Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cooper in the Forest

Sometimes, you have to walk a bit to get to a forest. Sometimes, the forest comes to you: this week has been especially windy, with leaves and even small branches zipping along my window. Nevertheless, a nice long walk was tempting. In the woods and parks, the municipality doesn't clear out the autumn leaves like they do on the city streets. Instead, a thick, mushy carpet covers the ground. The wind whizzes through the trees, and as tiny raindrops start to fall, you can almost imagine even the barren leaves on the floor coming to life.

Inspired by this weather, I entered new sewing waters and made my first bag! This project has been a long time coming. Making a bag has been on my list for a while, but I stuck to sewing clothing. Clothing felt a lot less intimidating than sewing a bag. I know it's supposed to be the other way around (as you do not have to deal with things like sizing); and indeed the pattern itself advertises that it needs no fitting and should be easy. But neither that, nor the friendly reassuring words from bloggers was enough to reassure me: because I had been knitting clothes long before I sewed my first garment, making clothes has always felt more familiar and less daunting when sewing. The parts and concepts seemed that much more familiar.

In the end I needn't not to have worried so much, while there were a couple of new techniques to discover, most of this project went fast. The pattern was great, and because of the clear description it was a lot easier than expected.

Backpacks are my favourite kind of bags, and I basically use them all the time so choosing what kind of bag I wanted to make was easy. It was surprisingly hard to find nice backpack patterns out there, or perhaps I'm not looking in the right places? (Do tell me if I'm not!) I found very few, and those that I did find were either children's patterns or not really in line with what I was looking for. I wonder why, do pattern companies think that there is no market for bag patterns? In the end I found two pattern candidates, but went with Cooper by Colette, because it looked like it had more interesting finishing than the other. It has tons of pockets, both inside and outside the main bag. I'd seen some versions of the pattern floating around on blogs which I really liked. So I bit the bullet, and started gathering supplies.

I got my materials from a bunch of different places, as none of the places where I usually get my fabric had the hardware involved in making this bag. In the end I ordered the webbing, magnetic snaps and jiffy rivets, during the process I discovered I had even ordered the wrong ones of the latter so they didn't even make it into the bag. As far as I can tell they only have a aesthetic function, so it isn't a big deal that they're left out (apart from wounding my pride in my sewing related material gathering skills, of course). I used canvas for the outer fabric of the bag, and cotton for the lining. I was really pleased to have found the forest print canvas. The dark green uni-colour canvas complimented the canvas printed with all kinds of forest animals: foxes, hedgehogs, owls and squirrels. In the photos, I'm wearing it together with Freydis for extra forest-vibes. Sewing with a fabric print that has a difference between right-way-up and upside-down seemed a bit daunting because of the many pattern parts, but the sewing pattern provided all the cutting advise needed.

The hardest part was keeping track of all the different pieces and fabrics. There are a lot of pattern pieces involved in the construction of the bag, scattered over 3 different fabrics. As I said, I was not familiar with the construction, I had a hard time keeping track and visualizing where everything should go. In the end I just gave up trying to understand it all, and blindly followed the pattern. Honestly, that worked out well.

Another new thing was installing all the hardware. I stressed a lot about the magnetic snaps, but in reality they were installed in a couple of minutes (after which I felt ridiculous for all the stressing).
The webbing caused some more problems. I had relatively thick cotton/nylon webbing (cotton on the outside, nylon on the inside). I like the feel and look of these a lot more than pure nylon webbing, but problem I had was that the webbing was so thick at certain points that my machine refused to sew it. I searched the internet for some tips, and tried a couple of them. What worked best for me was to change the canvas needle I was using (one of the higher numbers of the universal needles) to a thick denim needle, but more crucially I stopped sewing electronically on the machine. I still used my machine, but instead of turning on the motor, I turned the crank by hand. This worked wonders, and after that I had no trouble with sewing the webbing any more.

Here you see the backside of the bag, with a tree that was friendly enough to model it.
I learned quite some new things, while working on this project. This was my first experience with top, edge and under stitching. With dresses you usually try to hide all the seams and stitches, but these techniques are all about being visible. I'm glad I tried these now, as I know it is used on clothing as well, and (when it is done properly) gives a really professional look to the project. In this case it also servers to make the bag a lot more sturdy. I'm satisfied with how my stitches came out. There are some wonky bits but most of it is decent enough. Slow and steady definitely wins the race with these techniques. Speedy sewing is not so speedy if you have to unpick all your top stitching because the lines resemble a line drawing made by a 3 year old.

This project makes me very happy. I made something that I've been wanting to make for a while and it actually came out nice. I tried a bunch of things I hadn't done before, learned loads in the process, and it didn't end in disaster!  I hope it has opened the door to other new/more advanced sewing (such as knits). Who knows, maybe I'm even up for making a coat in due time. The first snow has been forecast where I live for next weekend, so I hope you'll enjoy these last autumn walks!


Friday, November 6, 2015

Nikka Vord

Isn't it funny how I always think that during any given exam period I will have time to pop in here for a blog post and rarely do? I need to work on my time management a bit. Last week I wrapped up my midterms. I celebrated during the weekend by spending a couple of days at my parents, and by visiting my brother. We had a big get-together on Saturday to watch the Rugby World Cup final. Alas my favourite teams didn't even make it to the semi-finals, but to make up for it my mum made two epic rugby cakes: one shaped and decorated as a ball and another as a rugby field (she has watched a lot of Bake off type of shows lately).  I ended up rooting for the team that has a knitter as their number 12, and this was not entirely fruitless. Some knitting may, or may not have been tossed around when he scored an amazing try. Back to business: while I was there I took some pictures of my latest finished garment: Nikka Vord.

When Gudrun Jonston published The Shetland Trader Book Two last year I squealed with delight when I saw the designs. The patterns are right up my alley, the photos are beautiful, and I loved the yarns Gudrun picked for her book. Unsurprisingly, the patterns that spoke to me the most were the colourwork patterns. Especially Northdale and Nikka Vord called to me. As part of my apparent  mission to knit an ludicrous amount of yoke sweaters I went with the latter. Thinking back, a stranded yoke in DK was suspiciously absent from my wardrobe.

Another reason why I wanted to knit this sweater is because I had wanted to try the recommended yarn, Jamieson's DK, for a while.  I've knitted quite a bit with that other well known Shetland yarn brand, Jamieson and Smith (they are different companies, but have similar names, and thus they get frequently mixed up in Ravelry discussions and the like), but never with Jamieson's. The thing is, Jamieson's proved quite hard to come by. Recently a couple of stores have started selling Jamieson's in the Netherlands (yay!) but they stick to their fingering weight yarn, spindrift.  In the end the only option for me was to call one of these stores that stock spindrift and asked them (nicely) whether they were willing to order some jamieson's dk with their next spindrift order. Fortunately they said yes! So while I did had to wait a couple of months, I did get my yarn in the end.

I'm glad I went trough all the trouble to get my hands on it, because I love it. The colours are gorgeous, look very natural and are perfectly heathered. The feel of the yarn hits somewhere between Icelandic Lopi and Jamieson and Smith's. All in all this yarn is right what I needed. I do love the original yarn colours, with it's subtle yoke and oatmeal heathered main colour.

The yarn comes in 25 gram balls, which means the yardage of each ball is fairly small. This means that if you're making a sweater you have a lot of ends to weave in at the end, even more when you make a stranded colourwork sweater. I'll admit that this was not my favourite part of making the sweater. Normally I weave in the ends as I knit the sweater, but this time I left them all until the end.

I already talked a bit about the process of knitting this sweater in this post. Unfortunately I had to reknit quite a large portion of the sweater when the bust part turned out way (WAY) to big. As the sizing for the first part of the sweater came out right for me, this is odd, even more so because this never happens to me -that is to say, the bust area isn't exactly the area where I generally encounter the most positive ease in my garments. I ripped back the sweater to before the bust increases and just knit it without them, and now it fits fine.

 Overall I'm really happy with the sweater. I love the subtle colours of the yoke. I think I will be wearing this one a lot. A welcome addition to the Treehouse yoke sweater family.

I'm starting to notice that slowly winter is -wait for it- coming. The days are shorter, and there's less light out there, making the time frame for taking pictures noticeably smaller. Last year I practised with taking photographs indoors. I never really got the hang of it, but it won't be long until I'll have to resume practise. Nevertheless, I'm one of the few people in my environment who adores winter, and I greet her as a friend. Hope you're all enjoying the tail end of autumn!

Monday, October 19, 2015

First hike up the Buchaille

This week a rather exquisite parcel arrived at the Treehouse: Straight from Kate Davies' Scottish home, seven neatly packed skeins of Buchaille. As people who follow me here or on Ravelry might notice, I'm a bit of a fan of Kate's designs. Owls was the first garment I've ever knitted, and I think her Yokes make up roughly half of my favourite designs by anyone, ever. You can imagine my enthusiasm when Kate announced her own yarn range back in August!

The first batch of Buchaille was only sold as a part of the 'Seven Skeins Club': a package deal that included one skein of each colour of Buchaille. The idea was that by preventing people from stocking up large amounts of any given colourway, every enthusiast would get the chance to try the colourways. In addition to the skeins of yarn, the club includes a project bag, a weekly pattern release for seven weeks (resulting in seven accessories that combined can be knitted with the seven skeins supplied) and a hard copy book that includes the seven patterns, essays by Kate, beautiful Highland photography and Scottish recipes.

The yarn comes in seven colours; yaffle (a bright green), squall (dark gray), haar (light grey), Islay (dark green), Highland coo (red/orange), ptarmigan (white) and Between Weathers (a deep blue). At the moment my personal favourites are these three below, but I'm constantly shifting between them!

Although the club has now closed, the first pattern has been published, and Kate's Ravelry group is buzzing with excitement for it. I haven't really participated thus far, because I'm very busy at uni (another round of exams, gah). Things should quiet down a bit after this week, so hopefully I'll be able participate with the upcoming patterns. I also hope to have finished my Nikka Vord by then, so I can be fully focussed on the Buchaille projects.

See you all then!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

It's a Frog Fest

The plan for this week's post was to show you my latest finished project, but as you can see on the photo things didn't go quite as planned. Instead of knitting the yoke of my sweater, I spent the weekend ripping half of my sweater. To provide a bit of background information: the yarn is Jamieson's DK, and the pattern I'm working from is Nikka Vord. The first part of the sweater fits all right, but somewhere, somehow, the body of the sweater got far to big, and I didn't find out until I was ready to start the yoke. While I was working on it, I did think that there were quite a lot of bust increases, but not excessively so. I had to come back to that quite spectacularly when I tried it on just before starting the yoke.

I had to rip back half the sweater -in total, I took out three and a half balls of yarn-, frog all the bust increases and basically have to reknit it the upper half without increases now. It's going to be a quite straight body now, but I think that that will look just fine. Since I'm at it anyway, I'm also going to cut back on the length of the body a bit. I think cutting the length back a bit will be more flattering for someone my length.

How is your knitting go on? I Hope your projects are going better than mine at the moment! Here's to swift knitting!


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Blue Flora Dress

My boyfriend graduated earlier this summer (yay!). His official graduation was on Wednesday two weeks ago , which felt a bit odd to both of us as he has been working at a new job pretty much since he passed his final exam. Nonetheless graduating is a preeeettty big thing and it deserves to be celebrated a such. I have to say though, this celebrating can be quite a challenge for an introvert whose equivalent of a "wild night out" is either sitting at home with her knitting, a good cup of tea and an audio book or behind her sewing machine singing along to Queen songs. So I decided to make it easier and more fun for me, by taking some of "my kind of party" along. No, I did not sit through the ceremony with my knitting... I thought that was taking it a bit to far (though in hindsight!), instead I sewed myself a brand new dress for the occasion.

The pattern is the Flora Dress from By Hand London. When I first got properly interested in sewing clothes this was an upcoming indie sewing company, and I didn't really see them much anywhere. By now they're one of the best known brands in the indie pattern sewing community. I made the tank bodice of the Flora Dress, in the straight circle skirt variation, to make her more wearable during colder weather. I'd like to try the dipped hem circle skirt at some point as well, perhaps next summer.

The dress, as written, has a bodice lining, which I decided to turn into a full lining. Inserting lining was a first for me. I simply wasn't convinced about the advantages of a lining in relation to the trouble/extra time/extra fabric needed for inserting one (unless your outer fabric was see-through). What a fool I was! I'm totally converted to Camp Lining now! I love how clean it makes the inside of the dress look, I love what it does for the neckline and I love how much better the dress sits, and it gives the dress some extra warmth. As a bonus: no more dresses that stick to my tights for me any more! I'm super happy with the lining (and probably a tad more smug about it than I should be).

Another feature of the dress that went unexpectedly well was the invisible zipper. My last try at an invisible zipper was a DIS-AS-TER, and it totally ruined the dress beyond salvage. I'm still not completely over it. (How do you mean, "you never blogged about that"? OF COURSE I never blogged about it! It was a disaster!) But a sewing hiatus and a new invisible zipper foot later and I was ready to give it a new shot. Although installing the zipper took me longer than it probably should take (I wasn't taking any chances) I'm happy with the outcome.

This was my first shot at a By Hand London pattern. I was keen to try the pattern, and it definitely did not disappoint. The pattern directions are really clear and extensive, and to top it of most of their patterns have a detailed sew-along dedicated to them on the website. Apart from the clarity of the patterns, which I do admit is the most important aspect, I like the tone of the writing in the patterns as well. It's informal, it's cheerful, and yet it's informative; in short, I like it very much.
Finally, each pattern is dedicated to a female Muse, a woman whom the team knows in real life and admires. This just makes my feminist heart sing. Due to business difficulties, the company had to stop producing paper patterns, and now only sells pdf- patterns. Personally I much prefer paper patterns though, and luckily I was able to still find some of the patterns that I really would like to make in paper versions. Though, one of the new patterns that never even appeared in paper form and which I want to make, is only available in pdf, so I'll have to make the jump at some point. That'll be my first sewing project from a pdf, so at least I'll be able to say that I'll definitely learn something new.

The Flora really is a summer dress, so from now on I really should adjust my sewing to the colder weather ahead. Luckily I have a wardrobe bursting with handknits to layer her with, so I can keep on wearing her for now. I didn't bother with making bra straps for now, as I will mostly be wearing it with sweaters anyway. I can see the advantage of them during warmer weather, so I might make them then, if I can be bothered enough. 

The dress is not perfect. There are probably a bunch of things that I could do to make it better. Fit wise, I might do a full bust adjustment next time, to improve the fit of the bodice. For now though, I'm just really happy to have ended up with a nice new dress, but even more to have gotten back into sewing, pretty smoothly, thanks to this pattern. 

Towards the end of the summer holiday (oh the irony) the sewing bug really hit me. Past year has been rough on the craft front. University soaked up so much of my time, knitting suffered and got done only on few and in-between times, and sewing came to a complete stop all together. I needed most of my summer holiday to recover from the past year, without being able to really pick up my crafts where I left them, but once things got a bit normal again inspiration finally struck, to the point where I even dreamt about the long to-make-lists that I'd made during the day. I'm hoping I can manage to juggle responsibilities enough to make a tiny dent in that long list of awesome dresses, knitting projects, and sewing patterns I want to make reality.

I hope you all have a positive, crafty year as well. Do you have any sewing plans for autumn? 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dutch Traditional Ganseys 2 or Visserstruien 2

At the the end of August, Visserstruien 2 (Dutch Traditional Ganseys 2) by Stella Ruhe was published. The first volume was published in September 2013 and got quite some attention, both in the Netherlands and abroad. One of Stella Ruhe's findings in volume 1 is that many people in Dutch fisher communities had forgotten that the people there even used to wear ganseys at all. Partly because knitting, at the time, was a field dominated by women, and therefore deemed not important and partly because ganseys were work clothing, so again beneath attention of historians or conservation. Due to Stella Ruhe's first book, many more people started to do research in their personal family archives; this more sweaters were uncovered and the findings are presented in this new book.As in book 1; it combines old photos of fishermen sweaters with photos of re-knitted sweaters.

Volume 2 follows the same concept as its predecessor: a part of the book consist of historical background and a look into the lives of fishermen and their families, followed by a chapter on knitting, and finally chapters about the actual sweaters, divided by region. There are differences between volumes one and two though; the first book offers some broader information about Dutch fishermen, their women, and the sweaters themselves, in general keeping the focus steadily on the Netherlands. In contrast, volume 2 does offer a brief recap of the findings in volume 1, but then shifts focus to two different aspects of fishermen sweaters: first the foreign connections that influenced the fishermen and their ganseys, and in addition a detailed description of the day-to-day life of a fisherman at sea.

The first part of the book focusses on the connections the fishermen made in abroad, particularly in England, Scotland and Ireland, but also Scandinavia, Iceland and even Greenland. The English and Scottish sweaters had a great influence on the Dutch sweaters. This influence can be glanced from the many similar motives in British and Dutch sweaters. A reason for this similarity is that fishermen's wives all over Europe found inspiration from the same source: the sea and everything involved with fishing. Ruhe points out the similarities as well as differences between sweaters from the various countries involved. What I found particularly interesting in this chapter is the discussion of the importance and influence of the herring girls in Britain and Ruhe's theory of what are probably the oldest Dutch sweaters she found during her research, which stem from two communities known for their whaling voyages. The men went on voyages around Iceland and Greenland quite early in the Dutch fisher history, and Ruhe theorizes that this is why they were among the first in need of guernseys.

While I enjoyed reading this chapter, it could have delved a bit deeper in certain aspects discussed. I already own books discussing, for example, English and Scottish fishermen sweaters. There was little in this chapter that was completely new. I would have liked to see more about the influence of Scandinavian sweaters. Indeed,  Ruhe herself says in the book that this is a field that needs more research before anything more can be said about it. I saw allusions to more research on various places, so perhaps there are plans (or maybe merely hopes) for a third volume.

The second part of the historical background chapters describes the life of the fishermen when on the boats, especially on the herring fleet, which was the most important catch for the Dutch fishing industry. This interesting chapter discusses the different roles the men could have on board, the men's luggage, their diets and many other practical aspects to living on a fishing ship. I was particularly intrigued to read about the importance of religion and superstition on the ship, as that is something I know little about: it certainly makes for interesting anecdotes.

The patterns are separated into different Dutch coastal areas of origin. The same coastal areas as in the first volume return: De Noordzee kust or North Sea Coast, de Zuiderzee-coast now IJselmeer. (due to poldering the Zuiderzee is no longer a sea but a lake) and de Waddenkust or Frisian Islands. A new area is added: de Grote Rivieren or the River Areas, focussing on the commercial fishing on Dutch rivers. 

A British fisherman (left) and a Dutch gansey (right) sporting the same pattern

The patterns are written in the same way as in book 1. This means very general instructions are given as to how to knit a (fisherman) sweater in the front of the book, while the specific patterns are given in the form of charts, and a sketch with measurements. This leaves a lot left to figure out for the knitter. Sweater sizing and chart placement are to be calculated according to your own knitted swatch. In an age of Ravelry, indy designers and pdf patterns, this is not something knitters are used to; it just gives you the bare bones, from which you have to construct the pattern yourself. While I do recommend the book to everyone who is interested in this tradition, if you want to make one of the patterns I'd say that it is not suitable for beginners, and more suited to knitters with more experience. 

As of yet the book is only published in Dutch. Last year it took a a few weeks for it to be translated in English. I haven't heard of any concrete plans for book 2 to be translated. However I do believe that the English translation of the first book sold well and received quite some attention, so I'd be surprised if there were no plans for a translation this time around. So those are my thoughts about the new book. I hope you enjoyed it.

Have a nice weekend!

Friday, September 18, 2015

My Warm Weather Project

At the start of September, as if on cue, the temperatures dropped, and now it feels as if autumn is here to stay. The perfect time to take a look at one of the things I have been working on throughout the summer holiday in preparation of colder weather.

In previous years I didn't really adapt my knitting to the summer weather. I've been know to keep on knitting with aran weight wool all through the warmer weather. This summer my habits were put to the test because we had an unusually extreme heat wave, part of which I spend in France, where we spend large periods of time outside on the road. I had to rethink my strategy a bit. Just in time for the heat I remembered that I had the perfect yarn in my stash for the perfect project: A hap for Harriet by Kate Davies, in lace weight wool.

I used the recommended Old Maiden Aunt Shetland 2 ply for my Hap, which is a heavy laceweight. The yarn feel soft, but also quite sturdy. It results in a light but warm shawl. Perfect for the beginning of Autumn. It was the first time I used this yarn but I'm really happy with the result and I think that, for now, it has taken over the favourites spot from OMA Merino Superwash 4ply, which I used for Follow Your Arrow II.

The pattern is quite simple, one of those mindless projects, which came in really handy whilst travelling in the summer. On top of that Kate has provided instructions for knitting from charts and written instructions. Really, the pattern couldn't be more clear. I mostly used the written instructions. The pattern recommends weighing your ball of yarn in between working on it, to make the most of your skein. I know that some knitters regularly use their kitchen scales to weigh their knitting, but I never did so before. Now that I've used it for this project though, I'm going to do it more often. I even upgraded to a better, more accurate kitchen scale to do the job. 

I loved watching the magic of blocking on this one. Like all lace knits, the shawl was quite frumpy while working on it, and I spend quite some time explaining to bystanders how the end result would look all big and bloomy, instead of what I had in my hand. Which more often than not resulted in a hazy look directed at me, but, well what can a poor knitter do to against such disbelief? The shawl grew enormously after a good blocking session, and took in a lot of space on the floor (to my cats' pleasure).

I'm very happy with the end result, both the pattern and the yarn were a huge success. I know that I will wear this a lot throughout autumn, winter and spring. My first hap was definitely a success, and I'm sure I'll make a more in the future, perhaps a more traditional hap?

The pattern for this hap was made by the fabulous Kate Davies. For those who, like me, are avid fans of Kate's work, today brought a joyful occasion to keep a hand over the F5 button while having Kate's website opened. At noon exactly, Kate officially launched her own yarn brand, Buchaille. It's a sports-weight made of Scottish wool, and I'm looking forward to see it in person. I will keep you posted once the yarn and the goodies when they arrive.

So, how was your summer knitting?
I hope September has been treating you all well,