At Your Own Pace

Yarn scraps

A crazy thought came to me this week.

Remember George W. Bush’s paintings? Once he left the White House, Dubya took up painting. According to Salon he “freely admits the paintings aren’t especially good”.

I find that admirable *. I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel the pressure to only show my best outcomes: in craft, in fashion, in my work life, in my marriage, in the way our home looks (whoops).

How liberating would it be to say “eff that” and put something before the world that isn’t necessarily impressive? To freely make mistakes, create things without striving for technical perfection, to really show your work, not just a polished product?

I have conflicting feelings about this. On the one hand, I can completely, completely relate to Jerome on the Woolful podcast** when he talks about the satisfaction of making something the hard way: thin yarns, tiny needles, tightly-spun multi-ply fibre, detailed patterns.  It speaks to a minimalist ethos that has always resonated with me: do less, do better.

Then again. I first got involved in the knitting community around the time when Wenlan Chia’s book Twinkle’s Big City Knits was published. I worked in a yarn store back then, and while some people were openly disdainful of the new knitters who came in, Twinkle book in hand, seeking big yarn and  bigger needles, I loved the new energy these people brought to our craft. Knit quick! Make more! Have fun!

This was also the time when top-down, seamless raglans were starting to trend. Easy and practical, yes, but not the most refined, structured knits you’ll wear. So what?

There’s a place for all of these, and I’m not just being accommodating. I want to celebrate people making things, even when those things aren’t better than the factory-made goods we’re used to. It’s just not what it’s about.

Go at your own pace. Make what you like. Show it proudly. Celebrate it in others.

 


  1. Finding myself admiring George W. Bush is the crazy part here.
  2. Yep, I’m still obsessed.

Penguins and Programming

Knitted penguin in front of a laptopI don’t talk about my work very much here, but it’s a huge part of my life. I work at SitePoint, one of the world’s biggest resources for web developers. Every year, we have a massive Christmas sale. This year, we’ve decided to go bigger than usual, and share the love.

Penguin on laptop

 

We decided to offer two years of access to Learnable, our learning platform, for the price of one year, plus donate 50% of that price to The Penguin Foundation, a local organisation that is working on exciting technology using magnets to remove spilled oil from bird feathers. Our original goal was to raise $10,000. Once we reached that goal (within a few hours!), we raised the bar to $30k… and now, we’re nearly at $50k. We’ll likely go over our goal before the sale ends in two weeks!

This is only one of the projects we’re working on at the moment, and everyone is working so hard — but are also having so much fun. The days are long, but we’re all smiling at the end. It’s very fulfilling.

I knit this small penguin, about the size of a fairy penguin, as a keepsake for the team. A reminder of those long days of incredible team work.

If you’re interested in learning web design and development, head over to the SitePoint Christmas Sale — the 2-for-1 penguin deal is still on, and we have lots more in store.

Pasha pattern knit in Cascade 22o. See this project on Ravelry

On Australian Wool

One of the few things I knew about Australia when we moved here was that it was one of the world’s top producers of Merino wool. I envisioned huge fields with flocks of sheep, shearing days and carts piled high with raw wool, a thriving industry of scourers, spinners, dyers and distributors, and a bustling market for both unspun top and finished handknitting yarn.

Reality is quite different. Soon after landing in Australia, I found out about Kylie’s Ton of Wool project and backed the second Pozible campaign. The massive 300-gram skein of grey 4-ply wool I received in exchange is still one of my favourite yarn purchases ever, and I love the final product, a striped cardigan.

Ton of Wool Striped Cardigan

Kylie’s story shed a little bit of light on the many troubles of the Australian wool industry. Talking to yarn shop owners and distributors taught me a little bit more.

Then, during a trip to Queensland with Marika, we happened upon a large sign on the highway advertising a mohair farm and yarn shop. We turned down a small road, kept driving until I lost my data connection, then finally (finally!) saw the sign for Wagtail Yarn, a mohair farm and spinnery. The owner walked us through the outbuildings, where her family scours, spins, dyes and skeins the mohair. I had no idea small-scale producers like this still existed.

According to this interview with a wool-producing family, the final commercial yarn processor in Australia shut its doors in 2005. Now yarn producers have to sell the raw fleece or send it to China (or, in some cases to New Zealand) for spinning.

An Australian brand is currently marketing its latest product as being fully Aussie-made, but a close reading of the label and marketing materials show that there’s a big question mark as to the location of the spinning mill. How sad, that even when trying to sell a product as 100% Australian, we have to omit a big part of the yarn’s lifecycle.

Why does it matter? I know North Americans often think that Australia is an island, too small to be fully self-sustaining, and yet too far to really rely on trade partners. Neither is true. Australia did, once, have a thriving wool growing and processing industry (in fact, it was once the foundations of our economy!). Do we no longer care about what our yarn is made of, and where it’s made? Wool processing can be very damaging to the environment (scouring, dyeing, and the superwash process all use massive amounts of water and/or chemicals) — do we now prefer to simply send this off to another country?

Kylie addresses some of these questions in her interview for the inaugural Woolful podcast. It’s worth a good listen.

More:

Wardrobe Architecture

Thanks to Tiniography for the photo!

Thanks to Tiniography for the photo!

How did it start? I think it was reading Karen’s beautiful post Make, Knit, Mend earlier tonight. There I went into the rabbit hole of shibui, boro, visible mending, sashiko and, generally, a longer timeline for the clothes we buy and make.

I’m currently on holiday in Montreal, visiting family and friends. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the last three weeks (first in LA, then San Francisco; one week here, then another week in California) and so have been lugging a miniature multi-climate wardrobe around. It’s exhausting, and, truth be told, I’ve only worn most things a single time.

This is why I’m so eagerly reading the Wardrobe Architect series on Coletterie. I don’t really sew, but I do make a lot of knit clothing, and if I can build a thoughtful, functional, beautiful wardrobe without resorting to ordering the entire J.Crew catalogue, all the better.

Two Linen Finished Objects

Is there anything more lovely than a crisp linen knit? It’s not my favourite fibre to knit with (the inelasticity is rough on my wrists) but the moment a linen piece comes off the blocking board, the ache is forgotten.

Banana Leaf Shawl
Banana Leaf Shawl in Handmaiden Lino.

As you can see, I had some tension issues with this one. Handmaiden Lino is a thin blend of silk and linen, and you can see the transitions from knit to purl as the wide ribs work their way out from the centre of the shawl.

Hanami Cardigan WIP

Hitofude Cardigan in Shuibui Linen

The Hitofude cardigan took forever, but it was well worth it. Shibui Linen is an interesting yarn, a cable-style yarn made up of a very fine linen thread. I had no issues with unraveling this time, unlike a previous knit.

Hanami Cardigan in Shibui LInen

Hitofude Cardigan worn over Sea Silk tank

Two perfectly seasonal pieces as Australia goes from chilly winter into hot summer.

A Craft Sessions Recap

It's craft time! Eagerly awaiting my first embroidery class at #thecraftsessions.

A photo posted by Ophélie Lechat (@ophelielechat) on

What a weekend. I’ve just come back from a wonderful three days in the Yarra Valley, attending the Craft Sessions. One of my favourite things about my life in Australia is the wonderful community of makers and crafters I have met, and this weekend was a highlight in that department.

I only did two workshops, both day-long: embroidery with the lovely Melissa Wastney (who flew in from New Zealand for the weekend!) and one-pot dyeing with the amazingly knowledgeable Julia Billings.

Australian flora is incredible. Is it because I come from Canada, where wildflower season is so short? Or because I spent ten years in Montreal, a gorgeous city with zero colourful flora? Either way, I’m fascinated with native flowers, and I’m not the only one — it seems like every artist here, from landscape painters to textile printers, is inspired by the red, yellow, purple and orange blooms.

I finally learned to do a proper chain stitch in Melissa’s class, but the real takeaway was the ease with which she finds new combinations of textures and colours. I’ve done a fair amount of embroidery before, but always following a pattern, typically all in backstitch. Not very interesting. This was a whole other story.

Australian flowers meet embroidery. #thecraftsessions

A photo posted by Ophélie Lechat (@ophelielechat) on

You know what’s wonderful about a craft retreat? Nobody thinks you’re odd if you pull out your knitting during cocktail hour. A few of us were even knitting between meal courses! There must have been seventy of us stitching away on Saturday night, digging through Felicia‘s stacks of craft books, drinking wine, cozying up to the fire.

Sunday’s workshop was an exercise in chemistry: an introduction to natural dyeing. We created 25 shades of yarn from one dye pot of madder. How gorgeous are these skeins? I see some beautiful dark red yarns in my future…

The best part of the weekend? Learning from this huge group of amazing women, and helping out where I could. Sharing the knowledge we’ve all gathered over the years. Teaching someone how to graft together the two pieces of their lace cowl. This hands-on work brings me so much joy.

Forced Anticipation As a Marketing Tactic

Text on Ravelry announcing that a pattern is available for sale now but will only be sent in October

 

Oh, this sort of thing drives me nuts.

Listen, I get it. I work for a publisher. I understand publishing schedules, and I know how nice it is to build anticipation for a product.

But when a designer releases digital goods for pre-order three months before launch, complete with styled photos, there’s something wrong. They’re frustrating their fans, not just building anticipation.

Anticipation is when Jared Flood releases a photo of a tiny detail from one knit in his upcoming collection, one week before the launch. Anticipation is when people start asking around on Ravelry for the launch date of the latest Twist Collective.

Digital publishing is still new. We’re still figuring out the rules, especially in the crafting space, where some companies still rely on the digital illiteracy of their longtime fans to make a profit (I’m looking at you, Rowan).  I know I sound angry, and I am — crafting is a big part of my life, but digital publishing is an even bigger part, and it frustrates me to see it used to such bad effect.

Love the patterns, but this is leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

Dilemma: when knitting meets minimalism

I tried, I really did. When Jared and I first moved to Australia, I left my considerable yarn craft stash behind and vowed to never again accumulate a stash, and to only knit one project at a time. Ok. Two. Two projects at a time, maximum.

But then, we decided to stay a bit longer, and we moved to a nice new condo with so much space. I once heard someone refer to our living room as “the yarn corner”. At first, I ordered from stores like the wonderful Jannette’s Rare Yarns, since local options left much to be desired. Then a shop opened in my neighbourhood, better than I could have ever expected. Since I now teach at the Woolarium, my stash has increased by, ah, quite a bit.

2014-07-13 21.42.28
Ah, Sharron, I’ve just realised I still have your loom, tucked away in the back.

I left Montreal with a suitcase of clothes, just enough to take me through the seasons. When I first landed in Melbourne, it was late August, mid-winter, and I was wearing a jersey sleeveless dress and sandals. It was 17 degrees celsius, I was fine, but everyone around me was shivering in their winter jackets. I soon adjusted to this new “winter”, and added store-bought and hand-knit sweaters to my stash.

So how do I balance my love of acquiring beautiful yarns, and of making handknit wearables, with my desire for a simple, pared-down, clutter-free lifestyle? Do I give away my knits to people whom I love, but who might not appreciate the investment, both in time and in money, that goes into a handknit? I’m picturing silk-merino shawls thrown in the washing machine, cashmere hats dropped on the ground.

A third option appears: selling my knits, or knitting for hire. That’s quite controversial in knitting circles: knitting is skilled work, after all, and surely deserves a hefty hourly rate. Right? So would I dare charge someone $15, $20, $30 per hour for a sweater that will take upwards of 300 hours — plus materials? Would anyone even pay those prices?

But so little of knitting is about the finished product. For me, it’s all about the process. So why not knit for others, basically for free, if I can just enjoy the work that goes into it?

Ah, I don’t know, and I don’t know how others do it. So, dear reader: if you craft, if you make more things than you can possibly use up, but feel a compulsion to make, what do you do with the extra?

Simple shawls are the best shawls

20140702-194237-70957349.jpg

I am lucky enough to have a job that requires a lot of reading and thinking, leaving me with many hours of mindless knitting time while my brain tries to work through problems.

This WIP shawl is perfect for deskside knitting: portable, light, time-consuming (thin yarn, small needles) and, best of all, utterly mindless. 10 rows of stockinette, one row of eyelets bordered by some garter stitch. Increases on the right side only. Finishing off with a generous garter stitch edge. The end.

On Ravelry: A Shawl for Jess