A small, sustainable wardrobe: special occasions

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

I don’t know about you, but I only attend a handful of special occasions these days. This year, I have had to dress up for one christening, one fancy dress party, one 40th birthday bash and I have our Christmas party still to come. The days of all our friends getting married and naming babies are long gone. The days of endless university formal halls and May balls are even further in the past. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I went to a black tie do. I no longer need a selection of cocktail and floor length gowns.

Not that I ever had a particularly large one. I remember one ex-boyfriend commenting poisonously at a college ball about the fact that I was wearing that old thing again. The injustice of men being able to trot out the exact same tux time and again, while women are supposed to look different each and every function is not lost on me. Luckily I didn’t particularly care about such conventions then, and I don’t now. If you have a single outfit that you feel fabulous in, then wear it again and again. Getting all dressed up is for your benefit, not anyone else’s. You are not required to put on a show.

I have precisely one special occasion dress in my wardrobe. I made it out of some beautiful Thai silk that my dad brought back from a trip abroad. It is simple and strappy and almost backless and I adore it. If I need a dress in a hurry – and the last time I wore it I had exactly one day’s notice – I know I can slip it on. I keep all the things to go with it – sheer tights, for example – at the back of my drawer, and it is my beautiful, reliable fall-back option.

Having said that, I haven’t worn it once this year. When I knew that the christening was coming up, I timed the making of a new Sharpen Your Pencils dress to coincide with the date. Something smart and new is just as fun to don as something fancy. I just dressed it up with some gold jewellery, heels and a pashmina. It has been worn to work countless times since: not something I could have done with a sparklier frock.

The fancy dress party required an altogether different look, but the window of my local charity shop offered up the perfect second hand find, net petticoat and all. I happily be-bopped and oo-ooed my way through the backing vocals of a number of Elvis hits, fully intending to return it to the shop so that it could live to serve another party. (I say intending because my girls were not having any of it. They wanted to keep it to wear to their own parties, fancy dress or not. Needless to say, it has already had many more outings.)

The most fun, though, was dressing up for my friend’s 40th last weekend. Help! I wrote to my sister. Do you have a party dress I can borrow? She brought a little selection to our family gathering in Derbyshire and I picked out one I’d borrowed before: a gorgeous vintage-inspired frock in pink with a diamanté bow. I thought I’d just wear it with my rather clunky heels, until I remembered that another friend has the same small feet as me and a rather more extensive wardrobe. She duly turned up with a collection of heels and handbags, so I picked out a couple to finish the outfit off.

Why is it that dressing up in someone else’s things is so much more fun than wearing your own? It is like getting into costume. I have never in my life owned a pair of fake snakeskin shoes, but it was fun to be that person for a night. It was fun to wear a floaty pink dress and carry a boxy mock-croc bag. And it was fun to hand it all back again, knowing that it wasn’t going to sit reproachfully in my wardrobe for the next ten years.

The fact is that sharing is the way forward. In my experience, people aren’t precious about their things. Most people, myself included, just want things to be used. I’m always happy to lend stuff to others, particularly if it saves them from buying something that might be used just once. The sharing economy is something that we’ve heard a lot about it recent years, but it’s not new. It applies to so many areas of our lives: baby equipment, wedding veils, interview suits, a smart black dress for a funeral. Though not all are cause for celebration, these are all special occasions in that they are not (thank goodness) everyday. If you know someone who has what you need, just ask politely if you can borrow it. They might say yes, they might say no. I’ve never known anyone to say no, but I do have generous friends and family. Just be sure to make it clear that they can borrow from you, too.

The world’s resources are too stretched for us all to be buying a new frock for every occasion. There are far too many fancy dresses hanging, unworn, in our wardrobes. Of course there are companies from which you can hire designer dresses, and I would seriously consider using one of these if I needed to. But the truth is that I never have, because I’ve always been lent something lovelier.

So what can you do if you already have a wardrobe full of once-worn fancy frocks? You could pick your very favourite(s) and donate the rest to charity. You could put some up for sale. You could send an email to your friends, letting them know that they can borrow them in the party season ahead. You could organise a swap, where everyone brings and goes away with a complete and newly-configured formal outfit.

Given a conversation I had with my sister-in-law, who was highly amused by the thought of me dressed in gold, I’m not sure that my cocktail dress is going to get an outing this Christmas, either. I suspect a parcel of glittery loans will be landing on my doormat before long. I might keep an eye out at the charity shops for a pair of wear-them-once heels to buy and redonate. Sometimes the things we do for the sake of the planet can be onerous, but this is anything but. It might be a Yorkshire thing, but it’s a lot more fun borrowing and sourcing second-hand than flashing the plastic. I’m quite looking forward to the next time I get to dress up. I wonder who I’ll be?

Madeleine

Do you have a special occasion wardrobe that you rely on, or do you buy a new outfit every time? Or are you a borrower and a lender, like me? Let us know your solutions, because party season is on its way…

A-line skirt sewalong part one: gathering and cutting

Hello, and welcome to the first part of the A-line skirt sewalong. If you’re new to garment making and would like step-by-step support in making this simple skirt, you’ve come to the right place.

Please read all of the instructions both here and in the pattern booklet before cutting out your pieces.

This skirt looks lovely but different in all sorts of fabrics. The stiffer the fabric, the more it sticks out. I made a lovely structured version a couple of years ago in a boiled wool felt, which looked a bit Jetsons. This time, I’ve gone for a floppy but thick linen, which hangs beautifully. Choose your fabric according to what you want, but make sure that it’s sturdy enough to stand up to being sat on a lot, and firm enough that it won’t go baggy around the rear end too quickly.

Whatever you choose, wash it the way you’ll wash it after it’s made up, dry it, and iron it. Make sure that you have everything else that you need, too.

I’m going to assume that you’ve measured yourself and chosen a size, but if not, go and do that now.

The first thing that you need to do is print out one page of the pattern pieces. Then – and this is imperative – measure the little test box at the top of that the page. If it measures 5×5 cm, go ahead and print the rest of the pattern in the same way. If it doesn’t, check that your printer is set to print at 100% and try again. If the box is the wrong size, the pattern will be, too.

Next, cut out all of the pattern boxes and arrange them in a grid pattern. You’ll notice that each pattern box has two numbers in the top left corner. This indicates its place in the grid. The first number indicates the row, and the second indicates the column. The rows run from top to bottom and the columns from left to right. So box 1,1 is the top left hand box. Box 4,5 is on the fourth row from the top, fifth box from the left.

Then stick them all together. Try to be as accurate as you can, as this will affect the fit of your skirt. Obviously the odd millimetre doesn’t matter, but do your best.

Next, highlight the size that you are going to make. It is all too easy to cut out the wrong size, or sew the wrong dart.

Now you can cut out your pattern pieces. For this tutorial, I’ve laid out my pieces on a 45″ wide piece of fabric, as this is the simplest layout. Fold your fabric in half, along the grain (lengthways). Lie your pattern pieces out at shown below, with the fold of the fabric in line with the fold line on the pattern pieces. Remember to leave a seam allowance around all the other edges.

(If you want to use a 150cm/ 60″ wide piece of fabric, the layout is slightly more complex. Fold one side of your fabric in by 44cm/ 17″ and lay out one skirt piece as shown.

Then fold the other edge in by 44cm/ 17″ (they will overlap) and lay out the other pieces as shown. Make sure that you leave a seam allowance between the two skirt pieces. You need to place, cut, refold and place each pattern piece for this method, but it is more efficient than using a square 150cm/ 60″ piece of fabric.)

Pin or weigh down your pattern pieces so that they don’t move. Then, using either chalk or a fabric pen/pencil, draw around each piece (but not on the fold). This will be your sewing line.

Then draw another line (again, not on the fold) 1.5 cm or about half an inch outside of your sewing line. This will be your cutting line. You can make this seam allowance bigger or smaller as you choose. Personally, I like small seam allowances, but it can be handy to have a bigger one in case you want to let the skirt out later.

Along the bottom hem of the skirt, allow a bigger 6cm/ 2″seam allowance. This will allow for a nice deep hem, and for some flexibility when determining the final length of your skirt.

Go and have a cup of tea. When you get back, double check everything. Only then can you cut out your skirt and waistband pieces. You should also cut out your interfacing at this point.

Now you can unpin the paper piece from the back skirt, and transfer all the markings so that you know which seam is which later on. You also want to transfer the dart markings to the back pieces. I do this by poking a hole in the paper at several points in the dart, making dots on the fabric through the holes, and then joining the dots. Then unfold your fabric piece and flip your pattern piece over to transfer all the markings to the other half the back skirt piece. Remember that there’s a dart on the other half of the back, too.

Phew – that’s the hardest bit done. Next time, we’ll be putting in the darts and attaching the waistband.

 

The A-Line skirt pattern is now available!

It is with no small amount of excitement that I’m writing to let you know that my first ever dressmaking pattern is now for sale! You can find it in my Etsy shop. I cannot begin to tell you how much I’ve learned through this process – in fact, it could be the subject of another whole series. For now, allow me to share a couple more images with you.

We took the photos while we were on a family holiday in Derbyshire this half term. My parents booked the most beautiful house for all 14 of us, and this was the view from the kitchen windows:

So naturally it became the location for a little photoshoot. The stone steps with flowerbeds take you down from the back of the house to the lawn.

I had planned to give this skirt to Fliss, but having styled it for the photoshoot I think it’ll be filling a skirt-shaped hole in my wardrobe until I try out another pattern. It is as elegant and easy to wear as I remembered – perhaps even a little more so.

We had such a lovely time, pottering about and having a little outing every day. One day most of us went down a local mine. Another – rainbow-filled – day we spent in the grounds of Chatsworth:

And my personal highlight was our visit to Haddon Hall. I’d never been there before and I was blown away. I’ve been to a LOT of stately homes and never seen anything like this. No wonder they shoot so many period films there. I’m going to write a post all about it next week, but for now let me share just a glimpse here and there…

When we got home, I spent a couple of days finalising the pattern pdfs for the Little Flurries jumper and the A-Line skirt, before doing more pottering around my own house and garden. The week culminated in a big 40th birthday party of a friend, which meant a night away in Harrogate, before starting the Christmas knitting in front of the fire (and Doctor Who, of course) yesterday. It has been such a lovely holiday, and I feel refreshed and ready for the next couple of months.

But for now, let me leave you with one last photo of the skirt. The sewalong begins tomorrow, and you’ll find full photographed tutorials to accompany the pattern published every Tuesday in November. Do let me know if you make one, and how you get on. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you!

Madeleine

Do you have a good basic skirt pattern in your collection? Which patterns do you turn to again and again?

Little Flurries – we have a winner!

I’m delighted to announce that my Little Flurries sweater pattern is now available via my Ravelry shop and also my Etsy shop! Please see this post for further details of this 1-5 years beginners’ knitting pattern.

Thank you so much to Carol and Susanne for entering my Little Flurries giveaway. As there were just a couple of entrants, it seems churlish to pick just one, so you both have a pattern on its way to you. Happy knitting!

Madeleine

A Lined A-Line Skirt – we have a winner!

First of all, thank you to everyone who entered the ‘A Lined A-Line Skirt’ giveaway. Your interest and support is much appreciated, as always.

Congratulations to Kathleen, who is the winner! Please check your inbox for an email from me.

The launch date of the pattern has been amended ever so slightly from today to Monday 5 November. Thank you for your patience and understanding. I will post a link to it in my Etsy shop as soon as it is available for purchase.

Have a great weekend!

Madeleine

Little Flurries knitalong part one: gathering and swatching

Welcome to the Little Flurries knitalong! I’m so pleased that you’re making one, and hope that these tutorials make it a fun and confidence-building experience for the even the newest of knitters. The pattern has been designed to be as simple as possible, while still incorporating lots of details to make it a cosy, cute and comfortable sweater for the little people in your life. It is suitable for confident beginners, and assumes that you can cast on, knit, purl and bind off.

Rest assured that these tutorial posts will stay up on the blog for free indefinitely, so there’s no need to rush. Take your time and feel free to leave a comment with any questions or suggestions you might have. If you’d like to receive email notifications of future tutorials and other posts, sign up in the Join Our Community box in the sidebar/ near the bottom of your phone screen. Oh, and don’t be confused by the changing yarn colour. It seems silly to photograph and write up the process of swatching for every different design I make, so I’ve used some photos from the Snow Day tutorial, as well as some new ones.

The yarn that I’ve chosen for Little Flurries is Drops Karisma, for a number of reasons. First, it’s pure wool, which provides the structure and warmth that the pattern calls for. However, I was careful to choose a superwash wool, because I know from first hand experience that most busy parents do not have time to hand wash baby knits. Karisma can go in your machine on a delicates cycle at 40 degrees. Thank goodness for that.

However, like most superwash yarns, Karisma does have a tendency to g-r-0-w, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you wash and dry your swatch as you would wash the finished jumper. Then you can pick a smaller size/ change needles as necessary.

Second, it’s a DK yarn. When I designed this pattern’s big sister, Snow Day, I wanted a thick enough yarn to make it almost chunky, and ended up choosing Drops Alaska, which is an aran weight. That would have been far too thick for little people, though – I’m not sure they would be able to move their arms in 2×2 aran weight ribbing! – so I scaled down to a double knitting weight instead.

Third, I loved the colour range. Karisma comes in lots of bold and bright colours, perfect for cheering up a grey and wintry day. (Ignore the pinks in my box above; they were part of the same delivery but for a different project.)

Finally, it’s inexpensive and widely available. We don’t all have big budgets for expensive yarn and overseas shipping costs – although it’s lovely if we do – and I wanted everyone to be able to make this little jumper.

 

If you’d like to make your jumper in another yarn – perhaps an acrylic for those sensitive to wool, or a more luxurious yarn for a special gift – go for it. I’d love to see how they turn out. Just make sure that it has a fairly rounded structure (3 plies or more) to make the bobbles and ribbing pop, and that it has a gauge of 21 stitches and 28 rows over 4×4 inches/ 10×10 cm.

Once you’ve got your wool, you’ll need to determine what size needles to work with. Cast on 21 stitches using the size recommended on the ball band – 4mm for Drops Karisma. Work in stocking stitch as this is the main stitch used (knit 1 row, turn, purl next row) for 28 rows. This is enough to establish the width and length of your knitted swatch. Gently uncurl the edges and hold it flat, without stretching it at all. Measure the width. It should be 10cm almost exactly – you can see from the photo below that mine is.

But what if it isn’t? Not to worry. We all knit with different tension, and even needles purporting to be the same size can differ. All you do is go up a needle size (if your swatch was under 10cm), or down a size (if it was over 10cm).  Knit two rows (no purling) to create a garter stitch line across your swatch. It should now look like the photo below (see that row of purl stitches at the very top?).

Carry on in stocking stitch again, until you’ve done another 28 rows and can measure your swatch again. Keep adjusting your needle size until your swatch measures 10 cm across. Here you can see that by changing up a needle size, the same number of stitches yielded over 11cm, instead of 10. Needle size makes a big difference.

 Don’t worry overly about how many rows you knit per 10cm, as long as you are in the right ballpark (28 rows per 10cm). The pattern will tell you how long each part needs to be, not how many rows to knit (apart from at the hem and neckline). The important thing is to use the right sized needles to be able to consistently knit 10cm across with 21 stitches. I used 4mm needles with the Drops Karisma. Wool and knitters vary. As long as your gauge is right, your jumper will fit.

You will also need a pair of needles 1mm smaller than the size you have decided upon. You don’t need to swatch with these needles, as they are just for the collar, sleeves and hem. For example, because my larger needles (the ones I swatched for) are 4mm, I’m going to use 3mm needles every time the pattern calls for my smaller needles.

Having said that I never wash and block my swatches, you should when trying out a superwash yarn, because it does stretch – quite a lot. Many people suggest putting superwash items in the dryer to shrink them back to size; I don’t have one. Instead, I pressed mine gently, using a pressing cloth. Whatever you plan to do, try it out on your swatch first. Then you won’t get any horrible surprises when you finally wash your finished jumper.

Speaking of the back, that tutorial – including photos – will be available next week, same time, same place. Hopefully you’ll have gathered your wool and needles and made your swatch by then. If you have any questions at all, you can either post them in the comments below, or send me an email direct at mrscecilygraham@gmail.com. In the meantime, why not snap the odd photo of your parcel of wool arriving/ swatching in front of the fire/ general knitting love and send them to me so that I can include them in next week’s post? Alternatively, you can add your photos to your Ravelry account. I look forward to seeing all the yarn that everyone chooses!

Madeleine

Who are you making your Little Flurry for? And which of the options for the front have you chosen?

A small, sustainable wardrobe: practical knitting

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

My copy of Practical Knitting Illustrated: The Key to Hundreds of Garments You Can Make Yourself doesn’t have a date inside. Looking at it, I thought it looked quite 1940s, and the fact that all the illustrations are black and white would fit that theory. A quick internet search gave me one copy dated to 1947, which sounds about right.

I don’t think that a volume entitled Practical anything would sell particularly well nowadays. Despite the resurgence in craft, knitting and dressmaking patterns seem to be sold as novel! easy! quick! or fun! This book doesn’t claim to be any of those things – although it does bill some of the resulting items as such. Instead, it focuses on how hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile the garments inside will be. And although I wouldn’t want to wear all of the garments listed (a knitted beach suit, anyone?), those are the values that I like to apply to my own designs.

It goes without saying that British knitters of the late 1940s were approaching their craft from a rather different place than we do today. At the height of rationing, each adult civilian was entitled to the equivalent to one new set of clothes and shoes a year. Clothes – and materials – rationing was on the cusp of coming to a close, but there would continue to be shortages for several years yet. Although you could theoretically go out and buy whatever your wardrobe needed after 15 March 1949, you were unlikely to be able to in practice. Goods in short supply were managed by price control. Despite this, clothes were expensive and had to be made to last.

This issue is reflected in the advice given on buying yarn. Sold by the ounce, yarn quantities are one of the most confusing things about vintage patterns because how long is an ounce of wool? It seems that it depended on the quality, and readers were instructed to buy the best they could afford. The best qualities although more expensive to buy, are cheaper because they go farther in the knitting through having more rounds to the ounce. And it only took 5 ounces – about 140 grams – of yarn to knit a women’s 2 ply jumper. How’s that for economy of materials?

I would imagine that higher quality yarns would also work out cheaper in the long run because they would wear better and not need to be replaced as quickly – saving both money and labour.

It’s the labour in the book that I can’t quite understand. Although the book pictures 24 different types of yarn, it’s clear that finer yarns were the order of the day. Shetland yarns – which I assume were like the traditional Shetland jumperweight 2 ply yarns still available today – cannot be recommended too highly. Having knit a 2 ply fair isle allover myself, I know how much longer it takes to knit a jumper in a finer yarn. John’s cabled cardigan – in DK as it was – nearly finished me off. Yet here, women (because this book is clearly aimed at women) are encouraged to knit everything for the entire family. No wonder virtues such as hardwearing and plenty of room to grow were included in the descriptions of products. Keeping a family in vests and socks must have been a Herculean task indeed.

I don’t suppose that any women, no matter how dedicated, fulfilled all their family’s requirements in this way. I’m told that my husband’s grandmother, who must have bought or received this book as a newlywed, was a prizewinning knitter, and I would love to have been able to ask her about what she did and didn’t knit for her family. While I keep myself in socks, other people receive them from me as gifts rather than as a matter of course. I’ve never knit a vest (undershirt) in my life. But baby knits and children’s jumpers? Yes, I’ve knit many of those in my time and it’s true: the more hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile they are, the more wear they’ve had by one child after another.

I’m as guilty as anyone of wanting things done yesterday. I knit almost a whole jumper in a weekend recently. And yes, it is hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile. But I didn’t enjoy making it more because it was fast! In fact, I definitely enjoyed it less. So when I cast on for a new pair of socks last night, I opened Practical Knitting for company, and enjoyed its words of wisdom on the subject of socks for your sons. These three-quarter length socks are excellent for sturdy schoolboys who are always on their feet, it told me. For holiday times, make them with Fair Isle tops. Now if that isn’t taking pride in your craft and making the most of the materials you have, I don’t know what is. Practical doesn’t have to be boring. It can be as fun and creative as you like. Just like the rest of the deeply practical wardrobe I aspire to.

Madeleine

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

Do you prefer to make things quickly or slowly? What’s the most painstakingly made thing in your wardrobe? Did you make it yourself? And is it practical?

Introducing Little Flurries – and a giveaway

November is upon us, and any knitter worth their salt is casting around for ideas for Christmas. Enter Little Flurries, a could-be-for-Christmas, could-just-be-a-lovely-jumper pattern for ages 1-5.

At its most festive, this is the jumper that gives you a cosy crafternoon with the little people in your life. Knit it for them, then present it to them with a jar of buttons, tinsel, embroidery silks, little trinkets – the more the merrier. Show me a 3-5 year old who wouldn’t want to wear a jumper with a Christmas tree that they’d decorated all by themselves on the front. And for the under 3s, you get to retain full creative control, as there will probably be far too many choking hazards involved for them to get involved. But as long as everything is securely sewn on, there’s no reason why even the tiddliest toddlers can’t be dressed for the festive season.

My children started by playing with buttons…

before raiding the real Christmas tree basket for some tinsel…

when Ilse suddenly remembered a bracelet which had snapped, leaving her with lots of lovely beads.

I still rather like the button option, especially for younger children. And of course, you could use embroidery, little badges (or buttons, as I believe they are called on the other side of the Atlantic), or whatever you have lying around, really. This is the ultimate project for rooting around in your craft drawers.

Of course, for the budding minimalists among the pre-school set, there is always the refined option of simply wearing it as a lit up tree. Or a tree with multicoloured baubles knitted in. Or even an entirely green tree, to make an understated environmental point.

Being someone who doesn’t like waste, I do like the fact that you can remove the tinsel and the trinkets and turn this back into a simpler sweater to wear for the rest of the winter, before passing it on to someone else to decorate the way they’d like the following year.

Or you can knit one of the three everyday options: bobbles in the same colour as the rest of the jumper, no bobbles at all, or a two-tone version with darker sleeves and bobbles against a lighter body. One model’s mother went for the latter version and I have to say, I love it in the teal. It is pretty and practical and very cosy indeed. My tiniest model will be showing it off next week, but here’s a preview of it in progress:

The bobble-less version, for those who are not so keen on bobbles, still has lots of texture thanks to the warm ribbed sleeves.

I’ve put a huge amount of thought into the development of this pattern. Even before the launch of Snow Day, I was toying with the idea of a pint-sized version. The bobbles and ribbing look lovely in the adult pattern, and I had some ideas for turning them into a sweet little toddler sweater. It wouldn’t be enough to simply resize the pattern; small children would be simply swamped by all that texture in an Aran weight yarn. Mealtimes, playdough and time spent outdoors meant that the jumpers would need to be machine-washable. Yet I wanted the sweater to retain its warmth and its characteristic bobbles and ribbed sleeves. 

So along came Little Flurries: a toddler-sized, DK, envelope-neck version of the Snow Day jumper. I’ve kept the uneven hem, to cover nappy-enhanced bottoms, and added a traditional neckline welcoming to even the most enormous of heads. Instead of thumb holes, the toddler version offers an optional foldover mitten, for quick trips outside when wrestling with real mittens is a step too far. And, of course, I’ve had a lot of fun with the bobbles. The Christmas version – outrageously silly as it is – is my favourite. My children had a huge amount of fun decorating the sample jumper, and as they’re all far too big to wear it, they have started a campaign for bigger ones. Maybe next year.

Whichever version you use, it goes without saying that there will be a knitalong, with a tutorial each week explaining each step with photographs to help you out. This is about the same level of difficulty as Snow Day. It uses some of the same skills (those bobbles and that ribbing) and some different ones too (the shaping is worked with decreases, and there is no increasing at all). The making up is, if anything, slightly simpler, as there is no neckline to knit on.

I’ve knit two of these in the past three weeks, and my mum knit the other one for me. They fairly fly together, if you set your mind to it, in little flurries of knitting on autumnal evenings. For those little flurries otherwise known as small children, of course. Make one. Make two. Make more, if you’re a speedy knitter. However many you make, and whichever design option you choose, I hope you enjoy making your Little Flurries as much as I have.

As with my A-line skirt pattern, I’d like to run a little giveaway for the Little Flurries pattern. I’ll be giving away one copy of the Little Flurries pattern to every ten people who enter. I will round up the number of commenters to the next ten – so if 11 people enter, I’ll give away two copies of the pattern, for example.

If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Thursday 1 November 2018. Please only leave one comment per person, and make sure that you use a valid email address so that I can contact you if you win. I’ll be drawing the winner(s) and sending out the pattern(s) on Friday 2 November. Please note that you need to leave a comment in order to be entered – emails will not count. And if you’d like to leave a comment but don’t want to be entered in the draw, just say so in your comment! You are very welcome to enter both giveaways.

The pattern is suitable for confident beginners. It will be available through my Ravelry shop  from Friday 2 November, and my Etsy shop from Monday 5 November.

Madeleine

Dare I ask if you’ve started any Christmas knitting yet? How would you decorate Little Flurries, if you were to make one?

Snow Day knitalong part 5: making up

In the photo above I’m wearing one of my auntie Fiona’s lovely hand crocheted snoods. She makes all sorts of vintage-inspired items, from gorgeous snoods to new baby bunting and traditional Irish willow baskets to modern Christmas trees. You can find her in Derry’s Craft Village, or online.

Welcome to the last tutorial of the Snow Day knitalong. This week you’re going to be making up the jumper: knitting the neckline and sewing all the different parts together.

You start by laying the front and back right side up, with the right shoulder edges together. These are the bound off stitches which will sit on your right shoulder. Thread your tapestry needle with some yarn, either straight from the ball, or a tail.

Insert your needle under the first bound off stitch on the front shoulder. You’ll get a neater finish if you insert your needle under a stitch that looks like an A, rather than a V.

Now do the same with the first bound off stitch on the back shoulder (ignore the red thing; it’s just the circular needle that I was holding my live neck stitches on):

Work your way across the shoulder seam in this way, until you’ve sewn five or six stitches. Your yarn will still be very loose, like this:

Gently pull the yarn through, so that the shoulder seam is neatly drawn together. Don’t pull so hard that you cause the shoulder seam to bunch up, though.

The seam should be virtually invisible. Carry on like this until you reach the end of the seam, then stop, leaving the tail of the yarn hanging for now.

Next, you are going to knit the garter stitch neckline. With the wrong side facing, and starting at the left hand side of the front, transfer all the live stitches along the front neck to one of your smaller needles.

Continue along the back neck, doing exactly the same thing, until all the live stitches around the neckline are on one (smaller) needle.

Join a new ball of yarn (by looping it over the end of your needle with a tail of six inches or so) and knit all the way along the row.

When you reach the end of the row, turn your work and knit the next row. You are making a garter stitch neckline. Continue until you have knitted four rows in total.

Using one of your larger needles in your right hand, bind off all of the stitches (in knit) along the neckline.

Try to keep your stitches reasonably loose – don’t pull them very tight. They don’t need to be anything  like as loose as the ones you bound off along the top of the sleeves, but nor do you want an inflexible neckline. After you’ve done a bit, stop and pull on it. It shouldn’t be stretchy, but it should have a bit of give and look nice and neat. Mine is pictured below.

Keep going until you reach the end of the row. Cut your yarn and pull the tail through the final stitch. The top of your jumper (sweater) should now look like this:

One shoulder seam is sewn and the other is not. Sew up the other shoulder seam in exactly the same way as the first.

Bear in mind that you’ll also need to sew together the two edges of the garter stitch neckline that you’ve just knitted. You do this by working your way back and forth in the same way as you did the shoulder, only there aren’t nice even As to stitch together. However, garter stitch is very forgiving. Work one whole stitch (two bits of yarn) in from the edge, like so:

You’ll find that there is a small gap at either edge of the front neckline, like this:

You need to weave a bit of yarn gently in and out of the fabric at the back of this, to pull the edges of the gap together. There’s no specific way of doing this, but it helps if you incorporate the adjacent stitches as well. Here I am, doing some weaving:

Don’t fret about it; just have a go. It’s only knitting, after all, and you’ll be surprised how easy this is. Before you know it, the gap will have disappeared and no-one will ever know it was there.

Leave all your ends for now; you’ll weave them in later.

Now it’s time to attach the sleeves. Lay your jumper out, right side up, and measure the distance indicated in the pattern down both the front and the back sides. I’ve marked the distances here with knitting needles but safety pins would have been more sensible…

Find the centre top of your sleeve and align it with the shoulder seam. Pin the sleeve to the body between the two markers (in my case, knitting needles) and spread the ribbing out evenly. Pin it in place.

Cut a long piece of yarn and thread it through your tapestry needle. Pull it through the centre of the sleeve top and the shoulder seam, stopping halfway. You’re going to sew the sleeve from the shoulder seam to the armpit in one direction, and then the other, using the same length of yarn. I tend to sew towards the left first, because I am right handed.

Sew the sleeve to the body. The body stitches are easy: stay one stitch (one complete V) in from the edge and pick up the little stitch than runs across the back of the stitches. You can see me picking this up in this photo, below:

The ‘knit’ stitches of the ribbing are picked up as little Vs – kind of like you picked up the shoulder seam stitches as little As. The ‘purl’ stitches are harder to pick up as neatly. Just stay a full stitch (two bits of yarn) in from the edge, don’t pull your stitches too tight and honestly, don’t sweat it. Trust me, as long as you get the stitches on the body right, and keep the sleeve spread evenly against the body, the sleeve will look fabulous. Here’s mine:

and of course it will look even better after blocking.

Do the same to the other sleeve.

Now it’s time to sew down the side seam. Align the top of the garter stitch notches on both the front and the back edges, like so:

and pin in place. You’ll notice that the back of the jumper is longer than the front; this is as is should be. Pin the seam, making sure that it is evenly joined all the way from the top of the notch to the underarm.

This is a really easy seam to sew. Just stay one stitch (V) in from the edge and pick up those little horizontal strands of yarn that are hiding behind the stitches. The rows should match up almost exactly. If not, just skip the odd row on either the front or the back, keeping things nice and smooth and even. Again, don’t pull your stitches too tight.

See? The seam is almost invisible already, and it will disappear altogether after blocking.

Now sew up the other side seam.

Finally, it’s time to sew up the sleeve seams. Pin them, taking care to match the bottom edge and the increases that you made. If you’re going down the extra-long-sleeve-with-thumbhole route (and it is very cosy), mark four inches and two inches from the bottom of the sleeve as well.

Starting at the armpit, thread either a long tail of yarn or a new length and start to sew the seam together. You’ll notice that there are two knit stitches by the edge on one side (looking very neat and V-ish) and two purl stitches on the other side (looking very chaotic). Starting with the purl side, pick up a horizontal strand – or something similar, it really doesn’t matter that much – one stitch in from the edge. Here I am doing this:

On the other, tidy knit stitch side, pick up a horizontal strand. Take care to work exactly one stitch in from the edge, so that you have two lovely neat columns of Vs left outside of the seam:

The reason for this is that when you’ve made a few stitches and pulled them through, it looks virtually seamless:

See? The knit two purl two rib is uninterrupted. However, let’s be honest, this is a seam which is in your armpit. Anyone who’s looking that closely probably loves you enough not to mind if your seams are a bit wobbly.

Carry on down the length of the sleeve. May I remind you one last time not to pull those stitches too tight? You’ll find that the increases mean that you have more or fewer knit and purl stitches on each side, and that sometimes the knit stitches and purl stitches even end up on opposite sides to where they started! It really doesn’t matter. Keep stitching things together, one stitch in from the edge, and you’ll end up with a lovely sleeve seam like this:

By the way, if you are including a thumb hole on a longer sleeve, stop four inches before the bottom edge and backstitch a bit along the seam that you’ve just sewn, to secure the end of your yarn. Then use the tail from the cast on edge of the sleeve to sew the seam upwards, towards the thumbhole, for two inches. This will leave a two inch hole for your thumb.

Do the same to the other sleeve.

Put your jumper on, crazy ends trailing everywhere, and spend a long time admiring yourself in it. Don’t worry about any little imperfections; a good blocking goes a long way.

When you’re ready, take it off again, put on a good film and weave in all those ends.

There is no magic way to weave ends in, but here are my top tips:

  1. if the end is within spitting distance of a seam, wend your way over there and then go up and down the seam a bit,
  2. 4 inches is plenty to weave in,
  3. work on the wrong side but remember to keep checking the right side in case you can see the woven in end,
  4. work in one direction for a few stitches (up, or left) and then the opposite direction (down or right) before changing direction again, and
  5. resist the urge to tie knots.

As you feel that each end is woven in, snip it off with an inch to spare. The end will adjust when you block it, and then you can snip it right off. This bit of extra length stops it annoyingly poking out or getting loose after blocking.

To block your jumper, soak it in lukewarm (tepid) water for about half an hour – it should be sopping wet. Drain the water and press the jumper against the sides of the basin to get rid of excess water. Lift the jumper out, taking care not to let any parts of it dangle or stretch. Lay it out on a clean towel, roll it up in the towel, and press (or stand!) on it to get the water out of the jumper and into the towel.

By now it should just be damp, rather than soaking. You need a flat surface that won’t be damaged by (or cause damage to) a damp jumper. Take some time to arrange the jumper on this surface, smoothing out any lumps and bumps and making sure that the neckline is lying just so. Use your tape measure to make sure that it is the right width and length. Then leave it to dry.

Doing this ‘sets’ the stitches – if you unravelled them now they would be very wiggly indeed. This helps the jumper to hold its shape. It also evens out any uneven stitches in your knitting and smooths the seams.

Wear with pride. And every time someone compliments you on your lovely new jumper, say, with studied casualness, oh, thanks. I made it myself.

 

 

A small, sustainable wardrobe: introducing a lined A-line skirt – and a giveaway

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

One of the most important things about building a small, sustainable wardrobe is having things just the way you like them. It’s no good having a beautiful skirt in a lovely fabric which fits you perfectly if it doesn’t go with any of your tops. It’s equally limiting to know that your skirt, which goes with everything you own, is in a fibre that you just don’t get along with. Shopping for clothes, when everything has to work as hard as it does in a tiny wardrobe, can be a frustrating business. Which is one of the reasons that I make most of mine.

Sewing your own clothes gives you complete control over fit, fabric and finish. But it also gives you control over your supply chain. Without the ability to sew, the ethical consumer is limited to an ever-expanding but still fairly small number of suppliers. It can be hard to get what you want – and it can be expensive, too, if you buy all your clothes from such companies. Learn to sew and you can choose reasonably priced organic, fair-trade fabrics and threads from small, responsible companies. A simple skirt needn’t cost a fortune to be sustainably produced – provided you have the skills to make it. And you can still support skilled workers by buying other things – like jackets and underthings – from your favourite ethical companies.

When I was dreaming up my first knitting and sewing patterns, I knew exactly what I wanted to design: a micro-collection that new knitters and dressmakers could make for themselves. An introduction to making that bypassed the scarves and cushion covers and went straight to what I wanted when I started out: a simple wardrobe that I could make for myself. And so the very first of my dressmaking patterns to be released is a version of the very first garment I ever sewed for myself: an A-line skirt.

My first skirt was not exactly responsible, but it was fun. Do you remember the trend for buttons and ribbons on skirts, circa 2005? I really wanted a woolen A-line skirt embellished with ribbons – I’m sure they were everywhere that winter. Short on cash, I went to a local craft store and bought a length of acrylic felt and some inexpensive ribbons, and set to work. One wonky zip later, I was the proud owner of a pseudo-woolen skirt, the likes of which I had been ogling in Monsoon. I topstitched the ribbons around the hem and was delighted with the effect. (Needless to say the acrylic bagged horribly after a few wears and will no doubt still be around in a few hundred years, and for that I apologise. That was before I switched on about unnecessary plastic use.)

Simple as it is, the A-line skirt is one that I have returned to again and again over the years – in much nicer fabrics and with properly inserted zips. I don’t think you can beat it for its versatility. It is the sort of skirt that you can go to work in (think heels and a blouse), wear in the garden (add wellies and a jumper), take on holiday (avec strappy top and sandals) or just wear at the weekends (with nice boots and your favourite top). My most recent – in real wool felt – was such a favourite that it looked quite disgraceful by the time I cut it up for potholders. And the sample I sewed last week – to test the pattern pdf and take tutorial photos of – is a lovely teal linen version, for Fliss. Of course, as soon as she put it on I thought, that is the perfect school uniform skirt for her, and I’ll be making up a couple more in navy after her next growth spurt.

Being ageless, A-line skirts suit pretty much everyone. They don’t smack of a particular trend or era, and so can be worn by old and young alike. Depending on your choice of fabric, colour and pattern, they complement anyone’s wardrobe. Fliss has plans to embroider hers all along the hem, as she did to great effect with her old dance skirt this summer. But you could make one in a floral, tartan, tweed or whatever motif takes your fancy. They are the blank canvas of the skirt world.

As this is a beginner’s pattern, I have written and photographed a full tutorial series which will be published over four weeks following the pattern release next Friday. This tutorial/ sewalong will take you through printing and cutting your pattern pieces to laying out your pieces, sewing them together, inserting a zip and hand-finishing the hem. As with my Snow Day pattern, the directions are written out in full, plain English. I’ve even gone so far as to label each edge, so that you can simply look for edge g and h and sew them together, without wondering which is the top of the front of the waistband, and so on.  But you don’t have to be a beginner to use this. Although the beginners’ tutorial takes you through how to sew the skirt unlined, the pattern pdf instructions are for making this up as a lined skirt. So you can choose whichever set of instructions you prefer, or which best suit your abilities.

Speaking of abilities, you need to be able to sew an accurate straight line and a slight curve on a sewing machine if you want to make this skirt. Of course you’ll also need other skills, like wielding an iron and being able to use scissors and tape, but we’ll take those for granted. This is a pattern suitable for confident beginners.

I’m really proud of this pattern. Not because it’s fancy or complex (it is neither), but because it takes something which could be fancy and complex and makes it simple. What you will receive is exactly the sort of pattern I would make for myself, with the sort of clear and logical explanations I use as self-talk when I’m working out how to assemble a garment. The pattern itself is hand-drafted, hand-graded from the middle size (UK 12) and represents a lot of detailed work. It is not a commercial pattern. It is a home dressmaker’s pattern, carefully prepared for sharing.

With sharing in mind, I’d like to announce a little giveaway with respect to this pattern. I’m going to send a free copy of the A-line skirt pattern to one of every ten people who leave a comment at the end of this post. Whatever the number of comments, I’ll round it up and choose that number of commenters at random to receive a free copy.

If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Thursday 1 November 2018. Please only leave one comment per person, and make sure that you use a valid email address so that I can contact you if you win. I’ll be drawing the winner(s) and sending out the pattern(s) on Friday 2 November. Please note that you need to leave a comment in order to be entered – emails will not count. And if you’d like to leave a comment but don’t want to be entered in the draw, just say so in your comment!

Edited: The pattern itself will be released next Monday, 5 November 2018, and will be available via Etsy. Apologies for the delay and thank you for your patience! I’ll update this post with a link when it goes live. The pattern is graded for waist sizes 25″-31.5″/ 64cm-80cm (UK sizes 8-16).

Edited: The pattern is now available via my Etsy shop.

Madeleine

What was the first garment you ever made for yourself? Do you have any go-to patterns that you’ve used over and over again (this is one of mine). Or are you a dressmaking newbie? I’d love to know!