Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Making New Old Clothes, Very, Very Slowly


Back in 2016, I started knitting a cardigan from a 1950s pattern.  Most normal people buy clothes.  But apparently, that's too easy for me.  I need to make everything more difficult.

It wasn't complicated enough to knit a garment. No, I had to make things even harder for myself. I bought a sheep's fleece, washed it, combed it, and spun it into yarn.  This sounds pretty straightforward, but the process of turning a dirty sheep's haircut into yarn took me months.

I split the sheep's wool into the lighter and darker bits and spun them as discreet batches.

The yarn reminded me of tarnished silver, which I find really beautiful.  It's a good thing I like unpolished silver, because our housemaids are always busy with other tasks and tend to shirk their polishing duties.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure where the maids are at the moment. They're certainly not washing our dishes ...

I find every step of spinning yarn revelatory.  It's amazing how much work goes into turning raw materials like sheep's wool into actual garments. In a pre-industrial world, hours of effort would have gone into making even the simplest garment.  It's something we just don't consider anymore.

The pattern for this garment was fascinating, and unconventional.  Cuffs were knit straight as usual, and then the additional fabric was created diagonally.  Because the construction was so unusual, it was difficult to predict if the finished garment would fit.  Vintage knitting patterns are maddeningly sparse in their instructions, either because space was at a premium in printed knitting publications, or because it was assumed that a knitter knew what they were doing, and didn't require a lot of hand-holding.

Sleeves in progress.  It was always a bit nerve-wracking to wonder if I was going to have enough yarn to complete this project.  What can I say? I worry.  A lot.  I tell myself that I'm trouble-shooting, and considering all the ways that things might go wrong, in order to avoid heartbreaking errors.  But honestly, I think I just torture myself needlessly.  (I had plenty of yarn, because sheep are huge.)

As always, the cats were very helpful. I swear, our cats don't need catnip.  They get drunk on wool fumes.

I put a lot of effort into lining up the stripes in this garment.  I really enjoy sewing together my knitting.  I find it hugely satisfying.

Getting the sleeves to sit just right in the armholes was quite a challenge.  Thankfully, the costume shop at work let me borrow one of their dress forms.

I got the button bands sewn on, and then I simply abandoned this project.  All that was left to do was sewing on the buttons.  This project sat on the Pile of Denial for almost two years.  The button sewing ended up taking less than an hour.

I do this stupid thing where I bring a project almost to completion, and then I don't finish it. I suspect this is insurance against failure. If the project is never completed, then it’s still got the potential to be perfect. If I finish it, I have to admit my own lack of perfection. This is a stupid way of making things, and I’m trying to stop myself from behaving this way.

I'm going through a particularly rough patch, in terms of self esteem, these days.  I feel ugly and stupid, and I'm not really liking myself or anything I'm doing. I don't know what this is about.  The green-tinged antique mirrors in my house aren't helping with my self-esteem, as they make me look like the undead.

I should be celebrating this project, but I'm using it as an excuse to beat myself up. This his not healthy.  I need to find joy in my world, and in the things I've made.  But I can't get past thinking that I look like a hag, and agonizing over how rumpled my button bands appear in this photo.  Button bands are easily fixed.  But my feelings about myself?  I have no idea what to do about them.


Jayne Hill said...

I just wrote you a long comment - and lost the darn thing, blasted iPad. Anyone who can follow a knitting pattern and produce something so beautiful could not possibly be considered anywhere on a stupid spectrum. And that’s not even taking into account you spun your own wool, heck, I am so impressed!

If we lived nearer I would (jokingly) suggest we trade hair. I’ve wanted curls like yours all my life - instead I go into retirement with straight, straight hair, yuk.

Laura said...

Amazing that you finished a project!! I have some tags I attach to my sewing projects that say "this took forever" which is sometimes the only motivation I can find to finish a project at all. The sweater looks amazing, and I can't believe all the hard work you went to to make it!! I am reading 'Mindset' by Carol Dweck and it speaks to the self-esteem dilemma exactly: if we challenge ourselves and fail, our idea of self is crushed, when we live in a fixed mindset. In a growth mindset, if we challenge ourselves and fail, we can learn from those experiences, and relish the learning rather than the product. Maybe check it out? It's an engaging and easy read. Good luck with everything! The buttons looks great! You're the only one judging them.
-Laura (followed you here from AQ)

Unknown said...

Glad to see a new post about making! Finally! I love seeing what you are up to in Slow Living. I admire you. I talk to people about you like you are someone I really know. I think about your cats, your bathroom renovation, and your kitchen adventures. You gave me tips I used to tame my own scrub jays. You are my favorite real human blogger. When you reappeared briefly after the midterms, I discussed your post with a friend who had similarly become consumed by defeating the orange buffoon and everything he stands for to the point of perhaps becoming insane. I hope you soon give your self-doubts a smackdown and get back to the important business of inspiring and entertaining me.

Barby said...

I love the sheep to sweater project using a vintage patterns! Your work is so lovely. May i ask you a question? Do you recognize how unique and creative you are? I have been following your blog since Mel Corbin "introduced" us man years ago. We could hang out and have fun being creative together if we were on the same coast! You are amazing. Remember that. Your art, your bees and chickens, the many talents you have, all make you special. And those curls! How do you manage them? Seriously, my straight hair decided to become curly after menopause, and I have no idea what to do with it! You are perfect the way you are - remind yourself of that!

Literary Lisa said...

I also am happy to see you are still creating — your ability to recreate something from a photo is amazing, and the finished sweater looks great on you! Have you made the apricot horseradish sandwich yet? Please email me at monalisa13rel@gmail.com at your earliest convenience. Hugs to you and Robb!

Jennifer Serr said...

I agree with unknown - those self doubts need a serious smackdown. You are one of the most industrious and inspiring creators I've met in a long time. And Robb is pretty amazing too. I'm pretty much ready to move out of my life, into yours ;-)

Ok, on to the sweater. I would love to try that pattern, but I will likely not be carding, combing, spinning my own wool. It is truly a work of art from start to finish. That diagonal knit is delish! Ahhhhhh there are too many projects to make in the world.

I'm excited to read more!

normanack said...

Okay. You prepared the fiber (and I would have been done in by that alone), spun it into yarn — complicated, color-sorted yarn — and kept going. You chose a vintage pattern. That alone is more of a challenge than most, even dedicated, knitters, would take on. Then you added stripes. Multiple, thin stripes that need to be lined up when sewn together. Then you completed the finishing work. That’s as rare as not just finding hen’s teeth, but also filling their cavities and polishing them.

And it fits. Beautifully.

Wow! Beyond wow!


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