Introducing Upskilly & Stuff

Imagine the splendid freedom of being able to make your clothes be whatever you wanted. It’s something I’ve wanted to be able to do for ages. But while I’ve made a few ill-fated sorties in that direction, I never really got anywhere, and only recently did I realize why that was.

A Parisian seamstress suffering from anaemia is pale and Wellcome L0032772
The problem, I found, is that most books on sewing (of which I have several) are more or less an archive of techniques. Undeniably useful, but one cannot wear techniques. I needed something which would take me step by step from simple to complex – a road map, if you like.

The library books I browsed which were aimed at beginners sometimes aimed to do just that, but there was still a problem. To put it frankly, I wouldn’t wear anything in those books even if it did come out right.

This isn’t really their fault. I’ve aged out of their target audience, and, more to the point, I’ve never really worn what’s “in”. I don’t want to be mutton dressed up as lamb. I’d rather be hogget dressed up as… er, eccentric.

But most of the clothes I’ve seen in learn-to-sew books seem to mimic as closely as possible what you can get in the shops (sometimes “customized” with random bits sewn on or fraying or other laundry-problematic effects).

Of course, I can’t expect a book to be written for me, tailored to my own wardrobe wishes (as wonderful as that would be). So instead, I sat down and wrote a list of all the things I’d need to learn to do in order to make the kind of garment I want to wear. Seams and sleeves and set-in pockets and what have you.

And then I did a bit of research and figured out what simpler garments use those skills, adding another skill here and another one there.
The result: a list of ten projects to see me through a year from “sew a hem” to “sew a dress.”

Arbo-Syende pike i hagen
She’s confident. Don’t mess with her.
Now, you may not be interested in sewing a dress, but the beauty of the idea is that you can identify your own target garment and make your own skill list. Each month, I’ll announce what I’m planning on making and the skills I expect to learn from it. If that aligns with your skill plan, feel free to join in, or follow along with a different project that works toward your target.

At the end of each month, I’ll report back on what I did, how it went, and what I learned. And I’d love to hear from you, whether in a comment or in a link to your own posts.

Don’t let a paucity of resources stand in your way. Not having the largest budget in the world myself, I’m mostly going to be using what I’ve already got: odd bits of fabric, old clothes, recycled or thrifted sheets, and my trusty cast-iron hand-crank sewing machine (which I must remember to oil before I start).

Alexey Akindinov. Seamstress. 2000
“Seamstress”, Alexey Akindinov, 2000
As far as patterns go, I’m going to be using some I already have, finding some which are free online, and possibly even creating some myself, with the help of an old copy of Pattern Drafting for Dressmaking by Pamela C. Stringer. I may or may not end up buying any – we’ll see how it goes.

Now, some of you are probably wondering what’s with the title of this post (and, indeed this series). The more obvious names were already in use, so I decided I’d go for something rather more eccentric, playing off the culinary phrase “skilly and duff” – skilly being a savoury gruel and duff being a dumpling to boil in it, and the whole being the sort of thing a swashbuckling seafarer would eat.

A pirate wears what she chooses! Yarr…
Moving our skills up the ladder is the means to our end (I loathe the word “upskilling, but somehow “upskilly” is fun), and “stuff” is an old word for fabric used for making clothing. So there you have it: Upskilly & Stuff (US&S for short).

So, starting at the very beginning (a very good place to start, I am reliably informed), in January I will be making a kerchief or bandanna.
Skills: measure, cut, and hem. Bring on the hypotenuse.


Necessity is the Mother of Design

Scroll down for link to pattern pdf.

Some people speak the language of gifts with flair and elegance. I am not one of those people. (I could go into a discussion of love languages, but that’s probably a post all of its own.) While I am always delighted when I can think of exactly the right gift for someone – and find it in order to give it to them – it doesn’t often happen, and giving a ‘meh’ gift is irksome. (So is receiving it, probably, but all my friends and family have decent enough manners not to say so.)

Facepalm (4254919655)So I have been known, on more than one occasion, to fall back on the scheme of offering to knit someone something. That way they get to choose something they like – assuming it’s within my capabilities – and I get to give them something they will enjoy without having to go into the mall. Win-win.

And then a friend of mine said she’d really like a hooded scarf for her present – and helpfully sent me some pictures so I knew the kind of thing she was thinking of. I went hunting for patterns and – nothing. OK, not nothing. There were cutesy patterns with little animal ears – or paws (not all of them for kids); there were complexly cabled ones (no can do, although I’m hoping to learn this winter); there were fancy lacy ones and ones where the scarf element appeared more like chin ties. There were some in the finest of yarns (my friend wanted something warm, verging on chunky) and some which used so much yarn it would wipe out my entire craft budget for the year.

Ramona and my small stash of yarn :) (81/365)I did find one pattern, however, which looked like what my friend wanted. In fact, it was one of the pictures she’d sent me. It was also, alas, a crochet pattern. And while I can, technically, crochet, the results are not the sort of thing I would inflict on a friend. Certainly not a friend I wanted to keep.

So I decided to branch out, to stretch myself, and to do something I’d never done before. I designed a pattern for a hooded scarf: simple enough for my skills, thick enough to be warm, using little enough wool not to bankrupt me, and creating the look my friend was looking for. With pockets, because there are not enough pockets in this world. Plus it gives you somewhere to keep your hands warm.

And it really is a simple pattern: all you need to know how to do is knit, purl, cast on and cast off. Plus very basic sewing skills (attach A to B, using needle and yarn) and, yes, it helps if you can count. (Embarrassing personal side note: I once applied for a job where the few requirements included being able to read and count. I didn’t get it. I didn’t even get an interview. I’d like to say this was when I was a child, but I was 24 and had a brand-new Master’s degree at the time.) You don’t even need to worry about gauge for this pattern, which means there’s no need to swatch.

19 Jan
In the spirit of sharing which makes this world what it is, I am making the pattern freely available here on the blog (assuming I can figure out the technicalities) and also on Ravelry and OpenRavel. As with everything else on the blog, it’s under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. This means that you are free to copy the pattern, reuse it, adapt it, sell what you knit from it – anything you like, really, as long as you credit me as the designer and share your derivative works just as freely.

So here it is: the Simple Hooded Scarf with Pockets! (click on underlined text for pattern file). Not the catchiest name, I know, but at least you know what you’re getting. Truth in advertising, et cetera.

If you use this pattern, I’d love to see what you do with it! Feel free to leave a link in the comments, and if you’re on Ravelry or a similar craft site, link your project to the pattern for others to see. Have fun!


Note: the pattern calls for 12-ply yarn, but the yarn I used – while saying 12-ply on the label – knits up more like a 10-ply. For the level of drape shown, go for something around 8wpi; or go thicker for a chunkier scarf.