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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gauging the Gauge, or Knitting Hell

Instruments of torture?
I’m not sure whether I’m numerically challenged or have the most uncoordinated hands in the world. Maybe both.

This past weekend, I tried to knit a sweater in the round using Elizabeth Zimmermann’s EPS method (Elizabeth’s Percentage System). Basically this entails multiplying your body measurement by your knitting gauge (stitches per inch) to determine the number of stitches needed. Success rests on determining the gauge accurately.

Which is how I fell into the blackest hole of Knitting Hell. Twice I managed to resurface and make another attempt, only to be sucked back down again.

Let me tell you the sad, sad tale.

After knitting about 6” of Version 1, the instructions said to measure the garment to make sure the width was what I expected, so I did. The measurement indicated I was short 3”.

Disappointing, but not fatal. I recalibrated my gauge, using the 6” of the first version to count stitches. According to this count, my original gauge was off by 1 stitch per inch. So for Version 2, I increased the number of stitches and added another inch of width for good luck. As I knitted round and round, it occurred to me this version seemed a little big. At the designated 6” mark, I measured again, and discovered I was wrong. It wasn’t a little big, it was w-a-y too big.

Once again, I checked and rechecked my gauge. Crazy as it seemed, Version 1’s gauge was correct. What!?! How could Version 1’s gauge be right if the garment measured too small?

When I’d abandoned Version 1, I’d cut the wool off the ball instead of unravelling it and reusing it. So I still had the original 6” of knitting intact (sadly, not still on the needles). I pulled the unfinished mess over my head, only to discover it fit perfectly. Unfortunately too many stitches had come undone for me to simply slide it back on my needles and continue on.

I was stumped. How could I have goofed so badly?

My best guess is the 2x2 ribbing on the bottom of the sweater must’ve pulled it in nicely (as it is supposed to) which affected the measurement when I checked at  6”. I figure the pull of the ribbing had also affected the gauge count.

Frustrating but the solution was obvious. I would simply begin – again – using the original number of stitches. After all, Version 1’s mini-sweater fit nicely. So I unravelled Versions 1 & 2, and rewound the wool on the ball, ready to be used in Version 3.

The twist that keeps on twisting
When knitting in the round, you must be careful to straighten the cast-on stitches and make sure they are not twisted before knitting them.

Yep, you guessed it....

Even though I’d straightened and restraightened that cast-on row, one little twist must’ve snuck in. Trying to fix a twist is like trying to straighten a moebius strip – you can follow the twist round and round forever, but it will never lay flat. 


Which leads me to another puzzle, dear readers. Why is the Devil depicted carrying a pitch fork? After my visit to Knitting Hell, I know those sharp prongs are really knitting needles.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tale of Two Dresses Part 3

Ms BTTB proving that No One is
Better Than the Best
The excitement of the two dresses just never ends! Ms Better Than The Best (Ms BTTB) recently sent me a photo of her wearing her dress from the night of the Big Event. This was taken pre-party.

The "fun element" for the night was a masked dance - reminiscent of the old Regency era masked balls, but with shorter dresses, and very few Earls and Viscounts. Instead of wearing her feathery eye-piece on her face, Ms BTTB turned hers into a fascinator and wore it on her head, a la Royal wedding guest hat. Cute, isn't it? More than one fellow guest wished they'd come up with that idea for theirs.

            - Lady T

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day & Sewing Spaces

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who nurture others. To me, that’s what mothering is all about – nurturing. Just about all aspects of good mothering seem to fall under nurturing if you work on it long enough, ie: disciplining = nurturing, enforcing curfew/homework/chores = nurturing, teaching child to drive = nurturing. Even ignoring them can be seen as nurturing as it “encourages” the child to develop the ability to self-entertain. (See, you can twist anything around if you try hard enough.)

Nurturing and the kitchen are a natural linkage. For me, so was nurturing and the sewing room. The fact that my little darlings did not always appreciate this form of mothering is the subject of another post. (Anyone else hear things like, “I want Ocean Pacific/Gap/Espirit shorts, not mom-made ones!”? Of course you did. It was their way of nurturing you – inspiring you improve your skills so the garments in question didn’t look mom-made.)

In spite of their former reluctance towards custom-made/mom-made things, all three of my daughters sew and have good basic machines in their homes. Sometimes when I visit them, I get a chance to noodle around on their machines, which is fun. What’s not so fun is their sewing rooms, or rather, the lack of them.

Portable sewing on the dining table
Two of them sew at their dining table, the other has a nook in the hallway right by the front door. The pressing area goes wherever there is space and an electrical plug. All the arrangements require setting up and taking down (and in the case of my oldest daughter, baby-proofing the area afterwards).

I remember sewing like this back in the day, but I’d forgotten how time consuming and enthusiasm dampening it could be. It takes huge drive to dig out everything, set it up, and put it all away every time you want to create. And the organization! It’s so easy to misplace parts, like pressing hams and tracing paper. Sewing has so many bits and pieces besides a machine and an iron.

Let me assure you that I am not criticising their sewing areas. They have limited space and don’t have the room. That they are willing to sew at all I consider a marvel.

It’s made me realize how truly blessed I am to have a dedicated creative area with a door I can close when things get messy. I can leave projects half-finished, and ignore the scraps on the floor. If I didn’t have this luxury of space, well, I don’t know how much I would sew.

To those who sew in “portable” sewing spaces, I tip my hat to you. You rock!

                      - Lady T

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Fabulousness in Ottawa

Do you rank things? I do. Even though the world is blissfully unaware of my contests, I hold them and declare winners. Since sewing is dear to my heart, it should come as no surprise that I hold secret and private contests involving all things fabric. 

Today I'm ready to make an announcement.  

Grand Winner: Darrell Thomas on Preston Street 
The winner of Lady T’s Favourite Fabulous Fabric Store in Canada award goes to... drum roll please... Darrell Thomas Textiles in Ottawa, Ontario.

This pronouncement does not come without due consideration. Over the years, I've auditioned many, many fabric stores. My husband declares I have built-in fabric store radar. If we drive though a town that has one, chances are I'll find it without even trying. It's spooky.

Lady T and Darrell - he hates having his picture taken
but kindly agrees, providing I join him.
Darrell Thomas Textiles wins hands down. This independent store is chockablock full of fabulous fabrics and notions. The offerings are exquisite – Versace, Armani, Burberry – big names for a small store. Even the notions are drool-worthy; Darrell Thomas has the nicest interfacings I’ve ever seen; other stores may offer more varieties, but this one carries the best. The customer service is unbelievable – once I saw Darrell invite a customer who’d run aground on her sewing project into the classroom and help her past the roadblock. A-maz-ing.
My purchases: Burberry lining, 2 silky fusible interfacings, fine wool
Beautiful navy Australian wool, milled in Italy

In an era when many (most?) independent fabric stores have gone the way of the dodo bird, it’s comforting to see one going strong. I stop in every time I’m in the area. 

Lady T and T&G at the Tulip Festival
Another fabulous attraction – The Ottawa Tulip Festival! Bed after bed of gorgeous colour, it not only dazzles the eye but uplifts the heart.

But dearest to my heart, my most favourite fabulous attraction in Ottawa is DD#2, aka Tall & Gorgeous (T&G). Luckily for me, she enjoys accompanying me when I visit the other favourite fabulous Ottawa attractions.

           - Lady T

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Tale of Two Dresses - Part 2

Pin-basted together with the darts on the outside.
Getting a feel for the hem length.
Nothing is more inspiring than success!

After her triumph with the black knit party dress, Ms Better Than the Best was eager to sew again. She decided a sheath dress (or two or three) would be a great addition to her wardrobe. A good-fitting sheath dress flatters the curvy figure and makes getting dressed in the morning a cinch. With a tested tried ’n’ true pattern, Ms BTTB knew she could create some interesting variations on a theme with different necklines and fabrics.

Finding a good basic sheath dress pattern proved to be harder than expected. Several “almosts” had full skirts, or slits, or weird design lines, or no sleeves. Finally she found one she liked: McCalls 2401. It features bust and waist darts, straight skirt, sleeves and a simple neckline. Unfortunately it is not one of the pick-your-cup-size patterns.

Deciding which size to use is a challenge for anyone, but it’s especially hard for a curvy girl. Using the full bust measurement is a recipe for disaster. In the end, she chose the size she thought would best fit her shoulders and neckline, and would do the full bust adjustment for the bodice. A good solution, especially as I was around to help drape-fit the pattern.

After a quick tissue-fitting, and pattern altering, the dress was cut out of muslin and basted together. Not bad, but the darts needed adjusting, which is easy to do in the muslin format because you can add or cut away fabric. While I was working on one side of the dress, I could see the fabric was trying to form French darts. (French darts start from the side seam, around the waist, and  angle up to the bust. It’s a very flattering line.) I pinned it out and we took a look. Nice!

Close-up of the two French darts, pin-basted together on the
outside. I like the way they subtly shape the dress.
Just for fun, I split the French dart into two – one above the other – and the result was gorgeous! From the one pattern, Ms BTTB now has two looks – the standard bust-and-waist-darts, and the draped French darts.

Unfortunately, our sewing time ran out before we finished the project. For our final fitting, the French dart dress, cut out of the fashion fabric, was pin-basted together with the darts on the right side. The lines looked good on this inside-out version, and appeared to be in the right place. So far, so good.

I’m eagerly awaiting the finished version.

      - Lady T

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Tale of Two Dresses, Part 1

Nobody's Better Than the Best! (aka Ms BTTB)
Sometimes I think I fret too much – sweat the small stuff. The thought gained momentum recently when I was lucky enough to catch some quality sewing time with my youngest daughter.

An aside: In a past post, I referred to my youngest daughter as DD#3, which, strictly speaking she is, but she is much, much more than that, so I wanted blog-name that would better reflect her wonderfulness. This is a tad difficult, since I already picked the perfect name for her at birth. Then I remembered a handle she gave herself when she was young, said in one long, loud, fast breath, “I’m The Best and Nobody’s Better Than the Best!” (Can you picture her siblings’ reactions?) For brevity’s sake, I’m going to use the initials from the last part of that long-winded moniker, Better Than the Best, so I hereby christen her Ms BTTB. The Best would be a simpler nickname but if I wrote that, her siblings might develop strange notions about our family dynamics that would take years of intense therapy to undo.

A second aside: I am also a DD#3, and I was called The Boss. Hmmmmm.

Anyhoo, back on topic....

Ms BTTB had a fancy function to attend – a masked dance. My poor little Cinderella had a flat wallet. However, in her cupboard, she had a long length of black cotton-spandex knit material (aka t-shirt fabric). With only an idea in her head (no pattern) for a drapey dress, she chopped, chopped, chopped into that fabric and made basically two rectangles. Gathering it on one side about halfway down, she sewed it together, leaving the prerequisite spaces for head and arms and legs. Ms BTTB tried it on, decided it was butt ugly, and tossed the homely thing in the corner.

Time passed. Unfortunately, her wallet didn’t gain any weight. Necessity being the Mother of Invention, she picked it up, dusted it off, and tried it on again. Assessing the design, Ms Better Than The Best decided she liked the cowl neckline, but lumpy, dumpy middle ruined the silhouette. She pinched, she twisted, she created magic. When she was finished, Ms BTTB had an interesting asymmetrical, sleeveless, cowl-neck dress. The addition of a bit of bling on the side twist took the garment up that final notch. Voila! A gorgeous dress!

Button sewn on the edge of cowl
However, don’t focus too closely on the finishing detail. The seams... well, they stayed together. The hem... unfinished is au courant. The super-long facing in the back... turns out it helps smooth bra-band area nicely.

Button creating weight - imagine
it hidden inside
Button hooked on bridge of bra, creating
a stationary, non-risque neckline

One detail was sheer brilliance. On the bottom of the cowl, Ms BTTB sewed on a small clear button. It adds weight, so the cowl hangs nicely. Better still, the button can be tucked into the bridge of the bra, creating a sharp, low V that stays in place and doesn’t show anything. Nada.

Ready to party!
What I love best is the joie de vie that went into this creation. Sure, the dress spent some time balled up in the corner. But enthusiasm started the project, and enthusiasm finished the dress. With the goal firmly in mind, BTTB went at it, full steam ahead. She put her heart in it.

I wanna sew like that.
         - Lady T