Stitch Exchange: Papa Sweater + Horizon Yarn

Posted by Kristine Vejar on March 15, 2018 2 Comments

Last September, we began receiving little hints from Japanese designer, Junko Okamoto, that she may be using a Verb yarn to create a new pattern. Tiny flashes of Verb yarn began appearing on her Instagram feed. Being a huge fan of Junko's work, my eyes widened. With great anticipation and curiosity, I watched and waited for new clues. Soon enough I learned she was indeed using Verb yarn. One of my favorites, due to its local providence (Sally Fox's farm) and woolly texture, Horizon.

I am drawn to Junko's designs because of how she plays with shape - oversized, balloon-shaped, puffed sleeves. She typically throws in some texture in the form of cables (and has used them for shaping, a technique I find ingenious), or a dash of colorwork (ok, sometimes a lot of colorwork, see Twigs). So what would she make with Horizon?

Papa Sweater! Junko emailed to let us know she was in the process of designing a sweater. She told us her inspiration was a child wearing an oversized sweater. The colorwork motif would be similar to a child's scribble of flowers. All of us in the dye studio ooohd' and ahhhh'd, loving the originality of her design. I mean if you are going to design a big, oversized sweater, why not throw some flowers on it to, right? Right!

Oh! And don't let me forget to mention, as far as I have seen from her many patterns I have downloaded, she offers one size. With all of the strides we knitters and knitwear designers have taken to disassemble and reassemble sweaters, and to debate with great fervor over what is the best way to knit a sweater for the best fit for your body type, I find this one size approach, which is essentially a blanket for your body, a welcome respite. No need to deliberate over which size I am! I get to focus on the yarn, swatch, and cast-on.

Since the release of this pattern, many people have asked me how difficult this sweater is to make, in terms of the colorwork. My understanding is that a lot of people are drawn to try colorwork for the first time, which is really exciting! The fact that this sweater only comes in one size plays in the knitter's favor in terms of colorwork. Because, if your gauge is off (a bit, and yes, you must do a swatch), it is not going to throw the fit of your sweater off. Whereas, if you are knitting a traditional Icelandic sweater, where the colorwork is typically in the yoke of the sweater, if your row gauge is off, at all, your yoke will be too long, and honestly, it will look strange. The fit will be off. The same is true if you make a colorwork hat or mittens (or god help us, socks), your stitch and row gauge must be absolutely accurate.

Fair enough, correct gauge when knitting colorwork is an absolute worthy goal. That said, when knitting colorwork, there are other techniques to perfect like making a beautiful fabric. So as you may know, when knitting colorwork, you are knitting with two strands of yarn. I knit with the yarn which I want to show up most clearly in my left hand, and the color which I want to fade into the background, with my right hand. I usually knit (a bastardized version of) continental, so it takes me a minute to adjust to using my right hand to knit. So just right there, a skill to practice and perfect.

Next skill: Managing your tension which knitting colorwork. When you are knitting with one of the yarns, you are carrying the other yarn with you, this yarn, as it lies behind the fabric, is called a float. It is important that your float mirrors the tension of the fabric you create when knitting. Otherwise, if you are pulling the float tightly on the backside of the sweater, the fabric on the front-side cannot block flat, and will pucker. Wool is stretchy - but not that stretchy. Some people say to carry your float loosely. Maybe. What I find most useful is to while I am knitting, when I get to a point where I am going to use the yarn in my left hand (in this case, the yarn I am using to knit the flower) to unbunch the fabric on my needle, so the fabric is relaxed and flat, I make sure my float's tension matches the same length as the fabric I have just knit. If anything, allow the float to be a little too loose. But matching is better. At first, I go slowly, and watch my tension in this way, then I find, once I get into the rhythm, I can just knit without doing that. However, I will every so often, stop, and check-in to make sure I haven't begun gathering my floats too tightly. ("Oh yeah, I am in the process of knitting! Not just zooming through to be able to wear the Papa - but I so badly just want to wear Papa - ok well then you are going to have a puckered Papa. Ok, fine I will slow down." This is basically the conversation in my head when I am knitting colorwork.)

Long floats. Papa does indeed have some long floats - in other words - long spaces between lines of the flowers. This tutorial and commentary on colorwork (aka stranded knitting) changed my life in the best way possible. One invaluable thing it taught me was how to catch my floats while knitting which makes long floats bearable. Yes! Read it over, I swear there are many good lessons. 

It helps that Horizon is forgiving due to its woolly texture. It nicely fills in little gaps here and there, between your knit stitches, creating solid fabric. Plus, it is made from really cute sheep, who are grow a myriad of colorful fleece. I like thinking about them while I knit.

Kits for the Papa Sweater are available here.

Let me know if you have any questions!

- Kristine

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Stitch Exchange: Endless Summer Tunic x Sashiko

Posted by Kristine Vejar on October 10, 2016 0 Comments

When designing our line of sewing patterns, we aimed to create patterns which are simple and could become a canvas for your personal creativity.

Sashiko, a style of stitching from Japan, is a great way to personalize your garment. In Japan, sasho means stitch and ko means small. It is easy to create a plethora of designs across your dress using this stitch. Many times, the sashiko style of stitching is used in conjunction with indigo dyed fabric.

In this example, we chose The Endless Summer Tunic and paired it with a fabric which is very close to our heart: Vreseis 100% US grown organic cotton in the blue color.

I typically like a minimal look so I added stitches to the back yoke and down the center front and back of the garment. That said, there are endless possibilities to stitch - in terms of design and placement. Check out my Pinterest board for inspiration.

Tips and tricks:  
+ Sashiko is composed of a simple running stitch.
+ Traditionally, the stitch is longer on the surface. In our example, we played with the length of stitch to create movement.
+ Sashiko thread is made of cotton and is quite thick in comparison to other embroidery floss. For the best results use a sashiko needle. The sashiko needle’s length is long, so it is possible to load many stitches onto the needle. This will create a smooth line.
+ When threading your needle, cut a piece of thread the length of the line you would like to stitch.
+ Make sure after each line of stitching is completed to pull the fabric taut to smooth any puckers.
+ Traditionally, a knot is tied at the beginning and end of the line of stitching to secure. In this case, since we knew we would be stitching over the lines, the knots were not necessary.

If you choose to do a pattern which has more lines and is more geometric in shape, follow these general guidelines:

1. When turning a corner, leave a little space to help control puckering.
2. Stitch the horizontal lines first, followed by the diagonal lines, and then any remaining shapes.

Here is how I created my garment:

I traced off the pattern onto paper as I always do, then I traced the pattern onto the fabric. I cut the pattern out of my fabric.

Then, I sashiko-style stitched my yoke. I sewed the garment.

As a final touch I sashiko-style stitched down the center front and back of my dress.

Currently, we have a kit available which includes the fabric, sashiko thread and needles in case you want to jump in and make one of your very own sashiko style Endless Summer Tunic!

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Best of 9 - 2015 Edition - The Modern Natural Dyer, The Shop's New Look, and Farm Work

Posted by Kristine Vejar on December 30, 2015 0 Comments

You may have seen people playing a fun game currently circulating on the internet. Visit this website, enter your Instagram name, and it will pull the 9 most popular photos you posted to Instagram in 2015. Kind of fun, right?

I was excited to pull ours as Verb can feel like a whirlwind - and it is interesting for me to be able to step back and to see what the things are you like to see. Here are our results. Let's do a recap. 

In October, I published my first book, The Modern Natural Dyer. I signed the contract to write my book in August 2013. Writing my book has been such a tremendous journey, with a great period of anxiety and anticipation during the period of finishing the manuscript and waiting for it to be published. It has been such a relief - and so very exciting to have my book printed and now available to the public. Plus! It seems like people are using it and like it. I spent so much time, alone, writing, hoping that the book would work. That it could be a tool and people would really be able to use it, but I really didn't know if that would be the case. Though now the book is out, and people are already diving in and using it, and it works! Hurray! I am so grateful for your support.

The book has been going so well - that in November, my publisher sold out! (Hence the photo of Callie, my dachshund, with her face covered in yarn, which she did herself by the way). I could have never dreamt of such a thing. Natural dyeing is such an incredible form of art and craft with endless possibilities. I am so happy that others are interested in learning about it - and in creating their own natural dyeing practice. The Modern Natural Dyer is a culmination of work I began in India in 1999, and my current natural dyeing practice. Its completion marks the end of a nearly 15 year cycle of work. It is very freeing to think what might come next. 

In addition to releasing the book in October, we celebrated 5 years in our current space on San Pablo Avenue. While waiting for the book to be printed and for its release, we decided to remodel the shop. In an attempt to really open the space, create a blank canvas for our yarn and fabric, we built new shelves and painted them white. We expanded the dye studio. Verb's classroom used to be in the front corner of the shop, this is now part of the dye studio, and the classroom moved towards the back of the shop. Now, the dye studio has more space to conduct research and to design projects. The classroom is more integrated into the shop-side of Verb. Customers now have a place to sit and plan projects. There are still some tweeks to be made, though overall, the change has been really helpful while trying to run Verb efficiently and effectively. 

In 2015, we spent a lot of time on northern California farms, continuing to work towards our goal of supporting farmers by sourcing locally grown raw materials. Back in 2002, I saw the natural course of my life leading to a PhD program. As I interviewed for the different schools, I couldn't help but think I wanted to use my hands, and that all of the programs I was considering were heavily academic, and book-related intensives. I throughly believe to achieve a holistic understanding of a material and process, it takes a hands-on approach. Actually being on the farm, and working as part of the farm team, helps to understand the materials I take and make into yarn, in a physical way. The physical sense of the labor it takes to make these beautiful, whole materials we use to make clothing from. Hopefully, in 2016, I will write more about that topic. 

We helped shear over 1000 pounds of wool in Mendocino County - which is where we captured the photo of the newly shorn ewe jumping for joy. This wool is in storage right now as we decide on the mill it will be sent to and design the yarn which it will be made into. We also spent a lot of time with our friend and organic farmer, Sally Fox. In the Spring, we helped shear approximately 500 pounds of wool. We sent this wool, in its multitude of colors, to Vermont, and made our 4th batch of Horizon.

In the Summer, we travelled to Sally's farm to help plant her cotton breeding nursery. Cotton has been literally next to me my entire life, to think of how many t-shirts I have worm, and is a plant and material that I have completely taken for granted. Throughout this 15 year course of textile-intensive research, I have read about cotton and have learned how to spin it. I have learned about its water intensive characteristics and about the farming practice of using pesticides used to grow it. But I know very little about the different species, what each has to offer, and the various methods of farming. Sally has taught me so much about this amazing plant. When I listen to her speak about it, and growing it, it is almost like listening to someone speak a foreign language. Or like being a kid, overhearing adults talk, being able to pick out familiar words, but not quite understanding how to they fit together, and what the larger meaning is. I find this fascinating and compelling, and want to learn more. We returned to Sally's farm in October, to see the now grown, the first cotton bolls forming, among a sea of cotton flowers. In the photo, you can see, the deep, rich, caramel-colored cotton boll. We walked through the field, as she gave us the history of each plot, where the seed came from originally, who were its parents, and if she will cross it with another plant in the nursery to create a new seed. In the distance, low, grey clouds loomed, because finally, the rain is coming.  

Making our way to the last photo in this collaged-sequence, a rainbow of naturally-dyed yarn. This year, among Sally's cotton, we grew one row - 900 feet - of dye plants, as an experiment. Between the dye we grew at Sally's, the dye we have been raising in the backyard at Verb, and the indigo Rebecca Burgess raised, which we have used to create indigo fermentation vats, we were able to create the entire rainbow of color from 100% locally grown dye. AND we were able to use this dye on 100% locally grown wool. Some of it organic wool. It has taken us FIVE years to be able to do this, with a large helping of sweat and tears. 

As we head into 2016, though I have many ideas for projects I would like to start, I am currently working on not starting any new projects for the next few months. Instead, I am wrapping up projects that are almost near completion (like a new yarn that will be released in the next few weeks). I am taking time to reflect on the journey I have been on and to support The Modern Natural Dyer. I really want to help people establish a natural dyeing practice and to help them find the joy I have found in using natural dyes. One thing is for certain, I have learned a lot about time, and the time it takes to grow roots. Five years used to seem like a long time to work on something, and now - it is clearly a reasonable amount of time it takes for a seed to germinate. 

At Verb, this has been our best year yet. Thank you so much for being part of our community! I can't wait to make more things with you - and to continue investing in farmers and textiles in 2016. 

Happy New Year!

- Kristine (and the Verb crew) 

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Stitch Exchange: Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns - We have a winner!

Posted by Kristine Vejar on June 20, 2015 1 Comment

Thank you for participating by leaving comments on our previous blog post as to how you would modify an Alabama Chanin garment - and for entering our giveaway. It was fun to hear about your progress within the Alabama Chanin genre of work, and to hear about what kinds of changes and alterations you'd like to make. One of the most enticing things about Alabama Chanin is the never-ending ways a garment can be made just through simply changing out color of fabric, paint, or embroidery floss. It makes it all the sweeter that now, by using Natalie's newest book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, I can expand my skills of garment construction and modification.

The winner of the giveaway is Romy. She posted this on June 3rd:

"Thanks for doing this giveaway! I’m obsessed with the Alabama Chanin aesthetic and have been since meeting Natalie at your shop. I would love to draft a long dress – a sleeveless boat neck fitted top grafted to the wrap skirt. Rose stencil traveling diagonally up the wrapped part of the skirt, across the shoulder, and a small bit on the back of the neck. I would call it my Wrapped in Roses dress and I would wear it everywhere and be fabulous. :)"

Yes! Fabulous!

Stay tuned! Natalie is coming to the Bay Area at the end of July - and we have a trunk show in the works! I will post here once I know more!



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