Sewing as a bridge

Living in the Seattle area, we’re at the epicenter of the US corona virus outbreak. They say people fall into two categories when it comes to the virus: underprepared or over-prepared; panicked or nonchalant. Our family falls into the prepared but not panicked camp. We’ve been meaning to be smart about earthquake preparedness and this was the push we needed to get it done.

The hardest part of it all is not knowing; being in the middle. There’s no way to prepare for the unknown. School is no longer in session for now. Husband is working from home, but for how long? No gatherings of groups of people, but for how long? It’s like I’m walking on an icy bridge from what was normal to the new normal, aiming for the other side, hoping I don’t lose my footing.

An endless train of articles, updates, information often conflicting, discussions, assumptions and cancelled plans and activities are speeding past at an alarming rate. No amount of knitting or reading fiction is holding my attention. I’ve been here before, tittering on the edge of anxiety with the need to distract my brain from the immediate circumstances. And generally a big sewing project is what can shift my brain from “what if” to “right now”. Sewing is something that still feels new and requires my full attention. Even with several years of sewing under the belt, it still demands complete engagement. Sewing is one thing providing traction on this icy bridge of unknown.

There are some larger projects that have been in the cue for some time and I’ve used Elise Joy’s Want TO DO LIST to organize them a bit. First on my list is the Wiksten Haori in Merchant and Mills Dauphine Jacquard Cotton. Then I’d like to sew a Zadie Jumpsuit…or maybe a Yari Jumpsuit or maybe both! Then a black Linden sweatshirt and black Gypsum Skirt. The list gets longer from there: Avery leggings for my tap class (which is online now!). Hudson pants (because I’ll be in sweats for the foreseeable future!) and perhaps a Hinterland dress, Wilder Gown, or Felix Dress (we’ll be able to go out again, someday?). So many possibilities. This doesn’t include pj pants for the kids, the mending pile and a quilt idea I’ve been tossing around. And as of today, these ideas are shelved to hopefully make fabric masks for those on the front lines.

Things are moving fast right now; each hour with new information and mandates. In Seattle, the kids will be out of school until at least until the end of April. Distance Learning has begun. We’re practicing social distancing and questioning if take out is ok or not. We walk on the trails by our house, careful to stay 6 feet away from anyone we encounter but that’s hard as everyone seems to be outside. It’s part isolating and part unifying. I love the family time, family meals, the closeness while strengthening my tolerance for the squabbles, increased volume and lack of alone time.

One the other side of the coin, I don’t have much time to work on all the projects. In fact I have less time now that I’m with the kids full time. We weren’t supposed to have this time all together but now that we do, I’m doing my best to be present. The most common question these days is “what now” from my younger kid. The WANT TO DO LIST is now coupled with a NEED TO DO LIST. I’m brainstorming tons of ideas of what we can do but it all takes an immense amount of energy.

This is HARD. EXHAUSTING. FULFILLING. I have so much gratitude to be in this space. And I miss my friends, family, classes and the freedoms I have always taken for granted.

As the routines begin to form and we find this new normal, time will emerge for my needs and wants. Right?

Well. A girl can dream.

Anyone Can Knit! (if you want to)

My learn to knit cowl pattern

Last week while sitting on the cold bleachers during tennis lessons (inside thankfully) I was busy knitting the body of my newest cast on the Carbeth Cardigan.

A person asked “Are you knitting?”

Since I knit a lot in public, I often get this question.

“Yes, I am knitting, a sweater in fact. Do you knit as well?”

“No. I tried once as a child but was horrible at it and never tried again.”

Or sometimes the answer is:

“No, but I’ve always wanted to learn but I could never do that!”

“It’s so complicated!”

“I don’t have the patience.”

“I think I’d like it too much!”

To which I always reply: anyone can knit, if you want to.

Truly. Anyone can knit! (If the desire is there.) It’s just a series of steps and each one learned unlocks the next. Knitting is not everyone’s jam and that’s ok. It’s just one valuable skill that can have many beneficial side effects. Knitting builds community. Knitting provides an activity for busy hands without using our electronic devices. It’s meditative, can help with anxiety, stress and is good for our brains. Personally, I have a hard time waiting. Waiting in meetings, waiting at appointments, in the car, on vacation, for my children. Idle time where I’m not in control of what’s going on is so difficult. Knitting does not erase my discomfort entirely but it helps so much in those situations. The anxiety I have felt when in unpredictable situations is calmed by knowing I have my knitting. So, if I need to wait, I can wait. I’ve become more flexible. We live in a very demanding world with all manner of things calling our attention, time and resources. Knitting is a gift and a tool I have to manage all that comes my way. And it’s a gift I want to pass on to others.

If you want to learn to knit, I can teach you.

The Red Sweater

First day of the New Year

A few things have come to light in the past couple of months, weeks, days:

I’m a sweater knitter.

Knitters tend gravitate to one type of garment or accessory. A sock knitter, a shawl knitter, hat or sweater knitter. When it’s time for me to cast on a new project, a sweater or cardigan is usually chosen. Hats are fun and quick; shawls are nice to have but with all that knitting, having a sweater at the end is more worth it. Socks are still something that remains to be knit. Identifying primarily as a sweater knitter is a recent revelation; it’s all part of getting to know who I am more as I get older.

I can trust my gut.

The first instinct to cast on a particular design is usually right, even if it takes a long time with many projects in between before it’s completed. This helps in realizing I can trust myself instead of questioning the choice and/or getting distracted by the new and pretty. Sweaters continually challenge me, teaching new skills with each designer’s choice of construction and methods but still allow for me to knit in my everyday life. A few projects are always on the needles at one time: an easier project that can go to meetings, knit night and fill in the other spaces of a day paired with a more technical project that requires my eye glasses and undivided attention. Depending on what stage a project is in, they can be interchangeable. There’s no monogamous knitting happening but there is an unspecified number of projects that can tip the scale from just right to overwhelming. At some point in time it’s best to cast off a few projects before beginning a new one.

Joining the sleeves

When I finish a project, the question always asked is “How long did it take you to knit it?” and well, there’s never a direct answer. A year, but with 10 other projects in-between. A week? A month? Knitting isn’t a speed sport. It comes with me everywhere. In every project there’s a point where the knitting is nonstop. As if there’s nothing else on the needles and no other project to work on; no house work to do, no meals to cook or kids to take care of. It’s usually when the project is close to the finish line…or a deadline is looming or it needs to be on my body now!

I work well with deadlines but have a hard time self-imposing them.

I’d rather teach someone to knit than knit something for them. Teaching someone to knit is rewarding and enjoyable. You learn a lot about a person by the way they learn to knit.

I wear what I make. And each finished project gets better and better.

Finished but unblocked

And now that the red sweater is done (it still needs to be blocked but I can’t stop wearing it!) the dreaming of a new sweater has already begun.

The making umbrella

I have an old journal entry saying something to the effect of “I learned to knit. I don’t think it will really stick. Oh well.”

How wrong was I!

My first sewing machine although I have no memory of using it.

Throughout most of my life I’ve been surrounded by some sort of making. My Grandma Lou was an incredible seamstress. She made all my dad and uncle’s clothes, often matching, when he was a young. She sewed all of my Christmas and Easter dresses when I was small and my one and only flower girl dress. She made dolls and had a sewing room where you had to wear shoes because there were always straight pins on the floor. That room was piled high to the ceiling with fabric and all kinds of crafting notions. She sold her creations at craft fairs and was able to get her hands on coveted Cabbage Patch Dolls that were so popular when I was a little girl.

MyGrandpa Mike and Grandma Lou

My Grandma Annie taught me how to crochet. I made rag rugs at first and then a few blankets. She made hot pads: yarn covered bottle caps linked together which I still use today.

My Grandpa Eddie and Grandma Annie

My mother always made our Halloween costumes growing up, provided ample supplies to make Christmas ornaments and always had some sort of kit she was going to finish embroidering. (Full disclosure, I have a few of those types of kits too…waiting to be made.)

There aren’t many pictures of the things that were made but the images are still vibrant in my mind. Most of this making happened when I was a small child and I usually watched it all happen but never doing it myself (save from the crochet that I learned when I was a teenager) but always the proud recipient. All of the dresses below were handmade, I believe, by my Grandma Lou.

When I reached the age where I really wanted to learn how to sew, embroider and knit, my grandmothers had already passed and my mother had long forgotten how to use the sewing machine. I don’t recall that any of them actually knew how to knit.

A lot of that knowledge has been lost; most of the threads are broken. Just one small string has been woven through time and carries the essence from my grandmothers to my hands. I wish I could go back in time and learn from them. What felt like an infinite amount of time available as a child was cut short. If only I had spent more time learning from them when I could. But it’s hard to know that at 8, 19 or 24 years old. So while I have to go to classes and teach myself, I do feel their presence in my work. The drive to work with my hands is in my blood. That thin thread has become stronger as I kept circling back to making throughout my life.I believe all of these dresses were handmade by my Grandma Lou.

Now that I have a few steady years of making clothes and knitting garments, and a lifetime of its presence, I crave for the next step. How do I expand this umbrella of making? How do I grow deeper, more grounding roots in my craft practice so knowledge grows and carries on instead of being lost? Can I develop my ideas and lift them from hobby to profession? Where does my making go from here?

I’ve realized that I really enjoy teaching people to knit. It’s such a useful skill to know on so many levels: stress relief, ability to make your own clothes and accessories, an activity that doesn’t require a screen or battery power. It can be the foundation on which community and friendships are formed.

Creating community is something to be valued. Bringing people together for a shared experience which makes space for people to talk who otherwise may not is really important. While in Taipei, Taiwan this past summer I summoned the courage to connect with Taiwanese knitters, inquiring if there was an English speaking knitting group I could join once or twice. I ended up being warmly welcomed into a thriving group of extremely skilled knitters. It was wonderful that the craft connected a group of women who in turned welcomed a stranger from another country and all because of the shared love of fiber.

There is a desire to share the joy of making outside of the four walls of my guest room/sewing space. There is a call within me to continue the making traditions I witnessed growing up. I want to strengthen that thread from my past to my present and into the future, deepening my skills and making practice while encouraging others to connect and create.

So…what’s the next step?

Knitting the long road

After 1 year and 2 months of on and off again knitting, I’ve finally finished my Churhmouse Poncho. The intention to knit this poncho was set 4.5 years ago when I first began to knit. I purchased yarn, Rowan Tweed and was ready to go but I didn’t cast on immediately.

The Easy Folded Poncho is a perfect example of what has become a trend in my knitting practice. The poncho is fabulous project for a new beginner. That’s why I chose it. But it also is just a giant rectangle of stockinette stitch. Knit on the right side and purl on the wrong side, for 50 inches. That’s over 4 feet! So while I had the yarn, I never cast it on because other more shiny, challenging and exciting designs stepped in front of the line. And that Rowan Tweed eventually became a Junegrass Pullover. Many other yarns auditioned but I still didn’t cast on.

I tend to find a pattern that I just have to knit, purchase the yarn and then….I don’t cast on. Maybe the yarn is better for a different project? Maybe the sweater won’t suit my body shape after all. Or I already have 3 or 4 projects on my needles, discover that tempting sweater, purchase yarn and pattern to cast on once I finish a project or two. When that time arrives, the inspiration to cast on that yarn and pattern pairing may be gone. And the stash grows. Yarn once destined for a the perfect pattern is put on hold.

As time went on, I found I couldn’t let go of the idea that a poncho would be a perfect addition to my wardrobe. I looked at other poncho patterns but none had the same appeal as the Churchmouse one. After spending a good amount of time on Ravelry, I decided on Yoth’s Best Friend yarn in Cracked Pepper, held double was the match and it was cast on a short time later.

As I traveled deeper in my knitting journey, the poncho revealed itself to be the ideal social knitting project with its’ miles of stockinette stitch. It was also great to pick up when break was needed from more complicated work. And since it was just stockinette stitch, forever, it was easy to put it to the side. During the time the poncho was on the needles, I knit 4 whole sweaters start to finish, completed one WIP sweater and cast on 2 others (still WIPs) plus 5 hats and one shawl. I almost ripped out the Poncho to use the yarn for a different project so. many. times. Each time I was ready to do it, I’d remember that I really did want the poncho and kept knitting one row at a time.

So how do we keep engaged in long term project? How do we remember the intention of why we decided on a certain pattern and yarn. How do we keep the inspiration fresh, the motivation present on our current project when it’s so easy to be distracted or imagine the grass is greener elsewhere?

Sometimes ripping out the project is the answer when inspiration has taken flight and doesn’t circle back. Other times, focussing on the process instead of the outcome is helpful in the road to completion. Not actively buying yarn for projects that can’t be cast on immediately is another strategy. (Yarn store to storage bin isn’t always the best path.) Finding ways to remind yourself why this pattern and this yarn was the best choice at one point in time. Stick with it! Making an effort to filter out the constant messages that you should want/have the new, better and different.

Most of the time you just have to do the work in front of you, especially when it comes to long term, staple wardrobe items. It’s a mix of process and product knitting. It’s about rediscovering the inspiration that was present at the beginning each time you pick it back up while enduring the slog of the knitting at hand because the result at the end is worth it. What better reward than finally wearing something you’ve had on the needles for so long?

Knitting my poncho has taught me a few things: I benefit from having an easy project and a more complicated one on my needles at the same time. Following through with the yarn and patterns I already have builds confidence in my knitting practice. Knitting serves as a concrete reminder that with patience and determination, small bits of time add up to a finished piece you in which you can be proud. And most of all: casting off a long term project can feel just as good as casting on something new.

Traveling in kindness

We made it to Taiwan. I’ve have never traveled on a plane before with a broken bone. I’ve traveled many times sick (apologies to those former plane cabin mates) but never with the need for a wheelchair escort. And to be honest, there has never been much cause to pay attention to all the wheelchairs that do wheel around the airport… or anywhere. Once when I was 9 and broke my leg, I was in a wheelchair. I don’t remember for how long, maybe a month? The memory that stuck was when there was a need to use the bathroom and I was stuck on the couch while friends played with my wheelchair. Only when you can’t move as before do you realize how able-body centered our whole world is set up. And when you’re back to moving about (if you’re so lucky) it’s easy to forget. This time, my awareness had grown.

We arrived at the airport in the middle of the night. Crutches, with thick gel pads recommended by the guru cast fitting technician under my arms, kids and as minimal of a packing job as possible, we checked in for our flight. The scooter left behind and the unknown ahead.

We then experienced and witnessed such kindness as I became, for a moment, part of a club of which I never wanted to be a member. Our attendant expertly wheeled me through the airport, always at the perfect speed for my family to keep up, always knowing where to go and what line to move to the front. He, with a gentle assertiveness, asked others to move aside and got us through security in mere moments. While I got the extensive pat down, he helped my family with all the carry-on baggage, aiding in putting the Tetris-style packed bags back together and moving us along through the airport maze to the gate. Appearing again when it was time to board, pushing me to the plane door and stepping away to help the woman ahead of me by gingerly placing her on a wheelchair for the plane aisles. I was struck particularly by this scene as these strangers helped this elderly woman with such care and dignity. Never rushing, never impatient. A task they repeat countless times during their work day.

And once I passed into the care of the airline stewards, the kindness and gentle attentiveness continued throughout the flight.

We had the thankful privilege to upgrade just a bit so I could elevate my leg on the flight. The agent I spoke to was eventually able to get us in the same row, just not next to each other. When on the plane, the gentleman on the aisle agreed to switch and we were all together. The stewardess came countless times to bring me my crutches that were stowed in the closet, even bringing them un-asked just before landing. And the same calm, kind help met us on the other end. Going through customs and immigration was so pleasant and stress free.

When I fly, I generally have a good side helping of anxiety. Never the main course but always there. This flight, my circumstances demanded I let go and ask for help. I literally had to sit down and let others, complete strangers, lead me from one place to the other.

These were the unanticipated gifts of this entire travel experience: kindness, a sense calm and little stress. And of course, the extra, elevated leg room was key. Not much knitting happened and we all slept.

Me Made May and me

This was the first year that I participated in Me Made May, an event on Instagram that was created 10 years ago by Zoe Edwards to celebrate handmade clothing. Often clothes are made but not worn and this was an effort to encourage the making community to wear them proudly.

Typically with these online, month long, play along prompts if I join, I post for the first day or two and then I fall off. Me Made May was a bit different as I have to get dressed anyway each day and the longer I participated, the momentum to stay with it grew. I’ve never posted so many pictures of myself online before. Lots of me. I found a quick and dirty way to take my picture in my backyard and didn’t fuss too much over it. I figured it was more true to the prompt if I didn’t stage what I was wearing. But sometimes someone would snap a picture for me which was a nice break from the backyard selfie. Along the way I learned a few things:

There’s enough handmade clothing in my closet now that it isn’t hard to wear at least one piece each day, even as the seasons change.

The goal to have a completely handmade wardrobe isn’t as strong of a need anymore. It’s fun to mix and match ready to wear pieces with the handmade clothing. Which means I wear more of what’s in the closet already instead of always making something new.

Dresses and skirts are some of my favorite things to sew but don’t wear them as much as I’d like. So I need to invest in leggings or slip shorts to make it easier to grab a dress out of my closet.

I love to wear my linden sweatshirts, a lot, and want to make more! And maybe try some new sweatshirt style patterns?

The biggest lesson I came away with while documenting what I wore each day was unexpected. I liked the way I looked in my clothes. I don’t tend to really care for how I’m reflected in pictures. And yes, while I only selected the most flattering of pictures to share, I was fond of what I had to choose. It definitely boosted my confidence and it wasn’t because of the feedback (or lack thereof) I received, but because I felt joy in wearing my clothes and that translated into the photos.

Now for reference on my phone there are 31 outfits (many repeats) to select from in my closet and that makes packing for trips and getting dressed in the morning a little bit easier.