The Gathering Smoke Sweater

The knitting for this sweater has been done for ages. All I needed to do was seam the sleeves and weave in the ends, but I somehow had the hardest time getting to it. You know how it goes when life gets crazy and complicated? And then that one task, the one you would normally do without blinking, becomes something like a holy grail — “OMG, I am *never* going to get that sweater finished!”

Yeah. That’s what happened here. Even after I started working on other things in bits and dabs of free time, I couldn’t quite get to this sweater. Well, eventually, I managed to summon my inner Galahad, and now Arthur can live and the land can be fertile once again.


This is only my second finished sweater of the year! I’ve done lots of knitting, just not much finishing. It feels great to have this one done, if only because it makes me think maybe it can represent the start of a finishing spree. That would be so good. Clear out some of the project bags and free them up for other purposes!

The pattern is the Gathered Pullover (ravlink) from an old Interweave magazine. I lengthened the body just a touch, and I used an applied i-cord edging other than the rolled edges called for in the pattern, but other than that, I knit it as patterned. The sleeves are just a touch long, but I can live with it. It was an easy pattern and went fast.

The yarn is some Carol Sunday Angelic 3-ply I had leftover from making the Cambridge shawl. Here’s the shawl.

cambridge shawl

This is the Carol Sunday shawl pattern everyone wanted to make after the Duchess of Cambridge was spotted out shopping in just such an accessory. Kate’s was olive, and mine is gray — the Smoke colorway, which is a bit heathery and fuzzy from the angora content in the yarn. I was going to make the shawl in a size large, but switched to medium mid-knit and had a bunch of yarn leftover. Even after knitting the sweater, I still have a full skein of the yarn left. It’s really lovely stuff, soft and light and warm. The shawl has held up beautifully over time (though the angora sheds, of course), so I’m hoping the sweater will be fairly sturdy, too. I can already tell this is one I’ll wear constantly through the spring. It’s light, not really a winter sweater, but great for chilly spring days.

Do you have any holy grail projects lingering in your world these days?



Thank You, Mood!

A couple of weeks ago, I played a trivia game on the Mood Fabrics Facebook page. I just did it for fun when I was taking a breather from work.

Little did I know…


There were prizes! Woohoo! I won! That is 2 and 2/3 yards of an iridescent green silk taffeta, 3 yards of organza to match, a zipper, some matching cord and thread, and a coupon to use later. Those coupons, you guys. I fall for them every time! This one’s date range falls right by my birthday, so I’m already thinking about buying birthday fabric.

This shade of green isn’t one I normally sew with, but I think it’s very fresh and pretty. As I stood there pondering and debating what to make with this, my mom happened to come around. She said, “That would make a great raincoat.” And she’s so right about that. I had been thinking of a sheath dress, but a dressy little raincoat to throw on over my standard-issue black or gray sheath dress for weddings and similar occasions — well, that hit of color will be perfect.

I’m thinking of using this pattern.


Right now, my only hesitation has to do with the fact that the organza lining would be a bit sheer, and it might have an influence on how I would make that hood. I would have no choice but to do some interior clean finishing — which I would probably do anyway, but, you know, there’s a difference between wanting to do it and having to do it.

Another option is this jacket from Butterick.


I like that mullet hem, but I would probably shorten the jacket all around. It just looks too long to my eyes, wrong proportions.

What do you guys think? The hoodie or the mullet?


The Not-so-simple skirt

Okay. So, last year, I fell in love with a bit of silk taffeta at Fishman’s Fabrics, as you do. (If you’re ever able to go fabric shopping in Chicago, Fishman’s would be my first recommendation, and the Needle Shop would be my second. Amazing stock.) Take a look at this gorgeous stuff.


Gingham is hot right now, and this is a nicely weighted silk taffeta — light enough to rustle and swish, but stiff enough to support a good shape in a circle skirt. The taffeta has embroidered silk organza leaves, painted flowers, and beading in an allover pattern atop the gingham. It’s an unusual fabric, and I knew it struck just the right mix of evening and casual to be perfect to wear to the theater. So I snapped up three yards, and here is the first garment, using 1.5 yards of the length.


I used Simplicity 1200, a very simple three-quarter circle skirt with only three pieces — front, back, waistband.


This should have been a super easy skirt to make, but there were two complicating factors. First, my sewing machine hated the beading on this fabric. It’s been a while since I’ve worked with an embellished fabric, and I had a different machine the last time. (That was a gold sequined knit used to make play clothes for my then five-year-old niece, who is now fourteen. Been a while!) That old machine, a wrought iron Singer with a motor that could stitch through tree branches, wouldn’t have balked at a few tiny seed beads.

But now I have a new and wimpy Singer. It cries and shivers and looks for the nearest fainting couch if I ask it to sew through more than two layers of fleece. These beads? A tragedy of Sarah Bernhardt proportions.

I wanted to do French seams because of course I did. I love French seams. Why wouldn’t you use a lovely French seam on a weightless, swishy taffeta like this? But this meant sewing each seam twice, with a machine that pouts if you ask it to handle any extra thickness. So I had to painstakingly clear each seam allowance of all those teeny tiny seed beads.


Those beads were sewn in, which made the task much easier. I just inserted my seam ripper into the thread between the bead and the raw edge and slice the bead free. I had to be careful not to pick up any threads from the taffeta along the way, but this is a good taffeta, dense and smooth, so it was relatively easy to avoid that particular problem.

I’m still finding these tiny beads everywhere in my sewing room.


Under the sewing machine! Ack!

There were a few spots that French seams were impractical, such as at the zipper, so I used Hug Snug on those raw edges. You know about this stuff, right? It’s perfect for this kind of taffeta because it’s almost weightless and wasn’t going to create any drag on any of the seams. Plus it’s inexpensive and it comes in lots of pretty colors and the rolls are enormous. I get mine from Wawak. A lot of people want to use a two-step stitching process, but I find it works fine to just wrap the edges, pin it, and sew away.


Wrapping the raw edge of the hem in one step

You’ll notice I’m using a standard presser foot there. That’s because I already cleared that raw edge of the beads. But in other places, such as the waistband, I used a zipper foot. This was because not all the beads fell into a seam allowance and could not be cleared. The zipper foot provided fewer opportunities for my machine to scream and die and get all tangled up on itself as it encountered a bead — the feed dogs and the surface of the presser foot just could not navigate those beads smoothly. So a zipper foot has a smaller area of contact with the feed dogs, and this cut down on problems. I also very carefully marked every bead that was likely to come up against the presser foot, and I stitched very carefully when I came upon them.


Look closely where the point of the seam ripper is aimed. That bead is about to take a direct hit from the presser foot.

So, that was the first complication — all those beads required careful handling, and it could take as long as 30 minutes to clear a single seam of beads. Normally, on a similar fabric with no beads, I could have inset the zipper and finished the invisible zipper seam in that same 30 minutes. So this skirt was slow going, but worth it, I think.

The other problem I ran into was with the waistband piece. For some reason, it ended up about an inch shorter than the waistband circumference. That was a headscratcher. I checked the pattern pieces, and I don’t appear to have lopped off the end of the waistband during cutting, but it was definitely too short. So the pattern might have been misprinted? Don’t know. I checked the pattern reviews, and the only review of this pattern notes that the waistband is very tight. So it’s something in the pattern. This detail alone would prevent me using this pattern again. I didn’t want to tear apart the taffeta seams, so I added very small darts to the waistband to draw the waist in, with the result that the waist is even tighter than it would have already been. I normally cut my waistbands around 28 or 29 inches, depending on the fabric and width of the waistband, and this one is a nudge over 27″ in an unrelenting fabric. So I’m not best pleased by that, and it might end up being a little uncomfortable to wear, but I’ll just have to wear the high spanx under this skirt. Sigh. And no dessert at any pre-theater dinners!

In any case, I’m please with the skirt, and the remaining yard and a half will be some kind of top. I keep going back and forth between a princess seamed tee with a scoop neck (simple to make, which given the beads, might make a huge difference), and a corset type vest thing to wear over a blouse.  I think a corset in this fabric would be stunning, but those require such precise tailoring, and this might not be the fabric for that kind of project.

Have you ever worked with embellished fabrics? Did you develop any special techniques to handle them?


Finally, an FO report

I’ve managed about a half hour a day, sometimes 45 minutes, for the past week or so. Yay! This was enough time for me to knock out the sewing on a simple fleece robe, one that I cut out in early February and then promptly ignored. I have one other robe cut from that same cutting session. It could get lucky next!

But for this one, I needed something warm, big, and fluffy, and I had a length of cheap white fleece from JoAnn’s that is the last, final, absolute end of the fleece in my stash. This makes me so happy, I can’t even tell you. I wanted to sew up a lot of “around the house” junky little things from this cheap fleece, and I did, and now I can move on to something worthy of being worn in public.

The pattern for this one is McCall’s 5248, which has the distinction of NOT being unisex pajamas. So I figured it would fit me pretty well straight out of the gate with little alteration. I cut a standard size medium, and didn’t alter it one bit. In fact, I didn’t even measure the pattern tissue pieces, which is usually an automatic step in the process around here.


I figured, heck, it’s a robe. How bad can it be?


No makeup, uncombed hair and a huge knee brace under my sleep pants — sexy!!

Meh. Not great, not bad. If you look closely, you can see that the shoulder seams are a little far down the arms, but it’s like that in the pattern line drawings, too. The arms are big, the sleeves are long, and it’s really bulky around the waist. And I’ll still wear this thing plenty, I’m sure, because it will fit over even my roomiest sweatshirt. If I make it again (and I might — the collar detailing is super clever — we’ll get to that in a mo), I would make a size small with FBA and maybe a little tweaking to the sleeves. But this giant white one will serve its purpose handily.

The best part about this pattern is the way it uses darts to shape the shawl collar. If you’re a knitter, you know that shaping a shawl collar can be a bit tricky. The inner part of the collar (closest to the skin) should be smaller than the outer part of the collar in order for the entire thing to roll properly. In knitting, we make it happen with short row shaping, but in sewing, this usually means shaped collar pieces that are sewn separately to the body of the garment.

Not in this case, though. This pattern inserts darts in both the front piece and the facing piece to create a roll line for that collar. It’s very clever and easy, and it yielded a terrific result. Take a look.


The row of stitching at the top is the shoulder seam, and the sleeve is to the right. The collar is folded back to show the dart that creates the roll line. If you look very closely, you will see that this dart stops about 3/8″ away from the shoulder seam. It’s this placement, plus the depth and shape of the dart, that give this collar its beautiful automatic roll. I want to sew this again, maybe in a really good flannel, just to watch this magic happen again. It’s fun in that weird way sewing can be fun — you drop the needle, press the foot lever, and see the fabric become 3-dimensional right before your eyes.

So I’d rate this one a solid B — an A for that cool collar detail, but only a C for fit, averaging out to a B. Not a bad way to return to the sewing room after such an absence.

The second robe will be made from a really tricky printed silk. I’m looking forward to the challenge! There’s something deeply satisfying about handling a quality silk and acclimating to its temperamental nature after all the endless yards of fleece lately. But the fleece sewing has been absolutely worth it. I have a stack of warm, stay-at-home garments that cost next to nothing to make — this robe, for example, tallied up to a whopping nine bucks, pattern included. The silk robe will be slightly more than that. Ahem.

Do you ever tackle a category of fabrics (all the fleece, all the printed cottons, all the whatevers) just to try to clear them out of the stash? I used to do this with yarn sometimes, too — I once knit nothing but socks from Regia until every bit of Regia was gone from my stash. Or do you prefer to rotate different kinds of materials and projects?


On the theory of perfect tens

I read a half-dozen or so wardrobe planning books last year when I was gearing up to do a lot of shopping and sewing in a short space of time. I wanted to be smart about the process and craft a wardrobe of things I can really wear. You know how it goes — a closet full of clothes, and nothing to wear? I thought I had the opportunity to avoid that problem. For the most part, I’ve done okay. No real misses, though one or two purchases were okay rather than great.

But when, for example, you own zero coats in Chicago, you might find yourself buying the warmest one you can find on the first really cold and snowy day in November. Think peacock blue with big gold buttons — a great color, sturdy melton, but the buttons were all wrong, and it was double-breasted, too, a tragic cut on a body like mine. I’d show you this beast, but I’ve already donated it to the Goodwill. I’ll find something better before next winter. In any case, that coat was definitely okay rather than great, and that’s if I’m being generous. I just couldn’t find something better last November in my mad rush to find anything at all. Didn’t help that I had reached the point where I was sick to death of shopping, disgusted by the amount of time and money spent at the mall, and unwilling to dredge every big box retailer until I found the perfect one. That’s never a good mindset for shopping, is it?

Anyway. In one of the books I read, written by a guy named George B. Style who is apparently a regular on one of those morning chatter shows, he talks about the importance of getting the one really perfect thing instead of the one mostly good but not really perfect thing. He says everything in the closet should be a perfect ten on a scale of one to ten. This seemed a little extreme at first — who in the world can manage perfect tens on every single item? But I find myself thinking about this concept over and over, and it explains so much of my wardrobe behavior.

Take, for example, what I have come to think of as “that one red sweater.” I have a couple of red sweaters — I love red, and it mixes easily with pretty much everything I own. But that one red sweater, every time I wear it, never feels like my best option. It’s cabled, and I like the cable detailing quite a lot. It’s wool, and it’s tunic-length, so it’s quite warm on a cold winter day. The fit is good. The silhouette works on my figure. It should be something I get excited about wearing, and yet it’s usually the thing I wear when everything else needs laundering.

And I know exactly why. The red is a touch on the yellow side for my tastes. I like a nice blue-toned red. Take a look at this color chart of red nail polish shades.

shades of red

My sweater is close to the shades in the one, two, and three o’clock positions, My natural preference is for the shades in the eight o’clock to midnight range. The sweater looked like a good blue-red under the shopping mall’s terrible lights, but when I got it home, I realized right away that it was just a whiff too orange. And you know that the difference between a good red and a bad red is probably more dramatic than with any other color on the wheel. Just think about what we go through when we need a new red lipstick. ::shudder:: The right shade is sophisticated, but slip just the merest bit in the wrong direction, and it’s more like street-walker than sophisticate.

So. Yeah. That one red sweater is not a perfect ten, and neither was the blue coat. The sweater might be an 8 or a 9, so I’ll hang onto it for a little while longer. But the coat? Maybe a 6. It was warm and serviceable, but I can do better than a 6. Out it went.

This brings me to one of my recent projects. One of the few areas of my closet never to be purged last year was the big plastic bin of hats, scarves, mittens, and gloves, most of which I’ve knit. If you knit, you know that little things like this are the crack of knitting — instant projects that score high on the satisfaction and addiction scale. Knitters tend to accumulate these articles because there are just so many cute patterns to try, and they cost almost nothing in yarn and time. Much as I prefer sweater knitting, I’m not crack-proof. And I have a bin stuffed full of random accessories to prove it.

Or rather, I did have. Now I have a much more manageable bin, and the Goodwill has a bunch of new donations.

But for some of the articles, I thought I might try a bit of a dye job. My dye pot seems to have sprouted legs and walked away, so I thought I might try the washing machine method. It’s not nearly as good as a dye pot, but I think I can live with the before and after.


Before: the dull blue balaclava, maybe a 7


After: A deeper blue, almost plum, probably a 9

This is a balaclava I knit from some gifted alpaca. It’s so warm and soft and lovely to wear — we had a string of something like 9 days in a row where it was around minus 15F every morning, and believe me, the balaclava was a perfect ten on those mornings, regardless of color. I never really did like that color, though. It was too light and bright to be a denim blue, and too dull and faded to look okay by my face. I do better with deep or vivid colors. So into the dye bath it went, and the black dye turned it a richer, darker color. I like it much better now.

damn tam

Before: the damn tam in shades that are a bit too yellow, a 4 or 5


After: the damn tam becomes more autumnal, now probably an 8

This beret is something my knitting group all knit together, a windmill brioche stitch pattern that nearly turned us all into heavy drinkers. This pattern gave everyone, from beginners to lifetime knitters, massive headaches. I don’t know how many times I ripped mine back. Maybe about three hundred thousand, four hundred seventeen times? Give or take a handful. Anyway, among my group, it became known as the damn tam. Everyone called it that, even the knitters who rarely cuss. It was made with a skein of Noro and about a half skein of Cascade 220, and you know how those Noro skeins can be. They look one way on the outside, but knit through a few color changes, and it’s like an entirely different yarn. I was never entirely happy with the way the Noro color changes played with the 220, and the entire effect was too warm — I need coolor tones. So into the dye bath it went, and though I’d never rate it a perfect ten now, it’s definitely an improvement.

I do have a good string of perfect tens in my closet, a few cashmere sweaters in excellent shades, shoes that I love more than words can tell. But overall, my closet probably rates an 8 or 9 on average, and that’s only because I was so careful and deliberate with most of my shopping last year. I still have a long way to go.

What would you rate your closet? Do you think a closet full of perfect tens is achievable?


who managed to sew three whole days in a row this week — gasp!

Sunday status report and a PSA

First, the PSA.

Before I tell you what happened, I want to tell you that I wasn’t injured. The purpose of this little rant is not to scare you about my condition, but to scare you about using a phone while you’re driving.

I was out running intervals yesterday afternoon — first nice day of the year, really glorious weather, 45F and sunny. All through my neighborhood, people in shorts were washing their cars and basking in the beautiful weather. It was my first time running outdoors since last October, so I was particularly enjoying myself. It was hard, but hard in the way we like physical activity to be hard. Many of my fartlek markers (fire plugs, sewer caps) are still buried under snow, so I was amusing myself by searching out alternate markers and tinkering with distances and speeds. Should have been a perfect first outdoor run of the year.

So I was coming up to a T intersection, running along the top bar of the T, and a guy in a pickup truck was coming up the bottom leg of the T to the point where he would have to turn either right or left. He had a stop sign, and when I started across the intersection, he was far enough back that I would have cleared the intersection well before he reached the stop sign — under normal circumstances, anyway.

Problem was, he was texting. He wasn’t looking at the road at all. He didn’t slow down on approach to the intersection, not even a little, but kept driving as if he was on a straight through-way.

I sprinted to get out of his way and started yelling to get his attention. I still would have cleared the intersection before he got there, but when he heard me yelling, I guess it startled him and he veered off course.

Yes, he hit me.

All things considered, it was a lucky accident. He just glanced his front passenger-side bumper off my hip. I don’t even have a bruise there, though I ache today from head to toe, probably from the adrenaline response. And if I hadn’t yelled to get his attention, he would have hit a parked car across the top of the T, so it’s probably a good thing I scared him out of his texting trance. He parked and got out to check on me, to his credit, and I think he was actually in worse condition than I was. I scared him so badly that his face was deep red and he was sweating as though he’d been the one racing to avoid an oncoming truck. His hands were shaking. And you know what? I’m glad he was that rattled. Maybe he’ll learn something from this.

Don’t text and drive. Put the phone down. That call is not more important than someone’s life. There’s no excuse, none at all, for this behavior. Don’t think you can get away with it just this once. You can’t.

End of rant.

Okay, now that I’m off my soapbox, let’s look at some pretty pictures. This week I’m going to be picking up the pieces of a normal schedule after multiple schedule disruptions over the past several weeks. It feels great to know things should be more settled for the next few weeks, at least. But I really needed to take stock of my projects this morning because I could no longer really remember what I’d been doing on various things.

While madness was unfolding, I had the great idea to cast on a plain ribbed sock. Socks are super easy, super mindless knitting, and I can pick them up and put them down without ever having to ponder the pattern. So I thought, yes, perfect time to cast on a sock, then I’ll have brainless knitting for the crazy times.

But it was so crazy that this is literally as far as I got.


I cast it on and then didn’t touch it again. Too busy.

I did manage to knit the sleeves on my Windbreak (ravlink), but then I grafted the first sleeve on inside-out. I fixed that this morning, but haven’t grafted the second sleeve yet. I’m not sure what I think of this top-up circular-yoke method for sweater construction. It’s not something I’ve done before, and I’m not crazy about it so far. If you’re knitting bottom up, there’s no real advantage to a circular yoke. You lose the top-down fitting benefits, but still have to deal with the awkwardness of a circular yoke. So why are we doing it this way? Maybe there’s a reason, but I’m sure I don’t know it yet.


I pulled out my gathered sweater (ravlink) with the intention of seaming the armscyes and weaving in the ends so I can finally block and wear this one. Pulling it out is as far as I got.


But I’m going to finish this one soon, really, I am. Any minute now…

On the sewing front, the embellished silk taffeta skirt just needs a waistband hook and a hem. This project has been a lot more time-consuming than you might guess because the nature of the embellishments make it very difficult to sew. I’ll blog more on that after I finish the darned skirt.


Here we have a stack of project bags that just need the ribbons for the channels for draw cords, and in the shopping bags are two robes cut but not sewn — one silk, one fleece — and a muslin for a blouse. When the project bags are done, I won’t have to use plastic shopping bags anymore! These will be my next sewing projects. None of these are complex projects, which is probably a good thing right now. I’m trying to get my head back in the game, and that usually goes better if I ease into it.


And that’s where I am today. Aching from head to toe after being hit by a truck, and trying to remember what the heck I was doing before my life went off the rails a few weeks back.

Put down the phones, folks. Really.


I am a horrible blogger

Between the flu, a visitor from out of town for 6 days, and a death march at work, I’ve been AWOL. Then my brother ended up in the hospital for 2 days, and my laptop caught a virus, and — well, you get the idea. I haven’t set foot in my sewing room in probably two weeks, or longer? Who knows even. The last two to three weeks are truly a blur. I did manage a tiny bit of knitting, but then I was so distracted that I grafted a sweater sleeve onto the body inside out. So I put that aside until things settle.

For a few days now, every day, I keep saying, I’ll be able to sew tomorrow. Things will be back to normal tomorrow. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’m close. The visitor has departed, the flu has settled into something more like a head cold, and the big work project came to an end Thursday. Whew!

My house looks like a refugee camp. I’ll take today to climb Mount Laundry and excavate the kitchen counters, and with any luck — say it with me now — I’ll be able to sew tomorrow.

Sewing and knitting are the things I do to keep calm during typical times. They’re my pressure valves. On a typical crazy day, 15 minutes with textiles can be like pressing the reset button inside my head. So when I’m too busy and pressed to knit or sew, it makes it feel exponentially more chaotic.

Why do you suppose working with fiber arts can be so soothing and restoring?