Lost and found

 

The weekly market here in our small Moroccan mountain town is fun.  Mostly our destination is mountains of fresh vegetables and fruits, delightful in their seasonality.  Occasionaly, we also browse the used goods section — kitcheware, textiles — brought  from Europe via the ferry between Tarifa and Tangier.  My local friend amassed this way some real treasures over the years; she is seriously crafty and appreciates good workmanship of others.  In her footsteps, I and my daughter tried to look for some handwork in the souq as well.

These two embroideries are, I think, a form of blackwork, combined with some drawn work borders.  (I am not really knowledgeable about the mapping and varieties of blackwork emboidery; just a semi-educated guess).  The base fabric appears to be a blend of linen and cotton.  The quality of embroidery is very nice indeed.  There was a label attached to one of the pieces — sufficiently yellowed to make it interesting.  It locates the work as originating from the cooperative ‘Arta casnica‘ from Breaza — according to a quick internet search, a small town in Romania known for tourism and traditional needlework cooperatives.

What’s the story behind these pieces?  I choose to imagine they were purchased in the later 90s by an Italian lady visiting the area; someone perhaps remembering her own mother and grandmother engaging in needlework (although she could have been skillful herself — Italy retains a strong embroidery tradition to this day).  The embroideries were stored away seeing no use, perhaps passed along to other family members, and ultimately neglected, until finally ending up in a van (very neatly, I must say) piled with other unwanted kitchen towels, table napkins, etc., etc.  At which point they were adopted by us.

Blue folk

Here’s a cardigan that I have finished sometime ago, and it is a nice little study in how to adapt a pattern to your needs.

The original design, from Burdastyle magazine 09/2009 (they do have some nice knits once in a blue moon), was done to complement their folklore theme, and it is very folklore indeed.

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I wanted just a bit less so, so, although I like the overall over-the-top style and actually considered making all the colorful bobbles (which are made and attached after the cardigan is completed), I must have known all along that I would prefer a more pared down version, so no bobbles for me.

There were other changes that I made:

Yarn: I was determined to use up some yarn in my tiny stash (I like it this way — I am almost scared by the amount of yarn some knitters have, I would be paralyzed into utter inactivity should I have had that much).  I really did like the charcoal grey main color of the cardi, but it had to be sacrificed, because I had an otherwise very similar yarn but in marine blue: Le Fibre Nobili Extrafine Merino (long gone yarn; I have a penchant for those).  Same content, same construction, nearly identical yardage to the recommended Lang Cool Wool.
For the contrast colors, I wanted to retain the boldness of the primaries used (white, black, red), but now that I changed the main, and because I didn’t want to spend an eternity looking for those perfect colors somewhere out there in the universe, I decided to be pragmatic and got Louet Pearl (now Gems Fingering) in cherry red, mustard, and silver cloud.  Well, the silver didn’t go at all with the others (internet shopping), so I just dropped it and changed the striped colorwork to Fair Isle repeat (I think from some sweater from Rowan Vintage Knits).  In some way, this did keep the boldness as well as the folklore character.

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Design: You cannot see it in the original photo, and I discovered it only when I studied the pattern (I always study the pattern in full before starting on it), but the braids on the body converge at the waist and then diverge again towards the shoulders. Also, the back had only one center braid.  I didn’t care for either of these features.  So I totally recalculated the body (based on my swatch) to have two braids per each front and 4 braid on the back — you really have to recalculate the back in entirety and not just add braids, because the braid has a very different gauge from the surrounding stockinette.  While at it, I also converted the body to a one piece knitting.

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Fit: This pattern is very well written and, more importantly, has a detailed schematic.  Since my gauge was spot on, I just went by the given finished measurements in deciding whether the size I would be knitting would result in the fit I wanted (with respect to ease) and needed (with respect to my body proportions).  It was all good except for the waist: I am petite and always have to raise the waist (but I almost never adjust the armhole height, because in my experience, it is not worth it as is easy to overdo and can result in tight armhole).  It really cannot be overemphasized that where waist shaping falls is crucial to the right proportion of a garment.  The key here is that the waist of the garment should be approximately 2.5-3.5 cm (1-1.5″) above the natural waist.  You can find the latter by tying a string around you waste, letting it settle naturally where the torso is at its narrowest.  Then measure the distance from the string to the shoulder’s high point (where shoulder joins the neck base).

In my case, I had to redo the waste shaping by compressing the body vertically.  If your pattern does not include the position of the waist (Rowan, anyone? very skimpy schematics) or if your vertical gauge is different from the recommended one (which, in my experience happens even if the horizontal gauge works out — I wonder why?), you have to calculate where the waist is and how it compares to your measurements. Yes, some extra work, but essential if you are not of ‘standard’ height or proportions.

At the end, despite all the preparatory work before and some changes during construction (mostly concerning finishing techniques), it was a straightforward knit and I was fairly sure that the outcome would be good while working on it.  Nothing slows us down more than being unsure whether what you’re working on will actually work out.  It is a lovely sweater, classic but distinctive: colorwork and texture is a great combination!

How much preparatory work are you usually willing to put into a pattern?

 

 

Making it your own

Have you ever admired some item of traditional handcraft — its colors, its texture, its sense of place or history — only to end up not acquiring it for yourself because it doesn’t fit your own lifestyle or aesthetic?   To put it a bit crudely, traditional crafts may often seem ‘too ethnic’, whatever culture they come from.  Unless you are a collector or have a powerful eclectic streak, traditional things like that just seem too much for our living space. And so, with a heavy heart — heavy because we really do feel for the gradual loss of handwork and the precarious position the craft and the people who produce it are in, we leave the items behind because they just are too much for us.

Or are they?  It might just be that we are too small for them: having been fed on a diet of IKEA and the like, we need to grow so that our practical tastes will match our ideals of ethical living, including support of (local) artisans. It isn’t even that difficult; with a little thought and work, that seemingly out-of-place handcrafted object can feel very much at home.  Case in point: Moroccan carpets.  I’ve thought a lot about Moroccan handcrafts, in general, and carpets, in particular, having seen quite a lot of the latter in the last few years.  We have taken many visitors, friends, family members to look at/for carpets and bought a few ourselves as gifts.  Moroccan carpets are beautiful; most people can’t resist them.  Even people who have no plans of purchasing one, usually succumb to not just one, but several.  That said, some may feel that the design and especially colors of most of Moroccan carpets are rather particular, so unlikely to be for everyone.  What if someone’s just looking for something more, well, modern?

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Your house doesn’t have to look like that — actually, it is a shop in Fes (I think), and Moroccan homes look nothing like it.  In fact, there is a dearth of traditional carpets in  Moroccan city households — no one is exempt from the rush to modernity.

I’d like to show a few examples of how people have successfully used Moroccan carpets in their non-Moroccan homes.

The first few examples come from my parents’ apartment; when we took my mother to have a look at carpets, she had planned to buy at most one: she left with four (thus is the power of Moroccan carpets, which I have witnessed again and again).  Three of them are shown here: all are colorful, two red, which is a very common color to find, and one a muted purple, which is quite rare.  They are used in a variety of functions and places; the two reds are in the kitchen (which also doubles as a dining area), with the small rug by the stove and the narrow, long runner dressing up the black leather couch.  The kitchen has dark red cabinets, so the color fit is generally good.  More so, the couch really benefit from the carpet: the leather can have a cold, clammy feeling and annoying sound effects when seated upon, so the rug makes it so much more hospitable while at the same time providing the visual contrast of solid black and patterned red.  Overall, the red rugs, while being highly functional, reinforce emotional warmth of the kitchen; a great place for the family to come together.

The purple rug lives in the bedroom.  It is quite an exceptional piece — we were lucky to find it, haven’t seen anything like it since.  It has a toned down palette and is very finely woven.  The bedroom is rather simply furnished with mostly dark furniture, the walls are papered in textured dusty mauve, there are few decorations.  The carpet lives up to the refined simplicity of the place and brings its own character along.  On the whole, a cool, restful place.

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I don’t know if my mother had envisioned in detail how she would use the carpets while she was selecting them, all at one time, but I think she did amazingly well, which makes me think that she must have had.  It is certainly not easy to keep in mind exactly what one’s looking for when faced with a multitude of choices.

It is this same clarity of knowing what one wants that runs though my second set of examples, sourced from our acquaintances who we helped to get some carpets while they were on their backpack trip to Morocco.  These are very different carpets from the ones seen above (which offers just a glimpse into how diverse carpets here are, something not easily gleaned from many a tourist-oriented shops in, say, Fes).  The rugs in the bedroom and living room are neutral-colored, using undyed yarns of naturally-occurring shades of white and brown.  They are thick-piled, as opposed to smooth, kilim-type surface.  They feature strong, clean geometric patterns (counterbalanced nicely by the freely shaggy texture) but with a pleasing irregularity of lines which adds warmth and life to the rooms.  They look definitely modern; but they are very much traditional.  And they fit nicely into the aesthetic of the place, as far as I can tell.

 

The last carpet is very special: it is actually not made from wool but cut strips of old cloth.  (This type of carpet is called boucherouite, using French spelling conventions, and it can also be made from leather strips).  Environmentally friendly; lots of character; beautiful.

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A perfect little rug for the children’s room; the native carpet underneath looks soooo sad!

One thing which has contributed to the success of these ‘ethnic’ carpets in very modern homes — in addition to people putting them to good use having a very strong sense of what their home is about — is the effort that went into getting them.  You have to seek out these carpets, either for their variety or quality.  They are not necessarily difficult to obtain, but you are unlikely to find it offhand by just walking past some shop in Morocco displaying a few rugs on the wall.  (I cannot comment on the availability outside Morocco).  If you cannot travel to centers of regional carpet production (naturally, all artisan-made) in the Middle Atlas mountains, at the very least one should be prepared to go inside the aforementioned shop and look through a number of carpets, which are usually folded away in the dusky (and yes, sometimes dusty) corners thereof.  The extra work of finding that special carpet is worth it, and it is really nothing compared to work that went into making it.

Peas & Potatoes Hat

My friend Sadia needed a hat; something with a coverage, she said, but not too hot when worn for a while.  Peas & Potatoes is based on what I came up with at the time.  The potatoes (the stockinette) supply the coverage while the peas (the eyelets) keep it light.  It’s a one skein project if the yarn is right (I used Louet fingering weight) and is great for a gift.  You can get it on Ravelry.

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I used a contrast cast on trim; optional but highly recommended.

Crown

The crown shaping is incorporated into the lace pattern — painlessly so!

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The hat has quite a bit of ease — but perhaps not enough to be considered a full-fledged beret.

I’d like to see it in different yarns: for example, some rustic Shetland, or a combination of two laceweights — a smooth merino with a fuzzy mohair. I’d love to see what people make of it!

Now that a few people knitted this hat up, just a few comments on:

Sizing  The hat is really designed for at most 56 cm (22″) circumference. So measure your head carefully at the level you prefer to were your hats — the circumference can be a bit different whether the hat sits lower or higher on the forehead/nape.  If you do need a bigger size, I suggest to go up the gauge a bit, to 3-3.5 mm needles and/or a sport weight yarn rather than fingering.  Note that if you do that, your vertical gauge will change too and you may end up with too long a hat — watch out for that and compensate in the stockinette bands just a bit, so that you hit the lace crown shaping at the right time.

Yarn selection (and to block or not to block)  You can get quite a different effect depending on your yarn choice If your yarn has some body (I would say most wools and definitely cottons), the hat will have more drape and even fabric, especially if you block it.  If, on the other hand, the yarn is less-bodied (mohair, for example) you will end up with a much more textured fabric, really whether you block it or not.  So plan a little ahead or experiment.

 

Backstage Tweed Jacket

Backstage Tweed Jacket from Interweave Knits Fall 2008:

These are some notes on the design and construction of the jacket that I hope will be useful to those thinking of knitting it.

EASE: The jacket was designed with 4-6″ wearing ease (less for the smaller sizes, more for the larger ones), intended as light outwear. I wouldn’t advise to go below 3″ of ease especially if you have wider/muscular shoulders.

YOKE FIT: The jacket looks a little big on the model in the magazine and especially the armholes appear too low. This is the artifact of the yoke stretching out (more than I anticipated) due to the weight of the garment after the yoke was blocked. It was fine before the blocking. To remedy this, I suggest either shortening between the beginning of raglan shaping and the beginning of the cabled yoke (this way you can avail of the yoke chart decreases but make sure you are in the right spot in the cable chart before you begin the yoke), or shortening the yoke by working its decreases more frequently (in which case you would have to figure out some of the decreases on your own). It may be a good idea to block the garment before knitting the collar to assess the fit; if adjustments are needed, you may reknit part of the yoke with more frequent decreases. Another way to address the problem of the yoke fit is to knit it on smaller needles. When I knit this jacket for myself, I will be shortening the body and sleeve about an inch (I am petite), and shortening the yoke.

FASTENINGS: I intended the jacket to be without any fastenings (with optional hook and eye closure). The slip stitch edging wasn’t enough to stabilze the edges, so I added closures at the last minute. This is the reality of working on a very tight de adline. There are many ways to solve the problem of curling front edges and gaping between closures. Whether you end up using any sort of closure or not, stabilize the edges — by knitting facing (miter the corner with the collar facing if you take this route) or by adding a grosgrain/petersham ribbon. If you want to use a zipper as your fastening (I recommend two-way), attach it first and then add the facing for a cleaner finish. You can also knit an extension at the left edge that would go under the right edge (I would think doubled to make it sufficiently firm) and use snaps for an invisible closure. Or you may choose to have closure(s) at the yoke only, if at all. Most of these decisions can be made after the jacket is completed. Personally, ha ving tried the jacket on, I would go for a nice two-way zipper as I want this jacket to be useful in our windy weather. I am considering completely facing the yoke and front bands in fabric, perhaps subtly constrasting silk (an idea for the sewers out there).

OPTIONS: The jacket looks quite attractive without the collar as well. If you don’t like funnel necks, you may consider leaving the collar off and finishing the jacket with a single closure at the top. I think straight-hemmed sleeves and body would look better with this neckline option. I will try to post a sketch later.)