Cautious spring color

spring color_darning

I’ll admit to feeling some winter funk lately, after a few fleeting warm and sunny days and a return to grey. I’m craving color, cheer, change — signs of life.

(It’s snowing again as I write this).

I funneled some of my restless spring energy into a Pinterest board, a holding space for all things bright, bare ankled, and smock-pocketed.

But I’ve found another outlet: imbuing the last of my winter projects with a bit of spring fever, creating my own vibrancy until the landscape gives way. It started when I finished my big winter knitting project, the Exeter cardigan, and even worked through a few smaller gift items. Finally, restless fingers found time to pick up a holey hand-me-down cashmere sweater, fumbling my way through some experiments in darning.

Inspired equally by the visible mending movement and the shabby slouchiness of a sweater past its prime, I decided to accentuate the darning with contrasting thread colors from my collection of vintage spools.

It takes a closer eye and a bit more fine-tuned attention than evening knitting, but I’ve actually been really enjoying darning, turning each little hole into a tapestry. The overall effect reminds me of days spent in the painting studio, returning home with splotches of my palette in unsuspecting places, building color onto garments instead of canvas.

spring color_sock

This cheery nod spilled over into my next knitting project, a simple pair of socks I’ve been wanting to make out of some local Babydoll Southdown wool. Last summer, I dyed half of my lot in fresh indigo, so I decided to swatch in stripes. But it seemed like it was missing something, so I divided off another portion of the white yarn and made a quick dye bath of dried marigolds. The bright yellow is unexpected but exactly what I needed — sort of a, when life won’t give you daffodils, make your sunshine, kind of shade.

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Upcycled Almada Robe

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Here is a rare sighting: a finished garment post!

And I’m feeling particularly victorious because it was a feat to photograph this robe since I’m usually wearing it in a rather un-photogenic (i.e. unkempt) state.

The Seamwork Almada Robe pattern is actually what motivated me to buy a Seamwork subscription. I had been avidly reading their online content and had admired some of the patterns, but didn’t feel compelled to make any until Almada came along in the February issue. I think I printed out, taped together, and cut out the pattern the same night it was released!

If you’re unfamiliar, Seamwork magazine is produced by Colette patterns and releases two garment designs each month which are supposed to require three hours or less. I’m unclear on whether that time is supposed to include preparing the pattern, cutting the fabric, or just the sewing, but I can proudly say that this robe (rated at 2 hours time) took me a full two months.

So, clearly the speediness of the patterns is not a big factor for me. But what I like about the “quick to make” emphasis is that it means all the patterns are simple. And simple sewing, I’m realizing more and more, is my jam. I think Felicia Semple says it best in her simple sewing series, and the number of loose, boxy tops and dresses in my closet speaks louder than words.

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Back to the robe: it is kimono-inspired, and designed for lightweight, drapey fabrics. Most of the fabrics in my stash are earmarked for shirts and more structured garments, but right away I knew the pattern would be a perfect match for upcycling some washed silk crepe. Silk is probably my thrifting kryptonite, I have such a hard time resisting it because I love the way it wears (soft, breathable) and using it for dye experiments. This particular silk, however, comes from a hand-me-down from my mom: a casual pantsuit featuring wide-legged, elastic waist trousers and a boxy tunic blouse, both of which I had worn periodically and held in my stash for a long time (which explains the spots of discoloration you might notice).

Due to the fact that I was using garments instead of yardage (and the fact that some years ago I seam-ripped the pants and cut a large chunk out of one leg), it took a lot of creative maneuvering to fit the pattern (size M) onto the fabric. When I realized I needed to do some creative piecing, I figured rather than hide it I would embrace the patchwork with some boro-inspired hand stitching.

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I used plain cotton thread, a vintage hand-sewing needle found in my stash, and a few rows of running stitches along the seam allowances between the pieces. I worked on this slowly in the evenings, and it was definitely the most time consuming part of the project, but I really enjoyed the meditative nature of it.

Once the front and back pattern pieces were assembled, I stitched up the shoulders and sides using french seams for a clean, elegant finish to match the silk. The main pattern pieces ate up the entire silk pantsuit, so I waited for awhile to decide what contrasting fabric to use for the cuffs and ties. I settled on some Nani Iro double gauze that has been in my stash for a few years — it was actually one of the first additions to my stash, just a scant yard bought online because it was on sale and people (on the internet) seemed to be obsessed with Nani Iro. This has always reminded me to not blindly jump on the bandwagon because it’s very pretty fabric but just not a color or print I would really wear and I’ve never known what to do with it! I figured a silk robe is one of the more feminine items I’ll ever make for myself, so the Nani Iro finally found a home.

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To complement the stash-busting and color scheme of this project, I used the last of some homemade bias binding that had been tossed into both a madder and indigo dye pot. Before binding the front edges, I cut a short piece and made a loop at the center back so I can easily hang my robe. Finally, I finished the hem with a baby hem using the Colette tutorial and a lot of little Merchant & Mills lace-weight pins. I didn’t have a snap so there is no front closure, but I may still add one since the ties don’t hold it together that tightly.

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I wouldn’t have thought of a silk robe as a wardrobe “workhorse” for me like jeans, simple tops, and leggings, but every day when I reach for it I am so thankful to have it. The details and stories of the different fabrics and stitches make me smile, and the smooth silk is such a treat to wear. It’s both indulgent and a staple piece, and has helped me to finally understand why some people like fancy, matching pajamas — in fact, I’m now dreaming of a Lakeside set for summer.

new year new skills

Lots of things in progress right now and even though it’s hard to be patient because I’m eager to have lovely new pieces to wear, I’m also really enjoying tackling items on my list of things to learn someday. Like:

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Wet blocking my knitting! Water + wool makes me anxious, especially after months of knitting my first sweater, but this week it went into the suds…

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Visible mending! I’ve been really drawn to boro and sashiko and wanted to try it out. So I just decided to dig in & experiment on this delicate ripped silk…

I think I psych myself out sometimes when I want to take on a new skill, and end up spending too much time researching the “right” methods. Wet blocking and visible mending were two things stuck in that limbo for a while. Another big skill I’d like to tackle is garment fitting. At this point most of my wardrobe is from the thrift store and slightly ill-fitting (in a vintage way?) or is RTW which is always a bit too short for my frame. I recently realized that I don’t necessarily know what a proper fit is for me, so that’s my next major new skill//new adventure.

The thing is I like slightly oversize and boxy shapes, but I need to learn the difference between architectural shapes and just, well, baggy. Thinking more artful, less sloppy. More to come as I work on the beginning of the Wardrobe Architect series!