Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Starting thoughts on the Seam Allowance project

One of my larger goals this summer is to learn more about sewing clothing.  I took a garment-sewing class at Verb during spring break (and meant to blog about it then, really I did!) and eventually finished the top.  I like the shirt quite a bit, and have worn it four or five times since completing it.  For those who are interested, this is the "Violet" top by Colette Patterns, and the fabric is a lightweight cotton floral print by Lecien. 
Colette Violet
Joining the fronts and back of the shirt.
It got me excited to sew more clothing, but I didn't have the mental energy to put together anything more complicated than a quilt with rectangles during the second half of the semester.  As final exams wound down, my thoughts returned to more clothing.  Knitting sweaters is all well and good in October, but in June my thoughts were on breezy tank tops and sundresses.  As she so often does, Kristine at Verb read my mind and has started an initiative that she's named "Seam Allowance".  In my head, I've been imagining this as a learning community and support network. It's well-timed both in terms of my interests and work schedule; summers are always less hectic for me. So this is what my kitchen table looks like these days (except messier, and with more fabric scraps scattered all over the place):
Colette Violet
The sewing station.
The Seam Allowance pledge is to make 25% of your wardrobe, and all forms of creating garments are allowed: sewing, knitting, weaving, crochet, etc.  I have to admit that I was a little hesitant at first; 25% sounds like a lot of clothes when I consider my closet and dresser.  Am I over-committing myself to a project that I will burn out on once my work picks up again in the fall? And what does 25% of my wardrobe even mean?  What do I want it to mean?  What do I want to get out of this?  What do I want to learn?  How do I want to change?  

Cutting out Violet #2
Another Violet shirt, this time out of midweight cotton from a discount store in Anaheim.

I decided to join after doing some thinking.  Yes, 25% of my wardrobe feels like a lot, but that's primarily because I have lots of clothing that I don't wear.  Some of these items just aren't for everyday (pantyhose and strapless party dress, I'm looking at you).  I have no guilt or anxiety about hanging onto these items or having purchased them instead of making them.  Some of them are for everyday, and I'm holding onto them for slightly sentimental reasons even though I don't wear them.  This category includes clothing items that were gifts but don't quite fit my style, band t-shirts purchased at concerts out of commemoration, and clothing that used to fit but is a little too small these days.  Some (maybe most) of these items should probably go to the donation bin.  So one of the things I'm hoping to get out of my participation in Seam Allowance is to make more conscious decisions about my wardrobe, and thus keep it to a manageable size.  Kristine suggested that 25% could mean that we have enough handmade clothing to wear one handmade item every day.  I still haven't quite decided what I want 25% to mean, but I think I'd like to define a core set of clothing items that are in "regular rotation" (i.e., they get worn at least once every two weeks, or something like that) and have 25% of my regular rotation items be handmade. 

I also have several goals involving body image that are tied up in Seam Allowance, but I'll write more about those later because they really deserve their own post.  

Oh, and I'm counting all my handknit socks, too.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Knitting FO: Darjeeling Socks

A large portion of the sock yarn I own was collected between 2007-2009, or as I'm going to call them, "The Variegated Years".  This was a time when I was fresh out of grad school, dizzy with the prospect of a real honest-to-goodness paycheck coming in every month.  It was during this time period that my stash size exploded, and one very big enabler instigator assistant in this process was The Loopy Ewe.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love Sheri over at Loopy.  She helped me build a very nice sock yarn stash that is a beautiful (if a bit worryingly large) source of inspiration. 

Numma Numma Toasty
This yarn, Numma Numma Toasty in the colorway "Apple Butter" was no exception.  And plus, it's mostly browns and tans!  They're neutrals, so they'll go with anything, right? Right, except we have to actually KNIT the socks before we can dash around in their delicious golden-hued warmth, pretending we live somewhere the leaves on trees change color in the fall.  I actually went back to my order history and saw that this yarn was purchased in January 2008, which means I've had this yarn sitting around in my stash for more than four years.

I bet if, back in 2002 you'd asked my husband-now-but-boyfriend-at-the-time if this knitting thing would go this far, he would not have ever suspected that I could be the type of person capable of purchasing yarn and then hanging onto it for more than 4 years because it was just too pretty to let go.  What can I say?  Must be the wool fumes.

Numma Numma Apple Butter

If I love the yarn so much, how come it's taken this long?  Well, I went off sock knitting for a while, and then just when I started to get back on the wagon, something had shifted subtly in sock knitting.  Before, everyone was looking at color combos and coming up with hilariously funny (and sometimes punny) names for their colorways.  Now, it was all about solids and semi-solids and shaded solids.  Or self-striping, but in the very meticulous way that means you probably just want to knit a plain old pair of stockinette socks and not put any kind of stitch pattern on there to muss up the colors.  It was just that much more difficult to find a pattern that I could really visualize in a variegated yarn.

The Darjeeling Sock from Knitter's Book of Socks though, had all the hallmarks of being a good pattern for a very colorful yarn.  Purl-stitch rows, broken ribbing, and on top of that it has interesting arch shaping in an unexpected place!  I was flipping through the book trying to decide which pattern to knit after finishing my pajama socks, and knew this would be next.  And I was right, it's great for variegated yarn.

Darjeeling Socks

I've since finished these socks, and they're very nice.  I've learned to make my socks a tiny bit longer in the feet, since the soles of my socks tend to felt a tiny bit and shrink up after many wearings, and I think this will help them hold up a little better.  I did the surprisingly stretchy bind-off at the top of these socks, which was a new technique for me.  I knit these until I practically ran out of yarn, so they end quite high on my leg and the extra stretch is more than welcome.  I'll probably knit this pattern again, and I think the only thing I'd change is the pattern on the heel flap, which was a little hard to keep track of during knitting.  But other than that, I can't wait to add these beauties into my sock rotation on the next chilly morning! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spinning Update: A sweater for the husbeast

For the longest time, I've been avoiding posting about my spinning because it's been so boring.  I mean, when your husband starts asking when he'll get his own handspun handknit sweater, it's such a happy moment.  I had so much fun with the first one!  Washing the fleece, immersing myself (literally) up the elbows in the processing of what comes off the sheep into a wearable garment.  That thing is my go-to sweater for beach parties.  It all sounds like so much fun, until you stop and think about all the knitted items you've made for yourself that never get worn, or get worn so infrequently that it hardly seems worth the effort you put into them in the first place.  You begin to realize that you'll just kill yourself if you make something that he wouldn't wear, so you have to start asking him about clothing preferences.

Let's just summarize a few facts here.  The husbeast is the kind of person that A) doesn't like anything too fancy (no colorwork) B) naturally runs a little warm and thus C) owns precisely one other sweater.  Oh, and this is the sort of sweater I want him to feel comfortable wearing around the home, so nothing too tight.  Did I mention that the man is also 6 feet tall, and has extra-long arms for his height?  This is going to be one huge sweater, and if I was going to spin for it, that meant a major commitment to spinning a solid color. I started spinning the singles during last year's Tour de Fleece, and haven't gotten anything new on the wheel until last week! 

That's why my fleece (Blake, the one I got washed by Morro Fleece Works) was the perfect match for the project.  First, I have a TON of fiber. Ok, not an actual ton, more like 4+ pounds.  I tend to spin yarn that is denser than commercial yarn, so I knew having a large amount was important for a big sweater for a grown man.  Second, it's all one color.  Further to that, the beautiful chocolate brown is a color I know the husbeast won't find objectionable and since it's the natural color of the sheep's wool, it won't fade over the years the way something dyed might do.  Third, it's a really heavenly preparation from Morro, which means very little predrafting and overall faster spinning.

Blake Fleece

The challenges have been keeping myself motivated to keep spinning the same dark brown merino wool over the months, and to keep myself spinning consistently.  I made a few choices in designing what type of yarn I'll spin to help with consistency.  I'm doing a 3-ply yarn (a true 3-ply, not a chain or navajo 3-ply) and spinning six bobbins in a row before plying.  That's truly the most boring part, spinning 24 ounces of brown wool singles without the quick break of plying in between.  Having six bobbins allows me to mix & match my plies to help even out the yarn a little bit.  I label the bobbins 1-6 in the order in which I spin them, then I ply 1, 3, and 5 together and 2, 4, and 6 together.  My yarn is ending up in the heavy-worsted-to-aran-weight range, which is quite plump. Having a thicker yarn means that small inconsistencies won't be quite as noticeable. 

The color boredom I've been getting around by letting myself spin a bag of Hello Yarn fiber in between each "batch" of 6 bobbins, so right now I'm spinning my "Curiosities" superwash merino.

Hello Yarn Curiosities

Hopefully getting to play with a little color will help me stay motivated.  We'll just try to ignore the fact that I've already got one dark brown sweater on the needles (more on that later) and am preparing to knit a second, larger, dark brown sweater. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Putting the "starry" back in Starryknit

I usually try to keep it to crafty stuff on the blog, because talking about the starry part of my blog/Ravelry name sometimes feels a bit too much like my day job. However, I'm making an exception because the semester ended two weeks ago and this event is so special it's worth writing about.

Tomorrow afternoon the planet Venus will be nearly perfectly lined up with the Sun and Earth, and we'll be able to watch Venus "transit", or cross in front of the Sun from our vantage point on Earth.  It's like a mini-eclipse, except that Venus will only cover up a tiny portion of the Sun's surface. This is a very rare occurrence, for several reasons:

1. Earth and Venus are tiny.  To scale, if we made the Sun about the size of a large grapefuit, Venus and Earth would be the size of poppy seeds.  Picture that in your mind for a second.

2. Earth, Venus, and the Sun are all very far apart.  They call it "space" for a reason: it's mostly empty! In our poppy-seeds-and-grapefuit model, Venus and Earth would be about 35 feet and 40 feet away from the Sun, respectively.  Even though Venus is at its closest approach to Earth, it will look like a smallish black spot on the Sun tomorrow, only covering up about 0.1% of the surface area of the Sun. 

3. The orbit of Earth and the orbit of Venus are not in the exact same plane.  Another way to say this is that their orbits are tilted relative to one another.  If you think about those two poppy seeds, you can imagine how even a very small difference in the orbital planes means that most of the time, Venus is NOT transiting the Sun even when it's at its closest approach to Earth. 

Okay, so how rare are we talking here?  Well, the last transit of Venus happened in 2004.  That doesn't sound too bad, right?  Only eight years of waiting.  If it's cloudy, no big deal.  I'll catch the next one.  Except the next one doesn't happen until the year 2117.  Read that again: I said 2117, not 2017.  So unless you plan on living an additional 105 years, you won't be able to catch the next one. As I've been telling ALL of my students, friends, and family: this is LITERALLY a once-in-a-lifetime event. 

Hopefully by this point I've convinced you that it's worth stepping out for ten minutes tomorrow afternoon to try and view the transit. If you're interested in doing so, I have a very important safety warning for you.  (If this were a 1970's instructional video, I would be wearing a lab coat and would take a second to don my lab goggles right now).  Please promise me that no matter what, you will NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN.  Even if you have sunglasses, it's just not safe.  Sunlight is very bright (especially at 3PM in early June in the northern hemisphere, but that's another science lesson for another day), and it will damage the rod and cone cells on your retina.  The website transitofvenus.org has some great information about safely viewing the transit. If you're in a pinch, take two sheets of paper and use a safety pin to poke a small hole in one sheet.  Hold the sheets parallel to each other, using the pinhole to project an image of the Sun onto the other sheet. 

You can play around with holding the sheets of paper closer together or farther apart, to get the best balance between a large enough image and a bright enough image.  Just to be clear, you don't look through the pinhole, you look at the image of the Sun that will appear on the second sheet of paper. 

Now that we've got the safety portion out of the way (takes off safetly goggles), let's talk timing.  This transit has some historical significance in addition to being a rare event.  As I said before, we had one transit in 2004, then this year's in 2012, and the next one is in 2117.  This is the regular pattern of Venus transits: a pair separated by about 8 years, with pairs spaces about a century apart.  Back in 1761 and 1769, astronomers were especially excited to observe and precisely time the two transits of Venus because they could use the information to measure exactly how far away the planets were from the Sun in our solar system.  Up until then, we knew how far away everything was proportionally (for example, we knew that Jupiter was about 5 times further away from the Sun than Earth), but we didn't have an absolute measurement (number of miles/kilometers) for any of those distances.  Despite people all over the world observing both transits in the 1760's, their timing wasn't accurate enough to calculate these distances.  Science had to wait until the pair of transits in 1874 and 1882 (when photography of the phenomenon was possible) to determine the distance scale of the solar system.  Sky and Telescope has published a fascinating piece about two astronomers who stitched together the photographic plate negatives taken at California's own Lick Observatory in 1882 into a 30-second digital movie. 

So when should you take your makeshift pinhole camera outside and view this once-in-a-lifetime event?  Well, it depends on where you'll be on our little planet.  Thankfully I've found a very good transit-time-calculator that will tell you when you'll be able to see the transit.  If you're in the SF Bay area, the transit begins shortly after 3PM and will still be going when the Sun sets.  I'll be out in a campground, eating barbeque, knitting a pair of socks, and celebrating my 30th birthday.