A new take on Kaffe Fassett …

I’ve been nuts about Kaffe Fassett knits since his wonderful colourful designs exploded into the knitting scene in the early 80s. You may have read in my earlier blog about the knits I made using his patterns. But my Kaffe knits (as I like to think of them) sort of fizzled out as we came to the Millennium – partly this was because I was very busy on the employment front, and partly fashions in knitting had changed.  Like many other knitters I explored knits that focused on texture rather than colour.  I now have lots of lovely single colour shawls.

But last year I sort of came to a halt with my knitted shawls.  I had lost heart – they weren’t really my thing.  What I really longed to do was to return to my original knitting passion and knit multi-colour again – with strands and strands of differently-coloured yarn – just as Kaffe had taught us.

But those huge boxy garments! To some extent they were necessary for the enormous dramatic patterns, but I knew I just wouldn’t wear a new knit that was as large and ungainly as this.So I began to think small pattern.  This is Kaffe’s Little Circles pattern (which you will find on p.136 of his Glorious Knitting)If you look carefully at my sample piece (and in much better light) you will see that my circles are much smaller than in the original pattern, and some rows feature designs that are not circular at all. Because most of the yarn is so variegated, in many rows you lose definition anyhow.I was pleased with this – I liked the colours, especially the odd shots of fuchsia, and the pattern may be pretty random at times but it still looks regularly patterned to the casual eye.

This irregularity was important because I’d decided to knit a cardigan using Truly Myrtle’s Timely pattern. This is a striped top-down knit – and far from being baggy and saggy as those old Kaffe knits were, this is fitted, and funky!  I love it! Because it is a top-down knit with no seams there are lots of increases and decreases.  The irregularity of the stitch pattern is important in that it allows me to make all these alterations without revealing these adjustments as glaring mistakes.

I’m sorry to do this to you, Libby, but here is my very shabby printed copy of your lovely pattern – you can tell it’s well-loved …I selected two yarns for the background stripes. The vibrant green yarn is Madeline Tosh.  It’s a fingering weight merino (Tosh Merino Light) called Jade.

The other yarn is my own hand-spun.  It’s predominantly a blue/green/black alpaca batt dyed and prepared by The Border Mill but I have added bits and pieces of my own hand-dyed silks and wools.  It’s very light and soft, and combines beautifully with the Madeline Tosh, making this garment much softer and lighter than my old Kaffe Fassett knits (into which I threw every yarn I could find – including my own hair.)As for the rest of the yarn …. well, in proper Kaffe Fassett style it is a motley collection.  There is handspun, and shop-bought – but most importantly there is Rowan Kidsilk Haze.  This is such a useful yarn for projects such as this.  Being a very fine fluff yarn, it lends itself so well to padding out another yarn that is just too thin to fit in to the general ensemble … So, I started knitting …It was tricky.  After all, I was knitting alternate pairs of rows in first one background colour and then the other, with extra yarns introduced to give the stitch pattern. At times the variegation of colour in the yarn meant that I was knitting with almost identical colours …With any knit like this, you are going to have to stop and sort out muddled yarns frequently …However with persistence, I very soon had enough body to try it on.  This is the beauty of a top-down knit.  You can tell so easily how well the fit is working out – and see too how the decorative pattern is developing.  You can tell that I’m pleased!The original Timely cardigan pattern had a deep ribbed border, but I felt that wasn’t suitable for such a very patterned knit , so I opted to knit a picot edge instead …It looks nice here – a very pleasing detail – but alas, it was so darned frilly! I’d have to think about it …Picking up the sleeves and knitting down on 6 needles (yes, 6!!) was horrible knitting.  So fiddly! It didn’t help of course that I was working with so many yarns …The knitting needle and yarn muddle made for truly miserable knitting – the sort when you really don’t want to pick your knitting up because you know you’ll have to concentrate so hard …How pleasing then to get to the bottom of the sleeves and finish them off with these very fine cuffs! As I said earlier, I didn’t feel plain ribbing was suitable for this very patterned knit, but this two-colour rib works very well. (It’s a 2 purl, 2 knit rib.)Then I returned to compare that picot hem against the ribbed cuffs.  Yes – it’s definitely time for some frogging …I got so excited with the success of the re-knitted two-colour hem rib that I forgot to photograph it before I completed the cardigan.  But this pic does very clearly show how much nicer the ribbed hem is than the picot one …Now for the button band.  I did get my picot edging in here.  Because the yarns were so soft, I double knit each band and then folded them over. This works more easily with the button band than the buttonhole band (where you end up with rather unshapely buttonholes which have to be tidied up.)The tidying-up method I favour is binding with buttonhole stitch (of course). When pressed it gives a very nice edging …And finally for the neckline – where I followed the Truly Myrtle instructions to the letter. I do like this informal slight neck border …That last pic reminds me: there were ends to darn in. Lots of people hate this part of the process, but I (luckily) find it rather restful …So – now for the finished cardi!I’m very pleased with it!  The Truly Myrtle pattern is just what I wanted for this project – it’s a comfortable and stylish fit. The cardigan is very light and soft to wear.

And no – I didn’t block it.  I pressed the button bands with a hot iron through a very damp protective cloth, but that was all.  I like the rough texture of this multi-yarn knit.

Of course, I made it much harder for myself because I used a two-colour background.  Were I to knit such a cardi again (and yes, I’m already mulling over how I might translate one of Kaffe’s bolder patterns to a modern knit), I’d definitely restrict myself to a single yarn for the backing.  Perhaps a variegated yarn or I might change the yarn as I went along, but I definitely wouldn’t want to be carrying two main colours right the way through another knit.

Off now for some serious mulling …

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Loving my clothes …

Social media is awash right now with discussions about what you wear – whether it’s Truly Myrtle talking about her Local Wardrobe or Fringe Association’s Slow Fashion October.  So, I guess it’s timely for me too to be looking at the clothes I wear right now.

First of all, I need to confess to loving my clothes deeply – ever since I was a very little girl.katherine-aged-3-and-halfIn the 1960s, in our tiny little London home, I would wake up early – and to my mother’s utter exasperation – take out my entire wardrobe and try it on.  In the end she was so fed up with the mess I created that she put locks on all the cupboards and drawers that contained my clothes.  I don’t remember my reaction …

I was lucky enough to have a large wardrobe of beautiful clothes, many of which were made by my mother. Tartan was absolutely the thing for young children to wear when we were young, and I am amused to see that while my sister and I are wearing identical dresses, I’ve been to the trouble to add a little extra necklace decoration.katherine-marian-in-tartanI can vividly remember having a major paddy aged 10 or 11 because I was fed up with the frilly girlie dresses my mother put me in.katherine-wearing-dress-made-by-her-motherBy 1971, in my mid teens, I was beginning to experiment with clothes (perhaps as a result of the paddy, my mother had given me a small clothing allowance). Here, we are at Hythe beach in Kent, and I’m all dressed up in a baby doll up outfit I’d recently bought for myself and a homemade cloche hat.1971-seaside-wearA later family holiday (1972) and this time we’re on Dartmoor and I can see that I’m experimenting with my clothes even more – those are tie-dye jeans, and a fantastic man’s corduroy jacket!1972-dartmoor-wearI went to university that year and there, free for parental inspection, I was definitely in full experimenting mode. I’ve had a perm, and I’m wearing an old fur stole (it was trendy to wear real fur in those days) and a camel coat, both hand-me downs from my grandmother.katherine-as-a-studentA few years working in London followed university, and they were sort of smart, sort of still hippyish.  This was the 1970s after all.  It was quite by chance that my sister and I are dressed so similarly in the picture below – we hadn’t discussed our clothes before going to this London wedding (of my current husband to an earlier wife – yes, I know!)katherin-marian-at-stephen-zitas-weddingBy complete contrast to London, the late 1970s found me living a more rural, truly hippyish existence in Devon – and you can see that in my clothes.hippy-mumThere were practical things to be done with gardening, chickens – and children – and I was much more of a scruff.katherine-as-a-young-mumThe odd times that I looked smart were for family events like this picture taken at my daughter’s christening. She’s wearing the family christening robe, and I’m wearing a dress I’ve made out of an old Japanese yukata.katherine-at-helens-christeningMy abiding memory of my clothes during this period while my children were young was this enveloping brown coat.  I’d bought it when at university and it was quite stylish then, but it lingered on and on and on – partly because we were very hard-up and partly because it was wonderful for carrying children as their muddy boots just brushed against muddy brown fabric.katherines-brown-coatI trained as an early years teacher when my children were small, and that meant respectable, practical clothes like this dress I was wearing when TEFL teaching (in those days, headteachers frowned at their staff wearing trousers – seems unbelievable now.)katherines-first-teaching-jobLater, I went to work in a library, so I dressed as befits a librarian!librarian-clothesBusier and with more money, I ceased to make clothes for myself.  I think the last garment I made was this coat. It was cut from my grandmother’s old curtains – yes, I kid you not – when I was very broke (proper Scarlett O’Hara stuff here), and it was indeed gorgeous, and much-admired but completely failed to keep out the cold.my-grandmothers-curtains-coatWhere am I going with all this, you may well ask?  Well, in this mini-tour of my clothing life, I’ve looked at all the different clothes I’ve required for my various occupations in so many places.  Now in retirement, in very northernmost Northumberland, you might think it would just be a case of jeans, thick woollies, wellies and a Barbour.

No thanks!

I do have some of those garments, and wear them on walks out and about – that’s for sure.  But I would hate to be restricted to wearing them all the time.

So, over the last few years I have been looking again at my wardrobe. I went back to dressmaking last summer, and wrote about my first attempts in my Batik dress blog post .  It wasn’t easy because I’m quite a different shape from the young woman I used to make clothes for.  And there is that indefinable je-ne-sais-quoi that restricts older women from freely wearing whatever they see on young people.

I’ve discovered that what suits me is to wear tunics or short dresses – I’m not very tall, and longer dresses dwarf me.  Shorter garments do me no favours: make me look round. Under my tunic, I almost invariably wear leggings or coloured tights – these are immensely comforting to one like me who has curious white legs.  Also I feel the cold.  I don’t wear jeans – at all, if I can help it.  I find them so uncomfortable and restricting – and dull!

So, with that in mind, I started sewing earlier this summer, using my grandmother’s old Simplicity pattern number 9141.  How the young Katherine would have laughed to see me making myself the same style of clothes that my mother and grandmother wore!Simplicity paper patternMy first experiment was with a gorgeous African veritable wax de luxe fabric which we bought on our spring trip to Paris. I wasn’t really thinking when I cut it out, and so have ended up with a long dart down the front which slightly spoils the fabulous pattern. african-fabric-dressDespite that flaw, it is a wonderful garment, and I have worn it a great deal – sometimes more wrapped up than others. I dithered about adding sleeves – after all there’s a certain reluctance for ladies of an older age to bare there arms, but I took heart from this Advanced Style post and went for bare arms.african-shift-dress-dressedupIt was followed by an enormously brave attempt to make myself a plain-coloured linen dress using the Merchant and Mills dress shirt pattern.  It’s brave because I don’t usually wear plain colours.  It did take me a long time to fit this dress satisfactorily.  I found the pattern too big for my frame, so had to trim quite a bit of width.  I do love it – another great success.  And I like the plain colour very much – my only caveat would be that I am an enormously messy person, and spills don’t show so much on pattern.turquoise-linen-dress-finishedMy next attempt was to make a copy of a dress I’d designed for myself years ago.  It was made from some gorgeously soft cotton that I bought in Habitat, and I have worn it and worn it, and shortened it, and worn and worn it again.  A really good old friend. habitat-pleated-dressI was a bit hesitant about this – still nervous about my seamstress skills.  So I bought a cheap and unremarkable fabric for the copy, and I think the dress I came up with is also unremarkable. two-pleated-dressesIt took endless patient pinning and re-pinning to get the seams right.  There are no darts in this dress – all the shaping comes from the seams, so it was essential to get them right.pinned-pleatsBut it does look very good when dressed up – and can you see the slight curve I gave the back for added interest?  I was very pleased with that.new-pleated-dressBy now (mid- August), I was beginning to feel a lot more confident.  On the spur of the moment I decided to make another tunic dress using my grandmother’s Simplicity pattern with this gorgeous fabric I’d found in Newcastle’s John Lewis. I didn’t worry about cutting this dress out.  I knew it would be OK!  And it was! grren-and-pink-tulip-dress-styledI’d taken on board the problems with a front seam spoiling the pattern, and just added a few tuck darts round the neck to cope with the extra fullness. So there is no centre front line to spoil the pattern. three-of-this-summers-handmade-dressesMy grandmother’s pattern fits me almost perfectly  – bar the bust darts. I have to lower the bust seam by about an inch which I find quite inexplicable.lowered-dart-on-my-grandmothers-patternBuoyed up with my success, I returned to a dress I had started at the very beginning of the summer. This is Grainline Studio’s Alder shirtdress.  It is cut from some fabric my husband bought me secretly on our Paris trip earlier this year – an enchanting Japanese doll fabric in several colourways.  I cut it out with great enthusiasm, and then realised I would have to do buttonholes – oh, no! So it got put to the side.

Come the end of the summer, with all this dressmaking experience under my belt (so to speak), I knew I could tackle buttonholes satisfactorily.  And I did indeed sew some very good buttonholes. This is another garment that I love wearing – I love the mix of fabrics (which was forced on me because there wasn’t enough of either fabric). And I love the pattern.  It also has a slightly curved back hem.alder-dressThis garment also dresses up well for colder days. Just what I needed on my recent London trip!togged-up-for-london-selfieIt feels such an achievement to have completed these different dresses. I’ve written about them speedily in this blog, but actually they took ages and ages of pinning and unpinning, trying on, measuring and repinning.  It may not really be what Karen Templer had in mind with her Slow Fashion October, but it is still a sort of slowness that has been reflective and patient and careful, quite different from the younger me who would throw garments together in an afternoon – and could carry them off however ill they fitted.

I’ve revisited Karen Templer’s Slow Fashion October since I started this blogpost, and she does indeed allow for a multiple of different interpretations for this slow project.  Perhaps the uniting factor running through this month is thoughtfulness. (I hesitate to use the word, Mindfulness because it is becoming tarnished with overuse) And with that thoughtfulness there is an accompanying pleasure – a delight in the simplicity and care of detail, a relish in getting garments that fit well and that are worn regularly and comfortably.  Well, my summer sewing projects certainly fit that bill.

And, if you were to listen to the Truly Myrtle podcast on Your Local Wardrobe that I referred to you at the beginning of this post, you would hear that she too is, like me, searching for the right clothes for the right place in her life right now! I can identify so much with her search for colour and fun in her clothing.

Perhaps best of all, I can now say that I have confident plans for more making ….. ideas for more garments … my mind is buzzing. handmade-dresses