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What Fifteen Hours of Sewing 101 Taught Me:
1. Patience is far more critical to sewing than knitting, even though sewing produces results faster.
2. A garment is wearable and comfortable despite the crooked seams.
3. If interested in a good fit, it is always helpful to look beyond chest measurements, to things like ease, length, etc.
4. Do not rely on the sewing store experts or the teacher to pick the right size for you, even if you tell them you are absolutely new to published patterns.
5. Still, it is possible to be imaginative and view sleeves large enough to accommodate the family as a fashion detail.
6. Reading, cutting, ironing and pinning wafer-thin paper patterns is extremely fiddly, but when you painstakingly finish the fifteen hundred complicated steps, and the bands fall nicely into place, it’s really a very good feeling.
7. Pinning is absolutely KEY. It’s the gauge of sewing, that without which you are doomed.
8. Topstitch is a bitch. But the ninth time you try it after ripping it eight times and being close to tears, you can learn to live with it.
9. Motorised sewing machines are not at all scary. In fact the Jenome Heart is quite handy.
10. This is addictive, and browsing for second-hand machines on Ebay and Craigslist is bewildering but fun. What’s stressful is figuring out how to find the time to indulge this new craze in your busiest semester ever.
Coming back to the US after being in India for a while is always hard for me; coming back to regular teaching after research leave is proving quite hard too. Put the two together, and it’s resulting in quite a disaster for my work and concentration. The very thought of syllabi, prepping for courses and putting together reader packs is making me panic, procrastinate, and plunge for refuge into my yarn and knitting. I’ve been making up for a year’s absence by surfing Ravelry like a maniac, queuing and favouriting projects. Quelling all the guilt over the volume of work I am ignoring, I am agonising instead about whether I should buy some Black Water Abbey worsted now, or after I’ve finished making the Sidelines Top with this:
It’s Berroco Inca Gold in a new shade, Azul Marina. Isn’t it lovely? It’s a gorgeous navy-purple, the purple tones more visible in sunlight. I don’t have anything in this colourway in my stash, and I am really eager to get into it. How can a course pack possibly compete with this!
While I waited for it to arrive, I whipped up another Koolhaas hat for a dear friend, who had a run-in with some bad luck recently, and who had in the past, expressed a liking for the pattern. Here’s hoping this will cheer him up a bit, even if it is somewhat early for a northeastern winter!
I made one for myself early last year with Malabrigo, and thought it turned out a little small. This time I added 8 stitches (112 total) and one 8 row-repeat. It is, as a result, a bit more tubular, and looks rather like a tall fez hat on me, but am hoping it will fit the recipient’s head better. I used about 2/3 of a skein of New England Highland (same yarn I used for my BPT), which shows off the twisted stitches nicely. I was a bit torn at first between using a larger sized needle for more ease with the repeated twisting, versus a tighter gauge and fabric with a smaller one, but I finally went with ease, and used a size 7.
I wonder how long this feverish spell of knitting, sewing and blogging will last, because (sigh) I cannot procrastinate for ever. But there’s still a couple of weeks of summer left…
(Daku I hope you like it!)
Here is one of the most unusual things I have ever knit. Celestine, a dodecahedron designed by my all-time favourite designer, Norah Gaughan.
It’s a gift for a friend’s one-year old. I didn’t want to make another small hat or sweater, so I dug out some Cascade Fixation from my stash and knit this up as a toy. I used just over a ball of the blue and hardly any at all of the white. I used size 5 dpns. It started out small and easy:
then grew to twice its size:
it soon took on a recognizable shape:
but proceeded to sprout somewhat alarmingly in all directions:
until it was tamed, stuffed with cotton rags and firmly disciplined:
Now it looks rather well-fed and content,
even though it definitely has an aspect of the weird, what-in-the-world-is-this anyway, about it.
The original pattern was meant to be a small tree-ornament, but as you can see, the Cascade, the cloth stuffing and the loose gauge have enabled it to evolve into a rather squishy ball. I confess I was mighty excited up to about Point # 6, but the small circumference and continuous picking up of stitches made it a bit fiddly, and the last point, which you have to pick up the stitches for, and knit, with the stuffing inside threatening to escape, was a bit cumbersome. Still, it makes for an unusual toy, and a knitted item that, like all of Gaughan’s creations, teaches you a lot about shape and construction. Let’s hope the little boy enjoys playing with it!
Thanks everyone for the opinions on the Sidelines vs. FLS. I love the swingy look of the FLS, but yes, I confess I too am not sure if it will flatter me. Some of the comments reinforced that doubt, so I finally opted for the Sidelines Top, but with some mods and a different yarn – which is still in the mail. If swatching goes well, I’ll blog about it soon. I decided to temporarily shelve the Mas Acero (Safeena, will definitely email you first if I do decide I have too many things in that shade!), and switch to working in some other colours for now.
In the meantime, I joined a Sewing 101 class here, and wanted to put down some first impressions about it.
First off, my jaw hurts from dropping to the floor at the prices of the pattern, the fabric, and the supplies. Yes, I am a mighty fool for not bringing some general fabric, or all my supplies with me. I guess it’s not so much the actual price as the difference because of the exchange rate, and my annoyance at having to basically reequip myself all over again. The pattern – apparently an easy one for beginners according to the saleswoman who sold it to me – is for a basic straight-lines robe, which I thought would be a good way to learn about such important things as sleeves, belts and bands. And it promises to be quite an education, given that I spent the entire five hours of the first class cutting the tracing paper, and pinning and cutting the fabric. Ten more hours and I will, no doubt, feel like I should have not just a robe, but a square hat and tassel, and a degree as well.
I saw one of those shiny electronic machines for the first time ever, and learnt where the bobbin goes and how to select speed and stitch and all of that. But the class is eye-opening in many other ways too – learning about the “grain of fabric”, which is a new and intriguing, if altogether proper concept, and about reading and using commercially published patterns. As always it set me thinking about how things are done so differently in different parts of the world. My teacher in Pune did not mention grain at all. Some fabric for salwar kameezes has a pannaa (width) of 54 inches, and even when it is 45 inches, it is not always cut lengthwise along the grain – certainly many of mine have been cross-grain. You would just need a lot more fabric to cut along the grain – in the case of my robe, I was surprised that I needed nearly 4.5 metres, when a full-sleeved A-line knee-length kameez, roughly similar dimensions as the robe, usually takes no more than 2.5.
I tried gently to suggest that I try the robe too along the cross-grain since it would allow me to use the remaining fabric for another kurti, maybe, but the teacher was quite adamant that I cut it according to the layout in the pattern. So I need to pick her brains about the hows and whys and what-happens-ifs of all this, and also pay closer attention to grains and things the next time I buy fabric from a taagaa (bale), rather than a pre-cut piece set, in India. I wonder if the need to economize over the fabric impacts the sewing practice, even at the expense of the fabric’s integrity, since garments along the grain are sturdier, perhaps? Even as I type this I imagine the internets and sewing fora to be abuzz with these debates – battlelines drawn sharply between the along-the-grain walas and the cross-grain walas, like English or Continental knitters, or like toe-up and cuff-down socknitters, or those who knit exclusively with natural fibers and those who use acrylic…
But I confess I was unprepared for two other things. The first was the actual pattern, which I had no idea would be pre-traced on paper! In my Pune class I measured myself, drafted the pattern and cut it on old newspaper, then held it by hand over the fabric as I outlined it with tailor chalk, then moved it away and cut the fabric. Here, I chose the L size, cut along the paper that already came in the pattern, ironed both the paper and the fabric, and then painstakingly pinned the traced pattern to the fabric. Oh my god the pinning! She made me repin it thrice, because I didn’t have enough, and she was worried the fabric would move. I was heartily sick of it, but deeply impressed with the attention to precision. I finally got the sides together in a fourth round of pinning, all prepped for sewing next week. All I could think of was – wow, is this how everyone sews every single pattern they make here? It’s a lot more labour intensive than the general eyeballing method of Mrs. Rajput back in Pune. It set me thinking about how much of this was her individual teaching style, and how generalized these sewing practices are.
A deeper discourse on handicrafts vs. the industrial revolution, individual product vs. mass production etc is fighting to burst forth here, but I am quelling the urge for now, because I am suspicious of simple binaries of “it’s like this in India” vs. “it’s like that in the West” and I really don’t know anything yet about the world of sewing to generalize beyond these two individual experiences. But it’s certainly worth exploring these themes further in my sewing adventures, as potential differences in crafting philosophy, or as pedagogical or epistemological approaches in different parts of the world to handicrafts that live in an industrial age. Maybe it will all emerge as individual quirks and accidents of history rather than broad patterns (!) of cultural practice; for now, does anyone know of interesting books or website that discuss stuff like this? I’d love to read more about it. (Actually, Abena, if you’re reading this, it would be great if you could weigh in on this, would love to get your take on it!) I’ve written in the past about the differences in knitting methods – in terms of the attention to gauge, yarn amounts, measurements and blocking vs. a general let’s-see-what-happens attitude among knitters like my mum. And yet, sewing demands an attention to fit that knitting does not, both because sweaters aren’t used as much in a warm country like India, and tend to stretch and fit loosely anyway, so it might well not be a good comparison. We all know a tailor has to be far more careful about his garments fitting his customers than an auntie has to be about her sweater fitting her nephew…