Saturday, 31 December 2016

Thinking back over 2016...

I just cast an eye over last year's New Year's Eve post, where I sound very sensible and gave myself some equally logical advice: that life's a work in progress. I'd forgotten last year's resolutions, but reviewing them now.

My 2016 plans were:

+ To get up earlier: A complete and utter failure. I have come to accept that I am an 'afternoon person'. I get up at 10am, go to bed at 2am, and my peak hours of productivity are between 1 and 5pm. I have been trying to skew my schedule to fit around this, and as such, my teaching hours are afternoons and evenings, with the odd horrible early morning (working before noon- gasp!) for marking, lesson prep and admin. I still haven't managed to shake off the sense of guilt that I get when I compare my alarm clock to friends with an office job; but in actual fact, I get 8 hours sleep and approximately a 7 hour work day + breaks + commuting time, which seems fair.

+ To stop wearing red and purple together: A success. I've been introducing more neutral colours into my wardrobe (browns and greys), and keeping jewel tones separate from each other. I'm starting to look less mad, just mildly eccentric. Next step: to stop wearing pink and yellow together...

+ To get my Masters! A rip roaring success! I haven't made much of an announcement, but you are currently reading the blog of a Master of Arts, Distinction.

Oh alright then, so this is the announcement. I'm pretty chuffed. I've lined up a few academic opportunities which start immediately in the new year, and. I will also be preparing some essays to submit to academic journals. I want to keep treading the balance between Diaspora Studies, Cultural Studies, and the Histories of Fashion & Performance Costume.

Small starts, small steps, so do wish me luck.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Self-care gift set

I have this thing about pattern and detail: I want everything that I use, every day, to be beautiful. My spaces are a lopsided assembly of the baroque and the functional; but never, ever bare. When we use things every day, we start to stop noticing them; and I want to work against this. Choosing and making useful objects which are aesthetically pleasing allows us to appreciate every time that we use our chosen tool.

A perfect example of this is a wash cloth, hand soap, and lunch bags; above, a set that I gave away for Christmas to a relative that I've fallen out of touch with somewhat ever since she has had two children. I bought a stack of fragranced soaps when I was in Bali, back in July, intending them as stocking-fillers. I crocheted this face cloth using mercerised cotton yarn that has been in my stash for 10 years, the project long-unrealised. I have enough for 3 more flannels. It was very quick to make, taking a few tube journeys one weekend as I attended several Christmas parties with my partner. The ripple pattern can be found on Attic 24. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for clear pattern instructions.)

The drawstring bag is the same pattern I made a few weeks ago. It uses a wild cotton print that I received in a fabric stash swap; it was surprisingly difficult to determine the pattern placement, but I think I succeeded. It's lined in raw calico and uses plain cotton tape as the drawstrings. A yellow vintage plastic button completes it.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Knitting on-trend: black cropped poloneck

2016 feels like the year that handknitting became more fashion-forward than ever, and I was helplessly swept along with the trends. I cast on this sweater at the end of October, and I can write a firm checklist of all the directional details that it features:
  • Dipped hem
  • Split ribbing
  • Chunky yarn
  • Long cuffs
  • Cropped length
  • Oversized poloneck
  • Basic black

 That's SEVEN points of trendiness! And I don't regret it one single bit: I love, love, absolutely love this sweater. I was rather sad to give it away - but alas, it was made as a Christmas present for my sister. I forced her to wear it on Christmas day even though she was sweating up from a viral infection, and in no way would have chosen to wear a woolly jumper in that condition. I think that she sensed she had no choice in the matter (or the jumper would have left the house on my back).

The pattern is Snug by Kim Hargreaves, a pattern from another back issue of Rowan magazine (no. 30) that I've had kicking around for years and never knit anything from. The yarn is R2 Fuzzi Felt, Rowan's short-lived, off-shoot "funky" yarn range aimed at teenagers. I fudged around with the gauge and the pattern sizing, eventually casting on adult size L which came out around adult size S. I did some arithmetic for the sleeve head, so that it came out the same size as the arm hole.

Ages ago, Rowan were selling off lucky-dip bundles of 4 magazines from their back catalogue for not much money, and as I was new to knitting and seeking to build up my pattern library, I ordered a set. I was somewhat disappointed by the selection that I received at the time: the magazines featured upteen stocking stitch sweaters using traditional bottom-up / in pieces construction. The internet knit blogging scene was going strong (this was just before Ravelry) and top-down raglans and in-the-round construction was all the rage. Rowan's offerings felt dull and out-of-date. Now, however, I have the opposite feeling about them. They offer a range of blank canvases, plain sweaters in a range of gauges that I can adapt to my own purposes as I wish, cutting out some of the mathematical jiggling. Lately, I find that I dip in and out of these magazines quite frequently.

I bought the yarn half price around 8 years ago and started knitting a jacket which never got off the ground. I recently frogged it during a de-cluttering frenzy that also led to the release of the red merino for my Christmas cardigan, and a jumper's worth of green Shetland wool that I'm turning into a better jumper. The yarn is a strange blend (58% nylon, 20% acrylic, 16% merino wool, 6% alpaca) that has very little elasticity, and is quite hard on the hands whilst knitting. However, the final jumper is incredibly soft, snuggly, and quite lovely to wear: cosy without being overly warm. I have another jumper's worth of it in a lovely forest green, as well as some stray balls in orange and blue. The green can be a Christmas jumper for someone else next year, and I might just donate the rest - unless any readers would like it? - let me know in the comments!

Poor sis has been too ill to let me photograph her wearing the sweater, so I'm wearing it here instead. Taking photographs of a black sweater in December is not an easy task at all; I ended up using a long exposure time, which resulted in some weirdly 'atmospheric' photographs.

Well, you get the idea! All in all, a successful stash-busting project using a pattern from my library; and if she never wears it, I shall be most happy to claim it back for myself!

Project Details
Pattern: Snug by Kim Hargreaves, Rowan 30
Yarn: Rowan R2 Fuzzi Felt, 9 balls
Cost: about £20 but 8 years ago, so really £0

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Christmas cardigan!

I'm so happy to have finished this cardigan! It's right on time for Christmas - and rather tasteful as far as seasonal knitwear goes, I must say. I couldn't resist posing by the Christmas tree, even though the light everywhere has been so terrible recently. I've never had a Christmas jumper (or the like) before, and this is as close as it gets: nice and festive in jolly red, but not a santa motif or an actual jingle bell in sight.

Aside from a couple of baby sweaters and a cardigan for my partner, I haven't done that much sweater-knitting over the past 3 years. Over 2016 I've focussed on socks, having completed 9 pairs thusfar and aiming to reach 10 pairs by the end of the year. I cast on this cardigan in October, after handing in my dissertation, when I wanted an activity completely different from academic writing. The pattern is called Georgia by Kim Hargreaves. It is a simple boxy cardigan with a crew neck and thin garter stitch edgings. It's from a back issue of Rowan Magazine that I acquired around 10 years ago, near the beginning of my knitting practice, and never actually knit anything from. I used a rather generic merino blend DK yarn that had been hanging around my stash, which I'd started knitting a cardigan from around 8 years ago - and never got anywhere with it! It felt great to finally let go of the incomplete project, unravel it, and turn it into something that I just love and am now wearing non-stop.

All Rowan Magazine patterns tend to be designed to be knit bottom-up in pieces, which is rather old-fashioned, but it works for me. I dabbled heavily in top-down, seamless sweater construction when I first started to knit, and none of those garments have had much longevity in my wardrobe. So it was nice to fall straight back into the rhythm of a seamed sweater, my preferred method of construction. DK-yarn is definitely my favourite yarn weight for sweaters: it's the right balance between texture, lightness, and timeliness of the project.

I'm particularly fond of knitting this simple horseshoe lace pattern; I find it so rhythmical and always memorise it so quickly. It grows very instinctively. It's often knit in white or neutral colours, which I feel makes it look slightly old-fashioned. I think that the pattern really shines in this bright, bright postbox red. It's also very snuggly in the merino blend wool (just a generic, mass-produced kind of yarn), and the laciness means that I don't overheat, which is great since this winter has been extremely mild so far.

The only slightly weird thing is that the sleeves have come out rather short! I followed the pattern exactly, and the body is the correct length and width - so I'm not really sure what happened there. I can style it out by pulling out the stripey cuffs of my t-shirt; but it's not really ideal, and in the future I'll have to work out an optimum sleeve length to aim for. Oh, and I did something weird when knitting the button bands and have thus double-button effect at the collar - which has turned into a happy mistake.

Overall, I'm super happy with this project, and have been wearing it nearly every day!

Project Details
Pattern: Georgia by Kim Hargreaves, Rowan 28, size XS
Needles: 3.75mm bamboo straight needles, with 3.25mm for edgings
Yarn: King Cole Merino Blend DK, red, 
Cost: pattern, yarn & needles from stash. It probably cost around £35 for yarn and pattern, but that was nearly 10 years ago!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Black linen forever.... | Clothing for Everyday Wear: L back wrap dress

A couple of years ago I did a very unusual thing in splurging on two books of sewing patterns. I've rarely bought any patterns in the last 5 years, but one afternoon I was feeling miserable and needed cheering up, and came across the full selection of Japanese sewing books published in translation at Kinokuniya in Kuala Lumpur. At the time, only a few Japanese titles were commonly available in the UK, and I'd only come across the books online. It was great to be able to browse the books in person, and I was taken by the quirky styling, pretty models, and the overall un-european aesthetic.

My favourite patterns of both books were the ones featured on the front covers. However I soon discovered that  after you're done with all the pretty pictures, the format of the books is not massively user-friendly. I learnt to sew using commercial paper patterns that you cut to size, and am not accustomed to having to trace patterns out myself. Initially I could only bear to trace out smaller separates, not all the pieces of a full dress. In July, over two years after I'd brought the books home to London, I was packing my suitcase for my return trip to Singapore and suddenly decided that then (a week before departing) was the time to make the wrap dress, just in time for my travels.

I spent a while trying to find other people's versions of this dress but only came across one; so I just had to leap in blindly. I had already purchased the fabric, a lightweight black Italian linen from Fabric House on Goldhawk Road, for about £8/m. As a sidenote, I highly recommend this smaller shop. Whilst the selection is not as vast as neighbouring Classic Textiles or A-One Fabrics, Rasheed has very interesting taste, and there is often something special to be found. He is quite game for bargaining, too!

I found the instructions difficult to follow, and ended up omitting the waist tie out of pure confusion. Instead, I sewed a simple tab and button hole, attaching a matching button on the opposite side. I made the inner ties from cotton tape. I like the simple collar band, cut on the straight; it is an extremely Japanese way of finishing a neckline. The three-quarter sleeves and the skirt are the perfect length, however, I did shorten the bodice by 1.5cm as it sat in a very bizarre place on my torso.

Here you can see the fabric a little better (turns out black is really hard to photograph, especially in the dim-but-bright winter sunlight - who knew?!). I'd bought this pretty, oversized daisy trim from Barnett Lawson, waiting alongside the black linen for over a year. But in the end, I left it off. At the ripe old age of 25, I've been finding myself loath to wear anything with a flower on it. It's not that I feel like my youth is over: women of all ages look great in flowers. But I've been feeling uncomfortable in anything too fussy or feminine recently. I hope that I'll get over this at some point, as it's slightly illogical, and renders half of my wardrobe unwearable. Meanwhile, flowers, bows, and most pretty things are out.

The verdict? Whilst arguably austere, this was been quite a successful dress to wear in 35°C heat. I love the look of the back wrap with its deep V, although it does have a tendency to slip off my shoulders. The dress was comfortable and light, perfect for the climates in Hong Kong and Singapore in July and August. Cons: I wouldn't actually recommend sewing a narrow three-quarter length sleeve in linen, as it creases horribly around the elbow. The only other slightly strange thing about this dress is the extremely boxy cut about the waist. Whilst this makes it very comfortable, I can't help suspecting that the waist tie that I omitted would have cinched in the waist and solved this problem. Had I been less rushed about making this dress, I would have altered the pattern for better waist shaping. The dress feels good to wear, but has the tendency to make me look like I've eaten too much nasi lemak.

Whilst it's not quite right for a night out, I'm happy to have made a piece of loungewear that looks better than an old T-shirt and boxer shorts. And it's also good to have made a pattern that's been on my to-sew list for so long - especially having bought the materials so long ago too! It's not quite stash busting, but it feels like it.

I'm not quite sure how we've got to December, and I returned from my trip 4 months ago - already! It's taken me that long to get round to photographing this dress, and it's not at all warm enough to wear as a winter dress, even with layering. But I'm happy that I finally got round to making this dress (and now blogging about it) - just one thing off the endless to-do list that seems to be accelerating towards the end of the year...

Project details:
Linen wrap dress
Pattern: L Back Wrap Dress from Clothing for Everyday Wear
Fabric: lightweight Italian linen from Fabric House on Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush
Haberdashery: upcycled mother of pearl buttons from my stash
Cost: £24 for fabric