Getting started

The Skirt Project Chronicles, Part 2

The first step in our Skirt Project is to knit up a sample skirt; a template for the later designs.  We want to make sure that the fit is right, and also that we are happy with the chosen yarn, gauge, fabric, drape, shape, style, etc.  The initial plan is that I will ponder over the basics involved in designing and knitting the template (and knit it, of course!) while Emma is busy with designing the first series of skirts.  Of course it is a much more collaborative process than that implies, since we are bouncing ideas back and forth nearly every day.

3-IMG_9317There are three major decisions that I have been grappling with: top-down or bottom-up, back-and-forth or in-the-round, and which yarn to use.  This post will focus on the yarn selection and I will discuss the other two in the next post in this series.

3-IMG_9232A skirt needs to have some sturdiness built into it.  The skirt has to give and move with your body, but you don’t want it to sag and bag.  Essentially, you need to be able to sit and stand, repeatedly, and wash it frequently, and you don’t want it to stretch out or to pill.   It needs to have memory, and to “sproing” back into place.  I decided that I wanted wool, which has great drape and memory, but with some nylon mixed in to make it tough.  Sort of like sock yarn, I pondered.  In fact, what I want from the fabric for the skirt is similar to what you want with a sock – it needs to be able to take a lot of abuse and hold up to wear and tear.

The problem with sock yarn is that the gauge is too small.  As Emma keeps planning for more and more skirts, I must keep the gauge to something reasonably quick.  I thought about it and decided my preferred needle size would be a US5 or 6, and that I would be aiming at 5-6 stitches per inch.  After pondering some time on the pros and cons of various types of yarns, I decided that I would try to use a sock yarn but knit with it held double.  This serves two purposes – it puts the gauge in the range I want and it also means that I can use a beautiful hand-dyed wool without worrying about pooling.

2-IMG_9239The Uncommon Thread makes beautiful yarn.  I used their worsted weight Lush yarn to make my Livvy sweater and I loved knitting with it.  The company is reasonably local to me and is environmentally aware.  I can pre-order it from the dyer or can purchase it at my local yarn store (Loop in London), so it is readily available.   The sock yarn is very rich and saturated and the colours are beautiful.  So, I ordered some of the yarn, called Tough Sock, to make Template Mach 1 (hopefully, there will be no need for a Template Mach 2).   I bought three colours for the template skirt – a deep grey (nearly black) called Charred, a very beautiful medium grey with silvery highlights called Plata, and a lovely blue with green and grey tones called Leaden.  Here is a photo of the Charred and Leaden colours:

1-IMG_9241Just as I was about to wind the skeins, I read on the label that the yarns should be washed before using if doing colourwork.  I know this of course, but always in my excitement to begin a new project, I neglect this step.  This can lead to disastrous consequences (see my earlier post The perils of red for a project gone bad through colour running).  So, I washed the skeins and hung them to dry.   While this meant that I had to wait a few days before swatching, it also gave me pretty photos of yarn hanging from the line in the breeze; these photos showcase the Plata colour.  (By the way, none of the colours bled at all; but we all know that it is better to be safe than sorry.)

4-IMG_9234The finished swatch is beautiful.  The yarn has lots of give, and the colour, with the two strands held together, is even more rich and gorgeous than with a single strand.

2-IMG_9316I must admit to knitting the swatch back and forth instead of in the round.  This means that I can not be 100% certain that the gauge is accurate.  (Clever readers may notice the foreshadowing here for the next post.)  But I am impatient, and after all, that is why knitting is made to rip!  We knitters can be as impetuous as we like, as long as a little ripping doesn’t faze us.




Design wrapped up in a bow

The Skirt Project Chronicles, part 1

A few weeks ago, Emma had her 21st birthday.  I thought long and hard about what to get her.  I wanted it to be special.  I wanted it to be personal.  One night, the idea came to me, fully formed: For her birthday, I would give her a design collaboration.

Let’s step back for some background.  Emma and I have been thinking about knitting and design for a long time.  We spend hours pouring over patterns, discussing fashion trends, techniques, styling, yarn, texture, colour.  Emma would frequently say “Mom, you should write a knitting blog.”  I would procrastinate.  In the meantime, I began to modify patterns more and more, concentrating on fit, learning new techniques.  Emma took a course in fashion drawing at Central St Martins and we thought about collaborating on a design project.  I would procrastinate some more; life was busy, I had too little time to knit.

In late 2011, we started this blog.  I did the knitting, and most of the writing, but Emma was very active behind the scenes.  She set the blog up, did all of the styling, photography, layout; furthermore she was the person I bounced ideas off.  Sometimes, we would have a design idea and Emma would sketch it, we would discuss it and tear it apart on every level – looking at every aspect of the design and implementation.  Despite my best intentions, however, these designs never made it to my needles.

Then, Emma flew off to Canada for university.  She could no longer do the styling and layout and photos for the blog.  I had to figure it out on my own.  I thought about stopping the blog, but I found something about it intrinsically satisfying.  I kept it up, I learned how to do things, Doug and Leah stepped up to help out.  Emma was busy at university, and I started business school (in addition to a full-time job) but this didn’t stop the long discussions of design and knitting.  Sometimes, Emma and I will spend hours on Skype, sitting thousands of miles apart, each of us online, sending links back and forth, discussing projects, patterns, yarn.

I have not had much time for knitting lately, but hoped that when my business school Stage 1 exams were done that I would be able to knit a project for each girl.  When Emma came home in May, just before her birthday, I asked her what she wanted me to knit for her this summer.  “Skirts,” she said. “all I want are more skirts.”  I began to think about skirt designs.

All of this history must have been bubbling away in the back of my mind, because one evening when I sat and thought “What will I give Emma for her 21st birthday?” – there it was:  The Skirt Project.  I would give Emma a design collaboration.  The idea was simple:  I would design a prototype skirt – a template.  It would be simple, short and snug.  We would then use the template as a blank canvas and design a set of skirts, each of them having the same shape and structure, using the same yarns, but going wild on colour and design.

Emma, needless to say, was all over it.  When I approached her with the idea, I was thinking we would create four skirts.  I suggested a few ideas for patterns, she took them and flew with them, adding more and more, bouncing them to me.  I bounced back.  Things got out of control.  A few nights ago, during our late-night Skype marathon, Emma told me that she has now conceptualized three distinct themes, with 4 skirts in each theme.  She sent me a sketch of one of them.  It blew my mind.  Seriously, this is going to be amazing.

Emma and I will chronicle the Skirt Project here on this blog.  You can watch it unfold, from knitting the template and getting the fit right, through the design project itself, with all of the sketches, knitting, discussions, tears (hopefully not many), smiles, photos, ideas, ups and downs.  We will do some collaborative writing as well as designing.  (Who knows, I might get Emma doing some collaborative knitting as well.  Emma, by the way, could be a fabulous knitter, her stitches are so neat and beautiful it is unbelievable and her instincts are perfect.  She suffers from startitis, however, and rarely finishes any of her projects.  That’s why this collaboration is so cool; it plays to both our strengths.)

I will continue, of course, with my normal (if slightly more infrequent) posting.  The posts in this design collaboration will be labelled and tagged The Skirt Project Chronicles.  I hope that you enjoy them.