Creative upcycling for your hand-knits: from skirt to pillow

Exactly ten years ago (even before I started this blog) I joined many knitters in making a Lanesplitter skirt [Ravelry link]. The pattern was designed by Tina Whitmore and published in the free on-line magazine Knitty in their First Fall 2010 edition. It used Noro yarn, a self-striping yarn in cool and interesting combinations of shades with long colour changes. It was all the rage back then. Here is a photo of mine (from 2010):

The problem with this skirt (as with many knitted skirts) is that the waistband is bulky. I never felt comfortable with this big bunch of fabric at my waist (it has a knitted-on waistband, which is folded over, seamed, and has a strip of elastic running through it). As a result, I almost never wore this skirt. (One type of knitted skirt that avoids this problem can be seen with the Carnaby skirt that I knit for Emma – blogged here and here. No elastic, and no bunching! Alternatively, if you are knitting with a thinner yarn, then an elastic waist can sometimes work really well, as with this skirt which I also knitted for Emma.) I tried, over the years, to change the waistband on this skirt to make it more wearable but never found a good solution. I recently decided to completely re-conceptualise it:

Behold! A Lanesplitter pillow!

I love this idea, and it was fun to do. First, I ripped out the waistband and undid the side seam. This left me with a rectangle of fabric knitted on the bias, which I washed and blocked.

I wanted the finished pillow to be square, but when folded over, the pillow was 4 inches (10 cm) short of square. In other words, I wanted the length to be twice as long as the width, but it was four inches short of that. So, I picked up stitches along both short ends and knitted up a 4 inch band of seed stitch on each end. (These seed stitch bands overlap in the finished pillow, so they each needed to be 4 inches). On one side, I knitted button holes, and on the other, I sewed buttons.

Then I folded the fabric together, with the right sides facing, and slightly off-center, so that the button band would be about 1/3 the way down the pillow. I made sure that the two seed stitch bands were overlapping with the buttonhole band sandwiched between the button band and the back, as you can see here:

I pinned down the sides and sewed them together.

Here you can see the seam and the overlap at the button bands. When the buttons are undone, you can slip the pillow form inside. This means that you can also easily slip it out if you want to wash the pillow fabric.

I think the pillow turned out great, both front and back:

Since knitters like to know these things, the knitted tee I’m wearing was designed by Mary Annarella and I blogged about it in this post.

There are 3,722 Lanesplitter skirts listed on Ravelry today. I wonder how many of them are getting out and about? (It’s a terribly cute skirt, so I hope most of them are!) If, however, yours is stuck in a drawer somewhere, or you have another project that seems game for a refresh, you might want to try some creative upcycling.

Yarn buying habits – a personal reflection

Recently, I wrote a paper (for my MBA studies) about digital marketing and the yarn industry.  While writing the paper, I looked at the range of producers in the sector, in particular new entrants.  I also researched how people buy yarn, for example, what kinds of things influence when and how we buy yarn.  This made me think about my own patterns of buying yarn.  I don’t have a record of all the yarn that I buy and where and when I buy it; some people use Ravelry’s Stash function to keep track of this, but I am not that organized.  However, I do have records of all of the projects that I have knit since joining Ravelry in late 2007, and of which yarns I used for each project.  I looked at 2008, the first full year that I was on Ravelry, and discovered to my amazement that every single project I finished knitting in that year was made with Rowan yarn!  I had only just moved to England in August of 2006 and was still very thrilled to be able to walk into my local John Lewis store and buy Rowan.  That seemed the height of luxury at the time to my yarn-buying self.

I then compared 2008 with last year, 2014, and a very different picture emerged, as you can see from the below:

blog my yarn use

I must point out that these charts show the percentage of projects made with each yarn and NOT the amount of yarn bought; nonetheless, they show a pretty compelling trend. To me, the most interesting thing about the 2014 distribution is that with the exception of Rowan and Noro, which is a Japanese yarn company founded over 40 years ago, each of the other yarn companies I have used in 2014 is a new company: Madelinetosh started in 2006 and Brooklyn Tweed, Quince & Co and The Uncommon Thread all started in 2010.  More than 80% of the projects I knit last year were made with yarn from companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago.  New entrants into the sector are rapidly changing the market, at least for premium yarns.

I didn’t show pie charts for 2009-2013, but I am a pretty eclectic yarn user.  During these years, in addition to lots of Rowan and the companies above, I knit projects using Debbie Bliss, Cascade, Studio Donegal, Hanne Falkenberg, Blue Sky Alpaca, Malabrigo, Mirasol, the Plucky Knitter, Blue Moon Fibre Arts, BC Garn and Wollmeise.

Though my Rowan projects have fallen from their 2008 pinnacle, I still find it a great product.  In particular, I am totally in love with Kidsilk Haze, Felted Tweed DK and Fine Tweed.  As long as Rowan keeps producing these (and maintaining quality), I will keep buying them.  This year, I have so far made four projects, and two of them – the spectacular Soumak Wrap and my Gossamer pullover – used Rowan yarn.  When I lived in Australia and Germany, I considered Rowan a luxury product; now that I’m in England, it is more like the standard for me – I use it as a benchmark to compare yarn prices and qualities.

I realize that my yarn-buying profile reflects the fact that I am willing to spend a lot for yarn.  In my mind, both yarn and books fall into my entertainment budget.  Let’s say that the yarn for a new sweater costs 100£.  Well, if that sweater will take 100 hours to knit, then I am spending 1£/hour on entertainment.  A bargain!  (Compare to a cinema ticket!)  A cashmere cowl that costs 120£ but takes only 10 hours to knit is very luxurious but still costs 12£/hour for knitting enjoyment.   While I might splurge now and then, my general idea is that if the yarn costs less to knit per hour than a cup of coffee in a nice coffee shop, then it’s a good deal.  This kind of thinking (where I consider the yarn as entertainment rather than part of my clothing, or gift,  budget) is perhaps reflective of the fact that I am still more of a process knitter than a product knitter.  On the other hand, for the past few years I have made fewer impulse yarn buys.  I tend to buy yarn for a specific purpose and this seems to be more in line with a product knitter.

I think that part of my willingness to buy expensive yarn reflects the fact that I am knitting less these days.  When I am knitting more, then I am conscious of cost and try to use more yarns that are good quality but affordable, like Cascade 220 for instance.  I seem to be edging now into a more active knitting phase and I find that this is accompanied by a wish to search out some new affordable yarns (Quince & Co, while very high quality, is pretty affordable; it is moving up fast in my go-to list.)   Having two daughters in university is another compelling reason to seek out more affordable yarns, or at least to knit fewer luxury projects.  It is good to have a selection of yarns to knit with, and some of them should always be outrageously luxurious to the senses, because knitting, like cooking, is a sensual art.  How about you?  Are your yarn buying habits changing?  Are you buying more, or less, luxury yarns?  Do you calculate cost per hour of knitting (surely I’m not the only one)?  Do you plan every purchase or are you an impulse buyer?  Do you only buy local, or organic, or machine-washable?  Inquiring minds want to know…….