The last few posts have glanced backwards, toward the historical: Cary Grant and WWII, sheep in the White House’s early days, the arousing side effects of the 19th-century sewing machine. But behind the scenes I’ve been stitching away and planning summer projects, so it’s time for a little DIY check-in—and a cry for help.
1) My Bellows Cardigan
Inspired by my earlier post on traditional aran sweaters, knitting the Bellows Cardigan has been a dream. The yarn (O-Wool’s Balance in Sapphire) is a perfect almost-heathered navy, and holding the wool/cotton yarn double (i.e., two strands at a time) has meant not only beautiful chunky stitch definition but also a thrillingly quick growth rate—it’s only taken about a month. (Last year, I made the mistake of knitting my very first sweater in a fingering-weight yarn, so anything less than that 6-month-long process feels fast.)
The Bellows is so close to being done, and all has been going swimmingly… until yesterday. After spending a whole day on the button band and collar, I confidently cast off only to realize that the front was laying all wrong. While the front and neck edges were on the circular needle, it had been hard to tell if things were aligning, but I forged ahead just assuming it would all work out. Alas they did not. The button band is much shorter than the front pieces, causing the whole thing to warp upwards (see photo).
Truth be told, I might have predicted this. I am not a great finisher. I think I get so excited to be done that I just put my head down and race to the finish line. What I am learning, though—what I desperately need to learn!—is that the finishing steps should not be quick. Steps like weaving in ends, blocking (soaking and air-drying), seaming, collars, button bands, etc. are not just like dotting i’s and crossing t’s. They are crucial! They are the difference between a garment you’ll wear and one you won’t, between a gift you’ll give away proudly and one you’ll hem and haw about.
So, duh, I should approach finishing with the same patience and care that I try to bring to the rest of the project.
With all that in mind, I’m planning to pull out the whole button band and redo it. The prospect of this was crushing when I thought about it yesterday, but now in the morning light it actually sounds fun—I have the opportunity to do it really well now!
And that means not just diving right back in but taking a moment to diagnose what went wrong (too few stitches stretched across the length of the front edges) and learn how to proceed in a smarter way. So I’m going to re-visit a Fringe post about button bands from last month, even though it’s about a totally different style of band. (I could use Karen’s words of encouragement: “You’ll never regret taking the time to get it right!”) And I’m going to swatch, and measure, and calculate, and trust the numbers. THEN, I’ll cast back on and finish it up slowly and carefully.
What do you think? Does that sound like a reasonable plan? Am I overlooking a quicker fix—like can something this severe be saved with blocking? Are there other tips/tricks/fundamentals that could help? Please chime in in the comments (or email me—email@example.com) if you have any advice! Seriously, please!
2. Waves of Pleasure / Waves of Work
After last week’s post about women, sewing machines, and morally dangerous movements in 19th-century textile factories, I wanted to make something that would honor both the pleasures and the pains of the seamstresses’ labor. So I’ve gotten started by conceptualizing, sketching out some ideas, and choosing materials.
I’m not looking to replicate their experience exactly (and if I were, I would probably be too chicken to blog about it here—#NSFW!) but I want to create a visual memento to capture the era, the art, and the rhythm. So I’m thinking it’ll be a machine-sewn piece that is hyper-repetitive and non-functional. It won’t exactly be representational, but it will work with abstracted figures of waves and feet—the steady feet that pumped the treadle of those industrial machines.
The materials (see top right photo) will include:
*a floral fabric from my stash (a visual reference to the images of femininity that emerged in that era)
*some ivory lace from my grandmother’s sewing bin (a nod to all generations of crafters who have come before me—and also a whimsical detail to represent their secret pleasures)
*and a range of black, brown, and grey thread (to symbolize the dim prospects of the overworked laborer)
So that’s that—I’m excited to start the Waves and finish the Bellows, and then to move ahead with all of the projects and posts lined up for the next few months. Stay tuned!
Thank you thank you thank you—