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Friday, January 22, 2016

A Few Things I Have Learned

I didn't get my cutting done over the past weekend like I wanted to, but I did get it done yesterday.  As I was cutting out two more Bethioua tops, I realized that over the years, very slowly, I have learned a few things.  I also realized that it's possible that someone else could benefit from what's taken me years to figure out, so that's what today's blog post is about.  These are primarily sewing things, but they can apply to knitting too.

I learned to sew when I was growing up.  My mother taught me and I progressed through the usual learning projects as I got older.  I sewed garments off and on until college when I had to take a garment construction class as a degree requirement.  (I spent 3 years as an Interior Design major and this class was part of that degree.  I didn't actually major in Interior Design because I switched degrees to Art History, so that's what my degree is in.)  By the time I finished that class I was proficient enough that I could sew just about anything I wanted to, and if I didn't know how to do something, I knew where to look to find it.  After all that sewing, I almost never wore anything I made.  I might wear something once, but that was about it.  I enjoyed the sewing but not the finished projects.

As I was finishing college, I got interested in quilting.  I took a class and learned how to make a simple quilt (log cabin).  After college, and a move, I worked at a quilting shop and eventually became the manager.  The majority of the sewing I did was piecing.  Quilting is a completely different animal from garment sewing but I learned two thing really well:  my cutting became much more accurate (thank you rotary cutter) and I learned how to get a perfect seam allowance.  Shortly after we moved away from the quilting store, Caleb came along and I realized that sewing on the machine wasn't possible when I was holding him and it woke him up from naps.  That's when I really started knitting. 

Learning to knit, I followed the same learning curve many knitters do, working from simple, garter and stockinette stitch projects, to projects with shaping, textured stitches, cables, and lace.  Eventually, I realized that some of the things I was knitting, I wasn't wearing - kind of like my previous garment sewing projects.  This time though, I started thinking about why I wasn't wearing my hand knits.  This was the beginning of me figuring things out! 

I realized that I was approaching knitting (and previously sewing) in a completely different way from the way I approached my wardrobe and everyday garments.  I was a pretty confident knitter and I wasn't really intimidated by challenging patterns, so when I saw a knitting design that had something new in it, that I'd never tried, I jumped in and started knitting.  This was great for stretching my knitting skills, but I realized that I never stopped to wonder if it was something I would actually wear.  Once I actually slowed down and started thinking, I backed off from a lot of complex, heavily textured patterns.  When I saw a new pattern I started asking myself if it was something I would buy to wear.  I'd already gotten pretty good at buying clothes that worked for my personality and life style, but I wasn't thinking about these things with my knitting.  I'd also finally realized that there was no point in spending the time and money on things I wasn't going to wear.  Taking the step back to really question things before launching myself on a new knitting project meant that I started knitting things I would actually wear!  Most of my knitting now is simple stockinette and or other basic stitches with really great shaping or details.  I don't choose the most difficult patterns out there, I choose things I'll actually wear.  When I started sewing again recently, it was time to apply these thoughts to my sewing.

I needed to take another look at what I actually wear.  My closet is filled with casual clothes.  Primarily jeans and t-shirts with a few dresses and skirts thrown in.  Now I like my t-shirts, these aren't oversized obnoxious vacation style t-shirts.  They're solid colored and they fit me just right.  They're perfect for pairing with cardigans and scarves that I've knit.  I have them in many colors, both long sleeved and short sleeved and even some 3/4 sleeved ones.  I don't wear a lot of wovens and I don't wear a lot of prints, except my Wiksten tank tops in Liberty of London, but those are small prints.  It makes sense that if I'm going to sew, I should probably sew things I actually wear.  I think that the fact I've not only made and worn my Wiksten tanks and Bethioua shirts, but made and worn multiples of them, means I'm finally on the right track.  It's fun to look at fancy dress patterns, but I just don't wear enough fancy dresses to justify spending my time on them.  I need to sew the basic, workhorse things I grab again and again.

There's another thing that I've had to learn to do when I start a sewing project and this one is really tough for me.  I've been working really hard on buying the right fabric.  I'm not talking about the fabric type or weight - I'm fine with that.  I'm talking about buying prints, or in my case not buying prints.  I have to remember that even though it's really boring to buy solid colored yardage, that's the kind of thing I need to be buying in order to make solid colored tops, which is what I wear.  I have to step back from the large floral print with the cheetah background and the sparkly pink with tiaras printed all over it.  I've had to learn to buy fabric for actual clothes I'll actually wear, not because it's an amazingly beautiful design with brocade zombies on it.  I've also learned that when I do buy a print, I need to stay small scale.  The Liberty of London prints are perfect this way.

Finally, the last thing that has made a difference in my sewing is that I've gotten better at it.  I cut everything out with a rotary cutter now.  I'm much more precise and after all the years of quilting, I'm comfortable with one.  I've never been great with scissors, so why mess with them?  I've learned how to finish the inside of the garment like ready to wear, and I'm learning how to work with knits (they're not as hard as I assumed they'd be).  I know this sound crazy, but after 30 years or so of sewing, with side trips into quilting and knitting, I'm finally making things I actually wear!  And just in case you wanted specific examples, I've worn a Bethioua top four times in the last week and I'm planning to wear one today when I get dressed!

I know this is a long and rambly read, but I hope I can save someone else some time and effort of having to figure this out on their own.  Have a great weekend!



Blogger Kay Tipsord said...

This was interesting to me as I am going down a similar path with my knitting. i have finally promised myself I won't make any more clothes that I won't wear. In my case it's more an issue of shape and less of the complex pattern but I have sworn no more circular yoke sweaters, no more oversize bulky things. We'll see how well I do. Anyway, I think you make some very good points and I will re-read your post when I need to be reminded what I'm supposed to be doing or not doing.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Robby H. said...

I figured out after making my first sweater that knitting really needed to be about things I would use/wear, or gifts. I'm maybe not as smart as you, just pretty stinking frugal. I still use the bold, eye-catching and fun fabrics, but they go in quilts, not on my body. They are so perfect for babies and kids of all ages. Nice to be able to sew with both the logical and creative sides of the brain, no?

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Suzanne said...

Amen! I don't know why it takes so long to learn these lessons. I think that there is a long learning phase for needleworkers, when we want to know how to do these complex stitches and how to make them look perfect. For example, I still want to learn how to do entrelac, but I would never buy a sweater with that pattern. But when I buy knitwear, I buy plain socks, solid plain sweaters (with the exception of cables), and simple scarves. Several years ago, like you, I decided to not knit anything that I would not purchase ready-made. Now, when deciding what I am going to knit, I picture "in my mind" what I want to make...something I might go shopping for....then go on Ravelry to find the closest pattern, one that might require the least amount of modification.
Thanks for your essay, very thoughtful.

2:14 PM  

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