Winter is for Knitting #2

mesidetoside1I found a cap-sleeve cropped sweater pattern that was knit from side to side and so I decided to follow the pattern, since it was exactly what I wanted. I made a swatch to check the gauge. I followed the directions.

It came out much larger than it was supposed to, and I had to fudge to make it fit. It’s certainly wearable, but not really what I wanted. I just don’t do well following a pattern; I do much better if I figure it out as I go along and then it fits the way I want it to. I’m going to try the side-to-side idea again, but this time I’ll do it my way.

going bra-free

A little over a year ago, I shared my experiment with adding a layer to a t-shirt so that I didn’t have to wear a bra. I decided that fusing an image onto the front makes the fabric too stiff.

Since then, I’ve been trying a some different ways to do it. It’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’m not a perfectionist, and I found an easy way that works for me. Someone has asked me about how I do it, so I’m sharing my process here.

Although I am pretty much a size 12/14, I buy t-shirts in an X-large or even a 1X. If you’re not going to wear a bra and you don’t want to look like you’re not wearing a bra, then you really need a roomy knit top to work with. And the knit needs to be substantial — not the sheer or flimsy jersey kind you find at places like Old Navy. You don’t want the fabric to cling to you.

I have found that the best and least expensive t-shirts to use are made by Croft and Barrow (Kohls), Cabin Creek (JCP), White Stag and Just My Size (Walmart). Make sure that they are not the “fitted” style but are more boxy. A longer tunic works well too.

T-shirts with stripes or graphics also work best because they makes it easier to figure out where to do the top-stitching on the front. You can just follow along one or more stripes or you can incorporate top stitching into the graphic.

You can use any kind of knit fabric for the liner. I recycle old t-shirts for that purpose because the fabric doesn’t run. I don’t even bother hemming the edges. You can also buy really cheap t-shirts to cut up at CVS or Walgreens. I buy the largest size they have so that I can make several liners out of one t-shirt.

Here, for example, is tie-dyed tunic onto which I sewed a lining so that I could wear it without a bra.

tiedye

I measured a rectangle shape that would be large enough to cover my breasts and cut out a double layer from an old grey t-shirt. I pinned and then hand-basted the rectangular double layer onto the inside of the front of the shirt, positioning it so that I could top-stitch along the front design. I used a decorative stitch, but a zig-zag would do just as well.

This is what it looks like on the inside.

tieinside

This is what the top stitching looks like.
tiedyeclose

You can make the liner go all the way down to your waist if you want to. Since it’s not attached at the sides, if it’s longer, you can tuck it into your pants or skirt, leaving the shirt itself loose. You can also use several layers of the knit for the liner if you feel more comfortable with more coverage.

It’s best not to use a ribbed knit t-shirt because top stitching is harder to do; the ribbing stretches out and pulls the shirt out of shape. It can be done, however.

Here’s a ribbed tank top that I lined.

outside front

outside front

inside front

inside front

Here’s what the front of a solid navy t-shirt looks like with decorative top-stitching that looks a little like trapunto quilting.

navyoutside

Here’s what it looks like on the inside.

navyinside

As I said, I’m not a perfectionist, so I don’t worry how the liner looks on the inside. Someone who is more meticulous, however, can adapt my method to work for them. If anyone reads this and tries it, I would love to see what you did and how you were able to improve on my idea.

I wish that some clothing designer would create ready-to-wear roomy t-shirts with nicely designed trapunto or quilted or appliqued fronts that camouflage the lining and adequately disguise a jiggling bare breast. (And I don’t mean appliques of cats or dogs or Christmas trees; art reproductions or original fabric art would be perfect, I think.)

footloose (or not)

swing0001Almost twenty years ago, I was a pretty decent intermediate ballroom dancer. When the New York State Museum, where I worked in administration, was holding a fund raiser centered around a 1940′s exhibit, they asked if Dan Molloy (a museum scientist and ballroom dancer) and I would do a swing dance performance. This is a rehearsal shot; somewhere, I have videos of our performance and of a television promo that we did for the event. That’s “videos” as in “you need a VCR to play them”. Who has a VCR any more?? Not me.

I put a lot of miles on my feet in those days. By the time this photo was taken, the heels on my dance shoes had gotten considerably lower than they had been during my disco days, when I danced in heels so high that I now marvel at how I ever managed those intricate Latin Hustle steps. (No, I’m not in that video.)

That was then. This is now.

chairMy brand new La-Z-boy glider recliner arrived yesterday. I’m in love. And so are my feet — especially my left knee, which hurts all of the time. I do have an appointment at an orthopedist, but I couldn’t get in for another couple of weeks.

I really haven’t had a comfortable chair in which to relax since I moved here several years ago. It’s a small space, and I had to do some saving and thinking and shopping. I couldn’t have found a more comfortable relaxing place.shoes

Crazy as it is, I still have one brand new pair of ballroom dance shoes that I can’t bear to give up, even though I’ll never wear them again. They have these really sexy ankle straps and a medium high heel. I’m thinking I’ll wear them to my some-day cremation. It seems like a good way to dance my way along to Star Stuff.

where did my neck go

I know that I used to have one, although it certainly was no rival to Audrey Hepburn’s. But I do remember, as a 50s teenager, knotting a small scarf around my neck, western-style, as was the fashion in those days. The fashion these days is those long, wide scarves, wrapped twice around the neck. I love the look, but you need a neck to make it work. On me, that kind of scarf covers me from clavicle to mouth. Maybe OK for chill winter weather, but as a fashion statement? Uh uh.

And whatever happened to my chin? Where did all that extra skin come from?

Getting old is neither for sissies nor the vain.

my new invention: the bra-free t-shirt

When it’s this hot, you really don’t want to wear a bra, not matter how big or small you are, how perky or how droopy. But neither do you want your outline to pop through the front of your shirt. So, here’s my solution: a loose t-shirt with a lined front panel that totally and opaquely covers your boobs and allows air to circulate under the shirt.

Here’s my prototype, which has a strategically placed iron on image backed by a lining that has free-form quilting stitches on it to make the relevant fabric even less likely to reveal what’s underneath.

I put some machine embroidery around the transfer to make it less likely to peel off. This is a close-up of a corner of the transfer and the free-form quilting stitches.

Now that I’ve made this one, I’ve come up with ideas for better techniques for the front. The next one will have an Alphonse Mucha image for the transfer, and I’m going to try a softer transfer material that feels more like knit.

After I perfect the design, maybe I’ll make them for sale to special buyers. Stay tuned. And stay cool.

my life as sweater metaphor

I’m not the first knitter to come up with the idea that “knitting is like life.” (Google it and you’ll see.)

Even if you’re not a knitter, you probably get the point. And if you are a knitter, you might find my experiment in intuitive, no-pattern knitting something you might like to try. (“Intuitive Knitting” will also come up in a Google search, but what you’ll find is not what this post is about.)

One of the reasons I knit is that I prefer to have a useful product as the result of my creative efforts. And I prefer to play with processes that don’t come with patterns of exact directions. I like to wing it and see what happens. Thus, the title of this post.

For this particular intuitive endeavor, I experimented with techniques I had learned from two books: “Modular Knits” and “No-Pattern Knits.” Mitered squares, triangles, and the simple garter stitch became the basis of my improvisational project.

I started out with a few skeins of Vanna’s Choice yarn that I bought on sale a while ago, although I had no specific plan for their use. I just liked the variegated color scheme.

As I expected, I ran out of the yarn and went back to Joann to get more — but the store didn’t have enough of the dye lot, so I wound up buying a few skeins of a different dye lot as well. And a complementary solid color in case I decided on a contrasting trim (which, obviously, I did).

As I continued to improvise, I discovered that not only were the two dye lots of what was supposed to be the same yarn a little different in color; they also were a little different in thickness. Connecting one with the other was a mathematical challenge (the number of stitches per inch changes with the thickness of the yarn), but I persevered.

I began by using one of the dye lots to create a mitered 12 inch by 12 inch garter stitch square that became the center of the back of the sweater. The dimensions were arbitrary; it was just a place to start. And this is what the back of the finished sweater looks like. You can see the differences in the shades of color in the variegated yarn. And because I never did figure out the stitch gauge exactly, the bottom ballooned out a little and I had to take in the extra “fabric” with my sewing machine. (Sometimes I REALLY have to improvise!)

Coordinating the two thickness of the same dye lot of yarn worked better on the long panels that I knitted as the basis for each front side of the sweater. And I made the two sides different from one another. (I find asymmetry aesthetically pleasing.)

By using the solid color yarn to pick up stitches along the sides of the variegated panels, I added to the width of the sweater so that it would fit around me. Then I picked up the stitches around the top of he square armhole and used the Norwegian technique to knit the sleeve from the top down. I added the solid color cuffs and the variegated color pockets later. The neck band was definitely an intuitive romp — garter stitches with arbitrary decreases made on the right side.

This is a photo I took of me in the sweater (with my i-phone, in a mirror; but you get the general idea). It’s oversize, so I’m wearing a hooded sweatshirt under it. It was in the lower 40s today, and I was toasty warm when I went for a walk this afternoon.

I’ve already gotten unsolicited complements on the sweater. After all, it’s the only one of its kind in the world.

I suck at canvas and paint. My efforts at quilting have yielded marginal results. But give me a few hanks of mismatched yarn and I’ll amuse myself for months, playing at coming up with something that’s uniquely mine.

Some people make lemonade out of lemons. Me? I’d try for a lemon tart.

treadmill meditation

I don’t run. I walk with my eyes closed, holding onto the bar that measures my heart rate. I up the incline a little. Up the speed. Little by little.

I like walking with my eyes closed, but I can’t do that out in the street, where I would probably fall and break a hip. But it works here, in the exercise room at the Jewish Community Center, where it’s never crowded and the mirrors never reflect any hot young and toned females reminding me that’s it’s been a half-century since I was one of those.

I am meditating on my new gravatar, and I know that if I were a half-century younger, I would have my own mythic Avatar. She would probably look at lot like Xena.

I would be a player. Or, more accurately, a gamer. I actually don’t know much at all about gaming, but I “know” some interesting gamers because I follow them on Twitter — because my son follows them on Twitter.

There’s a whole subculture out there of gamers — of bright, creative younger people who Tweet and FB and blog and tumblr and instagram and flickr and all of those oddly spelled connective mechanisms that people my age usually have to look up on Wikipedia.

I’ve become a real fan of Felicia Day, a young woman of so many talents and creative projects that she takes my breath away. There’s no point in trying to describe her here, since her website has all the relevant information. You really should check out her funky youtube video of her song “Don’t You Want to Date My Avatar.” I’ve even gotten sucked into watching her , The Guild. It’s like I live on another planet from these creatives.

So, I’m on the treadmill, meditating, sort of, on being who I am. Not a gamer. Not even a player. Just a little old lady whose heart rate is up to 135 and I do, indeed, need to take a breath.

I open my eyes and look straight into the mirror into the mirrored eyes of a really good looking gray haired guy, who is working out at one of the machines in front of my treadmill. He smiles. He can’t be smiling at me, I think, but I smile back anyway.

Later, as I get up from the ab-crunching machine, he’s standing nearby, cooling off. He obviously takes this exercise thing a lot more seriously than I do. At least I get that impression from his trim physique and the gym shorts and fingerless gloves he is wearing. “This is a good time to come here,” he says to me. (It’s just a little after noon on a Sunday, and the place is almost empty.)

“Yes,” I say, smiling back. “Except it’s such a nice day out there. It’s a good day to be outside.” (Duh! What kind of a response is that??) For a minute we talk about the weather. I move on to the recumbent bike. He moves onto the the free weights.

Now I’m pedaling and thinking about the fact that I have no makeup on and barely ran a comb through my hair before I left home. I don’t come to the gym to meet men; I come to try and get my cholesterol under control and increase my stamina.

I might have to rethink all of that.

I’ll meditate on it.

a sad shoe story

Magpie Tales features a weekly visual writing prompt, and this is my response to Magpie #16. Click here for more.

shoes

I sit on the floor and massage her bony feet, carefully avoiding the hammertoe and bunion that distort her right foot, although both bear assorted signs of 94 years of wear. How she once loved her stash of Ferragamo pumps — slim pointy toes, even slimmer curved heels. In high school, as the size of my feet caught up to hers, I would jam my feet into those Cinderella slippers, wondering if the price of pinch and pain was worth it. Decades have gone by since she chose to suffer for style and status, and those Ferragamos have long since gone to Goodwill. She has no choice now but to shuffle in soft slippers, her frivolous fling with vanity long forgotten. I sit cross-legged and barefoot on the floor and massage her hurting feet, delighting in my straight and polished toes and thankful that I had the good sense to choose otherwise.

the project of the pink hat

I don’t like to wear hats. It’s more than not wanting to get “hat head.” It’s more the fact that I must have the roundest face in the world and hats make my head look like a pumpkin.

So, I’m not exactly sure why I had the urge to crochet a hat out of strips of fabric. I think it’s because, like “the mountain,” the idea was there and so I had to master it.

The color didn’t matter, so when I found the end of a bolt of sheer pink cotton for $1.50 a yard, I figured why not.

I didn’t have a pattern, but I know how to crochet a circle, and I’ve made hats out of regular yarn before. Used to sell them, back when ideas seemed to automatically turn into energy.

So, I spent one day ripping fabric into 1.5 inch strips and another crocheting a hat that turned out to be too big. I threw it in washer and dryer on “hot,” thinking it would shrink, being cotton and all.

Nope. It stretched

So I undid all of that crocheting and and started over — smaller hook, fewer stitches.

And now I have this pink hat crocheted out of fabric strips, which doesn’t necessarily make my face look less like a pumpkin, but I guess I can wear it when we go to Maine for a late-June vacation. It’s always windy near the ocean, and maybe the big sunglasses will make me look like an aging celebrity. Betty White?

I napped all afternoon today, waking up intermittently during thunderstorms to ponder why I launch myself into pointless projects like the pink hat, why it matters to me that my face is round and sagging, why I am obsessed with my hair, why I don’t write much any more, why am I here?

But here I am, anyway, pink hat, big sunglasses, wattle, and all.

Here I am.