Music, Mending, and Lambtown

Even though I remain really reluctant to embrace the season of apples, squash, and soup, October has gotten off to a truly terrific start. The first weekend was full of so much fun that Wyatt skipped school on Friday so we could fit it all in. And then last week, I published my fourth knitting pattern. More about that in next week's post, but meanwhile, YAY ME.

Last weekend was Wyatt's most anticipated annual musical event: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. We went on Friday before things got too crazy. This is us (actually Wyatt and my knitting, I guess) outside the gates for the concert for middle-schoolers on Friday morning. The music at the festival was great, but the highlight for me this year was watching Wyatt make friends with a four-year old and a three-year old near us at one of the stages—he gave them pony rides on his back, and then they all had a dance party. As if all of that goodness wasn't enough to make a winning Friday, we ended the day on an even higher note after we picked up my friend Debbie at the BART station. We spent the late afternoon and evening with her playing Trouble (which she had brought for Wyatt), making and eating pizzas, and catching up. 

On Saturday, I attended Katrina Rodabaugh's Sashiko Mending Workshop at Handcraft Studio School in El Cerrito. Bonus: Maja came too. I have been waiting for this workshop since June when I found Katrina's work and she promised me in an email that she'd be back in the Bay Area to teach in the fall. True to her word, I got to learn from her in person. She spoke about her journey into slow fashion and the reasons why it's important to disrupt the cycle of fast fashion's trends whenever we can. I loved the books and resources she brought to share. "Sustainable fashion" can be challenging, as I learned in my own little way last year making Wyatt's elephant costume. (Read about that here and here.) During the mending workshop, we hand-stitched a tea quilt (which is thinner and smaller than a potholder, but bigger than a coaster), learned methods of mending, and we witnessed how some simple stitches by our own hands made our patch jobs look beautiful and intentional. Some might even say our embroidery was on-trend. The stack of clothes I need to mend is now one pair of jeans shorter, and I have the confidence and know-how to tackle the rest. Now all I need to do is make the time . . . mending has this way of staying at the bottom of my list of things to do.

Sunday was Lambtown! All three of us went this time, and this year, Lambtown had all the things Wyatt had been looking forward to (music, petting zoo, pony rides, cooking demonstrations), along with a new attractions: a train he could ride on with or without his parents and an interactive farm equipment display. The sheepdog competition was very entertaining, and I learned that Marc knows A LOT about sheepdog trials. (The things a person can hold back in a long-term, committed relationship never fail to surprise me.) We visited with Brooke at the Sincere Sheep booth, where she had displayed my patterns beautifully, and I stopped in to see Kira of Kira K. Designs just next door. Wyatt got to watch carding and blending again at Dreamy Goat Design Studio, and I learned about Shaggy Bear Farms in Scio, Oregon, where they specialize in rare sheep (and their fiber).

I added Gotland and East Friesian roving to the collection of different rovings I have been spinning into yarn. I'm planning to knit all my beginner yarn into a modern, log-cabin style, sampler blanket. My stash of handspun yarn is slowly growing. Here's the stash so far:



"What do you want to be for Halloween?"

What to be for Halloween is such an important question in our house. Wyatt starts planning his costume early. And by early, I mean November 1. I remember driving Wyatt to school one day last year in early November, and he had a list of about seven different Halloween costumes he wanted to wear, in order: "Next year, I want to be a polar bear, and the year after that, a duck, and the year after that, a kitty cat..."

His polar bear plan lasted a few months, but after sitting down with my book, Animal Hats To Knit And Show Off, he changed his mind. And that change stuck. Just like last year, Wyatt had fully committed to his Halloween costume by early June. And just like last year, I knit his hat during the summer but waited to work on his suit until September

This time of year, I think back to the hours I used to spend as a kid dreaming up and crafting costumes out of fabric and trim remnants. Hot glue, pins, and stitching--we used it all in a flurry of activity.

And this is the perfect time of year to look back at old Halloween photos. We have four years of Halloween photos, because Marc and I never dressed-up before Wyatt was born. We are unusual for adults in San Francisco. Anyway, I think we may have peaked early as a family on Wyatt's first Halloween. All three of us dressed up that year, and only that year. I was the beehive, Marc was the beekeeper, and Wyatt was, of course, the bee. I ordered my wig, Marc's t-shirt, the netting for his hat, and Wyatt's costume online. I made our tiny bees out of pipe cleaners.

For Wyatt's second Halloween, he was a Great Horned Owl. I ordered his costume on Etsy, and it was ingenious. The base of the costume was a hoodie, so it was super easy to wear and very comfortable. The crafter had affixed a variety of felt and actual feathers all over the sweatshirt, very much like a great horned owl. I ordered a pair of matching sweatpants from Kohl's (the source of the costume's hoodie), and Wyatt was good to go.

By the fall of 2013, I had found my crafting mojo. Wyatt wanted to be a dragon, and I accepted the challenge. I modified a pattern for a crocheted crocodile hat, adding claws and ears. I also sewed wings from one of Marc's old shirts and the fabric of the skirt of the bridesmaid dress I wore for my sister's wedding. Finally, I sewed Wyatt a green fleece sweatsuit--his dragon suit. Wyatt made a truly splendid dragon. He still wears the hat and wings, but much to his dismay, he outgrew his dragon suit awhile ago.

Last year, Wyatt wanted to be a lion. That was pretty easy compared to the dragon. I made his hat from the pattern in the Animal Hats book, with Malabrigo Rasta yarn in Coronilla that I bought at Imagiknit. As I mentioned earlier, I finished the hat in June, but waited until September to make his "lion suit," which ended up being a purple fleece sweatsuit. I used the same pattern that I had used for the dragon suit, but I made a bigger size. As you can see by the photo below, the lion costume lends itself to accessorizing. Wyatt continues to use and wear his costume regularly.

In fact, my favorite part about the costumes that I have made is that Wyatt still loves wearing some portion of them. Hats and wings are a great way for him to dress-up and pretend, and the dragon and lion suits have been super cozy to wear after swimming lessons.

This year's costume is finally finished and drying next to me on the floor, because like a good knitter, I wet blocked it last night. Wyatt is not at all happy that it is still wet. He'd rather be wearing it everywhere. Next week, I will share the rest of the story about this year's costume. If you're dying for a sneak peek, I have posted some "Work In Progress" photos on Instagram

Crafting the Striped Hoodie

"No, Mom! You can't take pictures of my sweater for a story without me. It is TOO COZY!"

I love making things. I feel like I'm always asking myself, "Can I make that?" or "Can I make that better?" And because lots of people do work better than I can, I am a big fan of "On second thought, can I have someone make that for me?" But the story of this hooded cardigan sweater springs from the first two questions.

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About four years ago, I picked up the cutest baby cardigan from Kiwi Industries. I liked it so much, that for the next two years whenever the cardigan went on sale, I bought it in a bigger size. But this past year, there weren't any bigger sizes to buy. I thought to myself, "Can I make that?" I wasn't too sure, so I didn't try.

One day last fall, I brought Wyatt with me to Imagiknit for a yarn-related errand, and he wore his Kiwi Industries cardigan. After a short conversation with the saleswoman, in which I sheepishly admitted I hadn't made his sweater but wished I had (or knew how), she stated, with the crisp confidence that only a seasoned knitter brings, "You could totally make that. And I don't think it would be that hard. Just sit down and see if you can figure out what they did."

Of course. I mean, how difficult could it be to just whip out a sweater without a pattern? Especially for someone who had only ever knitted a few sweaters (most of them during high school) and had never created a knitting design? The answer is: Paralyzingly difficult. 

But over the last eight months, I consciously worked to improve my knitting, taking on new projects only if they include at least one skill I've never tried. After knitting a praying mantis, I tried a baby sweater. After that, I felt ready for a basket of knitted vegetables. And after that, I felt confident enough to design my own throw blanket. And when that blanket turned out well, and I had already started a lace scarf, I began to think that the little hooded cardigan might be possible after all.

In a decisive move nine weeks ago, Wyatt and I went to Carolina Homespun to buy some yarn for his sweater. I wanted to grab a handful of Elemental Affects--yarn that is "Homegrown, Hand-dyed, and Spun in the U.S.A."--to see if it would be as good choice as I thought it would be for his sweater. It was a great choice, and we selected sport weight Cormo wool yarn after we found ourselves cuddling the soft, springy skeins right there in the shop. 

Six weeks ago, I made and blocked swatches. I obviously meant business.

Three weeks ago, I started doing the math and sketching a pattern for this sweater. I referred to the sweater construction descriptions in Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Without Tears (pictured below), as well as the dimensions of the three Kiwi Industries sweaters, and Wyatt's measurements.

I cast on what I had calculated to be the right number of stitches, hoped for the best, and continued to measure obsessively my stitches and rows. After a couple of days, I decided I had better start over. I hated the bottom edge. Because it hurt more than a little bit to rip out my own work, I let Wyatt do it. He gleefully unraveled about five inches of knitting in no time. I started over with a welted hem, and I continued obsessively measuring my gauge. As the body of the cardigan grew, I started to wonder about the sleeves. How would the stripes on the sleeves work? Would they be jagged? I hate when stripes don't match. A few online searches later, I knew what to do to achieve matching sleeve stripes in the round.

Once I was into one sleeve and it was actually working, I started to wonder about how on earth I'd manage to build a rounded hood with colored stripes of equal width. After a few failed attempts, and just as I was about to grumble my way into knitting a solid-color hood, my infinitely creative and ridiculously skilled friend came to the rescue with an idea about how to build the hood I wanted. It worked.  


With the end of the sweater in sight, I nearly soured Wyatt on ever wearing it by making him try it on so many times that he started to sprint away from me whenever I approached him with yarn. I also stayed up far too late for several nights, finishing the knitting, and then meticulously weaving in over 60 yarn tails so I could block the sweater and see if it actually fit. It did. And then it was done, except for the buttons.

On Sunday, Wyatt and I headed over to Imagiknit in search of buttons. Choosing the right buttons wasn't easy. We found lots of buttons we liked, but most of the tubes were short of the seven (six, plus one for insurance) buttons we needed. And I insisted that the buttons match the sweater in color and style, requirements Wyatt accepted only reluctantly. We eventually agreed on yellow metal ducks from Italy. And much to my delight, even though I had forgotten to bring the yarn for a color comparison, they match the sweater perfectly.

Unlike the socks I knit for him, which he hates, Wyatt loves his new cardigan so much that he wore it today until sweat was beading on his upper lip and his hair was plastered to his head. After that, he peeled it off, and just hugged it, refusing to let me photograph it for this story without him because it was "too cozy for pictures." 

I'm still surprised at how well this project went. It evolved into exactly what I wanted, and I like it even better than the garments that inspired it. In fact, I'm so pleased with the work I did that it has recently occurred to me that writing a pattern for this hooded cardigan would definitely be beyond me. I am happy to predict that based on my past behavior, there's a really good chance I'll complete my first written pattern within the next few months.