30 January 2008

Musings on sewing

I'm trying to resolve to updating more often, and having reasons to update.

I try to do something creative every day, or at least a few times a week. I've really found that knitting works really well for me. I'm moderately good at it, it's a nice use of time at home while watching TV, or riding the subway to & from work. Plus, at the end there's something to wear or give to a friend. I've only been knitting for about a year, and I've seen my skill levels improve over time, probably due to the fact that I tend to knit a lot, or moderately often. Even if stuff ends up getting frogged, it's practice. I wouldn't say my knitting is totally perfect & beautiful, but I'm pretty happy with how it turns out in general.

And then there's sewing.

Since about the age of 9, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I loved flipping through the pages of Vogue and Elle. I watched Style with Elsa Klensch religiously. I loved clothing, and how it fit on people. I applied to Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia, and was accepted. However, my parents were not willing to pay for college, nor allow me to move away. I went instead to one of my other college choices, the University of Maryland. I took the introductory textile classes and pattern-making classes. By my second year in the program, I was totally disillusioned. Not only was UM canceling my major & department, but the entire college that included about 10 different majors. To further antagonize the matter, my sewing & pattern classes really were not up to par with my expectations. The teachers didn't really care about fashion—they all seemed like they were straight out of local fabric store home-sewing classes than a college-level design class. I got snide remarks on designs, choices of notions, fabrics, and colors. To me, fashion is an art form—it's objective. You don't have to like everything, but to tell someone that they CAN'T use a sport zipper on evening wear? Who says so? Why not?!

With all these factors, I quit the program and changed my major to an utterly useless degree, but at least it made me appreciate being in college.

However, with the lack of sewing over the years, my skills devolved to about the level of a 6-year-old. Fast forward to now. I do a lot of tiny projects that don't take a lot of skill, but I'm just so frustrated. When I attempt larger projects with more than 3 seams, everything goes to crap. I know I can get better with time, but when I get so angry and upset at a project, it's not exactly encouraging.

To wit: I started working on a western shirt a few weeks ago. I cut the pieces out. No problem. I sewed the side seams, darks, button placket, and yokes together. Fine. The I took the collar band & collar, put interfacing on them, and assembled them. Ok so far. Then I had to sew the collar to the shirt. I attempted this three times, and every attempt was full of fail. The collar was a good inch too short for the neck. WHAT. I know I cut everything out correctly, and my seams were not really so far off that the collar couldn't fit. At this point, I just want to cry, and I feel like a total failure. My choices are to either take everything apart and re-sew all the seams, or burn it. I'm kind of leaning toward the latter.

I have a huge pile of vintage & modern sewing patterns I've been amassing from ebay and online vendor sales. I want to get around to making them without breaking down in tears. I want to make my own clothes, instead of buying cheap, manufactured-in-sweatshop clothing that falls apart after the third washing. I want to have things that are more tailored to my own personal style and tastes. But I just keep hitting this wall because I think I absolutely suck.

Another cause of frustration is my sewing machine. I just wanted a simple, inexpensive machine, since I know I don't sew very much. I got the Kenmore Mini, which I think cost me all of $67. It's cute and functional, but aside from straight stitches, it's kind of crap (especially after using a higher-end Bernina to take some sewing classes at the local fabric store). The presser foot is too heavy and stretches out any knit fabric or elastic I attempt to sew. I can't set the stitch length (it has about 5 pre-set stitches), so even the "basting" stitches are too tiny. And it jams at the drop of a hat. I would really love to get the same sewing machine I got for my mom's birthday last year (the Brother ES2000). The reviews for it are phenomenal, and it's under $200. For comparison, the Bernina I want is almost $1000.

Now the guilt-trip over deciding if I should get another machine. I know I sew better with a nicer machine—the clothing items I made in class came out fairly well, and I had a much easier time of things. The clothes I make at home make me cry. If I had a better machine, it would encourage me to sew more, which would allow me to get better skills. I just have a hard time making that leap. It's absolutely ridiculous the things on which I can drop $150 without batting an eye, but for something that might actually prove to be useful and beneficial to me, I get all wishy-washy. Dumb.

I think I am going to find a way to get an extra $150 in near future, and just get it. Part of my new plan of re-prioritizing expenditures. I'm going to get rid of stuff that is superfluous, and be a lot more frugal with money. I do think I'll wait until after Mercury retrograde to buy any kind of new machinery, though. ;)

27 January 2008

Travels with sticks

I just did a long series of flights (DC -> HI) and am happy to report that I had absolutely no issues or problems with knitting needles in my carry on (I had a pair of metal circulars). In fact, on my last leg of my flight from LAX to IAD, there was a person in my seating row knitting, as well as a lady one row back from me. A pair of the flight attendents stopped their drink cart to see what I was making, and one remarked that she too had some knitting in her carry on that she wanted to work on. =) This was on United, for what it's worth.

My brother and I came up with an amusing knitting project. Today is my brother's birthday—I've been joking for ages about making him a sweater with an image of Mr. T with "Mister Jewelry Man" underneath (a joke from a British comedy called the I.T. Crowd). Instead, I'm going to make a sweater for my fat, lazy cat Early. The back is going to say Mister Jewelry Man, and the front is going to have faux gold chains done in intaglio. He'll probably go totally insane if I try to put a sweater on him, but the amusement will overpower any feelings of sympathy. Heh.

I'm still working on the entrlac scarf. It is really getting super dull, and I am really tired of knitting it. I'll probably cut the scarf a bit short just to be done with it. It's supposed to be about 3 full skeins of Noro silk garden, but I think if it's around 2.5, it'll be good enough.

I cast on for the Luna Moth shawl before I left for Hawai'i (thinking that I'd have time to knit... HA!). I'm using the Peru4Less alpaca yarn that ended up being too thin for the McQueen knock-off sweater. It's a very soft and lovely yarn (and super cheap!), so I think it'll make a very nice wrap. I have a feeling I'll be making a variety of wraps and shawls to use up all the thin-gauge yarns that I have. I will more than likely give one or two away, but I'd like to end up with knitting something for myself every once in a while. ;)

17 January 2008

December's fury: outcome

I managed to finish the sweaters for my nephews, with a few days to spare. I did a skull pattern on the second one, since allegedly my nephew likes pirates. I don't think either nephew was all that enthused about getting sweaters, though. They don't make noise, or use batteries. I think my sister liked them at the very least.

The only problem I had with the pattern was the last bit: the collar. She has you go down to an odd # of stitches, which wouldn't work with a 1x1 rib. I also bound off super loosely, and it was too small! I know a lot of other people did that without problems. Maybe my idea of loose is different than everyone else. And maybe my nephews have giant heads. If I do this again, I'll skip a few of the decreases and have a bigger neck hole.

I ended up forgoing knitting socks for my neices. I didn't have enough time to make three pairs before Christmas. Instead, I screenprinted some fabric and made them totebags. I was up until 5:30 am the day of Christmas sewing those damned things. And of course, I forgot to photograph them. Oh well.

Right now I'm working on an entrelac scarf using noro silk garden. I am not sure how I feel about this yarn. It seems very popular, but it's odd. The color is lovely. The texture is weird. I thought it would be softer. The yarn also varies from thin-as-dental-floss to knitting-with-cotton-balls. And the color changes seem to be slightly different in each skein, even though they are the same color number and lot. It does work amazingly well with entrelac, so I'm glad I am using it. I don't think I'd use it for a sweater or something, though.

I can't believe I was ever intimidated by this pattern. It's super easy, and I've got it memorized, so I just knit on the subway or in front of the TV without having to pay much attention at all.

I do think I'll need to block it when I'm done. It's looking a bit lumpy along the edges. Overall, though, I like the stiffness of this yarn for the pattern. It's much crisper looking than my previous attempt, using Wool-Ease left over from those two Drive-Thru sweaters.

I am flying out to Hawaii for a vacation (thank the gods), and I am finding myself in need of a small pattern to do on the plane. I've got about 11-13 hours of travel time in each direction, so I'd really like something small that I can do to not go stir-crazy. I"m thinking I can finally restart those Endpaper mitts, or maybe do some socks. I haven't had any problem bringing knitting on a plane so far, and I hope it stays that way. Smaller needles seem perhaps less threatening, no? Though I did bring aluminum size 8 straight & DP needles on an international flight last year... Maybe I'm just too cute to be threatening. Hah. hahahah. ha.

I'm really coveting the Knitpicks Harmony interchangeable knitting needle set. I have a full set of bamboo circulars, but I find myself hating them. Just about every needle I've had under a size 2 or 3 has snapped in half. They aren't very slick, and the points are short & stubby. But thankfully they were cheap. I much prefer pointy & sharp needles. I like the slickness of metal, but often they are too slippery, so these wood ones seem like a good alternative. They've gotten pretty nice reviews from what I've seen. And they're just so pretty. The smallest they have for the interchangeable ones is a 4, but truth be told, I'm pretty skeptical about using anything other than metal for 0-3 needles anyhow.