is that the layers of ruffles and pouffiness work in the dress because they are held down by the weight of the additional fabric. Without all that length, the proportions are off and there is nothing pulling the layers down.

Also, I may be coming to grips with the fact that I do not like ruffles. Ruffles are perfectly fine on other people, but they are not for me. Looking at the pictures now, I can objectives say it’s not terrible, but I know I would never wear it as is. Perhaps I will play around with it again someday.

In short, the first attempt at reworking the bridesmaid dress for day wear was a failure. But this is not cause for discouragement! Just look at all this fabric:

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I can get into all sorts of trouble with that.

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