New Year’s Craft Resolutions: How’d I do?

xmas2015
my 2015 in a nutshell

To tell the truth, I was seriously considering skipping this post. Is there anything more uncomfortable than looking back at your New Year’s resolutions at the end of the year? I had nearly forgotten what they were, since I made them last January, and I was afraid I’d open the old post and re-read it to find I’d totally failed at my goals.

Like most things, though, it wasn’t as stressful as I thought it’d be. I had been judicious in my choice of resolutions, and for the most part they were obtainable, and helped me grow as a crafter. So, how’d I do? I decided to assess my progress and give myself grades. Like they were back in my Peace Corps-teacher days, the grades are completely subjective and hastily decided on based on no numerical criteria whatsoever.

1. Stick to a Yarn Budget: B. At the beginning of the year, I resolved to spend no more than $35 per month on yarn. That works out to $420 per year. In fact, I came in under budget, at about $405! I found that this wasn’t a restrictive goal for me, and I probably could have pushed myself to be even more discriminating and spend less (although, when I look at everything I bought/knitted, I can’t imagine what I would have chosen to go without.) The state of my wallet after this exercise is middling, as usual, being as I am lazy about waged labor, and not much of a budgeter in general. But this resolution did help me consider my purchases more carefully, and reflect on the yarns that I like and am attracted to. I did very little magpie shopping in 2015. Instead, I bought almost entirely sweater quantities of yarn that I would not only definitely knit, but definitely wear.

This year, I’m not going to set a cap on my spending, although I’d like to spend less, maybe more like $300 for the year instead of $400. Instead, I’d like to knit from my stash before buying anything new. What I focused on in 2015 seemed to be sweater quantities, and I have the yarn for at least four sweaters sitting in my stash. I’d like to turn those piles into actual sweaters before buying anything new. I also want to give myself permission to be a tiny bit more frivolous, and experimental, with my yarn purchases. This means more single skeins of yarns I’ve never worked with before. So, in addition to knitting down my stash, the idea is to get maximum learning, and enjoyment, out of one or two skeins, instead of adding to my sweater collection.

2. Blog More: C+. This resolution was easily the one I was least successful at. I didn’t blog anywhere near once a week, let alone twice per week. However, I did publish a few posts, and a few designs, that I’m proud of, and that helped me grow tremendously as a writer (and a knitter).

I don’t know what my 2016 blogging goals are, exactly. Maybe I’ll never be the kind of blogger who posts multiple times per week, and that’s okay. The posts that I liked the best– and that generated the most heartening response– were long, and took me several days of work to finish. So, maybe I’m someone who gets, and gives, more as a writer when I give myself permission to write longer posts, but fewer of them. I won’t push myself to blog more often in 2016. What I will push myself to do is design more. This means more patterns, especially patterns like Toroni that will be easy, and available for free.

3. Define my color palette. A. Of all the resolutions, this one was the biggest success. It helps that it was fun. I love organizing my wardrobe, browsing photos and blogs for style inspiration, and navel-gazing about my own style and color choices.

Like I said a year ago, I’ll never be a head-to-toe neutrals kind of person. However, I’ve found it enormously liberating to narrow my color choices. In the past, I mistook “variety” for “style,” assuming it was necessarily boring to wear the same silhouettes, or the same colors, over and over again. 2015, though, was a big year for “capsule wardrobes,” minimalism, and “uniform dressing,” and I wasn’t immune to the bug. I found this blog extremely helpful in thinking about color, and started to conceptualize my look as radiating around a few main colors that I always love, that look good on me, and that can be combined nicely. For me, they’re dark blues, burnt oranges, tans and charcoals, with accents of pale pink, coral, and red.

colors

This doesn’t mean I’m only “allowed” to buy these colors. Rather, these are the colors I’ve always gravitated towards, and I’ve given myself permission to honor that whenever I feel like it. If it means having a pile of accessories and sweaters that are all orange, why not? The color gets me compliments and makes me feel great. Same with navy or marine blue. Since making this switch, I’m finding it easier to let go of old clothes that aren’t working for me anymore, to resist impulse purchases that I know won’t fit my aesthetic, and to wear what I do own and love more often, and in more combinations.

books

4. Grow my library. A. Fun fun fun. Budgeting more money, and time, for good books has been an investment in my creativity, knowledge, and well-being. I added about a dozen books to my craft library this year, thanks in part to my awesome stepfather who works at Powell’s Books (if you’re ever there, go to the 4th floor and say hi to John!). My most recent additions have been Dutch Traditional Ganseys (so many knits and purls!!!), by Stella Ruhe, and 200 Fair Isle Motifs (such a beautiful book, and so intuitively organized!), by Mary Jane Mucklestone. Next on my list: this one and this one.

How’d everyone else do for their 2015? Any new goals for 2016?

Fashion Revolution Part 2: My Summer İpek Dress Is Ready!

darling little pleats on my custom Fashion Revolution dress
darling little pleats on my custom Fashion Revolution dress

A couple weeks ago (okay, a month ago), I posted about my Fashion Revolution project: a custom dress, in collaboration with Mila Ateva, a local designer. Last week I went in for my first fitting, and yesterday, the dress was ready.

This isn’t my first item that Mila’s custom-made. She also made my wedding veil:

photo by Vesselina Nikolaeva
photo by Vesselina Nikolaeva

Since I wasn’t the one who made the dress, its creation seems a bit magic to me. In my head, I pictured the mandarin collar, the fitted shoulders, and the pleats above the bust. Mila suggested finishing the pleats with dainty little seams, adding a shirttail hem, and gentle slits along the side of the skirt. And then, there it was, just like I had imagined.

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dream dress!

This was a big contrast from my usual shopping experiences at large retailers, where I set out with a specific idea of what I want, which usually isn’t on the racks. Often, I’m tempted to buy something that only mostly meets my needs, since I can’t find anything that’s 100% perfect.

Don’t get me wrong. I have some fantastic clothes that aren’t custom-made, and that I didn’t even shop carefully for. I recently scored a hand-me-down buttercream silk blouse, from my friend Vesi, that’s turned out to be the piece I never realized I had to have in my closet. One of my all-time favorite shirts was a flannel button-down that I found on the ground in Portland, and wore into shreds (which, in turn, was a replacement for the hand-me-down flannel from my mom, which she was wearing when she delivered me).

My summer dress is neither mass-market, or an accident of fate. It is 100% perfect, because I chose every detail, and because it was made to fit me, and me only, exactly the way I specified. The sensation of wearing it is hard to describe without sounding melodramatic. From the beginning, I wanted this project to be accessible, and to show bespoke clothing as something other than elitist and fussy. So I was careful to pick a durable fabric, and design something practical. Still, the feeling of luxury when I first put on the dress was inescapable. It fit. Not just in the sense that I could get it over my head and button it. It fit the way my most successful sweaters have fit, like little singing Disney birds had flown through the window and dressed me in it.

perfect back pleats. Slightly wrinkled after a day of wear; I hung it up and the wrinkles faded overnight.
perfect back pleats. Slightly wrinkled after a day of wear; I hung it up and the wrinkles faded overnight.

Experiencing the miracle of a perfectly fitted garment had another, unexpected consequence. My body looked great in it, which made me like my body better. Usually, a ready-made shift dress that fits in the shoulders will be tight and squirmy around my hips. Consequently, a dress that fits my hips will droop gloomily off my shoulders. When this happens, it’s easy to blame my body for being “wrong” or “weird.” “If my butt were just smaller, or my legs were longer, or my bust were bustier…” I’d wager that almost everyone’s had similar thoughts when shopping.

But seeing myself in my new dress, I wasn’t just “okay” with how I looked in it. I felt awesome. The front placket hugged my shoulders perfectly, while the body of the dress draped in all the right places.

Taking charge of our relationship with clothes, instead of being passive consumers, isn’t just smart or moral. It’s also an act of feminist rebellion. No really! Stick with me. Renouncing fast fashion, and demanding a transparent supply chain, is a crucial step towards ensuring that garment workers get the pay and treatment that honors their humanity, and their skills. Most of those garment workers are women. On the other side of the chain, women in the industrialized world can revolt against consumerism, which, by design, poisons people against themselves by enforcing rigid and unattainable definitions of beauty.

Whether it means making your own clothes, ordering a custom piece, or just taking your current wardrobe to a local tailor for alterations, I hope I’ve shown that there are alternatives to just meekly accepting what’s on the rack. I feel very lucky that I had the time and resources to commission this dress, rather than settling for something shoddy. Unfortunately, most people aren’t so lucky, and quality clothing has become a luxury, the same way healthy food has.

On an individual level, I felt it was important to show what I can do to challenge consumerism. Any effort helps, whether it’s replacing a button, or even washing your clothes less frequently (check out the fantastic #10WEARS1WASH project for more information).

Ultimately, I don’t think we can find a solution to the current crisis without dismantling the entire capitalist, neo-liberal framework that exists worldwide, and, increasingly, in our minds. For me, this project was one step towards creating the world I want to live in, but only a step. The real question remains, how can we shift the paradigm that is alienating us from the things we need to survive, and devalues human beings?

In the meantime, I don’t plan on buying another dress anytime soon. I have all that I need.

Inspiration Everywhere: The Rugs of Chiprovtsi in HAND/EYE

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my favorite of Yulka’s rugs

Last weekend Lorenzo and I went to Chiprovtsi, a little town in the Balkan Mountains famous for its handwoven rugs. The trip happily came just before this piece I wrote about Chiprovtsi carpets was published on HAND/EYE Magazine‘s website.

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back in September, learning how Yulka’s loom works (and wearing my featherweight)

Our first visit was in September, with my in-laws, to see Chiprovtsi’s famous carpets and meet some of the people who still make them. Going back this weekend was a little poetic. Back in September, it was warm and green. Everyone’s red peppers were hung out to dry and the farmers took their goats out to graze every morning. Lorenzo and I weren’t even planning on getting married that year, and I was writing a piece on Chiprovtsi in the hopes that HAND/EYE would publish it. Yulka and Yordanka, the women we met there, were anxiously waiting to hear from UNESCO about whether Chiprovtsi’s carpets had won the intangible heritage award they applied for.

This time, we arrived to a layer of fresh snow. The goats were snuggled in their stables with their new babies, and instead of fresh salad we ate pickles, sausage and potatoes. Chiprovtsi had won its UNESCO status, and we were there to pick out a carpet, handwoven by Yulka, a present from my mother-in-law in honor of our hasty wedding in November.

wintertime goat snuggles
wintertime goat snuggles

You can read more about Chiprovtsi, and see more photos of their beautiful traditional rugs here on HAND/EYE. Here’s our perfect kitty enjoying our new kilim.emiChiprovtsi

Knitting Is A Right, Not A Privilege

my inspiration
my inspiration

An article has been circulating that has fueled a lot of discussion among knitters, entitled “Never Say This To a Knitter. Really, Just Don’t Do It.” What exactly are you never supposed to say to a knitter? You might think it’s a remark about him/her having too much time on their hands, or an ageist joke about who, stereotypically, is “supposed” to knit. It’s neither of those. The author, Anne Miller, argues—and many knitters agree—that the comment she least wants to hear (and does hear, often) is “You should sell your knitting!”

The first thing I noticed is that the article was published by Yahoo! Makers, which is apparently a thing that exists (neat, I guess). The headline is classic clickbait, designed to compel and stir up discussion. But the article’s thesis, that knitters are tired of hearing well-intentioned randos insist that they should commodify their craft, is familiar and resonant. I’ve heard, and felt, the same sentiment many times.

When someone tells me I should sell my handknits, I take that for what it is: a compliment. But sometimes the complimenter persists, and wants to know why I haven’t pursued this brilliant business plan already. This might be someone who, earlier, told me they never spend more than a few dollars on a t-shirt, or that they think $100 is way too much to pay for a pair of jeans. Since textiles have become one of the cheapest commodities on earth, and the people who make our clothing are increasingly denied living wages or safe working conditions, I don’t know where someone would get the idea that making clothes, by hand, is a smart moneymaking venture. That’s when it veers into uncomfortable territory, when I have to explain how much money and time actually goes into a handknit item, and how much such a thing would have to cost in order to bring in even a small profit. When I explain that I do sell patterns for my designs, and that I’m happy to teach anyone to knit who wants to learn and will pay for my time, that’s usually where the conversation ends.

So I very much relate to this piece, as did plenty of people on the WEBS Facebook page, where I first saw the article posted. Most people who comment on my knitting are not interested in having a conversation about their role, and moral responsibility, within the garment supply chain. Knitting, like any textile art, draws you closer to the beginning of that chain. Making a garment changes your perspective on clothing, and about how much of yourself you’re willing to invest in something you love.
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Svalbard Chapter 1: Listening to My Yarn

Aviary from Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington
Aviary from Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington

In the last weeks of 2014, just before I took my solemn yarn budget vow, I was bewitched by this yarn from Tolt, and had to have it in a sweater quantity.

Even though I hadn’t totally devised my yarn resolutions yet, Aviary fit a lot of my new, picky, criteria for a good purchase. It’s a limited-run farm yarn, which meant whatever I made out of it would be totally unique, something no one else had. It was undyed, a captivating off-white with little slubs of natural black (the blackest natural black I’ve ever seen). So, it’s a neutral, which will be versatile in my wardrobe, it’s 100% undyed wool, and even better, it’s yarn that tells a story.

I tend to pick out yarn before I pick out a pattern. If I love a yarn but not enough to make a sweater out of it, I’ll buy one skein for a hat or cowl, or to keep in my stash in case I need to make a gift. I spend tons of time browsing patterns, but I rarely decide that I’m definitely going to make a particular pattern and then start shopping for yarn.

In her book Sweater Design in Plain English (which is sadly not in my library), Maggie Righetti talks about the process of letting yarn tell you what it wants to be. She suggests spending time with the yarn before you start knitting, kind of like how you should spend a long time playing with a litter of kittens before you decide which one to take home. Working in yarn stores, I practiced the art of “spending time with yarn.” And I’ve found Righetti’s advice to be true. Give yarn the time and space, and it will tell you what it wants to be.

This idea came back to me recently as I was reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, a new book with the power to make cleaning house exciting even to me. Like Righetti does with yarn, Kondo attributes a sort of sentience to material things. She advises the reader to handle each and every one of their possessions, in order to “bring the item to life.” She also thanks her handbag when she gets home from work at night, and she prays to her clients’ dwellings when she goes on her private tidying consultations.

seriously, find a copy of this book
seriously, find a copy of this book

Before my Aviary arrived in the mail, I had a pattern 90% picked out. With a yarn like this one, the pressure of picking the perfect pattern can be intimidating. This was a beautiful yarn, that might never be available to me again, so I had to get it exactly right. Tolt described the yarn as between DK and worsted, and I wanted a garment that would show off the yarn’s natural irregularities in color and texture. Most of all, I wanted something I would wear all the time, something that made a statement, but was simple enough to wear every day. I’d had my eye on Dusk, and from this description, this yarn seemed like a perfect match for the pattern.

When Aviary finally arrived, though, something about my pattern choice just wasn’t working with the yarn in my hand. It was heavier than I’d anticipated; the 200yd skeins weighed 120 grams, not 100. The wool itself reminded me of Bluefaced Leicester: long, silky fibers with a little sheen. A pullover in this yarn would be oppressively warm, and something in plain stockinette stitch, with lots of ease, might end up hanging forlornly, losing the yarn’s specialness. Instead of casting on my project right away, I put my six new skeins in a little heap next to the couch, for easy reach, and periodically would pick one up, pet it, and listen to see if it was ready to tell me what it wanted to be.

By chance, I was admiring a design I’ve loved for awhile, when the yarn called to me from its little camp by the couch. Svalbard is a cardigan, in an allover ribbed pattern that would help the garment hold its shape while playing up the slubs and subtle stripes. The sweater looked classic, but the pattern was deliciously complicated, according to many project notes on Ravelry. This was it. The yarn told me what it wanted to be.

aviary2

I’m about 80% finished with my Svalbard, which I’ll talk more about in another entry. So far, it’s one of my more successful pairings of a yarn with a pattern. How do you pick your projects? Do you choose a pattern first, or a yarn? Have you ever mismatched a yarn with a pattern (I know I have!), and what did it teach you?

My 2015 Crafting Resolutions

photo by George Chelebiev. Check back in a few days for the hat pattern!!
photo by George Chelebiev. Check back in a few days for the hat pattern!!

I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions (and I almost never stick to them if I do). In 2014, I made a point of not making a single resolution. After about a year of living in the USA again, I was disillusioned with America’s achievement-centered culture. Bulgarians don’t generally define themselves by their jobs, or their exercise routines, or how often they floss their teeth. Americans, on the other hand, are supposed to be always striving to do more, to be better, thinner, richer, more successful. Life was not a series of moments, to be enjoyed as much as possible with others, but instead a competition, to be won. So, in preparation for starting a new life in Sofia, I decided that no resolution at all was the most appropriate choice.

However, resolutions can be a great thing. I appreciate the American tendency to be proactive, and that Americans like to feel in charge of their own lives. That mentality has definitely served me well.

I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution last year. Still, I managed to move to Europe with my sweetheart, find an apartment and a great group of friends in my new home, get a job, quit the job to be a freelance writer, get married, and knit six sweaters. 2015 is the first year of my adult life that I don’t have an imminent job change, location change, or relationship change on the horizon. So it seems like a great year to focus on what I really want and go for it.

Because themes are fun, I’ve decided my New Year’s resolutions will all be knitting-related. It’s been 2015 for a whole week, so I’ve had some time to really think about these. Here they are:

1. Stick to a yarn budget.

Unless I have a steady supply of store credit (shout-out to my WEBS days), I’m a careful yarn shopper by necessity. My resources are limited, and living in Bulgaria means that I can either choose Bulgarian or Turkish wool, or pay for shipping and customs to import the yarn I want. My stash is fairly modest, and for the most part all my yarn purchases turn into finished products eventually.

Even still, I only have a vague idea of what I spend on yarn each year. And, since I’m generally concerned with consumption, and more philosophical questions surrounding materialism and ownership, I could always benefit from reflection and awareness of my buying habits. So this year I’m putting myself on a yarn budget of $35/month. That might sound extravagant, or painfully strict, depending on who’s reading this. Budgeting is very personal, and based on my own knitting habits and income, I’ve decided that’s a decent amount for me. It’s certainly less than I spent in 2014, because part of this exercise is to push myself to be creative and deliberate in my choices, and to work from my stash when possible.

I’m not counting tools or books in this number, just yarn. I almost never buy tools anyway, once I have them, and the only tool on my list for 2015 is a good pair of fabric scissors. Books we’ll get to in a minute. This gives me about $100 every three months, which is usually more than enough for a sweater quantity.

And, since I’m an open book, I’ll be tallying my budget and my purchases right here on my blog for all the world to see (click on the little burger icon at the top of my homepage).

2. Blog more.

Which brings me to my next resolution. My goal for 2014 was to start a knitting blog, so, mission accomplished. But, my updates have been sporadic, and for 2015, I’m reflecting on why I started blogging in the first place, and how to motivate myself to update regularly.

At some point around 2011, I started wanting more out of my knitting, and myself, than just a pile of FO’s. I wanted to learn, and grow, as a crafter, incorporating fiber arts into every aspect of my life, and pushing myself to learn more about the supply chain that feeds my addiction, instead of being a passive consumer. This blog should be a record of that growth process, not just a place to show off what I make, but to collect things that inspire me and bring all my disparate beliefs, tastes and desires together.

Concretely, this means blogging at the very least once per week, although 2-3 times is better. I’ll also be taking care to organize my updates into categories, including inspiration/wants, projects, techniques, environment, etc. Most importantly, I won’t limit my writing to strictly about knitting, although knitting will surely work its way into every post. Instead, I’ll try to integrate more inspiration from the rest of life into my posts.

3. Define my color palette.

As a yarn store clerk, the type of customer I encountered most often was the color-cautious knitter (and by extension, the color-cautious dresser). I’d often spend several minutes assuring a customer that she would look gorgeous in teal or burgundy. She might look longingly at the brighter color, before finally insisting that she needed navy because she’d “wear it more.”

This was a baffling new perspective for me, since I’m afraid of lots of things, but color isn’t one of them. I’ve always gravitated towards bright pinks, reds and oranges. Particularly as a knitter, my first instinct is to pick the color that will be the most vibrant and fun to look at while I’m knitting it. Learning to knit was a dangerous and liberating new outlet for my color cravings, since I could knit garments in colors I couldn’t find in stores.

Like many things that seem like a great idea when you’re 20, my color choices didn’t always stand the test of time. Plenty of projects I stripped for parts before they were finished, as their impracticality became more apparent. As I get older I’m trying to streamline my entire wardrobe, not just my knits, into a collection of pieces I absolutely love and wear all the time. I’ll never be someone who wears head-to-toe neutral, and I don’t think I’ll ever like the way black looks against my skin. But, I no longer dismiss neutrals out of hand.

I’ll be asking a lot of my clothes, and my knits, in 2015. I used to be susceptible to impulse buys in wacky prints and colors, either second-hand or (gasp!) fast fashion. But there’s nothing like moving to Europe, then moving back to the USA, and then moving back to Europe, to make you think really, really hard about the things you buy. Now I’ve resolved to add to my wardrobe only items that I love enough to hypothetically bring across an ocean. I want colors that flatter me, that coalesce with my entire wardrobe, and that typify my style. Whenever possible, I’d also like to favor naturally-dyed yarns, and for neutral pieces I’ll look for un-dyed wool.

4. Grow my library.

Besides Knitter’s Almanac, which I’ve bought, lent out, and bought again at least twice, I’ve never been motivated to buy books on craft. With my favorite novels, I’m the same way, carrying the story in my head, but picking up and giving away ragged paperbacks willy-nilly. It was mostly out of necessity, since I did so much moving around in my twenties. But I’ve missed out on quite a bit by neglecting my reading list, and I’m ready to start building a library that will serve me for the rest of my knitting, and reading, life.

This is part of why I’m adhering to a strict yarn budget this year, because I want to prioritize great books instead. As much as I love making, I want 2015 to be just as much about learning. At the end of the year, I don’t need another pile of sweaters (although I’m sure I’ll have one). What I need is to grow my own understanding of craft, and what kind of crafter I want to be, and that means growing my library.

My Christmas list included no yarn, and three beautiful books. First, Clara Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, which I’ve thumbed through in yarn stores and libraries countless times and wanted to own. Then, Cirilia Rose’s gorgeous new book Magpies, Homebodies and Nomads, and finally, a re-print from Schoolhouse Press of Anatolian Knitting Designs, by Betsey Harrell. A classic stand-by, a new masterpiece, and a nearly-forgotten little gem. In shopping for books, I’m inspired by my grandmother back in Portland. Her craft room held a library of knitting reference books, old volumes of traditional regional knits, and stacks of dog-eared back issues of Vogue Knitting. In addition, Gramma collected handsome art volumes, and beloved children’s stories, which all felt right at home among the knitting books. It might take more than a year, but someday I’d like a library as indispensable and eclectic as hers.

So, for 2015: Less yarn, more writing, more reading, and prettier colors. Do you have any knitting resolutions this year?