A well traveled sweater – measuring time and space in knitting
Part of what I’ve always loved about making clothing is how the finished object can retain the memories of the places we were, or the things that were happening, or the people we were with, while we were making them.
The sweater I just finished, is a rather well traveled one.
Though the sweater technically started in San Francisco, it really started with a decision I made in NYC – to not pack any travel knitting projects.
There have been times in my life when leaving the house without knitting was unheard of – let along getting ready to fly across the country without a project for the plane.
Now though, I only leave the house knitting in hand, if I’m going somewhere with the express intention of knitting. And at the time I was packing for this trip I was also a thoroughly burned out knitter. (I ended up mostly sleeping on the plane).
But the actual physical sweater itself, started as a yarn buying mission in The Mission in San Francisco. I went to Imagiknits rather determined to walk out with a knitting project.
And so I did.
I ended up with two cones of Ito’s Shio yarn, needles, and some stitch markers.
I walked out of Imagiknit, and then promptly walked from the Mission, through the Castro, over some giant hill, and to a cafe on Haight St.
If you know San Francisco, you know that, that walk was a beautiful walk, but certainly not a leisurely (or flat…) one. It was a rather profound instance of diving into something without any real clue about what you’re getting in to.
I swatched at the cafe, and then cast on a couple days later, while staying in Berkley.
Where I got to knit outside, by a pool, in January and marvel (yet again) at California’s weather.
I got through the short row shaping, plus a couple of the raglan increases in Berkely, before hopping on a train to Portland.
I spent about half of the train ride asleep, and the other half knitting away, while watching the sunrise, and the train wander it’s way through snowy mountains.
I got almost all the way through the raglan increases on the train ride. Arriving in Portland with only a couple increases left to do and no waste yarn for separating the sleeves (sad panda).
Luckily it seems you can’t walk a couple of blocks without hitting a yarn store in Portland, and the lovely people at Happy Knits were kind enough to give me some waste yarn.
So I separated the sleeves from the body, and began trundling my way through the decreases towards the waist. I got about halfway through them during my two weeks in Portland.
The train ride back from Portland to Oakland was exhausting. I was incredibly thankful for my knitting (as well as my earbuds), and managed to get through almost all of the rest of the decreasing by the time we arrived back in Oakland.
I spent most of my last week and a half back in Berkeley & Oakland walking and wandering and thinking and knitting. I finished up the very last of my waist decreases (which always feel like they go on forever), and started knitting the waist itself.
Unlike on the flight west, I had plenty of knitting to knit on my plane flight back east. I finished up the waist, and started knitting the increases for the hips.
(And yes, I am carrying fabric yardage as a humongous scarf. Because it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase.)
I continued through the hip increases holed up at my families outside of Boston.
And finished the body a couple days after arriving back in New York City.
Then I started the first sleeve, and realized I needed to fix the neck first. So I went back to the neckline, fixed it, and came back to finish the first sleeve. (Somewhere in there came a long pause for lime green swatching).
And then I started & finished the second sleeve – before packing this sweater project again, and moving apartments.
At the new apartment, I picked out the bind off for the body, reattached the second cone of yarn, and added that last little bit of length.
Gauging exactly how much yarn to leave for a bind off is always tricky, especially if you want to work an intricate or particularly stretchy bind off, so binding off this sweater was a game of yarn chicken. (Which I won!)
And I even managed to win yarn chicken with a little bit extra left over – so I’m planning on going back to the neckline of the sweater again. I want to pick out the bind off, rip back a row or two, and work an I-cord bind off.
An I-cord bind off is my preferred neckline finishing for top-down sweaters, but I didn’t do it on this sweater the first time I fixed the neckline because I was worried about running out of yarn from the beginning of this sweater.
However wearing the sweater as is – with just a standard decrease bind off – is making me realize just how much more I love the I-cord bind off for this application.
All told this is a…
4 state (California, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York),
6 city (San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Portland, Boston, New York),
2 train, 1 plane, plus some cars, multi-apartment,
16.5 week sweater (Jan 27 – May 22ish).
I love how I can trace my trip along the body of my sweater – it’s sort of like a wearable scrapbook in disguise.
A yarn (and fabric) tour of Portland, the younger.
As I was saying yesterday, it turns out having to fly something across the country is a pretty good filter for your purchases. This it turned out to be excellent news, because PDX seems to have a yarn shop, fabric shop, or vintage store on every single block.
The first place I visited in Portland was Twisted Yarns (well, after I did “brunch & letters” which seems like a thoroughly PDX thing) – they were thoroughly friendly staff, as well as customers, and an excellent yarn selection. I picked up a skein of Knitted Wit’s Single Fingering, and probably would have also brought home some of the spinning fiber. Again – if I hadn’t had to fly it across the country.
Yarnia was an entirely unique yarn shop. They have tons of cones of thread in a whole variety of fibers, weights and colors, and then you choose which threads you want in your yarn, and the staff winds them together for you. They don’t add twist (like you would when you’re spinning threads together), they merely wind the yarn together onto a cone, while keeping the threads under equal tension. (They have a pretty good FAQ section on their website, if you’re curious). I didn’t get anything here – because I didn’t have any particular projects in mind. This seems like the perfect place to go when you have a very specific idea, and can’t find quite the right yarn.
Happy Knits was an absolutely lovely shop! They have two love bug shop dogs – one of whom hopped on my lap when I knelt down to look at one of the lower shelves. I picked up a handful of vintage clock buttons here that I can’t wait to use as detailing on a sweater (or maybe a shirt?) I loved how this shop was set up with a front room full of yarn, and a back room with tables, and chairs, and couches for classes and social knitting.
The staff was also kind enough to help me out with some waste yarn when I found myself ready to split for the armholes of my sweater, but without anything to put my stitches on – for which I’ll always be grateful.
Knit Purl was beautiful. Not only did they have stunningly beautiful colorwork lace window displays – the inside of their store was also bright and lovely as well. The shop seemed a little congested right by the doorway when I walked in, but I think that was a combination of a couple people were looking at the same yarn, it being a weekend, and (I believe) a class had just finished. They had a good selection of local yarns, in addition to your tried and true stand-bys, and an impressive wall of Shibui. I ended up with one of Knit Purl’s anniversary skeins of yarn.
The last thing I picked up in Portland was from Close Knit up on Alberta street in NE Portland – I might not have ended up at Close Knit if a dear friend, Nancy, hadn’t said (in a few more words) “get thy ass up there!” And I’m so glad I did.
The shop was warm and friendly with a delightful staff, and stuffed with skein upon skein upon skein upon skein of yarn – tons of local and new-to-me stuff, along with your go-to Cascade-like yarns. The staff here managed to maintain an excellent balance of letting me browse and do my thing, while also being warm, inviting, and able to answer questions – it’s a really tricky balance, and one they managed wonderfully.
I also visited Dublin Bay Knitting, Pearl Fiber Arts, Cool Cottons, and the Whole 9 Yards – all while managing to forget to take photos. They were all lovely. I think since I visited them towards the end of my time in Portland – I was a little bit overwhelmed by yarn (forsooth! I know.)
Dublin Bay Knitting had a lovely Irish theme going, (without painting the shop green), which I really appreciated. It’s a bit out of the way, and there was some construction going on, so I ended up there kind of by accident, but it didn’t seem like it would be hard to get to if you were looking for it. The shop was charming and inviting, with tons of little details, tools and knitted knickknacks. It seemed to be organized by brand (rather than by weight) – so it was fun to browse familiar-to-me yarns, organized in an un-familiar-to-me way.
Pearl Fiber Arts was excellent! It carried a variety of spinning fiber, as well as yarn, and they had a wall of locally dyed yarns – the person behind the counter made a point of pointing this out, which I really appreciated. The only reason I didn’t come home with something was that the majority of the shop tended towards bright, variegated colors, which I tend not to knit with a whole lot. However! I did almost end up walking out with a skein of lime green lace weight yarn in a wool/silk blend. It was thoroughly temping, but I think if I had walked out with it, that might have been the final straw for my suitcase.
Cool Cottons was all quilting cotton, but had a tremendous selection. Along with some fabulous prints that I would have totally bought in a different fabric.
Same with The Whole 9 Yards, they specialize in upholstery fabric, but had fabrics that I would have taken home in a heartbeat if they hadn’t been heavy duty vinyl.
I said it feels like Portland doesn’t have a block without a yarn, fabric, bead, button, or vintage store, and that is truly how it feels. Between PDX and the Bay Area, I ended up visiting 15 yarn & fabric stores in 6 weeks, (plus countless vintage shops, boutiques, book stores, bead shops, restaurants, museums, parks, etc – I can’t even remember them all).
In the end, I walked away with 8 skeins of yarn, plus 4.5 yards of fabric. Which I think (all things considered) shows a pretty damn high level of self-restraint.
A yarn (and fabric) tour of the San Francisco Bay Area
While I came home with a not-insignificant amount of yarn from my 6 week long trip to the west coast, I still didn’t buy yarn at ever yarn shop I visited (that would have definitely required a second suitcase).
Between the Bay Area, and Portland, I ended up visiting 15 yarn & fabric shops (plus a handful of bead shops and vintage stores). More than just petting all the yarns & fabrics, I loved having the chance to get a feel for so many different shops in a condensed period of time.
I think we all know this if we have a favorite local yarn (or fabric) store, or if you’ve ever bypassed the closest shop to travel to your preferred shop further away, but every shop is different. Sometimes it’s simply a difference in what they carry, but other times it’s something more illusive, it’s the culture, or the environment, or simply a feeling, that draws us to one shop over another.
Of course, if you surround me with yarn, fabric, or textiles, I’ll feel at home.
And yet, I’m constantly amazed at how individual every yarn shop is. Some categories of shops all look & feel the same (like big box stores), or fall into a few general categories (like book stores, or gift-y boutiques), but no two independent yarn stores really feel the same at all.
The first yarn shop I ended up at was Lacis Textile Museum. I ended up here at a tip off from Jill, and oh damn it did not disappoint.
Lacis is a shop combined with a museum. The upper parts of the walls & ceilings are the “museum” part – with more lace and clothes than your eyes can take in. While the shelves at eye level are stocked everything from fine yarns, to millinery supplies, to beads, to tools for every type of lace making, to select vintage clothes, to all the books, to lace fabrics, and on, and on. The proprietress is incredible, and kind, and knows her stuff to a T. If you’re ever in the area and have any interest in lace, or textiles, or clothes, or fabric making of any kind you must visit. I came in a second time at the very tail end of my trip and walked out with a million (more) photos and 1,000 yards of cobweb weight silk that I might just keep as a pet.
The second shop I visited was A Verb for Keeping Warm – which it turns out was about 4 blocks away from the first place I stayed at. I loved how this shop mixed fabric, and yarn, and fiber, and tools. There was tons of natural light, everything was clean and organized, and packaged beautifully. This hanging was in the middle of the shop, and was incredible – it was made up of small naturally dyed swatches of fabric and beautifully showed off the range of colors you can get from natural dyes.
Britex Fabrics – four floors full of fabric. It felt like the never ending store! Each time I went to another floor there was another one above it.
I loved how they divvy their fabric up by floor, all the wools & suitings were on the first floor, then cottons & silks on the second, then trims & notions on the third, and finally remnants & sales on the fourth. I also appreciated the uniformity and neatness of their bolts of fabric – a far cry from the mish-mosh of fabric you get at stores in the NYC garment district.
ImagiKnit, in the Mission in San Francisco, was the first place I bought yarn on my trip. I intentionally left the east coast without a knitting project, intending to find yarn and decide on a project when I got to the west coast – this Ito yarn fit that bill beautifully. ImagiKnit was a really wonderful shop – stuffed to the gills with yarn, it had a lovely and knowledgeable staff. They also had a small, but well curated selection of locally milled & locally dyed yarns.
Avenue Yarns is a shop just to the north of Berkeley (I think). I’m not sure if it’s technically within the bounds of Berkeley, or if it’s actually in Albany, CA – but either way it’s a great shop with an excellent selection and if I hadn’t been trying to keep my luggage light I probably would have walked away with some of the spinning fiber they stocked. They’re spinning fiber selection was small but beautiful! And though they have a sparse web presents – they’re definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics, was the last place I visited in the Bay Area. Two floors and three rooms of fabric! I’d say a major percent of their stock was quilting cotton, and at the same time there was also a pretty excellent selection of other fashion fabrics. And within the quilting cottons there were a nice variety of weights – some of which (maybe with a wash or two) would work well as fashion fabric for clothing.
I ended up bringing home 3.5 yards of a loud plaid cotton gauze, and just under a yard of a black & white brushed cotton plaid. There were a couple other fabrics I had my eye on, and if I hadn’t had to fly what I bought back across the country – I probably would have bought more.
Now that I’m writing this all out, and knowing how many shops I visited while in Portland – I think I’ll save the yarn & fabric tour of Portland for tomorrow.