Hats are the best. A great way to learn to knit (or crochet!), pick up new skills, add variety to your queue, get that “I made it!” feeling fast. And of course, they don’t require a lot of yarn and they’re the perfect handmade gifts: The receiver is wowed with something you made yourself — without your spending a month or more making it! For this round of the holiday hat knitting cheat sheet, as I did with our Fringe Hatalong Series a few years ago (6 free patterns), I’ve organized it by the skills involved, from what I think of as the simplest to most challenging. You may dispute the order, and of course there’s no requirement that you knit them all or in this sequence, but if you’re looking for some fun patterns for charity or holiday gift knitting, and the chance to maybe pick up some new skills in the process, check out these gems that have caught my eye this year—
I’ve been back from India for two weeks — and granted it’s been a week of brain fog and a week of work mayhem — but I still have yet to figure out how to describe the trip to anyone. It was such a rich and immersive experience, it felt like we were there much longer than we were, and I really struggle to summarize it. I loved it so much. Even just trying to write about the workshop aspect for the sake of the blog, I feel like I can either write a postcard or a book; anything in between is impossible. So I’ve decided to write you a postcard (is how it feels, anyway) and say the same thing I’ve been saying to my husband and friends who want to hear about it: Ask me a question! And I will elaborate accordingly.
The core of the trip was an Ace Camps workshop on block printing in Jaipur, Rajasthan, led by my collaborator and friend Jen Hewett, and it was a better experience than I had even hoped. We actually had three teachers. First, Jen taught a version of the handprinting process that can be done at home using readily available art supplies, since carving a wood block is obviously a very specialized/localized skill. (The at-home method can also be learned from her book Print, Pattern, Sew.) She demonstrated how to create repeats and other techniques, and we practiced printing either on yardage or whatever finished goods we’d brought. My best result was a set of scarves I printed with a super-simple motif inspired by the giant paving stones at the Taj Mahal, which I had the honor of visiting beforehand. During the first phase of the workshop, we also took a field trip to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing to learn about the history of block printing in the region, and got to see master printers at work there and in a visit to Brigitte Singh’s beautiful compound (above), where we also got to see the carving process. All of which was groundwork to be followed by two brilliant days printing with wood blocks in Bagru studios, learning from local experts.
Our second teacher, first day in Bagru, was Raj (above) whose company, Ojjas, is part of a collective of manufacturers committed to sustainable practices such as using natural dyes and recycling the water involved. With Raj and her team, we learned about mud resist (dabu), using their wood blocks to print with their specially-made mud on fabric, which we then sprinkled with sawdust and laid out in the sun to dry. We did two pieces — a practice print and a finished scarf — which were variously dipped into vats of kashish or indigo, then another round of mud resist and a dip in the same or opposite dye, depending, for a variety of final results. (Naturally, Jen’s was amazing.) It was a day with a lot of downtime, waiting as each step dried in the sun, and my favorite part was listening to Raj talk about the relationship between climate and textile traditions in different parts of India, as well as the current state of the business of block printing.
And then our second day in Bagru, the last official day and culmination of the workshop, our third teacher was Hemant of Jai Texart (in the blue apron, above) — an unforgettable experience that I wish I could repeat. We’d had the opportunity to submit artwork ahead of time for the carvers to convert to a wood block, which we received upon arrival in Jaipur. After giving a short talk about natural and synthetic dyes and then showing us the grounds and their various capabilities (during which we helped mordant fabric for the next group), Hemant taught us some best practices for block printing, set us up with a series of tasks to perform and get the hang of, and then we got to print a giant stole using our custom blocks and any of theirs they had laid out for us, and our choice of four natural dyes. Not having made anything I especially loved on dabu day (when I let perfectionism get the better of me), I was feeling extra pressure to leave with a treasure, and I’m exceptionally happy with how mine turned out.
But far more than what I made, what I truly treasure is what I got to see and learn and, most of all, the people we got to meet, who were so generous in showing us their craft. As exquisite as block-print textiles are, I feel like they are one of those things that are easy to overlook or take for granted in our age of mechanized and digitized everything. I mean, how many people even realize it’s a handcraft, or marvel at the fact that it persists to this day? It is incredible that there are still artisans who painstakingly carve designs into chunks of wood, dyers who extract inks to be used with them, printers (human beings, not machines) who stand at long tables — padded by layer upon layer of burlap — dipping those mostly 6″ or 8″ wood blocks into a little wooden tray of ink and stamping the design onto fine cotton muslin, repeating each stamp across the fabric (without any markings or guidelines), then going back over the same ground with the next color, one block at a time, until they’ve created yardage. And these are skills that have been passed down through generations across centuries. Experiencing it all first-hand has given me a whole different level of appreciation for it.
See? I barely told you anything at all and yet this is six paragraphs long, so please ask me anything you want to know more about, and I will happily oblige. It’s an experience I’m profoundly grateful for and eager to discuss.
It’s officially knitting season. I know because my brain is like “What’s a sewing machine?” and my fingers are like “Why are we not knitting?” I am knitting, but it’s also officially peak crazy season for me with work, so there’s little time for anything else. But as it goes, by squeaking in a row before bed here and there I’ve crossed the magic dividing line, and my cardigan-in-progress now has sleeve caps and a body. I’m absolutely dying to get to the shawl collar on it, and given that it’s as much knitting as a sleeve, I think I’m going to change up the order a bit on this one and finish the body first (which I usually do last), so I can do the collar next, then the sleeves last. I’m convinced that having that collar on there will light a fire under me and I’ll race through the sleeves so I can wear it.
But I’m also pondering baby sweaters. I’ve got two tiny new great-nieces (cousins to each other), and the circumstances for their arrivals are complicated. So I feel strongly that my first baby cardigans are in order. I just need to settle on patterns and yarn and then they’ll take precedence over this lovely green stockinette beast. Feel free to tell me your all-time favorite baby sweater patterns!
Right on the heels (har!) of that conversation about how socks are the perfect travel project but I’m not a sock knitter, I’m feeling tempted by socks. No doubt fueled by your comments as well as the extremely cute pair of Harper socks that my friend Jen just finished. Sock temptation happens to me once in awhile but somehow the socks never do. Will any of these make it from my favorites list to my needles?
TOP: Open Heart by Ainur Berkimbayeva are some darling slipper socks
MIDDLE RIGHT: Thaba also by Dawn Henderson are the full sock-knitting commitment, but oh so cute!
BOTTOM: Willard Socks by Alicia Plummer are basically the dense house socks of my dreams
p.s. I’m still working on my India tale for you! I’m a bit swamped, having been gone and then come back right at my very busiest work moment of the year, and I also underestimated the challenge of boiling it down into words! But soon, soon.
I’m back from my trip and can’t wait to tell you about it, but it’ll take me a minute to organize my thoughts and photos. As a knitter will tend to do, I took too much yarn with me and knitted only a fraction of what I thought I might, but still, I did come back with a good 7 or 8 inches of my green cardigan after doing the math on the first runway and casting on as we took off. I even managed to keep my needles when going through security in India — counter to what some of you and google had warned me — and was relieved to have them for the long trip home.
I mentioned before I left that a top-down sweater is the ideal travel project for me, so while I re-adjust to Central Time and work on that recap, this is my Q for You: What’s your favorite kind of project to travel with, and why?
Do you recognize this yarn? This perfectly green Andorra that’s been on my Yarns in Waiting list since late 2017. I’ve been dying to knit with it but cognizant of how warm it is — a delicious wool and mohair blend — and whether it would be sensible for me to make a sweater in it. At this point, given that I have wanted this theoretical sweater for two years, I feel good about committing to it — at least on the level of “how well-considered is this make,” and “will it really be cherished?”
But there’s still the question of (excess) warmth. As much as I would like it to be a simple pullover, a cardigan would be safer, and after searching high and low for a less-warm green yarn that I felt anywhere near as inspired by — due diligence, y’know — I gave myself permission to just do it. Um, held double. Trying to get a sweater’s worth meant ordering from two different stores, and when a dear friend caught wind of my plan, she reminded me that she knitted a Weekender in Andorra-held-double and finds it too warm for our climate. So she loaned me her sweater, I wore it for part of an 80+-degree morning with the window open and then into some frigid a/c. And I found it perfectly cozy! Granted, this is a far-from-scientific experiment, but I want to knit this sweater and if it turns out I can’t wear it, I will find someone who will love it as much as I do. Which shouldn’t be hard, because it is going to be gorgeous.
So this is my travel project — a simple V-neck, stockinette cardigan, most likely with a shawl collar, knitted top-down over the next two weeks as I travel to and around India. (I’m of the opinion that a top-down sweater is the ideal travel project. You get to do the fun starting bits as you embark, then settle into the rhythm of the yoke during your journey, and it generally doesn’t get unwieldy before you get home.)
I leave tomorrow morning and will be back to blogging sometime the third week of October. I’m hoping to tell you a little bit about the textile workshop portion of the trip when I’m back, but I will be offline until then, fully present for my trip.
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If anyone is wondering about Slow Fashion October, I only alluded to it at the time, but 2018 was meant as my last year hosting it. I organized it last year around the notion of how to build a wardrobe you’re committed to, which is at the core of slow fashion — because loved clothes will be taken care of and kept, not treated as disposable — and left a note at the end saying it’s there for anyone to follow anytime. And that remains true! If you’d like to go through the process, it’s there for you in the feed and the entire history of Slow Fashion October can be revisited here on the blog as well. The conversation is obviously far bigger than me and I encourage you to keep having it, with or without me — feel free to use #slowfashionoctober this month to do so! Or start another and I’ll be happy to spread the word. In addition to everyone who’s ever been featured on @slowfashionoctober, I also recommend adding @thesustainablefashionforum and @melaninASS to your follow list!
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Given that I won’t be available to respond after tomorrow, I’ll be turning off comments while I’m away and will re-enable them when I’m back.
The blocking kit pictured above is via Fringe Supply Co. and I should note that my absence will have zero effect on anything with that — the shop is open and DG will be shipping orders just as efficiently as always!
Not all black clouds are gloomy, it turns out. In fact, this little cloud I’ve made to line my neck with is just the opposite!
Several months ago, as previously mentioned, I cast on an unknown object in the dreamy Woolfolk Luft I had originally acquired for another project. I knew I wanted it around my neck, but not what form it might ultimately take. I simply cast on 3 stitches and began knitting a garter-stitch triangle à la Purl Soho’s Triangle Garter Wrap, but with an undefined end goal. Along the way, I’ve imagined it growing into a giant triangle, a square (with or without some variation in the stitch pattern), a large rectangle on the bias … Basically, I was waiting for it to tell me what it wanted to be. Meanwhile, it’s been handy to have lying around for those nights when you can only manage a row or two of knit stitches … and then may not touch it again for days or weeks.
As it reached a certain mass and I took to wrapping the super-soft WIP around my neck, I was reminded of the little kerchief I knitted for my mom many moons ago when I was a brand-new knitter. I’ve always wanted to repeat it for myself, and given Luft’s extreme lightness and softness, it seemed like it might be just the thing. Rather than leave it at pure garter stitch, I knitted a wide 2×2 ribbed edge, which gives it a little more grip, less slip. And I ceased increasing when I started ribbing, as I am not fond of the pointy ends on triangle shawls/shawlettes. It may block out a bit bigger, but at present it’s 18″ x 36″, and used 140g of Luft.
In the end, it’s a little gem of a thing and I can’t wait for the first day cool enough to leave the house with it draped around my neck.