Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rah Ahn!

The girls and I have been reading The Raggedy Ann Stories and The Raggedy Andy Stories at bedtime this month.  They both really enjoyed Raggedy Ann, but M doesn't seem to have any interest at all in Raggedy Andy.  I'd say it was an attention span thing rather than a sexist thing, but honestly, even I found the Raggedy Ann stories more engaging.  They're a bit more fleshed out and entertaining.

When my mother let us know she was coming to visit this month, I asked her to please bring along my old Raggedy Ann dolls and so, just like in the story, A and M now have Raggedy Ann dolls that have been in storage for 30 years.  And just like in the story, Grandma and Mama had to stitch and sew Raggedy Ann back to health and give her a warm bath.  Needless to say, the girls loved it.  M runs around asking for "Rah Ahn!"  Thanks, Mom!

PS, can you tell which RA has had her bath and which one has yet to take the plunge?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why Wool?

Following up on my last blog entry, I thought that I'd discuss the reasons WHY wool garments are worth the expense.  "Why?" you might ask, is it worth up to $400 in time expenditure to create a wool sweater or longies for a child who will  undoubtedly destroy it or outgrow it in just a few months?

Let's start with the "they'll destroy it" argument.  My children have actually never ruined a wool garment.  Never.  Granted, I'm conscious of their activities and change them into scrubby clothes when needed, but even with near-daily use, they've never destroyed anything I've knit for them.  I have destroyed a few pairs through pure laundry stupidity, but the kids haven't.  Yes, I've had to sew up a hole where the carseat buckle got stuck on the yarn and Daddy pulled a bit too hard to get the child loose, and sure, kids get grubby here and there, usually on the knees or butt.  However, as long as I keep food, paint, and mud away from the woolies, we're good for whatever the day throws at us.

In fact, I have many pairs of longies that both of my children wore.  Here, for example, are both girls in a pair of longies made from an old sweater. You'll want to notice that while my first daughter is only 2 months old when wearing this pair of longies, my second daughter is 8 months old.

Now, the "they'll outgrow it" argument against wool for children.  Let's look first at wool pants, or longies, as they're called.  You'd be surprised to learn that when you cloth diaper a child, their hip circumference and rise measurements don't change as much from early infancy through toddlerhood as you might think.   In the early months, the all-liquid diet of an infant ensures that your diapers will be bulked up enough to fill an 18-19" hip measurement with only a little slack.  By the time your child is potty-training, you'll find that their hip measurement, over those training pants, is STILL 18-19"! So the longies your young infant wore as pants the winter they were born:

Are still going to fit them as a toddler, 2 years later.

Sure, your child may be a summer baby and a winter toddler, but there will me multiseason overlap in their wardrobe if you invest in some capris or longies.  

As for sweaters and multiseasonal use, you may be surprised to find that my 2 year old, who wears a size 2T, has a 20" chest where my 4 year old, who wears a size 5T, has a 21" chest. Here is the same sweater on both girls, who at the time of the pictures, were wore size 5T and 18 mos, respectively. 
 So if I knit up a short-sleeve, or sleeveless sweater, such as in my previous post, I can count on my duaghter to fit into it for at least 2 winters, maybe even three!  The biggest difference is the length from neck to waist.  In this case, the sweater can be knit long for the toddler and be just a tad short for the pre-schooler, OR I can be smart, save the leftover yarn, and simply undo the hem and knit on a few extra inches when the growth spurts come! Three seasons of wear for only $30 in yarn is NOT bad!  And if you remember from my last post, that $30 of yarn actually provided enough yardage for TWO Ivyanna sweaters, so that's two children and 2-3 seasons per sweater, all for $30.  This does assume, however, that I knit it myself and not pay someone else to knit it.
Personally, I knit, so my only investment in woolen garments for my children is the yarn and my time.  If I look at really cheap yarn, the stuff that's only $6 for 4oz at your local craft store, you can make a pair of medium-sized longies for only $8 worth of yarn.  A lot of people don't like cheap yarns, but personally, the fact that they felt in the crotch and bum never bothered me since it adds to the ability of the garment to contain diaper blow-outs.  Cheap yarn isn't as soft and it often pills more than expensive yarns.  I have found, though, that after a few rounds of washing and lanolizing, even cheap wool feels pretty nice on the skin.  And as for pilling, I own a sweater shaver and for the once or twice a month that I have to use it, I actually find I enjoy the process.  The kids even fight over the honor of being allowed to run the sweater shaver.  

That doesn't mean that I don't have many woolen garments for my children that are made from expensive yarns. I do.  For the most common expensive yarns used in children's clothing, it would cost me about $30-60 for the yarn for the garment.  "Yikes!" you say.  But let's remember that the child will wear the longies for up to 3 years.  The yearly cost of that item is now $10-20.  My child has non-woolen garments that cost me that much per season's use.  Also remember that longies, shorties, capris, and skirties will double as diaper covers during the first two years (or more!) of your child's life.  This means that one pair of $30 longies can replace 3 diaper covers which would have cost me $45.  

And let's not forget resale value!  Used woolen garments can often be resold online to other cloth-diapering families.  Often, you'll find that you can resell the used garments for at least the cost of your yarn.  So, in the end, a pair of longies that may have cost me $30 in yarn to knit, will save me $15 in diaper cover cost, and sell for $30 when I'm done with them.  Essentially, the longies have just paid me $15 to use them for 3 years.  Do you have any other clothing items that PAY YOU to use them?  I don't!

The final component to why I would encourage you to use woolen garments on your children is the "easily recycled" nature of wool yarn.  I can knit a pair of longies for my daughter, have her wear them for 3 years, and then simply take them apart, wash the yarn, and knit her something new!  Maybe I'll knit her a hat and mitten set, maybe a sweater vest, maybe a pair of slippers... the possibilities are endless.  Fro example, my youngest daughter has in her wardrobe a pair of longies that she wore from late winter to early summer last year and will wear again from fall to spring this year. I have been eying the yarn in those pants with a great deal of longing since they arrived nearly 9 months ago, just waiting for her to outgrow them so that I can have a new winter hat and mitten set!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Does a Sweater Cost?

After a recent discussion on one of my knitting forums about the costs of handmade clothing, I thought I would sit down and write up a "ledger" for the cost, in time, of a hand-knit sweater.  Before I start detailing exactly how much time goes into knitting a sweater, I want to state for the record that I am, in fact, a fast knitter.  My estimates for the knitting section of the process are likely more conservative than those of the average knitter.

Every sweater begins with an idea.  It must begin with either a picture in my head of what style of sweater I want to make or an idea of what type of yarn I want to use.  Sometimes I already have the yarn on-hand and it's only a matter of finding the right pattern.  Sometimes I have the pattern all picked out and need to find a yarn to use.  There's usually some sort of spark or inspiration and I move forward from there.  To flesh out the idea, I usually spend time on, searching their pattern database for patterns that suit my needs.  If I already have the pattern picked out, I will take the time to look through the finished sweaters that have been made from that pattern, looking for helpful tips and pointers that will make the knitting go faster.  I will also look for color combinations, yarn choice, modifications that people have tried.   Assuming that I already have either pattern or yarn on-hand, the rest of this process takes about 60 minutes.  For this article, I had the pattern on-hand and had knit from it before.  The pattern is the Ivyanna sweater, shown here on my older daughter.

If I have to obtain yarn for the project, I have to decide if I want to buy something from an online store, from a local yarn shop, from an online resale forum, etc.  I have to decide if I want to buy yarn that has been dyed already or if I want to buy undyed and apply my own palette.  Generally, I have some undyed yarn on-hand because I know that there will be a project that I won't be able to find what I'm looking for online or a project that would cost too much to buy the yarn I want predyed.  In the case of this example, I had leftover yarn that I had dyed for a previous project, so I did not have to shop for yarn.  However, when I initially dyed the yarn, it took me about 6 hours, not including drying time.  If I purchase yarn, it will cost me about 30 minutes, not including any driving or shipping time.

Once the yarn arrives, I have to check it to see if it needs to be washed.  Often, yarn suppliers will skein or cake their yarn tightly to allow more yards of yarn to take up less space in shipping packages and storage.  In order to make the best use of the yarn, I will have to loosen up the yarn again and either allow it extra time to relax and fluff up on its own or I will have to wash it and allow it to airdry.  Either process will allow the yarn to bloom and regain its elasticity and regularity.  I generally opt to wash the yarn as the washing not only improves the yarn but also helps clear away any dirt or debris that may have come along with the wool.  I also find the pre-washing the yarn tells me if the dye is fully set or if I will have to worry about bleeding when washing the finished sweater.  Lastly, I prewash because I enjoy the experience of knitting with yarn that has been scented by my wool wash.  Who wants to open a project bag to be hit in the face with a faceful of mildew, dust, sheep odors, dye outgassing, etc.  Washing takes about 20 minutes plus drying time.  Most of that isn't active work, though, unless I have to rewind from cakes to skeins. 

Three days later, I get to wind my dried yarn into cakes. I do this by hand because I find that ball-winders put too much tension on the yarn.  This leads to shrinking,, twisting, and distorting when the tight sections loosen up over time and end up contracting the fabric.  This takes another 30 minutes if I have to do 2-3 skeins.

Buttons can also be another time expenditure.  In this case, I chose to sculpt my own decorative and functional buttons after the craft store didn't yield anything appropriate in the right size.  This takes about 45 minutes, including baking.

We are now ready to begin knitting.  In this case, I do not need to do a gauge swatch as I have knit with this yarn base before at the required gauge and know which size needles I need.  Normally, a 4" by 4" swatch would need to be knit one or more times to refine exactly which needle size will produce the correct number of stitches per inch.  If I were to be off by as little as 1/2 stitch per inch, the sweater would be 2 or more sizes too big or too small.  Knitting a test swatch takes about 15 minutes and if I were to guess wrong on needle size would need to be redone to ensure that the second selection of needle size is correct.  I assume 30 minutes for gauge swatching if I'm using a new yarn.

This particular pattern is a quick and easy knit.  It only requires about 5 oz of yarn to complete the size 2T sweater. If it had arms and a hood, it would take about twice as long to knit.  This sweater took me about 8 hours to knit.  A full sweater would have taken me around 16 hours. That's continuous knitting time, not from the date I started until the day I finished the work. I spread that work out over 2-4 weeks generally because I have a job, a family, and other responsibilities.  I include in this the time it takes to weave in the typical number of loose yarn ends and attach the buttons.

 Once the sweater is knit it must be washed and blocked.  No, it's not dirty, but until it has soaked and been arranged to dry, there will be uneven stitches here and there and perhaps some curling of edges.  Also, if a lace pattern has been used, blocking allows the lace to open up and become more beautiful.  Washing and blocking add another 20-30 minutes of active attention and 3 days of drying.

Once it is dry, I like to take photographs for my portfolio.  If the weather is good and the children are otherwise engaged, this process only takes 15 minutes including uploading time.

If I were knitting this for sale on the internet, rather than for my children or a custom order, I would need to invest additional time in photography, listing it online, and monitoring the listing and any follow up emails with a customer.  This would cost another 60 minutes or so.

So, where are we on total time invested?  If I buy yarn and don't sell online, it costs me 20.3 hours.  If I dye my own yarn, it costs me 25.8 hours.  What would that translate into if I were paid by the hour?  Well, most artists, in any media, charge $20 an hour for custom work. 

Assuming $20 an hour, purchased yarn: $406.67

Assuming $5 an hour, purchased yarn: $101.50

Even at $5 an hour, there is no way I can really recoup my costs when knitting for customers.  Who will pay me $100 for just the work, not the yarn?  So please, remember this when you are purchasing and caring for hand-knit items. You have a sweater because someone either loves you or loves knitting enough to give away their time for peanuts.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I have really been having a LOT of fun with the boxer brief pattern.  It's so easy to come up with a successful project!  I have yet to really go wrong with it.  Sure, I made a few construction snafus, but overall, I'm pleased with each and every pair of girly boxer briefs.  I had spent $18 at Joann's this week to buy a few things to make some undies and later went to St. Vincent DePaul for a few more shirts to cut up.  I lucked out in that our SVDP has a very large bin of children's clothing marked at just 10 cents per item.  Yep, 10 cents.  It used to be 5 cents, but last month inflation struck.  LOL.

Here are some of the undies I have made: 

These are 2T-3T, the back is in the first picture, the front in the next.


These are all size 2T/3T as well.  Again, backside first.


Here are all three toddler/preschooler sizes that I have worked up.  They are essentially 2T/3T, 4-5T, and 6.


Here is the backside of the 4T.  They were sewn with standard underwear elastic rather than FOE.
This pair is a medium, so I'd say 5-6.  It's the same pattern as the butterflies above, but with a stretchier fabric.  My 41lb kid says they fit her great, but personally, I think a slightly roomier pair would serve her better.

And the original trial pair.

Once I've made enough pairs to fill out my children's drawers, I'll work on sizing up the pattern to fit me.  I want some fun undies! 

August 16th, 2011
Here are another set of 2T/3T undies I finished.  Three pairs went to a friend for her daughter, the other stayed with us as it was a seconds-quality piece.  For some reason, the leg seams didn't line up!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Boxer Briefs, episode 2

When I finished sewing up the prototype of the boxer brief pattern last night, I placed the new pair of undies outside the door of my girls' bedroom.  At 6:30am this morning, I awoke to the words, "Mimi, E-E-O unnahware?  E-E-O eat banana?"  There was a pair of monkey underwear held up to my nose, blocking all view of the excited 2 year old behind them.


"Are these monkey underwear for me?  The monkeys are eating bananas on them!"

She loved them.  An hour later, she wet them and we went on to pair number 2.  Those also lasted only an hour or so, but were a big hit!

I plan on making a few more pairs tonight after the girls go to bed and before my knitting time.  I'm really liking these little undies!  My elder daughter has requested a few pairs and I know I want some...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On the Topic of Training Pants, Panties, and Boxer Briefs

As many of you have heard or could probably guess, we're potty training our youngest daughter this summer.  It has been quite the experience.  It has been different in EVERY way from what we experienced with our elder daughter.  Our elder daughter was taught EC at a very young age.  She was fully potty-trained by 19 months and was night-dry a month later.  She woke and used the potty in the night as needed and the biggest challenge we had in training her was to make sure she got to the potty often enough.  She was happy to make a deposit and return to her play.

With our younger child, we've found that her strong will is as much a challenge as anything else.  It's not enough to set a timer for her, or to synchronize daily events with trips to the potty.  It's been a daily discussion of, "will you use the potty today?"  and "Do you want to earn an M&M?"  Also frequently heard around the house are, "M, are you wet or dry?" "Did you wet your pants?"  and our very favorite, "Who pooped?"

M is a force to be reckoned with.  She must be bargained with.  She does, afterall, have the power.  And unlike her sister, she realizes it and makes full use of it.

We have been, up until now, fairly successful with a combination of rewards and sweet-talking, with a few threatened time-outs or threatened returns to the big old bulky cloth diapers.  She can go from morning until 4pm with only 1-4 accidents depending on who's with her and what she's doing.  To accommodate the higher-accident days, we've been using an all-in-one cloth trainer.  We have two styles, one set was made by me and has a higher load-capacity but takes longer to dry and the other, from an online seller that holds one good pee and dries quickly.

I have been in love with our daughters training pants from the first day they arrived.  What can I say?  Her underwear is cooler than mine.  No two pairs are exactly alike!  I think that appeals to me as much as it does to her.  She can tell me she wants the "sniff sniff" (flower) pair, or the "A-A, O-O" (monkey) pair, or whatever suits her fancy.   Here are most of her trainers.... as you'd expect, some are in the wash.

As you can see, some are very well-loved and well-worn.  We wash, we use, we wash again.  It's a happy thing.

Lately, however, I feel that we have reached a road-block.  She has begun to think that it's okay to pee in her "underwear" because there really is no consequence.  Sure, she feels wet, but does she feel pee running down her leg?  Nope.  Not enough consequence.   So, last week I made a bold move and put her in big-girl panties for three days.  Over the course of those days I only had to clean up pee from the carpet 3 times.  I feel pretty good about those odds. 

Unfortunately, as much as M loves her Elmo underpants, she does not love wedgies.  I remember going through this with our older daughter.  We tried every single shape and cut of underwear we could get our hands on.  In the end, nothing was perfect.  Wedgie was one of the toddler words that was forever echoing through our household.

In an effort to avoid a repeated performance, 2 years later, I am making an attempt to provide non-wedgie underpants.  My first thought was boxer briefs!  But could I find girly ones?  Not at a price I wanted to pay.  I can't afford $8 per pair of underpants only to have her pee in 8 pairs a day.  Luckily, the internet came to my rescue!

Enter the online PDF sewing pattern.  It took me two days, for some reason, but I did find a free sewing pattern for boxer briefs.  Here's the link.  What I like best about it is that you can sew a pair of undies with just an outgrown Tshirt!  Since we're prepping for a garage sale, I have plenty of those hanging around.  I did stop off at the store to buy more elastic and while I was there I did splurge to buy 3 different cotton fabrics to use in combination with my old Tshirts, but I think it will be worth it.  For $18, I ought to end up with 12 pairs of undies for M.  Maybe more, if I get just a bit more elastic, which, at $1.29 a yard for 2 pairs of undies, isn't bad.

So here is the test-run of the pattern:

I changed a few small things and learned a lot about the construction of the pattern by doing a trial run.  I added FOE (fold over elastic) at the waistband instead of standard underwear elastic and I used elastic lace at the leg hems for a little better grip on my daughter's thighs as well as a touch of femininity.  

I fully expect that these undies will not only be a hit, but will fit and function beautifully!  My next challenge will be speeding up the sewing process now that I understand some of its finer points.  

To quote Prairie Dawn,