Monday, 26 November 2012

re group

I hear and use that expression regroup all the time. My visual for that word (do other people carry mental images for the conceptual meaning of words or is it just me?) is like a whole bunch of little balls that disperse and then come back together in an orderly fashion. I use it when my thoughts are scattered, when I've taken on new information that's blown apart my original plan or idea, when I need to go away and think something through and come up with a new and better response to something.

But of course, regrouping isn't just a thing that happens in my head. The term is, I understand, a military one and it does carry that tactical implication for me. Something has knocked those little balls in my head out of alignment to create the need to regroup and while the language of battle and attack isn't really appropriate to my life in the strictly military sense, some days it does feel like I am charging over the hill to an enemy onslaught.

So this last weekend I went off and regrouped. After a couple of weeks of solo parenting and lots of work and other stresses I stepped away to sew and nap and eat. I let all those those defences fall away and disperse so they could come back together in a more useful way. Because that's the thing that's hard when you are right in the firing line isn't it, the impossibility of letting things really fall apart to you can put them back together properly.

I mean, on one level it's all about the making for me. I love getting a whole bunch of sewing done, and seeing what other people make, the talk of patterns and techniques and the fabric fondling. And it's a lot about the food - and not because it's fancy or elaborate or beautifully prepared. It's about being fed by other people, about other people taking responsibility for it, and the freshness of new tastes.

So as I was coming home I was thinking a lot that camp is about going to a place where I feel like I really can let all the balls drop. The best camps for me are those ones where I feel completely and unconditionally embraced. Not so much so I can become dysfunctional (no rocking in the corner) but so that I can be myself without the defences that are a routine part of every other part of life. And it's not even that I need praise, though it's always nice to be appreciated, what I really need is to not have to think about what I need to be for someone else. To let it all go so I can hear and think about what I really want in all this. I don't want to be judged and I don't want to have to win someone's approval (or get anyone's dinner or deal with the not eating of said dinner or the comment on why I might have made said dinner or the inner dialogue about dinner in general). Maybe that's a comment on me, and what my life is like these days, but I suspect it's true at least in part for every one who comes to camp.

I think I've always thought of camp as a fairly robust environment, but I was thinking this weekend how different each camp is and thus how easily the variables can influence it. I'm beginning to see the group a bit like those balls, they fall away between camps and re form anew for each gathering. There's a pretty big group of people who are regular campers, so each camp takes only some from the pool, and the dynamics of individuals and their relationships really change things and what their coming together means. There's a really different energy to some camps and as the years roll on I'm tuning in to that at a much finer level. I'm also increasingly aware that there's no telling ahead of time what will make any one camp truly special. Why sometimes I do more or think less or sleep more or worry less. Why sometimes organising these adventures feels like the greatest gift, and other times almost (but not quite) like a burden. It should have ceased to amaze me how much the inside of one's head can shape one's experience of the world outside it. And yet it hasn't.

So here's the obligatory stuff I made shot - cobbled from live instagramming of finished objects (a brilliant way to avoid the getting home and collapsing and then finding all the stuff already run off to new homes before photographic evidence can be collected).
november 2012 craft camp
There isn't much in there that's too exciting. A bunch of tops for my work wear wardrobe, a good serviceable black summer shirt, some plain 3/4 length pants, a few things for other people (including some very cool swim trunks for Wil and a shiny red raincoat for Amy). There was also some not blog worthy mending and altering to round things out.

My overlocker ceased functioning on the Friday and aside from the inconvenience of not having it, the whole experience kind of messed with my plans and head in an unhelpful and time consuming way (ie I had to walk away for a bit and go watch a movie on the iPad to decompress after multiple rethreadings, needle changes and a lot of swearing). Luckily I had some generous support from the rest of the overlocking crew, and as usual a few other bail outs with tools and notions.

Thanks as usual goes to my fellow campers for sharing the dream, the fun, the laughter and the swear words, for driving and cooking and tolerating the snoring (and to the blogless too - you know who you are and so do I).

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

frock o'clock

I'm not a huge frock wearer. While they make me feel dressed up and fancy, I don't feel quite like my real, usual jeans and t-shirt self. I'm not used to being careful and elegant so it makes me self conscious that I may be experiencing wardrobe or taste malfunctions. It makes me think a lot about how I look and I'm not very comfortable doing that.

But I do like to make a frock now and then - particularly round this time of year when the weather is warming up and parties are coming round. It's also good sewing and fashion discipline to stretch myself now and then into areas that I'm less comfortable in. Sometimes it confirms what I generally hold true - that a particular style doesn't suit me or that a fabric type is NO FUN to sew. Other times I surprise myself and produce something that I wear over and over again.

Over the last few years I have been motivated to try that bit harder for the Christmas dinner held by my incredibly wonderful sometimes employers at Tessuti Fabrics. While it isn't a rule exactly, the reality is that we all like to wear something handmade, somewthing special and while the venue and food each year has been absolutely stunning (Maha this year, Longrain last year and Coda the year before), its the clothes that make the night.

This year I decided to try out a pattern I'd looked at a few times but not made up in Burda Style (8/2011). Because it was a leap for me stylewise I decided to make a toile which is something I totally believe is worth it and I often advise students to do but which I am generally too lazy to do myself. Luckily I had a very large piece of unwanted jersey I was prepared to sacrifice becasue the dress uses 3.5m of 150cm wide knit. I knew straight out that the jersey I had (100% cotton, regular T-shirt weight) was too heavy and stiff for the volume and gather of the dress, but I decided to be thrifty and use it anyway.

I haven't made a lot of Burda patterns, and those that I have have never given great results. As usual I found the pattern instructions scant and at times confusing. The front skirt of the dress is actually folded at the front hem so when the instructions went from referring to the right and wrong sides of the fabric to the inside and outside of the fabric I had no idea if they were referring to the inside or outside of the main skirt or the narrower piece folding back up off the hem. In the end I had to just make it up as seemed roughly appropriate.

The skirt has a number of pleats front and back, but also has elastic through the waist to draw in the significant volume. Only there were no instructions as to how to add the elastic beyond a cryptic partial dotted line close to the waist on one pattern piece marked 'elastic casing'. In the end I tried 3 different methods of attaching the elastic (a casing sewn into the waist seam sitting on the outside, a casing attached to the waist seam allowance on the inside and the elastic sewn directly to the seam allowance on the inside), all of which gave what I considered to be unsatisfactorily lumpy and unattractive results. In the end I made a wide sash to cover the entire waist seam and tied to the side where the front cross over ended. My consultant advisors gave the sash the thumbs up as the saving grace.

The toile also revealed a weird quirk of pattern drafting. The back skirt was longer towards the side seam than the centre back to allow for the partially folded hem where it turned up like the front skirt. Oddly, the extra length was added at the waist not hem, which meant the side seam hung horribly off grain and twisted to the back.

Given the inappropriate fabric I used for the toile, the poor instructions I'd had to interpret, the weird drafting, the funny waist and the fashion leap I had some real reservations about continuing. But those who saw the toile said they really like the dress on me and encouraged me to go ahead with an improved version.

Key to this was fabric choice. I chose a viscose elastine knit that was fine, soft and drapey (33 Shades Only from Tessuti). I adore the dyed finish of this fabric and its multiple shades of grey and had snapped up some almost as soon as it had arrived in store thinking it would make a lovely summer top but I could see it would work brilliantly in the dress. It sewed up really well, and with some knit stay tape even the hems and flat felled seams weren't too hard to manage. I altered the back skirt to move the extra length to the hem where it belonged, lowered the front bodice to accommodate my fuller bust line, removed the centre back skirt seam and added a small box pleat to balance the knife pleats across the back and added a quite firm band through the front cross over and neck to avoid sagging and wardrobe malfunctions.

The fabric in the finished dress is nice to wear - soft and drapey without being weighty for volume - and received a lot of compliments. But I can't say I felt comfortable in it. For a start the sash didn't want to stay nicely in place and I couldn't think of a good way to fix it without ruining the flow of the dress or making the sash hang off a few stitches. I find clothes that require adjusting maddening.

Maybe it was this self consciousness as well as the colder than ideal weather that led me into an eleventh hour machine knitting frenzy to produce a matching cardigan. The dress sleeves are short but too voluminous to fit well under any of my existing cardigans, and besides, none of them had the right feel for an evening out. While I had borrowed not one but two grey versions of the Doublet cardigan by Brianna Read, neither were the right shade of grey. I figured with 33 shades in the fabric I'd be right, but the greys in the dress have a distinct blue undertone and neither of the doublets did.

Then I remembered how last year when I had taken Bri's workshop and knit my first doublet I'd bought some of silk linen to knit a  dressier summer version of the doublet in a dark blue grey. Of course I hadn't actually knit it and it was now a perfect match to the dress. So at midday Friday with the clock ticking I cast on. With moments to spare I cast off side one before school pick up, and cast on side two at about 8.30 when the kids were in bed.
 I washed the pieces and laid them out before bed. Due to an unexpectedly long afternoon nap I didn't finish seaming until just before I left to go out to dinner.

Aside from one dropped stitch the knitting was surprisingly trouble free. In hindsight I could have slightly tightened the gauge but seeing as how I didn't even swatch (wicked!!) and the whole thing was completed including washing in a little over 24 hours I can't really complain. It has a lovely weighty drape, a nice silky sheen and will get a lot of use I am sure in the warmer months. I was certainly glad to have it on the cooler than hoped for night.

Ellen took the photo of me at the top of the post just before I headed out and looking at it I don't think the doublet really flatters me, or shows the dress to its best advantage. I wish I had a doublet free photo for comparison! The (slightly) slimming effect of the sash on the waistline and the volume in the skirt is lost, making me look more apple shaped that I am in reality. Perhaps a warming shawl might have been a better choice, though I love the doublet both from a wearing and design point of view, so maybe I just need to suck it up a bit and enjoy the party!

Sunday, 4 November 2012



Its easy to get lost in the waves. to tune in to the next onslaught, to cling against the next back wash. And when the surf's really pounding it's enough to make it from one lull to the next without losing my nerve.

I'm always hedging about where is the best the place to be - out deep past the break line or closer to shore? I know I'd rather be deep because nothing beats riding those enormous almost breaking rollers. But it scares the crap out of me when I am in over my head and something breaks down on me and I get caught in a pull I have no hope of resisting. So sometimes I figure I'll just hang back where at least I can stand, surely that's safer. And then some crasher catches me behind the knees and I'm eating sand and grazing my thighs.


The here and now obscures the longer range patterns, the waves seem to override the tides.

As this awful awful year starts to march towards the end I'm doing my best to look out over the waves and think about that tide.


I'm contemplating a future without knitting, at least without the kind of unbounded enthusiastic knitting I've known for the last decade, thanks to arthritis and some compound tendon and bursar injuries to my shoulder and neck. And my desire to rail against that is battling with my acceptance that on some things the tide just goes out.

Either way, any substantial improvement that may be coming is a long way off - so much further than I anticipated when I was told back in May to lay off the needles for a few months. I shed quite a lot of yarn a while back but I fear even what I retained may last me a lifetime and still not get used.


I'm going to have to be very strategic about what I knit if I take the needles back up - focusing on the things I really want and need.

The two projects I abandoned back in May have been taunting me for a while. The second half of a second sock in cute black and red striped yarn I dyed literally years ago for the purpose really needs to be finished. I have such bad luck in retaining hand knit socks and these ones actually fit and I love them. I'll be keeping them in the hopes I will get them done one day.


The other is my partially knit Aranami shawl. I adore this pattern. Adore. I love the colours of the yarn, I love the wave motif from afar, the garter ridged scallops up close. It makes me think of waves and clouds and mountain ridges, of raked garden pebbles and knitting. The construction is clever and neat, the finished shawl a useful wardrobe piece.

And even though I have knitted a lot of the shawl, the reality is that there is an awful lot to go and if I can only knit a very little - this is not the project I want to use all my stitches on.


When I started the project I cast on at the same time as Amanda, and we had a mini knit along. I started out strong, but she overtook me. Now her shawl is finished, and it is stunning. Her looser tension compared to mine suits the design better and has made it a good size.


She came to visit me yesterday to tell me she just doesn't love the yarn. She enjoyed knitting the project and loves the way it looks but the rustic roughness of the yarn just isn't her thing. In an act of amazing generosity she's given her completed shawl to me.

She knows a thing or two about tides and wanted her shawl to go to someone who valued the work not just from an end product perspective but from the knowing all the stitches way.

I couldn't be more honoured or touched. I value the work, and I know what each stitch means, now more than ever. Thank you so much Amanda xx

Honored to receive