I love to knit. I love the way I feel when I knit. I feel the same cozy way as when I’m snuggled up indoors on a comfy couch all by myself, drinking warm tea out of a big mug, with the Pacific Northwest rain and wind lashing and raging outdoors. In both cases, both while knitting and comfortably sitting out a storm, my conscious thoughts slow down and vanish almost completely. I slip into a meditative space where all the big life questions, both personal and worldly, dance and glide around the back of my mind, rising clearly up to the surface just long enough to present a novel thought, an epiphany, or a brand new question I have never wondered before. While these thoughts are barely perceptible, they do take up enough space to prevent tedious surface thoughts from interfering with or dumbing-down the deep, internal conversation. This is a glorious space to find myself in.
I used to find a lot of time to knit. I loved not only the solace but also to observe the progress and texture of a new sweater or hat growing up and taking shape. There is also the excitement that comes along with an unfinished project. It is easy to dream about how great the completed article will look and to imagine what I will wear it with. Of course, this same excitement also invites anxiety to move in. Concerns about whether it will really fit or if the cut, perhaps, actually belongs to another decade-and not in the welcome retro kind of way? Is it actually a good color or is it too much or maybe too dull? Will it be too hot? Is this particular fiber going to shed everywhere? Knitting can actually become quite stressful when I begin to get caught up not in the process, but in the product.
The end product, the sweater, scarf or tea cozey, of course, does matter. In my early days of knitting I had a lot of flops. I also had a lot of projects that were almost amazing. Over time I have figured out many of the potential problems that can arise and most of them actually have to do with what is supplied to us with by the knitting industry. For example, yarn and pattern availability, traditional ways and instructions for sewing up a cardigan or attaching a sleeve, directions to knit on straight needles when round needles would definitely make more sense. I find that the less I have to depend on what is available to me from ‘out there’, the more I enjoy my finished project and the more likely I am to actually wear it!
Several years ago I began to knit on really large needles. These are needles 12 mm/American size 17 and larger. I love the bulky, chunky texture that these needles knit up if you are using thick yarn and at the same time I adore the lacy, transparent effect that you get when working a fine yarn such as mohair with big needles. I have had no trouble finding a ready supply of mohair in a great variety of colors that I love.
However, chunky yarn is a different story. Chunky yarn tends to be handspun and/or hand dyed. I love supporting small cottage industries but, to be honest, it is quite expensive (you certainly pay for what you get!) and I still haven’t had much success finding the colors that match my vision for any given project. Another problem that presents itself is that a thick wool knit on huge needles is very hot. The added bulk is also not something that everyone wants to wear.
One day I looked to my many shelves and bolts of fabric that I had picked up over the years (sadly, none of it is with me here in California. All of my fabric is stored away in the basement of an older studio building in Montreal) and mused about how wonderful it would be if I could knit from some of my fabric. And so I did! The process of turning fabric into yarn is a tad time consuming, but I have found it to be really rewarding. It is also very simple to do.
Any woven fabric will work, but twill is best because then you will not have any loose threads hanging from your finished project. Theoretically, because the fabric for the yarn is cut on the bias, there should not be any unraveling. However, in reality there will be some. I highly recommend you don’t try a knit fabric unless you want your midriff baring jumper to eventually stretch itself into an ankle length dress. I love my own long, organic, rayon dress…but this style is not for everyone 😉
I apologize that I cannot properly advise on how much fabric you will need to create a given amount of yarn. Around three metres or yards will probably be enough for a sleeveless sweater. As with at the onset of a sewing project, it is a good idea to prepare your fabric beforehand by pre-washing the fabric in hot water and then drying on high (unless your fabric comes with specific instructions for care, such as dry cleaning). Quickly remove the fabric from the dryer and fold it so that no wrinkles set.
Using a small sample piece of fabric, I will illustrate how to lay out and cut your fabric. Your material will be much larger than in my example.
Lay your material out flat. Wrong side up is probably best. Take the upper right hand corner and pull it over to the edge of the fabric so that you end up with a diagonal line that starts at the upper left hand corner and ends on the right hand side. It is a good idea to pin this in place and press it because you will cut along this line. Once you have cut your triangle off, and placed it aside for now, you will have a large piece of fabric cut on the bias.
You will now need a metre or yard stick. Metal is best because it enables you to draw a very precise line. Place the edge of the metre/yard stick along your newly cut edge of fabric and using a chalk wheel (or mechanical pencil if you do not own a chalk wheel) trace along the other edge of the ruler to make a straight line. Conveniently, the width of a standard metre/yard stick is perfect for this project.
Fit the edge of the metre/yard stick along your newly traced line and then trace along the other side of your ruler with your chalk wheel of pencil. Keep on repeating this until you have marked out your entire piece of fabric or as much of the material as you wish to turn into yarn.
Now cut along these lines. Do not cut all the way to the edge of the fabric. Leave about an 1.5 inches on each side, as you go, so that you create one continuous piece of material.
You can leave the sharp corners or use scissors to round out your corner. If you’re not sure which technique to use, you can knit up a small sample of each style and decide which you like better.
Wind up your cut fabric and now you have a ball of yarn!
This yarn works best knit on large needles. If you cut your fabric narrower than the width of the metre/yard stick then you can use smaller gague needles. If you go too small, however, your fabric yarn will stretch out of shape or rip. It can be fun to experiment with this.
As I knit up this yarn, I fold the fabric width in half as I go. I like the effect of this but it is not necessary. Again, it is wonderful to experiment.
As with any yarn for any pattern, knit up a tension square before you begin working on your pattern. This is an essential step if you want to love what you make. I skipped this step for far too many years.
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Loft Living, Museum Quarters and the Cheater’s Quilt
In the first year of my son’s life, we divided our time between three different homes in three different countries and had a couple long visits with his grandparents in between. Other than the time spent staying with our parents, none of our living arrangements were especially homey or comfortable in the way I would have wanted for our baby.
Many people fantasize about the possibilities that come with living in a spacious, open loft with 22 foot ceilings, a mezzanine 15 feet up, and 16 foot high windows with a great view of downtown. Before moving into a live-work loft, I was never one of these people. I once stayed with friends in an open-concept log cabin on Vancouver Island. As warm as the honey-colored glow cast by the walls and floor was, I realized that I have an immense appreciation for walls, doors, and quiet spaces to retreat to. Our loft on the outskirts of downtown LA did not have any of the charm of this log house. It was essentially a concrete box. Tons of potential, I know! However, I adore the character of heritage houses and I am happiest with a home full of antiques. While I do not like cluttered spaces, I am absolutely not a minimalist or modernist at heart. Signing the lease for the loft happened to us, though. We had not sought it out, but it was by far the best option for my husband and I at the time. We were ready for a change and liked the idea of being close to my family for a while. Of course, California sunshine is always appealing and as it turned out, my husband loved the quality of light that poured in while he painted. For me, the best aspect of living in the loft was spending more time together with my husband and having the opportunity to observe his studio practice. I learned a great deal about how he makes art. I would never have been able to do so if we had continued to live in normal circumstances with his studio separate from our home. Since we didn’t have a car, I also enjoyed living close to union station. I loved jumping on the train to go for a visit to my family on weekends.
Once our son was born and we returned again to the loft, the love I had managed to engender for this lifestyle came to a rapid, screeching halt. I know I did screech. And whine. And moan. Concrete floors are hard, unforgiving, and actually scary to a new parent. I am not a worrier by nature, but I cannot put a number to how many times I visualized my son’s tiny head crashing down on the cement. The mezzanine with the fifteen foot drop separated by only a three foot railing terrified me. Our son is also an incredibly light sleeper who is awakened by every sound. I was not even able to read next to him in bed, as the sound of a turning page would end his slumber and bring him fully alert. I gave up on his naps altogether and at night I tried desperately to be as silent as I could be and frequently tossed nasty looks downstairs to my husband who made too much noise while he silently painted. It was very difficult for me to live in a loft with a baby. I know some people love bringing up a family this way but it simply did not work for me.
Just a few short months after we returned to LA, my husband, son and I had the great opportunity to fly off to Ireland for the summer, after a stop in Montreal to visit with family. Ireland was unspeakably beautiful and I fell in love. I had no idea before our trip how much I would enjoy walking through the streets of little Sligo town or on the wild beaches of Strandhill. I also had no inkling just how relaxing afternoon scones and tea would be, even with a wriggling, bored baby accompanying us.
I also had the great fortune to start up an amazing, lifelong friendship with a woman who had a daughter around the same age as my son. She and I would wear our babies in their carriers and go for long walks in the Irish countryside. She would share with me the history of the area and we even had a picnic alone in the ruins of an ancient megalithic tomb that happened to pop up along the path on one of our strolls. My little family spent my husband’s birthday at a bed and breakfast on the Aran island of Inishmore and we wandered around there trying to fit in as many ancient forts as we could while still immersing ourselves in the slowness of the small island that was at the same time both stark and stunning.
We visited Galway and Dublin together and my husband took a trip to Donegal on his own with a friend. He also took up surfing in the wild sea. We enjoyed the traveling but we also enjoyed staying put in our bright, airy apartment that was our home for the summer. This apartment, in the corner top floor of a dynamic museum, had its charm. There was a quaint little kitchen with a Murphy bed and also a European-sized fridge that was the perfect size for delectable European-sized yogurt and cream. The light filling the apartment on the long northern summer days came in through large windows with views that were magical to our North American sensibilities. One enchanting view was Mount Knocknarea, purported home of the legendary Queen Maeve’s tomb which is a very large mound on the top of the mountain. The charming kitchen view was of a field of tall grass that housed a horse who had markings reminiscent of a black and white cow. From our balcony, looking down onto town, the sights included a multitude of chimney pots, and the Sligo Abbey, founded in the mid 13th century. This ruined abbey was one of the inspirations behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
I loved our little apartment and look back on it fondly. It also contained a couple features that made it difficult to share with our young son. Again, the apartment was fairly open and the only place to spend time in the evenings, between my son’s very frequent wakings, was the kitchen table in the other room. Cozily curling up on the couch, listening to the Irish wind blow outside, was out of the question because the sofa was in the same room as our bed. As in our LA loft, our little home in Sligo had concrete floors. To make it worse, the paint on these floors was badly chipping. Our son was now rolling over and slowly moving himself around in the flip-flop way of first mobility. I crossed my fingers, did a lot more whining, and hoped that he would not begin crawling on, a probable gateway to eating, the paint chips.
There was not that much I could do to make our homes easier, safer, or quieter for our baby boy. We put up baby gates and some fiberglass chicken wire on the mezzanine in the loft and we bought a playard that our son hated so that I could get a little housework done. We also sat him in his highchair, where he was restrained, while we cooked or cleaned up the kitchen. None of these solutions were particularly warm or child-friendly. These solutions were not designed to make our baby more comfortable of happier. So I made him a soft, colorful quilt to throw down on the floor wherever we were. It traveled with us to be laid down on airport waiting room floors and on the hardwood floors of our families’ homes. In LA, I used it to brighten up my son’s playard and lend a more homey feel. In Ireland, we put it down on the floor with his playgym and toys on top, delineating his child’s space within a very adult apartment. This was not a real quilt. This was a cheater’s quilt. It was quick and easy to make. My son still loves it. Now that we live in a real house and since he is a bit older and requires no protection from hard floors, his cheater’s quilt hangs on the wall above his bed.
While living in Montreal, long before I was pregnant with my son, I picked up a wonderful fairy tale print at a vintage store. I should have bought much more of it than I did, but it was so utterly inexpensive that I worried it would be greedy to take too much. What a fool I was! With its scenes of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel and other classic fairy tales, this printed cotton fabric was the perfect choice for my baby’s quilt. My son has now grown into the illustrations and sometimes in the mornings, he sits and quietly contemplates the story images. He’s only two, though, so sometimes he also contemplates tugging at the quilt and roughly lifting it to look for what is on the wall underneath. In these cases I have to quickly and firmly remind him that he needs to immediately stop before he brings the whole thing down, fragile cup hooks and all! So far it has stayed put.
The Cheater’s Quilt is very simple to sew. Here are my instructions:
Before measuring or cutting, I pre-washed both the fairytale print and the red cotton material I bought for the back, in hot water. Of course, I washed them separately so that the white areas of the print did not turn pink. (For another project, I turned the same print pink on purpose). I put both fabrics in the dryer on high and removed them as soon as the cycle ended so that there was no time for wrinkles to set.
The fairytale images are contained in a grid pattern of frames, so this was a perfect fabric for “quilting”. I measured out the size I wanted the quilt to be, added a 1 centimeter seam allowance (you could just as easily use a 5/8 inches seam allowance), and cut both the main fabric and the backing material to the same size.
I ripped the background fabric instead of cutting it as this is much faster and precise. Another way to cut your fabric right on-grain is to make a small snip in the edge of your woven fabric. Pick a thread where the fabric has been cut and begin to very slowly and gingerly pull on this single thread. Your goal is to pull it right out of the fabric without breaking the this thread. As you pull, the fabric around the thread will gather. Smooth this fabric and remove the gathers. Alternate pulling and smoothing as you go along. Eventually you will have pulled the entire thread out of the fabric and there will be a gap remaining in your material where the thread was. Use this line as a guide for cutting. (Frequently patterned images are not printed perfectly on grain. Therefore, if you are using a print, I recommend using a measuring tape measure to measure from the inner edge of your selvage to a consistent point in the pattern.If the print is even the slightest off-grain, cut using the print as your guide instead of the grain. Otherwise you will be disappointed when the images on your quilt appear to be running in a slight diagonal, rather than in a straight line, with some of the repeating images gradually disappearing off the top and bottom).
Before manipulating your cut fabric any more, zigzag all the way around the edges. If you have a serger, this is even better. This step will prevent fraying and ensure that you do not lose your straight grain. Preparing fabric for sewing is considered by many, and me, to be the most tedious part of the process! Regardless, it is probably the most important part of the process.
I purchased a roll of wool batting. Loose batting won’t work well in this project. I cut two layers of wool, but you can use more than that-the more layers you use, the thicker and softer the blanket will be. If you use more than two layers, be sure ahead of time that your sewing machine can easily handle this. With batting you don’t need to worry about a grain. I used the same measurement as for my other fabrics, but without adding the (1 cm or 5/8″) seam allowance. If you are using more than two layers of wool, you should cut the wool a few millimeters shorter and narrower than you did your other fabrics. The more layers of wool you use, the more you will want to decrease your wool measurements. If you are uncertain how much to subtract, you can judge this once you are on the step of inserting the wool into the outer layers. It will become obvious at that point how much, first the width, you need to remove. It’s always better to cut less in the beginning…you can remove more material, but it is very difficult to add fabric back on.
Lay out your main and backing fabrics, right side together and pin. Insert the pins perpendicular to the edge of the fabric. Remember to make certain that the front and back are pinned together on the same grain and that the grain is straight.
Next comes the fun part: sewing! Right sides together, sew the two long edges and one short edge of the fabrics. Use the seam allowance that you allowed for when you did the cutting. Most likely this will be 1 centimeter or 5/8 inches.
With your sewing machine, using a shorter stitch, go back over the corners, attempting to follow the same stitching line that you already made. If you are not sure about how to decrease your stitch length, consult your sewing machine guide. You do not need to reverse/lock these corner stitches..
With scissors, on the outside of your corners, cut away each corner of the fabric right to your stitching line at the corner stitches. There is a good illustration of this technique here. This will allow your corners to lay nicely once your quilt is turned inside out.
You will likely want to skip this step, but don’t! Using a hot iron filled with water for steam * AND A PRESS CLOTH * press open all the edges. Now turn your project right side out and press all the edges again so that they appear just how you want them to on your finished quilt.
Now, again using your press cloth and a steam iron, press your fourth, unsewn edge under 1 cm or 5/8 inches.
Now it is time to place your wool into its blanket cover. This is very much like slipping a duvet into a duvet cover. If you are having trouble keeping your layers of wool snugly together while you do this, you can use a hand needle and thread to loosely tack the layers of wool together in several spots. This is also the step where you might discover your wool is too large to fit into the cover. If this is the case, measure your excess amount of batting with a tape measure and cut away this difference. I find that an easy way to cut without the painstaking step of drawing on a line is to place the tape measure at the edge of the fabric and keep sliding it along as a guide while eyeballing where to cut. This step can save a lot of time if you feel confident in your ability to cut a straight line while following your tape measure guide. If you are not sure you can do this properly, it is not worth taking the chance of ruing your project. In this case, measure and draw a cutting line.
Once the wool is fitted into the cover, and pinned with the straight pins inserted perpendicular to the edges of your quilt, sew a line around the entire outside of the quilt that is .5 cm or 5/16″ in from the outer edge of the stuffed quilt.
Now choose where you would like your stitching lines, that will give the quilted appearance, to run. My print has frames around each of the fairytale images so I chose to follow those lines. Sewing a set of two parallel lines throughout your project will create a much nicer finished quilt than just one line of stitches. Before you begin, you should probably place some straight pins to keep all the layers from shifting while sewing.
Press your quilt again, along with a pressing cloth, to set all your stitches. At the end of this step, your cheater’s quilt is complete. Congratulations! I hope you love it.
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