Monday, 19 June 2017

Back in the saddle

Thank you to everyone who left comments on my last post. I usually try to respond to comments straight away but my success rate in doing so the last few months has not been good. If I don't get around to replying straight away it always seems weird to come back to responding to them a fortnight later. So, yes, sorry for not responding, but your thoughts are honestly much appreciated!

Leaving aside the state of the world (which is frankly awful) on a personal level my news is almost all good (again!). I suddenly started to feel better about a week after my last post and over the last 10 days have started to feel as well as I have all year. Things are definitely looking up! :D As a result of feeling so much better, I resurrected quite a few of my summer sewing plans and got stuck in.

As I often do, I eased myself back into sewing by working on some easy knits with familiar patterns, starting with two t-shirts:
Two easy tees. Pink is Cosy Little World Jasmin; Red and white is Ottobre 02-2013-02
I actually cut the pink tee out a month and a half ago on a rare good day but then never felt up to doing anything with it. The pattern is the Cosy Little World Jasmin Tee, which was a pattern I used for the first time last year and made three times. I still love the two blue tees I made with this pattern and wear them often (the third one I made using a cheap white knit and, even though I pre-washed the fabric, it shrank and distorted horribly the first time I washed the finished tee, boo).

The red and white tee is made using a pattern I was obsessed by in 2013/2014 but haven't made since January 2015, Ottobre 02-2013-02. It's a really nice little kimono sleeved top that is intended to catch and puddle at the hip. I added a little rolled over cuff to the sleeves.

Neither of these came out perfectly -- the pink has a little mistake in the neckband, and I managed to just catch the tiniest snippet of the fabric of the red and white one in my overlocker blade and had to do a little repair. I would have preferred if they had come out perfectly, of course, but I'm not going to worry about invisible-from-a-metre-away mistakes on inexpensive t-shirts.

StyleArc Estelle cardigan in a slightly weird hole-y knit
My last easy knit for the summer was made using a slightly weird olive green knit. I dithered about what pattern to use but to be honest it should have been a no-brainer. I absolutely love the StyleArc Estelle pattern, and have worn the three I've already made to death. This version probably doesn't have quite the same all season usefulness that the previous three versions have had, seeing as how it's full of holes, but I still think I'll get a lot of use from it this summer. The hole-y fabric was actually the cause of my only problem making this garment, insofar as it took a very long time and three complete re-threads of my overlocker to find the right tension settings at which it would actually, you know, sew the damn thing together and not snap the threads/stop stitching/snarl up. I got there in the end, but not before I earnestly considered what would happen if I flung either the overlocker or the pieces of my cardigan out the window of my sewing room.

My new cross-stitch kit is underway
Next up: Garment-wise, the next thing I want to make is a couple of fairly straightforward woven tops. I need to spend some time tracing patterns though before I can get started with anything properly interesting (and I promised someone I would trace a pattern for them as well, so I must get on that ASAP). I've also started my new cross-stitch kit, the very first little bit of which you can see above. More generally, though, I am just sort of picking up the threads of the rest of my life that I let fall in March-May, so I feel busy busy busy all day at the moment after months of barely getting out of bed. Time passes so much more quickly when you have stuff to do, so I'm really enjoying it :D

Friday, 26 May 2017

May

So, I'm not going to lie to you, May has been brutal. This post is, unusually for me, mostly not sewing, and the first two paragraphs are about the recent events here in the UK, just to warn you.


I live in the suburbs of Manchester, which of course has been in the news this week for the absolute worst of reasons. I wasn't directly affected by the bombing at all -- didn't know anyone at the concert, haven't been to that venue for years, don't live or spend time in any of the areas where there has been subsequent police action. It's profoundly shocking that such a terrible thing happened anywhere at all -- it shouldn't be worse just because it happened in my home town or in a place and event of a type that I know intimately. Somehow it is, though. I find myself asking how someone capable of such a callous act could co-exist with me: walk through the same streets as me; go to places -- like the university the bomber attended -- that I am familiar with and that I thought I understood. I've been to so many music events, been a part of the normal aftermath of a show so many times. I've been that teenager in the centre of Manchester at the end of a pop concert, shrieking and clutching at my friends, ears still ringing from the sound system. I keep thinking of all those little girls coming out of the Arena, how elated and joyful they would have been at that moment after seeing their favourite performer live. It is unimaginable to me that someone could move through that crowd of happy children and go through with this act.

The only thing that has comforted me the last few days is reminding myself that it was, it seems, a tiny number of people that planned this and just one man who enacted it. By contrast, literally hundreds of people immediately responded by trying to help the victims, help people caught up in the chaos, help each other make sense of what was happening. They did that for no better reason than that they were there, things were happening, and that seemed like the right thing to do. Thousands more rushed the next day to do small things -- offer to give blood, donate money, leave flowers and attend vigils to mourn strangers. In the end, in my city, like most places, the people whose innate behaviour was to try to do good, helpful and kind things vastly outnumber people who commit terrible acts.

Other than the shock and horror of the last few days, the rest of May has been brutal mainly because of my health situation. On the one hand, the news is actually terrifically good: my new medication is definitely working, and the medium and long-term future is much brighter for me as a result. On the other hand, the short-term experience is grim. The withdrawal from my previous medication is absolutely grueling, much worse than I anticipated. Not only are individual days really hard, but the cumulative effect of so many weeks of withdrawal is that I feel like a wrung-out dishcloth.

As a result, most of May has involved me gradually stopping doing things that I just can't keep up at the moment. I dropped pretty much all my hobbies and even my social media interaction, even the things that I usually more active on like Insta and Twitter. I did next to nothing crafty -- I cut out a t-shirt early in the month but I can't seem to summon up the energy to rethread my overlocker or work on it so it's still in pieces. I didn't knit this month, or start my new cross-stitch kit or really do anything else at all. I didn't even really read or pay that much attention to my sewing magazines this month. Pretty much I am on hiatus from, well, everything.

The good thing is, this is all temporary. I have adjusted my expectations of what I'm going to sew this summer down to "nothing, or maybe one or two items if I am lucky". I'm hoping that I'll start to feel better in time to think about sewing for the autumn.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Blah, or a round-up of a miserable April

Just once, I would like to get to explain an extended absence from my blog with some fascinating tale of adventure and excitement. Alas, I've been absent from public life in general for most of April because, as usual, I've been sick as a dog. On the plus side, I am (VERY cautiously) optimistic about the long-term success of the drug trial I'm on. On the minus side for the last few weeks I've basically just had ALL the side effects, ALL the time, which has been thoroughly unpleasant and not at all conducive to doing anything creative or interesting most days. I'm not really feeling much better now, in fact, nor am I likely to for a while longer. However, I'm starting to get into a bit of a rhythm with dealing with it and I'll continue to try to squeeze in the odd hour of sanity-preserving activities, like sewing, whenever I can.

Here's a quick round-up of the things I've managed to finish in April:

1. Maxi skirts. Amazingly, around the middle of the month I managed a little bit of everyday sewing. These are actually my Wishlist Challenge items for April (I missed March, I'm going to try to catch up with an extra later in the year). For ages I've had a variety of photos, of which this one is a good example, pinned on Pinterest of patterned/border print summer maxi skirts and have wanted some for myself. I went so far as to buy a highly patterned navy/blue fabric with the specific intention of accomplishing this in January 2015. Then at the beginning of this year I bought a second, border-printed piece of fabric. This month I decided that this summer I actually really wanted those skirts to actually exist rather than be flat pieces of fabric and I got on with making them:

Simple gathered waist maxi skirts
These are really the simplest skirts in the world. They're a no-pattern Giant Rectangle, with a hem and an elastic waist in a casing. The blue skirt on the left is almost 3m wide at the hem as I used two complete widths of the fabric. The border print on the right has a total of 2m gathered at the waist, as the border ran along one selvedge and I had a 2m length of the fabric. I probably prefer the wide hem for walking/moving about, but on the other hand, even though the fabric is a very lightweight poly/viscose twill, there's quite a lot of bulk at the waistband of the blue version. Unfortunately the blue print turned out to be totally off grain, which made matching the side seams much harder than it needed to be, and then as it turned out there's SO MUCH fabric that even looking for the side seams is mostly an exercise in futility so that was a waste of effort anyway!.

Regardless, I am pleased with both my skirts, and hopefully when the weather warms up they will be a part of my comfortable, easy summer wardrobe. I am hoping to (but not all that optimistic that I will be able to) knock out a very easy April Magazine Challenge item in the next few days. All the tracing etc feels like a lot of effort right now though!

2. I finished my cross-stitch kit! As a reminder, I started this back at the beginning of January, and I actually finished it on the last day of March. Here's the finished thing: (click image for a larger view)

Finished Mason-Jar line-up; close up left hand side; close up right-hand side; very close up far right; back

I thoroughly enjoyed stitching this kit, which is called Mason Jar Line-up by Dimensions, and recommend it highly. It did take quite a bit of time and I got fed up of switching between the many, barely perceptibly different, shades of aqua blue every so often. However, I'm very pleased with my finished piece of stitching. I do plan to frame and hang it at some point but eh, probably not until I feel better.

I had thought to move on to something different and more original on the embroidery side of things rather than do another kit straight away, but actually these kits are a pretty good level of activity and degree of creativity for me at the moment. I therefore decided to order another kit just as I finished this one... and then it turned out to be coming from Hong Kong and still hasn't got here, so I have actually nothing new to report at all!

3. Knitting. I started April by deciding to frog the disastrous blue jumper that I finished mid-January. Then I wondered what to do with the frogged yarn. I came up with the idea of knitting a small rug for the bathroom, based on a blogger I read doing the same thing and really liking the one she made. All I can say about the outcome of that is: NOPE. In the end, I pitched the whole lot into the recycling, much as it pained me to do so. Sometimes things just don't work and can't be recovered, and this was one of those times.

Purl Soho Seed Stitch Wrap in two shades of Drops Merino Extra Fine (Purple and Light Purple)
I was therefore in the market for a new knitting project. I decided I needed something ULTRA easy and brainless, because I am not up to dealing with complicated patterns at the moment. I'm currently therefore just under a third of the way through this extremely easy Purl Soho Seed Stitch Wrap (Ravelry link to free pattern), which is going to be (a) enormous and (b) ridiculous. I kind of love it already. I admit I originally bought the yarn (which is Drops Merino Extra Fine in colourways Purple and Light Purple) for something else entirely, but I don't care, this is a perfect use of it under current circumstances.

And that's pretty much it for April! Hopefully May will be better and I'll manage to work on some more interesting and challenging things. (Honestly, though, I think be prepared for this blog to be All Simple All The Time for the next couple of months at least.)

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Stalled

So, I guess that whizzing sound was March flying past. I didn't really leave much of an impression on the month. It actually started out reasonably well (I sewed some easy knits and finished up the lace sweater I was knitting) but since the middle of the month my crafty endeavours have been more or less a series of false starts, with intervening periods of being sick and miserable (again, with more of the same old same old.) I'm disappointed not to have managed to get my March Wishlist and Magazine Challenge garments done, or even started really, but I'm going to try to catch up in April. I'm really excited for the things I wanted to make in March but the Wishlist thing in particular is just a little bit more complicated than I could manage while I didn't feel well.

Stalled out on Burda 08-2016-134
One thing I did make a start on, but then stalled on completely, was this ponte knit jacket from Burda 08/2016, pictured here in its current state: one sleeve basted in and the main part of the bodice done. I've stalled because, well, (a) sick and miserable, but also (b) I got to this point, which is a degree of done at which I could try it on and have some reasonable idea about fit and how it will look on me and went: meh. All my enthusiasm promptly drained away. I'm sure I'll get back to this eventually, but if I'm honest, the prospect of working on it is not inspiring me to get back into my sewing room. (Although, not to blow my own trumpet, but I DID do a really good job on the lapel/collar!)

In a less sick and miserable interval, I also moved my clothes around for the start of spring and did a bit of a clear out at the same time. The majority of my discards in this most recent wardrobe purge fell into the "worn to death" category, which is exactly what I hoped would happen this year.  Because I'm a dork who keeps track of what I wear, I do know I got what I consider to be a good amount of wear out of most things. There were a couple of exceptions on how well things wore but they were mainly down to the fabric degrading more quickly than I thought it should. I have definitely developed an aversion to cheap viscose knits, which start to look jaded much too quickly.

However, in my continuing efforts to perfect my wardrobe I also discarded a pile of things that I just really don't like. I'm not particularly into the whole Maria Kondo 'does it spark joy' thing but lately I've been feeling exasperated by the fact that sewing for myself hadn't prevented me accumulating clothes that I actively dislike. I don't think I have to capital-letters-LOVE everything I own and wear, but I'd like to be feel at least moderately positive about everything. This time, I culled a dozen things that are probably perfectly serviceable, but that I just haven't been able to make myself like. I did spend a little time thinking about WHY I disliked each of them, particularly the things I made myself, so I could avoid the same mistakes in the future. I concluded there were two problems that I can do something about:

1. Fabric choice. Some of my fabric choices were, for me, inherently poor, e.g. this polycotton shirt I made a couple of years ago. The fabric was definitely more poly than cotton, which made it easy to iron but unpleasantly hot and sticky to wear. There were also a couple of cases of "wrong fabric for this pattern", e.g. this shirt I made last spring. That gathered neckline really needed a softly draping fabric rather than the crisp shirting I used. I feel like the latter is something you really learn from experience, so I guess that was my opportunity to learn!

2. Poor pattern choice for my body shape/figure and/or fit problems. Basically, I either need to embrace the muslin/fitting process or I have to learn to live with the idea that some things are just not going to work out and that I'll have sacrificed "good" fabric to an experiment. The saddest example here is the New Look 6303 top I made in December. It was just all wrong on me and I never wore it, and I couldn't see I would ever wear it, so I have abandoned it. There were also two things I'd made that had fit problems that I thought I could live with and that I'd wear the garments anyway. However, completely predictably, in reality I almost always choose to wear something that fits better. Go figure.

This purge shook up my wardrobe a little so I really need to spend some quality time thinking about what I want to sew next (apart from my Challenge garments) and also whether I want to just move on to filling in my most urgent Summer wardrobe gaps rather than try to fill any remaining Spring gaps, which are mostly just nice-to-haves rather than real essentials.

My forward planning is made a bit complicated by the fact that I am FINALLY on the new drug that I have mentioned several times! \o/ \o/ \o/ I've been taking it for a week, and I won't know if it's working for at least another week, and even then not conclusively. This doesn't stop me agonizing endlessly over whether or not I feel any different/better/worse of course!

Looking ahead, though, one of the downsides is that if this treatment does work I will spend most of the next 8-12 weeks struggling through the worst part of a drug regime change. I mean, it will be worth it, but at the same time I wish it were over already, ugh. I guess I'm just thinking that I do have to be realistic about what time I'll have to sew and what kind of projects I'm going to want to work on in that time (from past experience: nothing too complicated or frustrating).

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Finished knitting: The Lichen sweater

Increasingly, I feel like I enjoy the process of knitting much more than I like the things I knit. I absolutely loved the making of this sweater. I am more or less meh on the sweater itself.

The Lichen sweater, in blue linen/viscose yarn
This was an ambitious knitting project for me. My only previous experience of knitting a pattern with a lace component was the partial lace patterned scarf I made a couple of years ago, and the actual lace sections in that went very wonky indeed. Also, my last sweater did not turn out well enough that I was filled with enormous knitting confidence. I jokingly said, when I mentioned this sweater in my Spring planning post, that I suspected I would deeply regret this project, but in fact, it all went remarkably well! In fact, it went so well, and I enjoyed the knitting part so much, that I finished it in under a month and completely screwed up my knitting plan for the spring/summer!

Lichen, image from Ravelry
The pattern I used was the Lichen sweater, by Yumiko Alexander (Ravelry link), a DK weight short-sleeved lace patterned sweater. You also get a second version of the pattern in the instructions, "Smoke", which is essentially the same sweater but in 3-ply and without sleeves.

As far as the pattern itself is concerned, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The actual text of the pattern is lamentable. The author's first language is not English and the pattern doesn't seem to have been edited by a native English speaker. The instructions are all over the place. The way the lace pattern is described is not what you might call crystal clear, and although it wasn't hard to figure out what the author meant I ended up writing out the pattern again myself just so I had it available to me laid out in a way that was clear and easy to follow.

It was probably an advantage that I am a pretty novice knitter, because I just do what I'm told in the pattern. It is obvious from some of the comments about the pattern I read on Ravelry that more experienced knitters considered parts of the pattern to be very unorthodox and found themselves overthinking what they were doing. The flip side of this is that at times the text assumes you pretty much know what you are doing with statements like "for the neckline decrease 3 stitches every other row for 8 rows". This is really not enough information for me with my level of experience and I had to ask a more experienced knitter friend to walk me through which decrease stitches to use and where to put them in the lace pattern and then write it all out.

In spite of all of these pitfalls, I think this sweater has the least errors in it of anything I've made so far. It's not error-free, but the one place it went really wonky was in the uppermost corner of one edge of a sleeve, meaning that you would literally have to be staring at my armpit to see it.

 I have said a couple of times I really enjoyed knitting this already, but I really did! For me personally, because I'm not very experienced at knitting, I couldn't do my usual read & knit thing, or watch TV and knit. Pretty much every time I made a mistake it was because I took my attention off what I was doing. I also counted my stitches about four bazillion times in the process of making this, which was how I was able to do the two biggest pieces -- front and back -- without any significant errors. A couple of times I was in danger of going completely wrong but because I counted my work back so often I caught my mistakes before they became big mistakes. So, this was really hard work for me, as knitting goes, but I had a great sense of accomplishment as the lace pattern took shape on my needles.
The lace pattern, post blocking
This pattern -- and my purpose, a summer sweater -- is really suited to a linen blend. Linen yarn turns out to be harder to source than I expected -- it seems to be either cheap and have very mixed reviews, or very expensive. I also think this sweater would look gorgeous in a silk yarn with a shine to it, but, not at all unexpectedly, there was nothing of that type in my price range.

I ended up buying a bundle of the discontinued yarn Rowan Lenpur Linen from someone de-stashing. It is a linen/viscose blend DK weight, in a sort of inky blue colour called Creek. (I am sure that is a very poetic name but it's totally misleading. Every creek I've ever seen has been a murky brown/green.) It's a little fuzzier in texture than I expected for a linen yarn-- presumably because of the high viscose content -- but it was very nice to knit, and only went splitty if I really poked at it.

With the arm held out to the side to show the (immense) amounts of ease this sweater has

So why am I a bit indifferent to this sweater overall? Mainly, because it ended up much too long. I chose to make the longer version of the sweater but it ended up MUCH longer than advertised even though my gauge swatch was dead on for length after blocking. Actually, I was worried it would be too short! I think either my yarn "grew" or the swatch just wasn't reliable. On the width, I knew I was out by a certain fraction from gauge and simple math told me how big it would end up being -- and it ended up exactly that bit. I am fine with the width. It is an intentionally draped/over-sized sweater and honestly with so much ease built in the odd inch over barely registers. The length, I don't know, it's just not quite a good length on me.

Don't be deceived by the apparent shape of the side seams, it really is just a rectangle.
About halfway through making this I was absolutely certain I was going to make another straight away and was eagerly looking for a yarn fibre content/colour combination that I liked. Now I'm not so sure. I've moved on to a temporary, quick project while I think about whether I really want another sweater like this (although I would definitely make the next one shorter, and also possibly narrower.

In conclusion: a great knitting experience, but not the greatest actual garment from it. I am feeling a bit disillusioned with knitting as a whole, and for now I've decided not to buy anything at all and just whittle down my (already very small) stash and work on my WIPs for a little while.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Easy finished things

My sewing week was divided between (a) sewing really easy things; and (b) getting ready to sew one of the jackets I picked out for Spring.

Simplicity 1733 cover and line drawings


First, on the easy side of things, a cardigan. In my Spring plan I said I'd picked out a pattern from Burda 10-2014 for this. Alas, it turned out I'd made a mistake writing down how much fabric I had and I was 40cm short of the (serious fabric hog) requirements of that Burda pattern. After a brief dive into the pattern stash, I came up with the alternative of View D of Simplicity 1733, an older (OOP) Khaliah Ali pattern that I originally bought for the twist front top/dress view.

Simplicity 1733 view D in grey, front view on Flossie
I made a straight size 16 with no adjustments. Construction was extremely quick and straightforward, although I must admit I deviated substantially from the instructions. I pretty much never want to set in sleeves with a knit, much preferring to sew them in flat, and I am even less likely to set in sleeves if it's a raglan pattern.

Simplicity 1733 View D in grey, side view on Flossie
I am particularly pleased with my fabric/pattern combination. My knit is quite slinky and the cardigan therefore drapes rather nicely. It's probably more of a decorative layer than a warmth-imparting functional piece, insofar as the knit is almost sheer and not exactly warming. I think that suits the pattern though -- I wouldn't want to make it up in a bulkier knit because it's really quite voluminous. On the other hand, it was the work of the devil to hem the thing because the fabric will NOT take a crease at all, in any way, and there were what felt like miles and miles of hems to do. 

Ottobre 02-2016-05 "Fog" sweater, appropriately in grey. (Technical drawing from Ottobre magazine)
Due the pattern change, I had an unexpected excess of fabric. In the interests of efficiency and my overlocker being threaded in the right colour already, I decided to see what else I could sew immediately. After some pattern Tetris false starts, I settled on a repeat of Ottobre 02-2016-05, a simple layering top with a hi-lo hem that I have made once before. I again left off the side zips because when I am ever going to unzip the sides of a knit top? Never, is when. This is one of those "I didn't know I wanted this until I made it" garments, I think, so I'm pleased I came up with the idea.
A green tote bag for spring (pattern is Daphne by artsycraftsybabe)
And finally, my last easy project of the week was this tote bag in spring-like shades of green, which I made more or less on a whim on Saturday.

The rest of my sewing time this week was taken up with working through the early stages of the first of my outerwear projects of this year, Burda 08-2016-134. As of this morning I've got all the pieces cut out and I just have to summon up some enthusiasm for applying a ton of interfacing before I can get started sewing next week. More on this soon, no doubt, and probably a lot of progress shots on my Instagram this week as well. :D

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

February round-up

In February I made and blogged about a gigantic tote and this month's 2017 Challenge garments. Here are the other things I've been working on this month that didn't really merit a whole blog post to themselves and/or are works in progress:

Spring PJs: Burda 8271 capri length PJ bottoms
1. Pyjamas: These two pairs of PJs, being easy repeats of a pattern I have used several times before, Burda 8271, were the first items I ticked off my Spring Plan. The only interesting thing about these is that the version on the left is made from a fabric with an embroidered border, which I rather like.

Lichen sweater back piece -- not yet blocked

2. My spring plan also included starting to knit a lace patterned sweater, and I accordingly cast on the pattern I'd chosen on the 15th. I fully anticipated that I'd struggle with this pattern because I've only ever finished one knitting project with a lace pattern before and I found that very hard going. However, this sweater has been going absolutely swimmingly, much faster than I expected, and I love the fabric that the pattern produces. I know there is one small mistake in the lace pattern in the back piece (shown completed above), but I can't even find it any more so I don't care. I've also finished the (short) sleeves already. With only the front left to do, barring a sudden reversal of enthusiasm I should finish this in March, way ahead of schedule!

My cross-stitch kit as of 28/02/2017

3. I am also still working on my cross-stitch kit. At the beginning of February I was almost exactly half way through, and I've made quite a lot of progress since then. Again, barring a sudden downturn in effort, I suspect I'll finish this during March as well. I already have plans for what to move on to in terms of stitching projects.

My sewing plan for March is to continue to work on the things I picked out in my plan for my spring wardrobe, plus of course my Magazine and Wishlist challenge items. This week I'm working on a couple of easy knit items, but I'm also tracing/preparing to start sewing one of the jackets I want to make for Spring! Outerwear WILL HAPPEN!

On a personal note: I had hoped to start my new drug treatment in February but sadly it's been a non-stop story of increasingly aggravating delays. Still no date for when I'll start but surely (surely!) even these profoundly inefficient people will get their act together soon!