This Olympiad

The 2018 Winter Olympics is halfway over, and you haven’t heard a peep from me! Well, here that is. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you also follow me on Instagram or Facebook, where I have been anything but silent. It’s time for a proper update, now that I’m deep into my Olympic projects. Apologies that this is mostly a longer narrative version of my Instagram feed, but it helps me process, so thanks in advance for reading!

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I love the Olympics. I’m not a sports-watcher habitually, but two and a half weeks is just the right slice of time to capture my obsessive attention, and the promise of a massive sampling of different sports at their peak means I am hooked. I get particularly into the figure skating, since that was a big part of my past.

Since 2010, I’ve also participated in the Knitting Olympics/Ravelympics/Ravellenic Games. It’s a perfect opportunity to knock out something big that is important to me, to give my devoted attention to a project that seems unreachable or overwhelming at other times.

This time around, I’m having to dial down my expectations more than ever. I can’t afford to get as obsessed as I usually do, and I honestly wouldn’t want to. The theme in my crafting these days is that I have to be thoughtful and selective to choose a project that fits into my life, rather than picking a project on impulse and then shoehorning my life around it. Small children do not like being shoehorned. Especially shoehorned around things, because that’s a completely incorrect use of that metaphor, and my intelligent children do not approve.

After finishing Martha’s kamiik*, I realized that I didn’t want to start another big knitting project. My life in the north has led to me purchasing the materials to make kamiit for my whole family, and some of those materials are time sensitive. More

I did pick a knitting project to work on in the background. I haven’t knit anything for baby #3, and now that we’re really sure she’s a girl, it’s time to remedy that. I’m making her a Tomten, a classic Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern from her 7th leaflet, published in 1961 (when my mum was two years old!) I was especially inspired by the colorful one pictured on page 44 of The Opinionated Knitter.

I’m not trying to replicate it, but I’m throwing a lot of slipped stitch patterns into the transition areas between garter stitch stripes, just to see what they do.

With one week to go, I’m about halfway up the hood. Pretty much on pace. Made from pretty bits of coordinating Cascade 220 unearthed from my leftovers stash.

As far as the kamiit go, here’s my plan. Making the outside layer is not something that I can control the timing of, because I stop and start depending on when I can get to the help I need for each step of the process. I have almost all the pattern pieces I need to cut skins, but not quite all. And I’m going to have to get together with someone to learn how to stretch a dried out skin before I’m ready to cut it.

But as you probably noticed from Martha’s kamiik, there’s more layers to a pair than just the sealskin part. Different folks have different techniques, for sure, but the fairly consistent practice that I’ve heard from my local friends is that you have four layers:
1) Duffel socks, or aliqsiik (same word for other kinds of socks). These are the innermost layer and go from the foot all the way up to the knee or past the knee. This is the layer that gets embroidered with flowers sometimes. They’re usually made from wool duffel, which is a very thick wool felt with an internal woven structure to it. I love this stuff; it almost makes me fantasize about weaving and felting it myself. (almost.)
2) Duffel slippers (I know I’ve been told the word for slippers but I’ve forgotten/lost it; I’m hoping someone will jump in and remind me?). This is a layer of just the foot, shaped only a little different from the foot of the sock, and it’s usually also made from wool duffel.
3) Sealskin slippers – similar to the duffel slippers in shape (maybe a little taller over the ankle?), they slide over the wool duffel. I’ve heard different opinions about whether this should be tanned sealskin or natural home-tanned, but the natural is generally agreed to be more water resistant.
4) On the outside is the sealskin layer, the most difficult and interesting to make. The legs are made out of different materials depending on the style, but the sole is usually made from the skin of a bearded seal or ugjuk. These are the biggest kind of seal in this region, with tough black hides.

For M, I only made layers 1 and 4. After I finished layer 1, I realized they only just fit inside layer 4, and I wouldn’t be able to fit the other layers, even though I’d already put together a layer 2. File that under “don’t worry about it, she’s 2.”

Layer 1 with Layer 2, right after I sewed them up. From these I learned, (a) you don’t use regular thread for this, but a stronger waxed thread, and (b) check your sizes in advance. Not only could I not fit both layers in M’s layer 4, but I had to take layer 1 apart and resize it just to fit in.

My limiting factors are two: the impending baby turning up in April, and the white sealskin I purchased in November, which I should really use ASAP. I particularly love the style of kamiik with white legs, usually worn by women. I hadn’t known where to find the white skin, so I snapped one up when I found it at a trade show. But what I didn’t quite realize is that it will turn yellow with time, and you want to sew with it as soon as possible.

This has resulted in my overall goal, which is to finish kamiit for myself and N before baby comes. They are the two that will use that one white skin. This is a seriously tall order and I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but of all the things I could get distracted by in these last two months before baby comes, this one is definitely worth it. So I’m going to try as best as I can.

My goal for this Olympic games is to finish layers 1-3 for N, and layer 3 for myself. (Bonus points to make layers 2-3 for Jared.) These inner layers are much more manageable to work on by myself, and if I get them done, then I can focus all my attention on the more difficult layer 4.

I had a promising start to the games, as within a couple of days I had N’s duffel socks cut and sewn together. But in my rush, I hadn’t waited for a pattern for her actual size; I adapted the patterns I had for M’s size. I also had not learned best practices with cutting a fabric as thick as duffel. To get all the pieces even, I had to trim and fuss until they only just fit her. The top of the feet were also slightly too short for the bottoms, with the architectural result of turned-up toes. And the legs were not too too short, but they only came up to her mid-knees.

It was livable. But they’d only fit her for this spring, and I’d have to make her new ones if I wanted her to keep wearing them in the fall. Disheartening. I didn’t think I was rushing when I actually did it, but it was a bit rush-y to not wait two more days ’till I could get patterns.

And boy, did I get patterns.

Monday night, Siipa brought all her patterns to the women’s group. I plunked myself on the floor next to her, and we went through them all ’till we found most of the pieces for the right sizes for me and N. Actually, she and Elisapee kept passing me sizes ’till I have enough to keep me sewing ’till they’re twelve.

I wish I’d taken a picture, but I’m always leery of photographing and sharing other people’s business. These patterns were traced on all kinds of things, from old cereal boxes to homework, and had obviously been used to make countless pairs of sealskin boots, duffel socks, and slippers. I felt like I was inside some kind of vault in the Library of Congress. I traced them all on a large sheet of nice brown paper and brought them home to cut out.

The next day, I went over to Elisapee’s house, where she had a special treat for me: a beautiful brown sheepskin that she found at a rummage sale. She had me use the whole thing to make new duffel sock bottoms for N. It was very helpful to cut out pieces with her. The way I learned to sew, you pin the patterns to the pieces, often multiple layers, and cut around the paper. This just isn’t practical when your fabric is this thick. One layer at a time, you trace the pattern onto the fabric, cut, fold it in half and trim to make sure it’s perfectly symmetrical, then use that piece as a guide to trace the other pieces. Yet another piece of wisdom I could only pick up by spending time crafting with others.

The sheepskin is really wonderful. I sewed it up and tried it on N, and she didn’t want to take them off. Here’s the problem: the duffel bottoms I made were too small; these duffel bottoms are too big! Like, a couple inches too big. And I couldn’t just adapt them into slippers, because they have a slightly different shape.

I puzzled and puzzled over what to do next. Jane, my facebook sewing angel, had some good advice on how I could fix my too-short, too-small duffel sock tops, and I was all set to follow it, when I had the two tops on top of each other, and noticed something: one sock was nearly an inch shorter than the other!

Still not unfixable, but I was a little fed up. I have the blessing of a fabric store in town, so I’ll go back there on Monday to get more duffel wool to cut new sock tops. I’m going to run with the too-big sock bottoms, and attach them to proportionally sized legs, embroidery and all. I’m hoping they fit her like that next winter. For now, enter M’s redundant layer 2: the little slippers I made for M and couldn’t use fit just right on N’s feet now. I trimmed them a bit so they fit just right in the sealskin sock bottoms, and went a little crazy on the decorative embroidery.

At present, on day 10 of the Olympics, the goal of finishing all those layers is not looking very realistic. But I have made progress, even though it’s two steps forward and one step back. I have learned a lot. I have learned, again, that I can’t push or rush a process like this, when I am still such a beginner. I have that problem of not knowing what I don’t know. I know a lot of sewing basics, but they just don’t all apply to this case. And the nature of sewing all these pieces by hand is just different, and is forcing me to thick about the architecture of how these pieces go together. So, easy does it. Stay alert, but take my time, and accept that some things will have to be redone.

Stopping before I hurt myself: N’s actual layer 2, with the brown sheepskin foot tucked into it. I’ll embroider it too… after I have someone look at it to make sure the shape of the top edge is correct.

And tomorrow, it’s back to the fabric store.

*If you’re wondering about the vocabulary, plurals in Inuktitut work differently than in English. The singular is kamik, but if you’re talking about two of something, it ends in -iik, and for three or more, -iit. So I talk about kamiik when referring to a specific pair of kamiik, and kamiit when I’m referring to more than one pair (four or more actual boots). There’s you’re Inuktitut grammar insight for the day.

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