Finished Object: Bellows Cardigan

Despite finishing in January, I somehow haven't shared a post on my Bellows Cardigan yet, but it's probably because I've been too busy wearing it.

This sweater project definitely feels like my biggest knitting accomplishment to date. With piles of cables, a shawl collar and buttonband, and set-in sleeves, I think this pattern could have scared me off. Instead, this Michele Wang pattern made my heart sing, and I now have her Ondawa, Bingham, and Rowe sweaters in my queue. 

I knit my Bellows in O-Wool Balance, which is quickly becoming my favorite sweater yarn ever. The blend of wool and cotton offers amazing stitch definition, softness, and warmth without being too heavy. I know I mentioned this in my Lila post, I will undoubtedly use it time and time again.

I cast on in late August while on a family vacation in Northern Michigan. Instead of a gauge swatch, I started with the sleeves and used those measurements as my guide. I ended up making one minor mistake in the sweater - skipping a twist on one of the cables on the right sleeve, but I just consider it my touch of wabi sabi.

I decided to track my row counts on the sleeves and front pieces to ensure they ended up being identical in size, which was especially helpful when it came to sleeve and shoulder shaping. My only issue was in picking up the stitches for the buttonband and collar -- apparently I pick up stitches in the wrong direction! Because of it, I ended up adding a few extra rows, which allows me to flip the collar up a bit more for extra-chilly days.

Knitting the Bellows is another reminder that I really can knit with patience and persistence. This is my most complex project to date, and it took me nearly six months to complete. In that time, I knit on this sweater nearly monogamously and was so content with it. I feel more excited to make things than I have in years because I'm continuing to demonstrate to myself that I can complete even the most complex garments if I allow myself to do it on my own schedule.

And that's the best thing about my Bellows. It's a physical reminder of the meditative joy I experience from the simple act of knitting and makes me feel like there's a small bit of magic in every single stitch.

Project Stats:
Pattern - Bellows by Michele Wang
Yarn - O-Wool Balance
My knitting progress documented on Ravelry and Instagram

making things: my 2017 crafting goals

We're already a full month and a half into 2017, so in classic Rachel fashion, it feels as good a time as any to share my 2017 crafty plans and goals.


A (very brief) 2016 year in review:

Last year was my least prolific year as a knitter, but somehow my best yet. I only completed one project in 2016 - my Lila pullover. I also cast on my Bellows Cardigan in 2016, which I finished just a week into 2017. 2016 revitalized my love for knitting and my commitment in time and energy to do it. Not to mention, I happen to wear the sweaters constantly. I've often thought of myself as a slow knitter who doesn't follow through on long-term projects, but by knitting monogamously on these sweaters, I've demonstrated to myself otherwise.

What's on my needles at the moment:

  • Briochealicious Shawl has been a fun project for me thus far - it's my first brioche project and I've enjoyed learning the two color method... after THREE false starts.
  • Simple vanilla socks in a beautiful, tonal cranberry color. I love Jenny Gordy's sock pattern in Made By Hand, and it's great back-burner knitting.

Hibernating projects to tackle:

  • Pomme de Pin Cardigan: I cast this sweater on in 2013 (gulp!) and haven't worked on it since 2014. I think I was feeling a little anxious about my abilities to follow the pattern well. That said, I'm ready to dive back in... and either knit this or frog the thing and cast on a Gable by Hannah Fettig, which is a simple sweatshirt style pullover and more my style.
  • Whispering Pines Shawl: I think I set this shawl aside when my knitting mojo took a hiatus in 2015. Since all I have left is the lace border, I'd like to finally finish this for my mom's birthday.
  • Hue Shift Blanket: I bought this kit for cheap on a whim, but it's so clearly not my aesthetic. Luckily, I now have a teen girl in my life who will thoroughly enjoy this uber-colorful blanket, and she's inspiring me to get back to it.

What's next in 2017:

  • I have a sweater quantity of Plucky Primo Fingering yarn in my stash in the most perfect dark grey ever, and I'm 99% sure it's destined to become a Carpino sweater.
  • I've been lusting after great shape and texture of the Ondawa sweater, likely in O-Wool Balance because it's basically my favorite yarn of all time.
  • I want to knit myself a wedding shawl, and Spruce Forest has an Estonian lace pattern that is so up my alley.
  • I really enjoy the instant gratification of hat knitting, and Diode and Roku have been in my queue for far too long.
  • I'm enamored with the simple, elegant construction of the Arched Gusset Mittens.
  • And the Mistletoe Socks from The Wool Club are really calling my name these days.

Slow Fashion October: Where I'm Coming From

Slow Fashion October is a celebration of the small-batch, handmade, second-hand, well-loved, long-worn, known-origins wardrobe. This online conversation is hosted by Karen Templer of the Fringe Association blog and since the month is very nearly over, I thought I'd add in my two cents.

my in-progress Bellows Cardigan

my in-progress Bellows Cardigan

The provenance of my clothing isn't something I often considered as a child or a teenager. In fact, shopping with my mom is definitely a way that my she and I bond and spend quality time together. In graduate school, I began to realize that I'd often turn to shopping as a way to deal with an emotional lack - when I felt lonely or sad, I bought things to fill that hole. My growing knowledge in the nature of the textile industry, the way the fast fashion industry operates, and the low likelihood that donated clothes make it into the hands of people in need leaves me hesitant to shop too frequently, and when I stand in front of my closet today, most of the things I own aren't new.

a recent outing at REI: trying, but not buying...

a recent outing at REI: trying, but not buying...

I also think it helps that I've developed a personal sense of style - I now know what colors, silhouettes and styles I enjoy wearing most - so my clothes are less centered around trends. It took me years to realize that I prefer neutral colors (my closet has more grey, navy, black and taupe than anything else), slim proportions on the bottom, tomboyish styles and natural fibres. I know that I will turn to my silk blouses and ankle trousers for the office or my simple button up shirts and sturdy jeans for weekend wear for years to come.

And yes, I know that all of my musings come from a place of privilege. I've never known the feeling of financial insecurity and even when my funds were particularly low, I never wondered if I would have a warm coat for the winter. And since my perspective is one of privilege, I think it's my responsibility to purchase things that are made well - with quality materials, in sustainable ways, with respect for the environment and the people who are making them. It's why I now vote with my dollar, supporting companies like Elizabeth Suzann, NisoloTradlands and Patagonia.

However, I didn't start knitting because of an awareness of slow fashion. If anything, I became interested in knitting when I realized that I was too often shopping to feel better. When shopping began to serve as a balm for my sadness rather than to fill a true physical need, I recognized that I needed to take better care of myself and knitting became one of my outlets. Learning to knit and the gratification of successfully making things was stimulating to my mind and my heart. 

And knitting has continued to lift me up in darker times - from illness, from professional difficulties, from broken relationships, and from the everyday traumas of simply being human. Knowing that time and time again, I can return to my needles and find meditation, joy and community has been a great comfort. And if anything, knitting is now a ritual in my personal practice. 

However, this knowledge about the clothing industry opened a pandora's box for me. As a seasoned knitter, I've become more critical about the tools and fibres I use to make my garments. I often hesitate in buying superwash yarns because I now know of the noxious processes required to coat the yarn in plastics, despite the lovely colorways I see from many hand dyers. As a new knitter, I bought yarn with reckless abandon, but now I pause to plan and ask myself a few questions rooted in the basic history of good design - is it useful? is it necessary? will it bring me joy to make it? If it doesn't check off 2 out of the 3 questions, I wait. 

I write this often, but it rings true time and time again - much like my knitting, I too am a work in progress on this issue. My habits are not perfect and I need to remind myself constantly that I am able to shop with intention, create my own clothes with patience and love, and live a smaller, fuller life with fewer things. I'm grateful for the conversation and encourage you to check the #slowfashionoctober tag on Instagram to see what others are sharing - the thoughtfulness and open-minded exchange of ideas there reinforces why I so love this community of makers.

Finished Object: Lila Pullover

wearing my Lila in the wilds of Northern Michigan

wearing my Lila in the wilds of Northern Michigan

I'm wearing this sweater as I type this post... what more can I say? Ok, I can certainly say more. This is my best fitting sweater to date, in quite a few ways, so I'm happy to wax poetic on it.

my slow but steady sweater progress

my slow but steady sweater progress

It physically fits my body well, with just the right amount of ease thanks to some patient knitting and minor modifications. While knitting, I was most worried about the neckline since picking up stitches doesn't feel like my strongest skill, but it ended up laying nicely and being a flattering shape since it shows a bit of my collarbone. Also, I have very narrow shoulders and by decreasing a bit more aggressively on my raglans, the sweater isn't bulky or baggy around my bust and underarms. I additionally extended the length of the body of the sweater about two inches since I have a longer torso, and I love the a-line, slightly swingy shape on my body.  Credit is also due to the O-Wool Balance yarn I used, which is a blend of organic merino and organic cotton, for the great drape and stitch definition.

the magic of short rows

the magic of short rows

This sweater is also the best match to my wardrobe to date. When I first started knitting, I was so enamored with the process and with learning new techniques that I'd try anything regardless of whether it actually reflected my personal style - so bright colors, superwash wools, unusual shapes, and lots of stitch patterning were the norm. As I've become a more seasoned knitter, I've come to terms with a few things: I love neutral colors and natural fibers; I mostly wear simple silhouettes and classic styles; stockinette is my boring, but reliable friend. My Lila hits all of those bullet points, which means I'll actually wear it. I already took it along on vacation to Northern Michigan and I happily wore it on several chilly days - it was perfect!

the initial swatch in O-Wool, knit in the round.

the initial swatch in O-Wool, knit in the round.

Finally, the Lila pattern really meshed well with my personal knitting practice. I started this sweater in November 2015 and didn't finish it until August 2016. This is all to say, I'm not a speedy knitter. My knitting mojo ebbs and flows and I'm learning to not judge myself on it. This sweater taught me that I can stay dedicated to successfully making garments over long periods of time. I've become better at taking useful notes and tracking my progress more thoughtfully, and it is even encouraging me to pick up some long-lost works in progress (hello, Pomme de Pin Cardigan from 2014).

Lila in all her glory... and me without makeup.

Lila in all her glory... and me without makeup.

All in all, this was a great project to rejuvenate my knitting practice and remind me why I fell in love with making things with my hands in the first place. 

Project stats:
Pattern - Lila Pullover by Carrie Bostick Hoge
Yarn - O-Wool Balance
My knitting progress documented on Ravelry and Instagram.

on patience and change

Instant gratification sounds pretty appealing to me these days. As in, "let me snap my fingers and this long, arduous project at work will be complete and the house will be clean and painting the walls will be finished and oh yes, all of my boxes will be unpacked, too." Wouldn't that be nice?

And since I last wrote in this here blog, I've moved into my partner's (err, fiancé's!) home, become a fur mom and a stepmom of sorts, started the early stages of planning our wedding, and gone on our first family vacation to Northern Michigan. So yes, the sprint continues and it feels nearly endless. We still need to offload old furniture and rearrange what's left, unpack the better part of my belongings, renovate the kitchen and potentially the bathroom, consider putting an addition onto the house, landscape the yard, and actually get married. It's no surprise that I want some instant gratification in my life - let's get this show on the road already!

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But in my heart of hearts I prefer the slower pursuits in life - I tend to my vegetable and herb garden; I prefer to cook from scratch (proof: there is a pot of dried beans simmering on my stovetop as I type); I knit sweaters and hats and socks at often a glacial pace. It's all because I enjoy the process - gathering the necessary tools, setting forth on a well-planned project, seeing the fruits of my labor unfold, learning from my missteps.

Even so, I'm still anxious to jump ahead with all of these huge tasks, despite knowing that my life, much like my craft practice, is a work in progress. This season is full, but messy and imperfect, so my goal is to find small ways to be present and have gratitude. Some ways I'm doing that thus far?

  • Making good coffee and skyr with fruit at home in the mornings instead of eating a rushed breakfast at my office
  • Taking small breaks in between tasks when I'm tidying the house
  • Sitting on the porch in the evenings to read or enjoy a glass of wine
  • Listening to podcasts while knitting
  • Taking my partner for early morning breakfast dates to our favorite coffee shop or the farmer's market
  • Going for long walks or taking a spin in our new canoe
  • Cooking wholesome meals for our family and trying out new recipes

It's easy to think that I can "finish" my life in some meaningful way by reaching an important milestone or by making a bold change, but it keeps moving onward and there will always be new challenges to face. Since I too am a work in progress, I can only hope that presence and slow living will help me to savor this time of transition and serve as a reminder that this life is beautiful even when it feels incomplete. 

A new season

I’ve started a garden! Many years of apartment dwelling in the District prevented me from planting a vegetable and herb garden, but now that I’m settling back in the ‘burbs with a quarter acre of property to play in, I’m thrilled to have a new project on my hands. Thus far, I have one large raised garden bed and two smaller ones. My partner built them for me and we spent a full weekend placing the frames, filling them with his well-cultivated dirt and compost, mulching, moving rocks and things about the yard, and finally planting some seedlings. 

At the moment, we have 6 tomato plants - a combination of San Marzanos, sun golds, yellow pear tomatoes, and black cherry tomatoes; 2 Black Beauty eggplants, a few Genovese basil plants and a few purple Thai basil plants in the largest bed. The small herb bed has rosemary, dill, sage, oregano, and thyme for now. The last bed has a number of flowers that are native to the area, which we expect to bloom in late July. We’ve also put a few lettuces in large pots, and I keep thinking about getting some lavender to plant near the front door.

As I look out through the kitchen window some mornings, I feel such happiness and contentment seeing the sun shining on my little garden. It’s peaceful and grounding to tromp around the yard, trimming back and pulling weeds, building makeshift trellises from dried branches, turning the ground to check for moisture, and watering early in the mornings. I find assurance and a feeling of connectedness when my hands are in the dirt. And of course, seeing the fruits of our labor is gratifying, let alone the pleasure of eating food you’ve grown yourself.

I always thought I was more of an indoor person, but I find myself being called to nature lately. I want to take long walks in the evening to think surrounded by flower gardens and architecture of the city; I want to take hikes among the piney trees; I want to sit in the backyard for hours gazing at the moon; I want to sleep in a tent under the stars. This is all new for me, but I think I get to know myself more and more this way. The imagery of Mary Oliver’s poetry is rattling in my head so often these days:

That tall distance where
the clouds begin,
the forge that pounds out the lightning
and the black porch where the stars
are dressed in light
and arrangement is made for the moon’s path—
it’s these I think of now, after

a lifetime of goldfinches,
meandering streams,
lambs playing,
the passionate hands of the sun,
the coolness under the trees
talking leaf to leaf,
the foxes and the otters sliding on the snow,
the dolphins for whom no doubt
the seas were created,
the spray of swallows gathering in autumn—
after all of that
the tall distance is what I think of now.

Since I’ve last shared my life here, I’ve certainly been in a transitional season. I’ve seen substantial changes in my home, career, and relationships. I’ve learned to listen to my intuition and make choices that are right for me, even when they’re scary. I’ve been willing to sit with my uncertainty and fear. I’ve renewed my interest in living simply and sustainably. I’ve pursued self care. I uprooted my life in an effort to know myself better, and I think I found my home because of it.

I’ll continue to process and learn and grow, and through it all, I feel compelled to return to my garden - where I can reap the rewards of my patience and gentle care and feel confident that I’ve planted my tomatoes - and myself - in the right place.

taking stock / 02

Making: still working on the Umaro baby blanket for a wee one, and a marled slouchy ribbed hat for me
Drinking: too much red wine, not enough water. also, the atlas brew works peppercorn saison is a revelation!
Reading: Far From the Madding Crowd because 2015 will be the year I learn to love Thomas Hardy so help me
Wanting: eh, nothing at the moment... feeling pretty contented and it's a good thing
Watching: Obvious Child, which made me laugh, cry, and feel a little more human
Listening: to I've Just Seen a Face on a nonstop loop
Planning: vegetarian meals for the week, easy peasy
Eating: pomegranates and blood oranges. winter is growing tiring in ways, but I sure love the fruit selection!
Wearing: cozy sweaters and wool socks -- this COLD weather isn't going anywhere yet.
Writing: lists of patterns I'd like to knit this year and yarn ideas - Waterlily and Lila are slowly moving up my queue
Trying: a new recipe for toasted coconut butter - I'm betting it will be amazing on apple slices
Feeling: a bit disappointed that the weather spoiled our weekend vacation plans, but having friends who rally and make the best of a bad situation made for a weird, good time snowed in together

Episode 14 - Herp Derp

Thank you so much for joining me for Episode 14! I'm excited to mention that The Hungriest Knitter is celebrating its 1st birthday. Thanks to each and every one of you for your incredible support and feedback throughout this journey. I'm still a work in progress and so happy to share it with you.

Off the Needles: Tweedy Boyfriend Hat that I'm giving to my boyfriend (how apt!)
On the Needles: Umaro Blanket for my new niece, another Purl Bee Boyfriend Hat that I'm planning to keep
Stash Acquisitions: Purl Soho Line Weight Yarn, Baggu Box Bag
On the Radar: Dragon Scale Mitts, Dahlonega Shawl, Canopy Shawl (pssst, watch for details on Dragon Scale Mitts giveaway to celebrate one year of The Hungriest Knitter!)
On the Stovetop: Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies, Easy Vegan Cinnamon Rolls, G-Free Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Spinach and Chard Pie
On the Town: Domku in DC's Petworth neighborhood for fine Scandinavian and Soviet bloc eats

Use the #knitwithTHK hashtag on Instagram to share your latest knitting and yarny inspirations with me!

Again, thank you so much for joining me. Please drop me a note to let me know what you think or share the episode with someone you know. iTunes reviews are greatly appreciated!