The Writing Capelet, Part I

Hello! I hope your May-month is off to a beautiful and prolific start — that new ideas are slowly pushing up violets and greens from the soil like so many spring-time crocuses.

The more I craft, the more I realize that I turn to making to help me solve various kinds of practical problems. I’m learning that very good things can come from the quandaries. Let me explain how I mean this.

A Writing Problem

After my writing trickled to a near and painful stand-still last year, 2018 brought a very good and welcome change: that homecoming-feeling of slowly finding comfort and ease with words again. More than ever, I’m willing and able to regularly sit for the repeated roll-up-your-shirtsleeves sessions that will lead (hopefully) to a completed first thesis draft. The work of writing is still slow-going; first drafts are always the most painful and embarassing. But, I’m learning that self-forgiveness can soften the process, and curiosity about what’s next is enough to keep me tethered to the pages. This is a project that I have been working on, in some fashion, for several yearsit’s refreshing to know that the renewal of curiosity is still (always) possible.

BUT. It seems, my physiology has something to say about this. Specifically, my natural tendency to coldness. An hour of work in the wrong conditions can leave me feeling bone-chilly, energy-sapped, and in dire need of tea followed by a pulse-quickening run. The usual writerly haunts — the cool, air-conditioned interiors of libraries and coffee shops — are great for quick visits. But the temperature needed to preserve coffee beans, open-faced lox sandwiches, and the spines and fibers of books is getting hard to tolerate for sustained reading and writing. Just too cold.

So, what’s a writer to do?

Knit for the Writing

I decided to address this issue by knitting myself something warm to wear. It would, preferably, be snug, non-lacy, shoulder-warming, and thick enough to keep out A/C drafts. It wouldn’t need to be a full sweater, maybe just a cowl or capelet. I noticed that felt bear, bedecked in a snug and cozy poncho-thing, had the right idea. And so I took my fashion cue from, yes, a toy.

After some Ravelry-time, and some tinkering with other capelet-pattern stitch-counts, I decided to design the thing myself. Having knit clothing for dolls in the past, I could surely design something simple at my own scale, right?

Inspired by the abundant crocus beds on my school campus, I imagined a bold violet capelet with bright stripes running all around the yoke. I committed to this vision, and even saw myself wearing it, being writerly and productive and tea-drinking and all that. On April 20th, I cast on, working in the round, bottom up. After a week, I had this:

capelet that never was1.jpg

Sadly, this very inspired capelet got about 60% of the way through (a few rows shy of the yoke decreases) when I lost the nerve and verve to continue on. At first, I feared that my former writer’s block had somehow crept onto the needles, morphing into knitter’s block (oh no!). I stepped away from the work for a few days and reflected on how an inspired idea could so quickly careen into a case of the blahs. I found my reason: the colours felt static and separate, ‘trapped’ in stripes. I wanted them to move and do a little more footwork. This dance metaphor led me to discover that what I wanted was some stranded colourwork on that yoke. Light bulbs pinged.

At first, the thought of taking up stranded knitting struck a note of fear in my heart: so far, my stranded projects have been plagued by tension problems and wonkiness of all sorts. Why would I commit to wearing the wonkiness out in public? But, I also knew that a project like this would, for all of its imperfections, help me build the very skills I had so long admired in others’ stranded work. I took a note from my little Creative Block Survival Guide (i.e. last year’s lessons) and I made the decision to forgive myself, in advance, for all of the knitting wonkiness that I was about to produce: all the bad tension, all upcoming puckerings of fabric, all loose or slipped stitches, all awkward fitting, the whole gamut of potential, catastrophic-feeling errors. It was all going to happen in some form, and that was okay. “Mistakes” could be undone, re-worked. New information and skills would come from all of it (*deeeep breeaath*).

Perhaps like many makers, I struggle with true beginnings. But little gestures like this — intentionally giving imperfections a ‘space’ and wide margin before embarking — can act like myofascial release for creativity muscles, working into the knots and areas of tension to loosen up tissues and allow things to get moving again. Acceptance frees me back up to enter into the curiosity: my favourite place.

So, with some reluctance, I unraveled the purple poncho and sent it, with love, into the frogged knits afterlife. Maybe it will come back another time.

In the next post, I share what became of all those yards of frogged yarn. Until then, I hope you are enjoying this first flush of Spring!


What helps you overcome creative block? Any go-to strategies? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

DIY story: A feltie in 4 steps

feltie feature

I’m not sure what happened the other week.

Maybe it was seeing doll-artist Mimi Kirchner’s doll-making tutorial on Purl Soho, and then being completely blown away by the dolls on her instagram feed. They are incredible.

Maybe it’s the long-going, all-garter-stitch project that I’ve been working on — like cloud-gazing, working its rows tends to lull me into daydreams about things to make.

Or, maybe it’s simply the slow seasonal shift out of winter (fingers crossed?) that’s bringing in a new light and, with it, some unexpected creative whims. Whatever the case and cause, I felt the strong desire to make a felt doll last last Saturday – it was an insistent and oddly specific feeling that a little felt creature of some kind had to happen, and for no discernible reason. I am not known to say no to a surprise visitation from the feltie fairy; I canceled my weekend movie-night plans, brewed a big pot of tea, and took to the drawing board. Here’s the DIY story, in 4 parts.

(Note: I have minimal hand-sewing experience and near-zero needlepoint skills, so the following project is easy enough for absolute feltie beginners!).

1. Designing a Pattern 

I started with a simple sketch – a brainstorm of how I wanted a potential doll to look. I was inspired by one of my favourite childhood drawings: a picture of a somewhat forlorn hippie-bear with vacant pools for eyes. My current doll-prototype has yet to approximate the truth and goodness of this bear; it’s one of my favourite things.

I translated the sketch into a slightly modified paper cut-out that would serve as the doll pattern. Having no experience with designing doll-arms and doll-legs that move, I decided to make a static figure. Very Gumby-like. I held off on the rabbit-ears (but this idea has been very much shelved for later).

 

2. Stuffing & Sewing Up

Two identical pieces of felt were cut from this template (one for the doll-front, the other for the back). That is about as easy as it gets. Pinning the two pieces together kept the edges aligned while hand-sewing. They were seamed using a visible whip stitch and stuffed using some poly-fill that we conveniently happened to have on hand from felties past. One trick that I found useful (though likely unconventional) was to fill each small section as it was sewn (a leg, an arm, etc.). Skinny limbs can be hard to stuff — the flat end of a pencil can help move the fill to where it needs to go.

feltie 2.jpg

I spent Saturday sewing and stuffing my way through the project, and by Sunday morning, the paper template had a marshmallowy, 3-D version of itself (with a tummy patch!).

feltie 3.jpg

Another lesson learned, here: once stuffed, the resulting doll will be a little thinner than its paper counterpart — something to keep in mind when designing a stuffable template of this kind!

3. Adding Features

Using Mimi Kirchener’s excellent Purl Soho tutorial as a guide, I gave the doll some hair: a simple cut-out from one of her “wigs” that adorably represents a neat little parted up-do. The hair was sewn on, again, with a visible whip-stitch.

feltie hair.jpg

I returned to my creature last Tuesday to embroider some features. This step made me pause: I have almost no thread/floss-needlepoint skills, and the closest I come was a failed 5th-grade cross-stitch project that never saw the light of day (coincidentally, this project was also of a bear, seated, holding a heart which ended up looking more like a deflated beach ball). In other words, not a good track-record to bring to a project that I thought was going well, and didn’t want to ruin in one fell needle-swoop!

Luckily, Nathalie Mornu’s Embroider Your Life: Simple Techniques & 150 Stylish Motifs to Embellish Your World was an indispensable embroidery guide — it’s very beginner- and user-friendly (not scary!) and provides easy-to-read primers on how to do basic stitches and shapes with needle and thread. The ethos of the book is that embroidery and needlepoint can go anywhere.

book and feltie.jpg

Using a water-soluble ink pen to pre-mark where the eyes would go, I used satin-stitch to fill in the eyes, to make a nose on a ‘snout’ (using a contrast colour of felt), as well as for her tiny heart tattoo (because she wears her heart on her sleeve). Back stitch was used for the brows and mouth.

I’m learning that there’s good reason to wait until the doll is stuffed to add its features – it’s simply much easier to see how and where everything will actually be positioned on an already-fully-stuffed head.

4. Last step: some new threads!

This was the part I anticipated the most when I started the project — my imagination was set free by dreams of tiny sweaters galore. I decided, in the end, to start with a basic poncho in the round: after a basic neckline, I worked a few rows of raglan-style increases and kept on knitting rather than separating the stitches off for sleeves (worked on size 4 DPNs and some scrap DK weight from another project, more on that soon).

As in large-scale knitting, top-down construction lends itself nicely to work-in-progress fittings:

feltie 5.jpg

And voilà.

feltie 6.jpg
A feltie and her (fore)bear.

The mini-poncho’s colour work pattern comes from Andrea Rangel’s quite awesome AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary: 200 Modern Knitting Motifs. It’s a great resource for fun colour work charts (you’ll find everything in this book from zombies and squirrels to bicycles and scarab beetles). So much colour work goodness here!


And that’s a wrap! I hope to do more of these. Felties are fun to experiment with, and are great for small-scale garment-making. Following the process from sketch to sewing up can, as you can see, lead to some quite unexpected results (which, I think, is where the joy in design and making lies).

Have a DIY feltie design query? Or any doll-making tips to pass on? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Wishing you many moments of creative happiness this week!