FO: fringe and friends top-down KAL

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This past week’s Slow Fashion October theme is HANDMADE, and for whatever reason I’m not finding myself in the right headspace to write about it. Maybe it’s because I feel like my style is in flux at the moment – I wrote about how moving to northern Norway and breaking my shoulder in March have both had an effect on my wardrobe. I make clothes by hand because at this point, I don’t know how to not make things by hand. There is an element of habit and compulsion that I’m in the process of reflecting on. So I’m still working on how to acquire new materials thoughtfully and with purpose; meditating on how to avoid buying too much, or things I don’t need. And while my stash doesn’t feel like a burden the way it did two years ago, there’s still a lot of it.

So I suppose when it comes to handmade, my priorities are a work in progress. Karen also brought attention to the handmade vs. homemade distinction, which I think is really interesting. For me, sometimes handmade is homemade (by me), but I’m also perfectly willing to invest in handmade clothes made by someone else for commercial production. I love small batch producers of ethical clothing. And since my forays back into sewing in the past few years have left me feeling a little frustrated (and I also no longer own a sewing machine), clothing handmade by small brands has real value to me. I am much less prone to excess when I’m spending a lot of money on a Jennifer Glasgow dress or a Curator top (or even a home-sewn dress from a vintage boutique). I’m forced to really think about how that piece will fit into my existing wardrobe or whether I’m buying a second version of something I already own, in a way that doesn’t always happen when I’m casting on for a new project. I find that a useful exercise. But all this starts pushing into next week’s topic, which is known origins, so let’s get back to handmade for the moment…

I already wrote that I jumped in on this year’s Fringe and Friends KAL almost on impulse after getting an idea for a stripe sequence that would use a buch of stash yarn. Just over two weeks ago I finally finished weaving in all the stripey ends and got that sweater blocked and seamed, and I’m so pleased with it that it’s hard not to just wear it every day.

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So here’s my Improv (I used Karen’s top-down tutorial on the Fringe blog). It’s really interesting to write about this sweater this week, with this handmade theme for Slow Fashion October. Part of why I went ahead and cast on for this sweater when I had planned to stick to WIPs was because it was something that could be made entirely with stash yarn – I mean, how many of us have stashes full of single skeins (or perhaps pairs of skeins) of yarns we fell in love with and bought without a plan? Most of us don’t have sweater quantities of single yarns in one color sitting around in our stashes. So a sweater entirely from stash – that felt like an exciting challenge. And sometimes the best time to jump in and start something is when you feel that spark. So I did! (And for the record, I’ve been doing pretty well at not casting on new things and working my way through those WIPs, so I’m giving myself a little pat on the back.)

I’ve written before that the idea for the stripe sequence was able to emerge in my head largely because I’ve started cataloguing stash on Ravelry – I’d handled these yarns in the recent past, I’d weighed them to note the amounts I had, and I’d photographed them. I’d also noticed that some of the colors went really well together. So once I got the idea, I was able to determine pretty quickly that I had more than enough yarn for a sweater. Looking at the exact amounts allowed me to finalize the stripe sequence – I had remainders of single skeins of three colors, and I had about two skeins each of two colors. Technically, these were all leftovers from other projects, though in some cases I overbought for the initial projects (or the original plan changed), leaving an unusual amount of yarn leftover.

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These are all worsted weight yarns – three of them are Berroco Ultra Alpaca (in Charcoal Mix, Heathered Olive, and Turqoise Mix), and two are Stonehedge Shepherd’s Wool Worsted (in Great Lakes and Blue Spruce). I wasn’t too concerned about mixing these bases even though one is a wool/alpaca blend and one is 100% merino, and since the vast majority is the Ultra Alpaca, it really didn’t matter in the end. Because I had the largest quantities of the Charcoal Mix and Heathered Olive, I worked stripes of both of those colors between each contrasting stripe. The distinction isn’t one you really see from far away, but up close the subtle effect reveals itself and I love what it does for this sweater.

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The finished sweater very closely resembles my original vision. There’s some subtle decreasing on the sleeves, but the body has no shaping. The bottom features a split hem. The one compromise I had to make in the end was the neck – when I imagined this sweater initially, I pictured a wide sort of foldover turtleneck (think Birch Bay), which seemed both posh and cozy and felt really inviting. But it became apparent really quickly as I worked my way through the sweater that it was very unlikely I’d have that much charcoal yarn leftover. I spent awhile thinking about whether to simply finish the neckline with the yarn I had or if it would be better to stay faithful to my initial vision and buy an extra skein of the charcoal to make the generous neck happen. (I also asked for your advice on Instagram at that point, and thank you all so much for your helpful feedback!) In the end I decided that I would rather not buy extra yarn – so much more satisfying for it to be entirely stash! – and just see how far the yarn I still had would get me. I also had the realization that practically, a simple open neck would be much more useful in my daily life than an oversized cowl/turtleneck, since I wanted to be able to wear this sweater inside, and I overheat really easily. And now that it’s done? I’m really, really happy with the neck of this sweater. It truly does fit seamlessly into my existing wardrobe. And I definitely knocked back my stash a little bit. The photo at the top shows the leftovers of each color – from left to right there’s Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Charcoal Mix, Heathered Olive, and Turqoise Mix, and then Shepherd’s Wool in Great Lakes and Blue Spruce.

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While I was knitting this sweater, I had dreams of photographing it in front of the beautiful golden birches, but by the time I got all the ends woven in, I’d kind of missed my window in Tromsø. The closest I got was this progress shot (above) during our trip in Nordland, when I was working my way through sleeve number two. (We’ll just have to use our imaginations. But you can see that it would’ve been great, right?!)

I learned a lot making this sweater. I learned about finding creative ways to use my stash to supplement my wardrobe. I learned a lot about why you might want to knit a sweater top-down (I’m still a steadfast bottom-up devotee, but now it’s easier for me to see which cases might call for top-down). And I learned that my original vision may not always be the best fit for my wardrobe, and that taking time to reflect on that will probably help me knit pieces that become staples (and don’t get frogged down the road). You can check out my Ravelry project page here, and I highly recommend taking a spin through the whole #fringeandfriendsKAL2016 feed to see everyone’s beautiful sweaters. They are all so different and all so special – thanks to everyone else for sharing along the way!

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nordland rundt

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I’m recently back from a whirlwind trip around Nordland, the Norwegian fylke (county) just to the south of Troms, the county where I live. We’ve had some dear friends visiting from the states, and it seemed like a great opportunity to get ourselves off the beaten track and show our friends a nice cross-section of northern Norway. We were lucky to have some very nice weather and the autumn colors were pretty spectacular, all of which we got to enjoy from planes, trains, and automobiles – and on foot too, of course.

Nordland is long and narrow from north to south (the mainland part is so narrow that one of its larger fjords, Tysfjord, ends just 6km from the Swedish border), but it’s also home to the famous Lofoten archipelago. The Arctic Circle also cuts through Nordland. We began our journey with a train ride from Bodø to Mo i Rana (after flying to Bodø – there’s no train that goes to Tromsø)*, where we rented a car and started heading north. We stayed somewhere new each night and the drives were short, which meant there was time for long pit stops or detours depending on how we were feeling each day – it’s an approach I can highly recommend. A few highlights:

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The flight! Flying over northern Norway on a clear day is always a special treat. Tromsø to Bodø is just a quick 45-minute hop.

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Saltfjellet is incredibly unique. The area surrounding this mountain range is all national park, and I’m so glad we got to spend some time here. Going north meant a stop at the bizarre gift shop at Polarsirkelsenteret (situated at the Arctic Circle) before we made it to our lodgings for the night, the charming Saltfjellet Hotell Polarsirkelen (which has a great big common room that’s lovely for knitting or reading, for the record). The hotel is surrounded by nature, and it’s a short walk from the Lønsdal train station if you don’t have a car. This area is incredible for hiking, and the colors are just beautiful in autumn (I feel very lucky that we got to see it like this – as the woman at the hotel said, “one windy night and it’s all gone!”).

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Saltstraumen has one of the strongest tidal currents in the world, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it in person for a long time. We arrived at just the right time, as the tide was changing, and the speed of the water and the meandering whirlpools were difficult to wrap my head around. We also got to see some “Saltstraumen safari” boats zig zag and run circles across the water. We stayed a night here at a rental cabin, but on the quiter side of the water at Saltstraumen Brygge (on the peninsula just to the south of the strait – that was our view in the photo directly above).

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Visiting the former mining town of Sulitjelma tucked into the inland mountains on a lake is an experience I’m unlikely to forget. We weren’t able to walk through the mine museum, but as mining was an active industry here until 1991, the traces were easy to see.

And one last highlight: we took a Hurtigruten boat from Svolvær back to Tromsø, and were blessed with clear weather and some very active northern lights that night. Unfortunately, a moving boat + long exposures don’t make for the best photos, so I left my camera in the cabin.

Aside from the stops, the drives themselves were just beautiful. It’s hard not to love long drives down tree-lined roads at this time of year, especially when the pit stops are also beautiful.

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If I haven’t convinced you that a road trip through Nordland in autumn is worth it, Van over at Snow in Tromsø went on a road trip through Nordland last October and shared a photo essay on her blog. Since she was there a few weeks later in the year than my trip, the mountains all have a lovely dusting of snow.

* After having watched Nordlandsbanen minutt for minutt (the slow TV program produced by Norwegian national broadcaster NRK that documents the train journey from Trondheim to Bodø) multiple times, I was really excited to spend three hours on the northern end of the route. Someday we’ll do the whole thing. The full journey is 10 hours – I often put it on TV in the background when I’m working, as it’s relatively meditative background nosie – and you can check it out here (for free) on the NRK website if you’re interested.