Ode to the skirt

Posted by Sylvia Olsen on

I have always loved wearing skirts and dresses. It’s not a girly thing. It’s probably connected to my love for tights and boots. Once you take off the jeans there are so many other ways to dress. 

The skirts get around. In Sienna (grey cotton)

And…you all know…I love to knit.

So it was only a matter of time before I knit a skirt. It was easy to imagine. It would have all the features of skirts that I love. It would be short, straight and have a band of geometric design. It would be grey, black and white and it would have a hem. I love knitted hems. I didn't know what to do with the waist band but I was pretty sure I’d figure it out once I got there.

In Venice (same grey cotton)

At first I thought it would have a bagging bum problem and that I needed to use a yarn with acrylic or nylon or lycra. I don’t know what yarn I used on my first try but it was a wool blend. Although I didn’t like the yarn very much I could feel as I was knitting that I was falling in love. I had never been so sure about anything I had designed before. I was absolutely positive that this skirt would transform my wardrobe. 

In Ireland (and again)

Oh by the way…I knit two inches of ribbing on the top and threaded a drawstring through and tied it at the front. It wasn’t perfect but it laid flat on my tummy. There was no added bulk. And I could tie it tighter or looser depending if I wanted the skirt short and sexy or modestly business. 

This is the first one I doesn't get around much anymore.

The first time I put it on I headed straight down to Laura’s place—my beautiful 80 something year old mother-in-law. She was sitting, as always, in her front room with her knitting basket next to her chair. She was making a new design of a hat, or a pair of slippers or…I can’t remember exactly what it was but she was always transforming her imagination into knitted reality. And like all designers some things worked and some things didn’t--her hats are legendary.


In Quebec City and Winlaw (green wool)

I didn’t have to draw her attention to my skirt. When I walked through the door she said, “Come over here. Let me look at that skirt.”

She felt the yarn, lifted my sweater to check the waistband, flipped up the hem, checked for seams… “I want one of those,” she said. 

The skirt works for almost every body type. But Laura was in her mid 80s, she had birthed 12 children and had over 200 direct descendants. She was shorter than 4’10” and carried weight in all the wrong places—at least for a short straight skirt.

She laughed. “There was a day when I would have worn a skirt like that.” 

Laura knit until she was past 90. She was a Coast Salish knitter. Her sweaters were authentic Cowichans and she made hundreds of them throughout her life. In her later years I spun her wool and often sold her sweaters.  

On Galiano Island (heather brown wool)

But Laura was a designer first. She didn’t like knitting the formula. Cowichan sweaters were her bread and butter but crazy hats and slippers were her passion. Like me, she drew on the Coast Salish knitting style, but she strayed whenever she could, however she wanted and with joyful abandon.

Laura encouraged me to do the same. Whenever I visited her with something new I had designed she wanted to touch it, feel it, figure it out. “How about doing this?” she would say. “How about doing that?”

In Knitting Stories (grey wool)

I have made six or seven skirts since then. In truth I have lost count. I have several cotton skirts for the summer. Cotton has no memory so they don’t hold their shape, which turns out to be fantastic. They don’t bag; they spread evenly all over and end up looking a bit A-line with a comfortable flip. I knit a silk/cotton blend, which functions similarly.

In New Hampshire (green cotton)

It turns out that wool doesn’t bag in the bum, but then you all probably knew that. I use one half a needle size smaller (or a full size smaller) than if I were making a sweater and even my rear end leaves no lasting impression on the stitches.

Joni figured out how to make skirts on the knitting machine so now we can offer them to everyone. We’ve perfected the waistband—we sew on wide elastic. A note to everyone who has knit the skirt in Knitting Stories: that pattern has a waistband casing for the elastic. It works but I like just sewing the elastic to the top edge of the skirt with a zigzag stitch on my sewing machine…so, for those of you who don’t like wool against your skin…no problem.

At home with Yetsa, my granddaughter. Joni made these ones on the machine (these ones are all made out of Cascade 220--not superwash)

I think about Laura every time we knit a bright contrasting colour into the hem. She would have laughed and loved it.

We only have mediums and smalls left but we’ll be making more after Christmas. But I am warning you. Once you start wearing these skirts you will wonder why you ever thought jeans were comfortable.



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