Thursday, December 30, 2010

The end of loose ends is in 2010!

Cecily jacket - Front view

How much do I hate weaving in ends? Sofa king much. I've let some FOs sit, unworn or ungifted, for months on end while I work myself up to the task of weaving in, like, four ends of yarn on the underarms and sleeve hems. Whenever possible, I spit-splice or weave in the ends as I join new yarn, using this method I found online (thanks, aija and JP from Article Pract!).

The worst problem with hating to weave in ends is that I'm not actually particularly good at it when I actually get around to doing it. Looking at the wrong side of my work is usually like looking at Joan Rivers without makeup on--kinda yucky, sure shows how much work went into it. If it's a garment I will be wearing myself, I've even been known to just tuck a random end that I overlooked back down the sleeve if I know it's not going to work itself loose. I hate that I do this and it makes me feel very, very lazy--also a touch unprofessional. It's strange that weaving in ends bugs me this much, because there are other pretty tedious finishing tasks that I'll do with relish, even: Sewing on buttons or ribbon linings for plackets, knitted-on i-cord, even seaming, which many people despise (and which many of my designs, especially the garments, don't require). I just love a pretty and well-finished garment, but when it comes to the loose ends--ugh. I'll willingly settle for the outer appearance of good finishing.

Now that we're here at the end of the year, though, I'm calling an end to that thing with the ends. It stops here. Today. Right now. FOs are going to get FINISHED when they're done, and I'm going to love how it feels to snip that last little tail before moving on to the next project. I am resolved! 2011 will be The Year of Literally Tying Up Loose Ends. It's going to be awesome. Look how great it looks when I do it--the twinset above was blocked the morning after I cast off, and I had it all done right down to the buttons THAT DAY. Yay, me.

As I look forward to that Year of Literally Tying Up Loose Ends, it reminds me to remind all of you that there's just one more day left to enter yourself in my first-ever blog giveaway! Skip back to my last post and leave a comment with your favorite homemade holiday memory (doesn't have to be a winter holiday either, btw; I'll accept DIY firecrackers for the 4th of July or Guy Fawkes Day, or the hand-drawn cards you got from your kids for Mother's Day, or what have you). I'll put the names in a hat on New Year's Eve and draw for a free pattern and a gift certificate to Hill Country Weavers!

(Um, we may just have to tackle "blocking things as soon as they're done instead of leaving them unblocked on the dress form for several weeks" in 2012. Baby steps...)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Xmas!

Season's greetings, everyone! In the holiday spirit, here's a little of the ol' red-and-green for you, Austin style...

The red is some lovely scarlet bougainvillea, and the green is my Hill Country dress--the pattern for which is now available! I'm thrilled to announce the release of the "Hill Country Does SHELTER" collection, which is an amazing group of patterns created for the new Brooklyn Tweed wool yarns. Just click on the link to visit the Hill Country Weavers e-commerce site and check out all of the patterns; Jared Flood's going to do a special post about it on the Brooklyn Tweed blog, too. There are hats, sweaters, legwarmers, and other accessories featuring all of the colors in the SHELTER range, and all with a dash of uniquely Austin flavor. They're each available as individual PDF downloads, or grouped in two PDF e-booklets at a generous discount off the single-pattern price. The layouts are gorgeous, with loads of great pictures of the designs themselves and the South Congress district that Hill Country Weavers calls home. WARNING: You may have a hard time choosing just one. I want to make them all myself. Especially Sarah Rose, Elizabeth Cobbe's sweet lace-edged cardigan...

Can I just tell you how great it's been working on this project? First of all, I'm in fabulous company: There are two Elizabeths (MightyGoodYarn and Elizabeth Green Musselman of Dark Matter Knits fame), a Kathy and a Kourtney, an Emily, and Suzanne herself, owner of Hill Country Weavers and all-around amazing lady. As the impresario of this project, Suzanne not only created her own beautiful woven blanket design (AND adapted it to scarf size, so she actually made TWO projects), recruited the local designers and photographer (the fabulous Meg Rice, who you may know as winemegup on Flickr), researched graphic designers and printers and photo shoot locations, oh my!, and brought the whole thing home in a matter of what, four months?

The finished product looks really amazing, and being a part of it might just be the best gift I get this Christmas. To celebrate the launch of the collection, and make this a gift that keeps on giving, I'm announcing my first-ever blog giveaway contest! Just comment on this post with your favorite homemade holiday memory (mine is the taste of my mom's peppermint pinwheel cookie dough). On New Year's Day, I'll pick a name at random from all the commenters. The winner will receive a free pattern of their choice from my Ravelry pattern store (you don't need to have a Ravelry account) and a $50 gift certificate to Hill Country Weavers. (That's enough for several skeins of SHELTER yarn, or both pattern collections. Not that you have to get those exact items, but I'm just saying...)

Tidings of comfort and joy to all of you!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New pattern: the Cecily camisole

It's been several months since I last announced a new pattern here, but it's not because I haven't been designing. My needles have been quite busy, in fact, and you'll be seeing the results of that over the next few weeks, starting with this lovely (if I do say so myself) lace-edged camisole: Cecily!

Cecily - back view

Cecily is knit in Crystal Palace Panda Silk, which is a perennial favorite of mine. It's a fingering-weight blend of wool, bamboo, and silk, and these fibers work together to amazing effect. The bamboo gives it a nice weight and a little bit of shine, the touch of silk adds to the drape and smooth hand, and the wool is superwash merino--so you get a durable machine-washable fabric of beautiful color, breathable lightweight warmth, and elegant drape. Delicious!

Cecily - upper front detail

The cami is worked in the round from the bottom up, with no seaming. Princess darts at the front and back gently shape the waist, while short-row darts and pretty paired increases and decreases create a beautifully fitted sweetheart neckline at the top. The tapered garter-stitch straps are worked from the upper edge and joined with two short grafts or a three-needle bind-off--you can also use purchased lingerie fittings and satin or grosgrain ribbon in a coordinating or contrasting color for adjustable fabric straps if you like! The pattern's sized from XS up to 2X, to fit busts measuring 28-48" with slight negative ease for a sleek silhouette.

Cecily - hem detail

And as usual, it's named for a librarian or archivist or other information-science-y this case, rare-books store employee Cecily Farr from 84 Charing Cross Road. This movie is based on Helene Hanff's nonfiction memoir of the same title, and is absolutely charming--a little bit funny, a little bit sad, and very much about how important books and the people who work with them can be in our lives. There's also a bit of a Christmas theme running through it: the action begins shortly after World War II, when England was still under rationing. Helene's annual Christmas hamper full of hard-to-come-by delicacies--a thank-you to a London bookstore's staff for the volumes they've sent her throughout the year--is the subject of many of the letters sent between Charing Cross Road and Helene's various New York apartments over a forty-year period. I think this is a lovely equation of food for the mind and food for the body--the sense that books and food can both sate a certain kind of hunger. In the 1950s, Cecily Farr might have worn something like this as a warm underlayer beneath a blouse or cardigan as she worked among the shelves of the unheated store...nowadays, it'd be a feminine accent to a structured blazer, or look great on its own over a pretty summer skirt.

Ravelry details and more images are here (Cecily Camisole pattern page) and here (project page, including lots of WIP pics). Love it so much you want to make it right now? Just click the button! PDF pattern with charted and line-by-line written instructions for the lace motif is just $4.00, and it's a quick knit too--you could cast on tomorrow and be done in plenty of time for Xmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Back to the five and dime...well, almost

Jimmy Beans window

They call the East Bay of San Francisco "the nickel-dime" for its 510 area code. Just a few hours to the East, and a few thousand feet up, you're in the 530 area code, which the Reno-based Jimmy Beans Wool calls home. I was staying with friends at Lake Tahoe for the Thanksgiving holiday, so of course I paid them a visit in between drop-offs and pick-ups at the Reno airport, thinking of "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" the whole time...

I've never needed an excuse to go to a yarn shop, of course, but I had a good one for visiting JBW in person: Several months ago, I was the grateful recipient of a "Beans for Brains" scholarship sponsored by Vogue Knitting and Jimmy Beans Wool. It was so great to be able to say thanks in person to some of the people who made it possible--although the weekend's very heavy snowfall made it impossible for at least one important person, proprietor Laura Zander, to make it in to the shop that day! The photo above really doesn't do it justice; we encountered white-out conditions on the highway, and I'm kind of amazed that flights were taking off and landing at all that day. (I should note that this picture was taken from INSIDE the cozy, yarn-filled shop and flipped. It was too dang cold to be standing outside with the camera.) It also doesn't do the store justice--"Endless possibilities" is right. Although it's no more than a few hundred square feet, the retail space is a real wonderland of tempting yarns, with an inviting sitting area next to the shelves of books and magazines. And then behind it, and filling another huge space two doors down, there's the whoa-inducing stock from which their vigorous online and mail-order business draws. Holy smokes, that's a lot of yarn.

Jimmy Beans back room

The lovely Bethany, who was giving me a tour of the operation, was very patient with me while I geeked out and asked all kinds of questions about the organizational scheme for their backstock. (Sorry, Bethany; the librarian training just kicks in and takes over at times like these.) I spent a pleasant, but not nearly long-enough, interval browsing in the store and chatting with Bethany, her fellow cashier-on-duty-that-day Jeanne, and other members of their very friendly staff while knitting a few rounds on my latest project. Snowy weather: Bad for driving, awesome for knitting!

I've gotten spoiled by the great LYSes here in Austin, and thus am frequently disappointed when I visit shops in other towns, but JBW really delivers the goods in their store as well as online--and I'm not just saying that because they gave me a scholarship, I swear. It was really everything I look for in an LYS: nice roomy layout, great selection (including stuff I don't see at home), inspiring samples and swatches everywhere, perusing and petting encouraged. The place was so delightful, I just couldn't resist picking up a few skeins of new yarn while I was there. Guess that de-stash diet will be a New Year's resolution-type thing...because I know the next time I'm in the five and dime, I'll definitely be thinking about going back to Jimmy Beans.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Not necessarily the neutral

Gray yarn

The end of the year is a great time to take stock of the ol' stash. There's holiday gift-knitting to do, and the days between paychecks seem to be lengthening in lockstep with the winter nights, so using what's already on hand feels blessedly thrifty. I could lose some serious amounts of daylight pawing through the bags and bins in that closet I keep hidden from my husband (um, and the drawer under the daybed, which I just now realized has also somehow gotten filled with yarn). It all feels so nice and looks so pretty...and it can also say so much about you, if you're looking closely.

Something I noticed on this most recent trip through my assembled reserves was that they've undergone a distinct spectrum shift. I've never been much of a colorwork person, relying mainly on texture and shaping for whatever visual interest I feel a design needs, but I do love color, and the color I love most is gray. For one thing, it makes my somewhat-indeterminately-colored eyes, which some people say are blue but I prefer to think of as gray, look REALLY gray when I wear it. (There's a certain shade of sea-green that my eyes will totally reflect if I wear it close to my face, too, which is kind of a neat phenomenon, but I haven't see much of this hue in current fashions.) Gray doesn't seem like a neutral to me at all; "neutral" implies passivity, a background that just sits there and lets a real color take the stage, whereas I find gray to be much more protean and responsive than that. It can so easily be two colors at once--blue-gray, green-gray, violet-gray, cream-gray, putty, oyster, pinkish-gray in mauve and lilac, brownish-gray in oatmeal and mushroom. Charcoal, slate, off-black, silver, sweatshirt heathers...gray's got a lot going on. It's been my default color for a long time now--so long that perhaps I've started to take it for granted.

I've dabbled recently with green (see for instance Decimal and Myrtle, and my recent dress design for the new Brooklyn Tweed SHELTER yarn), but that's been more a marriage of convenience than a real, deep attachment. Green yarn felt right for the project, I knitted it, and then I kept on walking. Green is a supporting character, an accent color, not a cornerstone of the ol' wardrobe. (This might explain why I have so many green handbags, I now realize. Like five of them. WAY more than any other color, including gray.) In my mind, green goes with stuff; stuff doesn't go with green. What I saw when I started piling yarn up on my floor, though, was a whole lot of orange all of a sudden. Whoa! How'd that happen?

Orange yarn

Without even realizing it, I've started a love affair with orange. I'm cheating on gray with vermilion, coral, tangerine, and sunset, with carmine and copper and rust. It's not that gray doesn't still inspire me--it does. I'm working on something in pewter-colored Panda Silk right now, and loving it. But orange seems to be pushing a different button in my brain.

Looking back, I guess you could see it coming. First we moved to Austin, where the college football fans bleed orange and you can't throw a rock without hitting something in the UT colors. Then I snapped up a bunch of fluffy coral-rose yarn at a swap my knitting group had a while back, along with a couple of balls of discontinued terra cotta Shine Sport. That yarn drew me to it, but still felt This year's Althea sweater and skirt was my first big fling, though. I actually swatched that yarn in another color called Platinum--a pale gray that just didn't do it for me somehow--and then switched to Tiger Lily when it came to the real knitting. And now, I can't seem to quit this color. I bought some variegated gray-and-blue Berocco the other day, swatched with it, felt meh about the results, and then traded most of it back for store credit. Which I ended up spending on fiery orange-red Regia 4-ply sock yarn.

I think that Regia is going to end up being my trip knitting while I'm holed up over the holiday next week, and I'll be honest--it feels a little like I'm taking my mistress on vacation with me while my wife stays home and looks after the cats. I still love you, gray; I really do. I just needed something new, something that made me feel...alive. I never meant to do this, but I've fallen in love with orange. Perhaps it won't last. Perhaps I'll always be turning back to the colors of cold sea and stormy skies. At the moment, though, it's all about my darling Clementine...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ta(l)king Shelter

There's an old joke about the weather here in the Hill Country. "Austin has four seasons: almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas." They're not lying. It's well into November, and I drank my coffee in shirtsleeves on the side porch this morning, on the lookout for mosquitoes. The customary wicked heat notwithstanding, Austinites do love their wool, and we're blessed with not one but several great yarn shops and a thriving craft community. One of those shops, Hill Country Weavers, was hand-picked by Jared Flood (a.k.a. Brooklyn Tweed) to be one of the brick-and-mortar flagship stores for his new yarn line, SHELTER, and the collection of new accessory patterns he's created especially for those yarns.

It's a product with an interesting story, and well worth reading about if you're hearing of it here first. Jared has put great care and effort into creating a yarn line made from American-raised wool that's dyed and milled in American facilities. It's his effort to help sustain and revitalize the centuries-old American textile industry, which I think is pretty cool. The hues and hand of the yarn are a wool-lover's dream, and Jared's new designs for it offer his usual combination of elegant style, luscious texture, and wearability.

You can surely imagine, therefore, how excited I was to be invited, along with an impressive group of other Austin-based designers, to contribute a pattern to a collection of new designs described as "Hill Country does SHELTER." Inspired in part by the beautiful creations of Church Mouse Yarns, another one of the brick-and-mortar SHELTER merchants, these new designs use all of the colors in the SHELTER range, with a distinctly Texas touch. Starting with some of Jared's favorite design elements--garter stitch, chevrons, texture that really sings--I swatched our sample skein in a motif called Welting Fantastic. (This being the Thanksgiving season, I'll express once again that I'm thankful for the Barbara Walker Treasury. Where would I be without it? I can open to almost any page and the designs practically create themselves.) This stitch is so easy to work, flat or in the round, and it creates wonderful effects in Shelter--a scalloped cast-on edge, a feather-light and drapey fabric with enough spring to keep it from sagging--and its pairing of rising increases and falling decreases is reminiscent of the gently rolling terrain for which the Hill Country around Austin is named. I immediately called dibs on the rich, grassy green color called Tent, and got to work sketching and prototyping a garment that would capture some of that famous Austin spirit. Here's my first stab at the design from my little sketchbook, which I always have with me:

That sketch and my original swatch, in turn, became this:

Hill Country Dress

Hey, it looks just like the picture! (Sometimes I even surprise myself when I do that.) I'll be sure to let y'all know when the collection becomes available--we're shooting to have it ready for in-store and online purchases before the holidays. That's perfect, because this below-the-knee length is eminently suitable for the brief Austin Christmas season. The pattern's written in such a way, though, that you can also make it in Almost Summer and Still Summer versions--a hip-length pullover and a mid-thigh tunic that would be great worn over leggings with your favorite cowboy boots. Three out of four ain't bad, right? So maybe for the holidays this year knitters everywhere will be telling one another: "Gimme Shelter!"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Corking it

Have I mentioned that I travel a lot? Well, I do. I mostly love it: I have friends all over the place, so out-of-town conferences and symposia are a great opportunity to visit with them. Seeing places where I COULD be living often makes me more appreciative of the qualities of the place where I DO live. And after all, if you don't travel, you have to keep visiting the same old yarn shops over and over and over again...where you can't use the "souvenir yarn" exception if you're on a de-stash diet.

Airports and planes are great spaces for knitting, too. There are the long hours of seated waiting to fill, and I like the poetic symmetry of knitting while traveling--the yarn goes in yard by yard as the journey goes by mile by mile. I have yet to encounter airport-security static over my needles or the contents of my notions bag, which I guess makes me pretty lucky, because I actually use my knitting as a defensive weapon on plane trips. That is, it's a very ready excuse for not engaging with a chatty seatmate--"Ooh, what are you making there?" "Sorry, can't talk...counting..."

My latest trip was a real jackpot from a knitting-on-the-road standpoint: Two domestic connections followed by a transatlantic flight, then a bus ride to the train station, THEN a train ride to the lovely riverside city of Cork, Ireland--which is home to a button factory. Observe!

Cork Button Factory

Ooooooooohhhh yeah. That's the stuff. I splurged, needless to say, on a few additions to my collection. Buttons are great souvenirs--no matter how many you buy you can always find room for them in your luggage. Like loose gemstones, but cheaper, and less likely to get you rapped at by an indignant Kanye West! (If you stick to the vegetable ivory, that is. If there's such a thing as "conflict buttons," I don't want to know about it. La la la la la, I can't hear you...)

The conference kept me pretty busy, but I got to prowl around the town of Cork a bit and really liked what I saw. Aside from the button factory, there's also the Butter Museum and the view from my hotel room, which was of a decommissioned cemetery, with a beautiful line of tombstones canted up against the hedge.

Cork, Ireland

But I think this was the sight that really made me want to live there:

Cork, Ireland

Now, if the Button Factory and the Butter Museun were all INSIDE the heliotrope-painted Library House, I would know I had arrived in a heaven designed especially for me...

From Cork I detoured back home (more train, more bus, more airport, more driving, more knitting throughout all of the former) via the small Virginia town of Culpeper. This is where the Library of Congress has their National Audiovisual Conservation Center facility, and also where the fiber-friendly out-of-towner can pay a visit to Dog House Yarns & More, a great little shop that opened earlier this year. I had the pleasure of meeting the proprietor, Rosanne, and her husband Fritz, along with a couple of their weeknight sit-and-knit regulars, all of whom made me feel right at home after two Saturdays in a row away from my regular knitting group. Local hand-dye studio Blue Ridge Yarns is well-represented in their stock, and I couldn't resist a bundle of their Footprints sock yarn. 100 yds of semi-solid for heels and toes is paired with 300 yds of gorgeously coordinated handpainted color. I got a new colorway called Redbud, which combines beautiful maroons, rusts, and browns with a loden green for the accent color. It'll make lovely autumn socks for someone...maybe me!

Thankfully, the end of this long trip (just about) coincided with the end of our blazing-hot summer in Austin. A few days after I got back, the temperatures had dropped down to the high 80s during the day, and the nights and early mornings have started to get that fall crispness. It's making it much easier to keep cranking away on my latest project: a dress made with the new woolly Shelter yarn recently launched by Jared Flood, of Brooklyn Tweed fame. More on that next time!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A word about Althea

A fellow-Raveler (who happens to have a family full of Altheas herself) just asked me how my new Althea cardigan and skirt patterns got their name. Well, their namesake is third from the right in this photo--she's the determined-looking woman in the patterned frock who's looking right at ya:

For those who don't recognize her on sight, that's none other than Althea Warren, who was City Librarian of Los Angeles, CA from 1933-1947, and president of ALA from '43-'44. During her tenure, Warren led the Victory Book Campaign, a nationwide book drive that eventually directed more than 10 million volumes to those serving in the armed forces in WWII. This project was totally in keeping with her philosophy as a librarian, which was distinctly populist. "Not all of a person's reading is or should be in pursuit of information," she wrote, in an article on "The Needs of Readers." As someone who reads at both the high and low ends of the literary spectrum, I'm down with that. Of course, Althea Warren held that opinion at a time when it was still pretty radical--when many library board members still felt that libraries should be places for people to "better themselves" or address "the higher interests of society," and that putting mystery novels and penny dreadfuls on the shelves would attract an unruly class of patrons. This debate about the fundamental public role of libraries, and how that should shape their acquisitions and services, continues to this day--it's a fierce 'un!

To pay tribute to Althea Warren, then, I designed a knitted outfit that's bold in color, but entirely straightforward to knit and quite serviceable to wear. Think of her when you wear it--and while you're at it, you could even donate a book to a soldier in her memory.

(Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library's photo collection.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Who's got two needles and a scholarship?

<----- This girl!

I'm very pleased to be able to share the news about the scholarship I was just awarded from Jimmy Beans Wool and Vogue Knitting. Now in its second year, the Beans for Brains scholarship program is providing some much-needed tuition support for the many college students out there who also happen to knit and crochet. It's the first program of its kind, and JBW and VK deserve a big pat on the back for coming up with it.

I'm pretty sure I'd think that even if they hadn't awarded one of the scholarships to me. (But they did, so a huge THANKS to you, Laura, and all the great folks at Jimmy Beans!) Having paid off the loans and debt from two college degrees myself before heading back for a third, I'm a big fan of scholarships--and ones that take care to recognize special talents and well-rounded students are just the berries.

It's nice to see the link between craft/creativity and academic achievements being made, too. I've grown considerably as both a knitter and a scholar since starting the degree program I'm in now, and I think those two pursuits have informed one another in some interesting ways. For one thing, practicing and communicating about both knitting and information science was radically transformed by the Interwebs, which continue to have an influence on trends in both fields. (Examples? Ravelry. Google. Discuss!) Absorbing difficult new ideas can be discouraging, but as I plowed through the really dense articles and books for my introductory doctoral research and theory class, I'd tell myself that if I could learn to knit lace, then the theoretical traditions of information science should be cake.

Perhaps most importantly, though, I've been publishing knitting patterns pretty regularly for the last few years, and that has definitely made me more comfortable with the idea of publishing in general--one of the imperatives in academia ("publish or perish," they say). Whether it's a journal article or a charted lace design, you're putting yourself out there when you publish. You know your readers are going to be a bunch of people who have a keen interest in the subject, often know waaaaaay more than you do about it, and won't hesitate to call you out--publicly!--on the bits you get wrong. The work ultimately has to stand on its own, and you have to stand by it. Scary, right? It really can be...but for me, having a sort of alter ego who publishes knitting patterns (and has to push out the occasional revision-with-apologies when a sharp-eyed knitter finds one of the goofy errors that are entirely my fault, and occur despite, not because of, the efforts of my fine technical editors) keeps the academical me more philosophical about the peer-review process, and the inevitable setbacks and rewriting that good, responsible scholarly publication entails.

For Jimmy Beans and Vogue to be sponsoring an award that recognizes students who knit, then, means to me that there might be a lot of people out there for whom knitting (and crocheting, of course!) is more than just a retro hobby. It's a true creative outlet, an intellectual challenge, and maybe a way of working on something that engages the "play" part of your brain while the "school" part is chewing on something tricky. It's also what I do on the bus to and from campus, and with my best non-school friends here in Texas, so it's a way of staying sane and grounded and having something other than my research interests to discuss at cocktail parties.

BTW, the nice photo that I grabbed for this post appeared with the front-page article on my receipt of this award that my school paper ran (slow news week, I guess!). It's by Tamir Kalifa, who is clearly a very talented guy. He gets extra points for somehow minimizing the infamous Knitter's Double Chin...but someone gets points off for naming the image file "DOM2010-09-01_Knitting_Lady." Yowch--apparently, even though I'm a student, I'm a lady now, and my girl days are behind me. In all fairness, though, I think I have underpants that are older than the reporter who interviewed me for the article. I may in fact have been wearing them when that picture was taken.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Yellow is not my color. Oh, wait, I guess it could be.

When I look at a picture like this from a vintage pattern book (in this case, "Aunt Lydia's Design Studio," from sometime deep in the 1970s), my first thought is neither "Looks comfortable!" nor "Boy, don't I wish I my crochet skills were up to something that complex!" nor "That model is clearly bereft of any kind of undergarments." No, friends, these are secondary notions. The first thing to churn to the surface in my brain is actually, "Does it come in any color BESIDES yellow?"

I have friends who look amazing in marigold, sunshine, canary, butter, and topaz, but I never have. In fact, I've never given the hues that fall between green and red on the color wheel much of a shot. Lately I've dabbled in orange, which would feel considerably more daring if I didn't live in Austin, Texas. Burnt orange and white are the UT Austin colors, and Austin is heaven for orange stuff: If something orange is very, very good, when it dies it will wake up and find itself here, whether it is a car or a cardigan, yarn or yard equipment. It's really only natural that, as I enter my fifth year of seeing people wearing UT shirts ALL OVER THE PLACE (including to their actual classes AT the University on non-game days, which seems to me kind of like wearing the band t-shirt to the concert of that band...but hey, maybe I'm wrong about that), I would be coming to accept orange as something wearable, even by me. Burnt orange I still don't know that I love on me yet, but I've gotten daring with some stuff in the vermilion and tangerine families lately, if you can believe that.

The next logical step would be for me to branch out into yellow, right? Well, I might want to count St. Moritz (Ravelry details here) as that step. It's my design contribution to the new book Knitting it Old School, edited by my pals Caro and Stitchy, which is sure to be the must-have pattern book for this fall. (I've provided an Amazon link just off to the left there, for your convenience. Wasn't that nice of me? Just click on the li'l ol' Buy Now button, kiddo...THERE you go!) They asked me for some ideas for a vintage-inspired piece and then sent me the yarn to make it with, and I was, I must admit, kinda sorta horrified when I opened the box and saw exactly what "lemon ice" looked like. There was just an awful lot of yellow in one place there. More than a law firm's worth of legal pads. More than a cageful of canaries. Like a handful of highlighters had leaked all over a nice bag of cream-colored yarn, maybe. OK, not as bad as that last one, but whew, definitely more yellow yarn than I'd ever thought I'd be using on one project.

As I swatched it, I fretted. Yellow is so LIGHT. I'd have to wash my hands each time I picked up this project! The beginning of the garment would get all soiled, and the end of it would be all bright and fresh! I'd have to keep it in a plastic bag if I took it anywhere, in case I spilled on it! And waaah, I don't like yellow! As it turned out, working this yellow garment ended up instilling some better knitterly habits in me. You should always wash your hands before picking up a knitting project, after all, and ladies, if you're putting your knitting in a handbag that has EVER carried makeup, too, you should put it in its own clean bag. (So sayeth the girl who has had to gently rinse lip-liner crumbs out of a ball of lace weight cashmere.) And of course the color grew on me. (Who saw that one coming? OK, cleversticks; you win. You're smarter than me.) This stuff really DOES look like lemon ice--even though I was working on it during two of the eleven-point-five wicked hot months we have here in Texas, it didn't seem like as steamy a lapful as other (less refreshingly-colored) sweaters I have knitted. The upshot is that knitting with yellow yarn is now on the list of things I won't automatically rule out, which makes me feel ever so adventurous and broad-minded and whatnot.

In fact, I had such a good experience with this yellow yarn that the very next week I ordered a bunch of yellow sock yarn to test-knit my Myrtle design in, figuring I'd give the finished garment to one of my yellow-wearing friends. But when THAT yellow yarn arrived, it was--I'm truly sorry to say this, because I love the company I ordered it from, and they're usually quite tasteful with color--Fuh. Gly. Like, it REALLY looked like a highlighter leaked in there. I couldn't even swatch with it--this yarn was way, way over my yellow limit. So I had my friend Stephi dye it green. Baby steps, folks, baby steps...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

RIP Panache...but viva la Capra!

Oh, keeping secrets is SO hard, especially when they're SO good: Not too long ago, the fabulous folks at Knit Picks very kindly offered me the chance to test-knit their newest yarn, Capra, which is a merino wool-and-cashmere blend DK. And let me tell y'all, this stuff is primo! It's also finally available, so I can finally talk about it. I've created a new design especially for Capra--two new designs, in fact. The Althea sweater pictured above (in a fab FO photo by Splityarn/Caro Sheridan) is available now, and a matching skirt will be coming as soon as I can make the finishing touches on the pattern. Together, they make a gorgeous and cozy knitted outfit that's perfect for autumn (just check out that delicious Tiger Lily orange--it makes me feel warmer just looking at it! Oh, no, wait--I feel warm because it's still 100 degrees here in Texas. Will autumn ever come??), but they work equally well as separates.

Capra's been a long time coming, as far as I'm concerned, because the yarn that made me a Knit Picks customer in the first place was Panache. Ah, Panache. Now, THERE was a yarn! A decadent blend of wool, silk, and cashmere, it was perfect for hats. I took one tender pat of it at a knitting circle meeting, demanded to know where it came from, and then darted home to Google "Knit Picks," which I seriously had never heard of before that day, and order enough Panache for half a dozen watchcaps. (Now is as good a time as any to thank Staceyjoy Elkin for her Marsan Watchcap pattern. It's the Platonic ideal of knitted hats, and the fact that she's made the pattern available for free is something to be truly grateful for.) And some Alpaca Cloud lace yarn. And, um, I may have gotten some sock yarn with that first order, too; I really cannot recall, your Honor.

But then the dark day came not long after that--or not long enough, as far as I was concerned--when Panache was discontinued. Sniff, sniff. I still have a couple balls of dark gray in the stash that I'm saving for a very, very special project someday. A cabled cozy for a gold brick? Baby sweater for a newborn empress? No, I mean something REALLY the meantime, I'll be using Capra to feed my cashmere-blend jones. And lest you think this post was all one big commercial for Knit Picks, well, coming up with the Althea pattern and the Billington Bag have both reminded me of how great it is to work in something other than fingering and lace weight yarns. Althea works up super-quick--I cranked out the below-the-knee skirt in just over a week--and it's well-suited to any DK weight yarn you like. The Sublime cashmerino-silk DK is a particular pleasure to work with, in my experience. (Just make sure you're not mixing balls of the DK and the aran, like I did on the prototype for my Harriet sweater.) So go to town! I already told you that you can't have the last of my Panache, so you better find something else out there you like to knit with...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Now available: The Billington Bag

It's finally ready! My first handbag pattern...and she's a peach. The Billington Bag (click for Ravelry details) is now available for download through my Ravelry store; it'll also be available shortly from Knit Picks. It's a felted wool bag with fabric lining and cute little button feet, perfect for carrying your latest knitting project around. The extremely groovy texture comes from a twisted-stitch motif in one of the Barbara Walker treasuries, which I just cannot get enough of--the design practically invented itself as I looked at the chart in the book!

Billington the bag is named for our current Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington. He's a heck of a guy--check out his 40 honorary doctorates in addition to the one he earned as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford!--but I hold him in special esteem for the work he's done to acknowledge important works by amateur filmmakers, having named several remarkable home movies to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. (One of my all-time favorites is "Disneyland Dream" by Robbins Barstow, who is also a heck of a guy. You can watch it in its entirety via the Internet Archive.)

I'm particularly excited about this pattern, because it's the first one for which I'm pledging a portion of the proceeds to a cause that's really important to me: The Center for Home Movies. CHM runs the annual international Home Movie Day event, which is coming up on October 16 this year. On Home Movie Day, film archivists in cities around the world set up venues where members of the general public can bring in their family films (and sometimes videos) for inspection, assessment, and best of all, viewing. Many people haven't seen these family memories for decades (if ever) due to lack of a working projector or concerns about their condition, and they're therefore at risk of being lost due to neglect or simple ignorance of their rich contents. Several of the home movies now on the National Film Registry were re-discovered through Home Movie Day events, but every film that's shown at a Home Movie Day is special in some way.

In fact, home movies are stereotyped as being boring and badly shot, but I think they're actually a lot like handknits: They may run to hundreds or even thousands of yards, they're rich in color and visual texture, and they become so much more meaningful when they're handed down from generation to generation. All home movies and handknits are one-of-a-kind--not mass-produced--and so they uniquely reflect the people who made them, as well as the place and time in which they were made. They also take a little extra care and special handling to look their best, but the effort of storing them carefully and preventing snags and tears is definitely worth it. Showing them off to people who appreciate them is a special treat, too!

50% of the net sales from Billington Bag patterns will go to CHM to help support their work on preserving, presenting, and encouraging the use and study of historic amateur media. I've been involved with CHM since their very beginnings, and know how much they can do with even the smallest contributions. I hope you'll take a moment to mark your calendar and make plans to check out the Home Movie Day nearest you this year. You can bring your knitting!

$1.99 PDF download for Billington Bag pattern (includes separate PDF with chart enlarged to 11 x 17"). Ravelry membership not required.

Photos this post (c) 2010 by Caro Sheridan/Splityarn. That's her adorable cat, too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Let's Learn to Knit. (Or we could just knit.)

Let's Learn to Knit
Originally uploaded by snowdenbecker
I spend a fair amount of time in secondhand stores, antique malls, charity shops, and what have you--for a bunch of reasons, but mostly because whatever "them" is, they don't make "them" like they used to, and junk shops are where you can usually find "them" if you want/need "them." I'm talking about things like buttons, eyeglass frames, book bindings, dishes, hankies, and clothes, mostly, because those are the things I like and tend to bring home after one of these excursions, but now and again I'll nose around in a bin of something that's not on my list, and my fancy will get tickled by it.

The booklet whose cover is pictured here was a recent find of this nature--I came across it (and a couple of other gems from a few decades later, which I might also feature here eventually) in a bin of patterns and craft books at the charity shop in the little town in Washington State where my parents live. (You can see the Clallam County Extension Service stamp on the front cover there.) It's a sweet and serious package of information, and somewhat disingenuously named; they sneak quite a bit of general social-hygiene medicine in with that spoonful of craftsy-fun sugar. Just look at this list from page 1:

1. To combine knitting with a fabric (all right, very good, just what one expects...)
2. To draft or chart a pattern for a knitted garment (yes, perfect...)
3. To knit in a hem (that's useful stuff...)
4. To shape shoulders by turning (also useful...)
5. To make knitted trims (ooh! what a treat!)
6. To develop more poise (what? wait a second...)
7. To select accessories (oh...OK...)
8. To take measurements (yeah, but...go back...what was that about poise?)
9. To share skills, interests, and abilities with others (um...sure...I guess)

Readers are firmly instructed to "Read this bulletin from cover to cover before you start your project," which means that before you even get to plan your combined-knitting-and-fabric project, you must dutifully absorb all of pages 2 and 3, which is headed "A More Charming You." There's advice--well, rules, really--for "Entering a room," "Sitting prettily," "Rules for pretty hands," and then strict guidelines for selecting and deploying gloves, handbags, hats, shoes, and hosiery. Dear me. The 4-H Knitting Advisory Committee seems pretty determined to make the combination of knitting and fabric the exclusive province of those young ladies who have already demonstrated they can hold a clutch purse at the proper angle and won't spoil their nice entrance by looking down at a chair as they sit in it. The ass-kicker? The last page of the book is a self-assessment form, where you're encouraged to note which aspects of your knitting are "well done" or "could improve" and make suggestions for yourself. The best criterion on the list, I think, is "Selection - style suitable for age/purpose." I tell you, I've definitely seen some "could improves" for that one out there, haven't you? This checklist is the best part; it's actually why I decided to buy the book.

Let's Learn to Knit

It all makes me extra-grateful for my knitting group, which I think is entirely composed of ladies and gents who do look down at their chairs as they sit--there might be someone's knitting needles there, after all!--and which tends to get extremely salty, conversation-wise. (Salty language isn't even covered in this booklet.) We do all have good shoes, though! Knitting--and learning to knit--has obviously changed a lot in the last few years, as a single glance at the "learn to knit" section of the bookstore shelves will tell you. Just uttering the phrase "stitch and bitch" would probably have got you chucked out of the 4-H Knitting Advisory Committee back in the day. Much as I like vintage styles and "Mad Men" and all that, I'm glad this booklet and the attitudes in it wasn't part of my introduction to knitting. I do know people whose grannies or aunties taught them to knit as part of a general pursuit of appropriate and ladylike activities, and were very stern about how things ought to be done, but I wasn't one of them.

They really don't make them like they used to, but that's not always cause for regret.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mere yarn (less cash!)

I've written here before about how I try to knit in accordance with my values. By that I usually mean my SOCIAL values--which tend to be far more ssk than k2tog, in case you're wondering. I like to support independent shopkeepers, organic and humane fiber sources, and post-consumer recycled content when I buy yarn. I hang on to scraps, and give away a decent portion of what I make. What's more, I think of the act of knitting is itself as a form of thoughtful and conscious consumption--making a garment helps remind one of how much time and energy goes into the making of all things, and is a compelling argument against wasting that time and energy.

Social values are only one influence on the choices we make, though; economic values are a separate, and as often as not competing, factor. Sure, it makes economic AND social sense for me to borrow knitting books from my local public library or the LYS co-op collection. But by the same token, it's hard to justify the cash cost or carbon footprint of 100% cashmere fiber, much of which comes from overseas and is gathered under unknowable conditions. So aside from the occasional taste of cashmere in a blended yarn (some of which I do happen to be using right now, for a secret project to be unveiled in August) I've never indulged in the stuff. Until now...and that's because I found an unbelievable bargain that DIDN'T require me to mortgage my conscience.

While prowling the racks of a Salvation Army* shop in Ann Arbor, MI last week, I found not one but two very nice 100% cashmere sweaters--fully-fashioned, barely worn, with no awkwardly placed moth holes or nasty stains. They were heavenly soft, and in gorgeous colors--a deep cerise and a brilliant heathered azure. The kicker? They were on sale: pullover sweaters were 2 for $5, and it happened to be student-discount day, which gave me an extra 33% off. Jackpot! By the time I was on the plane home at the end of the week, I already had the red one halfway dismantled and the first sleeve entirely frogged. Can I even begin to describe the visceral pleasure to be had in brrrrpppping out a seam, pick-pick-picking at the top of the piece to get it started, and then ripping and winding, ripping and winding, until you have a grapefruit-sized ball of luxurious (gently used) laceweight cashmere? FOR TWO LOUSY BUCKS?! Well, you have to feel it for yourself, but this is what that looks like...whee!

It still needs to be soaked and hung to get the kinks out, but in case you couldn't tell, I'm hooked on recycling cashmere sweaters now. Stay tuned for what this bounty turns into. There's ounces and ounces of both colors--plenty for a lace shawl or scarf, and probably even a garment. I'm definitely thinking a lace project for the blue stuff, since it's more of a color that I would wear. And maybe the cerise will turn back into a sweater eventually.

Whatever they become, these will be projects that just feel right in every way; you can't put a price on that. (Although if you did, it would be $3.71.)

*Sorry, Melissa. :-} Goodwill still rules!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Between one thing and another, I've covered a lot of time zones lately, and it's been exhausting. It's not that I mind the travel itself--airports and airplanes are excellent places to knit for hours at a stretch, and you gotta love that--but it does make it hard to settle down long enough to get the real work of your life done, and falling behind is stressful.

I think this last round of excursions was worth the tsuris, though: Among other things, I got to pay a visit to Knit Picks headquarters in Vancouver, WA, which made my week. Actually, maybe my month! Here's me with Stacey W., who coordinates the KP Independent Designers Program:

We may look extra-happy because we were just about to enjoy some delicious burgers. (Mine was a veggie burger with bacon, which I think says a lot about how Complex and Nonconformist I can be when I try.) Or it may be because when you walk out of the Knit Picks office suite, you go by this ENORMOUS wall where they have all of their yarn lines, in all of the colors--current and future--which is truly a thing to behold. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon at KP, which is part of the Crafts Americana group, so I got to see not only where they shoot photos for all of their catalogs but also sneak peeks at some of the new quilting fabrics for the fall and winter. These include some awesome knitting-inspired prints--stockinette and fair isle snowflakes--that I can't wait to order when they become available. They'd be perfect for making sachets to go with one's handknitted woolens for the holidays!

It was super-neat to see the call center and the offices and just have a sense of the whole operation behind this company. I have a little bit of a fetish for knowing where the stuff I buy and use comes from--that's why I loved going to the farmer's market back home in California, where I knew my tomato guy and my wheatgrass-juice lady and our bread dude all by name, and they knew me. Since almost all local yarn shops are independently owned and operated, that rapport is pretty easy for knitters to achieve on a retail level, as it were, and you can get a great feel for indie dyers and spinners just from their web sites and Etsy shops, but I find it can sometimes be hard to get a personal sense from online retailers. Now I really feel like I'm part of the Knit Picks family, even though I'm still "independent," and that's great.

It just so happened that the day I was there was the day I passed a real milestone, too--sales of the Agatha pattern had just ticked past the 1,000 copies mark. Apparently, it's one of the biggest sellers among the IDP designs, which makes me prouder than I can say. That news was a bit of a surprise, though, in part because there are so few Ravelry project pages for Agathas--only a couple of dozen, which is just a tiny percentage, even if less than half of the people who download the pattern actually cast on for it. Sure, I can always track the sales numbers online, but somehow a pattern isn't really out there in my mind until I can see that people are making it. I'm hoping that people will post more of them over the next few months. And if you're not on Ravelry, but you have pictures of an Agatha you've made, send 'em to me! I get such a kick out of seeing what a design looks like in other colors, other textures, other sizes, or with changes to the shaping or style. It's almost like those crazy applications where you can see what you'd look like with plastic surgery or different hairstyles.

Which reminds me, now that I'm back from my travels, it's DEFINITELY time for a haircut. And maybe, just maybe, a little quiet time to sit and knit without having to worry about putting my seat back and tray table up for landing...

Friday, May 7, 2010

On the needles: Constance

It's amazing what you can do with leftovers. After that intense spate of baby-blanketing, I had four balls each of Simply Cotton in Marshmallow, Malted Milk, and Toffee left over, and a new idea for a sweater, so I put 'em all together and here's what I've got so far. She's called Constance (in honor of Constance McCormick, whose phenomenal collection of cinema scrapbooks is now housed at the University of Southern California library, and Constance Winchell, probably best known for her work as Columbia University's reference librarian and her authorship of the comprehensive ALA Guide to Reference Books--but she also worked early in her career for the Merchant Marine supervising lighthouse libraries, which is probably one of the coolest jobs ever).

Turns out this prototype is a practically perfect match for the lovely brown mother-of-pearl vintage buttons my pal Margie C. sent me the other day, too. Margie is a fellow collector of buttons who really understands my fondness for them and sends me ones she thinks I'll particularly which I mean, of course, that she is a total enabler. (Thanks, Margie!) I'm on the threshold of needing a larger tin for my ever-growing collection right now, but if I use these ones for this project, I can probably put that off until after I've come home from my next visit to my parents' place.

Although it used to be one of my favorite playthings, it's been years since I pawed through my mom's button tin, and I'm looking forward to poring over it again soon. Many of the buttons in it reportedly came from my great-aunt Marguerite, who was profligate in peculiar ways (for instance, if a button fell off a coat, she would just get a new coat--but she would save the buttons from the old one). My mom's been adding to it for decades now, and it's one of those things that I would probably try to grab if the house were on fire.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On blocking, being blocked, and (future) blockbusters

Well, I didn't see any Myrtles in New York, although apple trees were in bloom everywhere, and all the city's charms were pretty much at their peak. I did get to School Products for a lunch-break snoop-around, and Purl Soho was cute as a button but also crowded as hell--while their quilting-fabric counterpart down the block was oddly deserted. Nothing grabbed me this time around at any location, but browsing was an end in itself and I fully expect to return and dump a bunch of cash there on some future visit. The exception, of course, was Tender Buttons, where I scored some vintage emerald-green glass jobbies and some indigo shuttle-shaped shell buttons that I plan to use with fabric I got at Fancy Tiger in Denver and will, I swear, make a blouse of. Someday.

On the same "someday" list, but much closer to the top, is my dissertation proposal. After qualifying and advancing to candidacy, and then forcing my nose to the grindstone immediately after that to finish a dissertation grant application on time, I felt...tired. The grant application required me to sketch out my dissertation project in some detail, but not quite as much detail as the actual, formal proposal submission requires, and getting over that hump has proven to be pretty daunting. So daunting I haven't done it yet, even though it's been months since I qualified. (I didn't get the grant, either, as I found out a couple weeks ago.) Blech, right? Worse yet, I haven't been feeling particularly productive on the other side of my brain--the knitting side--so it's been a time of genuine doldrums, at least until recently. I've been cranking away on a proposal draft that is not there yet, but GETTING there, and I have a new sweater project (Constance--Rav details here, Flickr pics of WIP here) underway. Whew. As good as it feels to block a finished project, or to turn in a finished draft, it feels even better to be UNBLOCKED at last and starting on something new and exciting.

Also exciting, but not very new--it's been in the works but under wraps for over a year now--is the forthcoming Knitting It Old School book, edited by the lovely and talented Caro (aka Splityarn) and Debbie (aka Stitchy McYarnpants). That's the cover above, and you can pre-order it from Amazon now to ensure that you get it ASAP after the August 30 release date. I've got a sweater pattern in it, which I can't show you in its entirety (you have to buy the book, sillies!) but will give you a little tiny peek of here to get your motors running:

St. Moritz

It's lovely, if I do say so myself--WELL worth buying the whole book just for that ONE pattern, really! That said, I've also seen lots of the samples and some sneak previews from the photo shoot and I can personally guarantee that this one is worth spending your pennies on. It's got all the flavors of yesteryear, but the designs are definitely up-to-date in terms of execution, sizing, and yarn choices. And the other contributors' names? Oh man, I'm keeping some very good company here. Almost out of my league, you might say. It's enough to put me back to work on that dissertation proposal--with a PhD in hand I *might* just feel like I'm qualified to be in this club!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are the Myrtles blooming in New York yet?

I'm on the road this week--off to NYC for a symposium--and no trip would be complete without a little bit of knitting-related shopping. I'm hoping to hit at least one of the following favorite spots while I'm in town...

School Products Co. ("The Oldest Yarn Store in Manhattan"--I'm going to try to resist buying an entire pound of their laceweight silk.)
Tender Buttons (Mind-blowing--and budget-busting--selection of vintage, imported, and otherwise incredibly special buttons...I dropped a bundle last time I was there, so will enter with care!)
The Habu showroom (I took a class on reading Japanese patterns with one of the Habu reps while I was in St. Louis last fall, and also saw their trunk show. Amazing stuff, and always inspiring...)
Purl Soho might get a look-in, too, if I'm in the neighborhood...they're tiny, but SUCH a cute shop. I know I'll get some great ideas about color and styling while I'm there.

No matter where I go, I'm going to be keeping an eye out in the hopes that I get to see one of my designs "in the wild"--whether it's Myrtle, Decimal, Agatha, or something else. It hasn't yet happened that I've caught a glimpse of someone actually wearing a sweater they've made from one of my patterns, but I secretly (OK, not so secretly now, since I'm blogging about it on the freaking Interwebs) keep hoping for that moment. It's going to be so great when that happens. If you live in New York, have made one of my sweaters, and DON'T want some crazy chick running up to you and insisting on taking your picture, you may want to avoid wearing the thing for the next few days. Or at least try to avoid the above-listed "danger zones," which I've provided as a courtesy to those who want to maintain a low profile. You never know where I might be, though--and I won't hesitate to stalk you like a cheetah on a sick gazelle if I see so much as a flicker of dayflower lace! You have been warned...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Being fruitful

Folks around me sure do seem to be fertile these days--there have been half a dozen single births or pregnancies announced among my circle of friends in as many months, plus one set of twins that's still on the way. Whew. It's made for quite a lot of baby knitting, as you can imagine.

For the last couple years, my go-to baby gift has been the Otto bear by Ysolda Teague--it's super-cute, safe for infants, and a fun knit. (For slightly older kids, I've created a sweater for Otto that they can use to practice buttoning and unbuttoning as a step toward learning to dress themselves; click here to download the PDF for free from Ravelry.)

A slightly younger friend from my knitting circle went through the Year of Friends' Weddings in 2009, so HER friend's recent pregnancy announcement is probably the start of a Year of Friends' Babies for her, too. She said if I wanted to come up with a baby blanket pattern for her, she wouldn't mind test-knitting it. At the time, I was finalizing the pattern for the Beverly cardigan, so my first reaction was "Nah, thanks all the same"...but inspiration struck, I swatched, and less than twenty-four hours later I emailed her a draft of the pattern for a leaf-lace baby blanket that echoes, with some improvements, the one I made for my nephew S.T.B. several years ago. Whaddaya know--designers can be fruitful, too! I prototyped this one in two machine-washable sport weight cotton yarns (Simply Cotton and Shine, both from Knit Picks) and the final version of the pattern is being tech-edited as I write this.

The Larkin Blanket (Ravelry details here) is named for the poet and librarian Philip Larkin, whose short poem "This Be The Verse" is, in my own personal opinion, pretty right-on about the unintended consequences of parenting. Its first line alone might be off-putting to many--as might the last line. (And depending on your job, that link might be considered NSFW, too.) Nevertheless, its overall tone of genuinely mixed anger, resignation, compassion, and reconciliation will also remind some people, as it does me, of how they (sometimes) feel about their own parents, and the daunting idea of becoming a parent in your turn.

I think most of my friends would get where I'm coming on this, and not think it's weird to name a baby blanket for the guy who admonishes us "Don't have any kids yourself." It's a cold, hard world out there, one where comfort is going to be hard to come by. For my friends who have decided against following Larkin's advice, and for their new babies, the Larkin blanket represents my hope of making the world just a little warmer, and a little less inhumane.

As for me, I'm switching to bottled water until this all baby-having business blows over.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Chiana: The Sweater

Last September, I had the great pleasure of seeing two friends (who are also cherished colleagues of mine from the film archive world) get married at a beautiful site in the Adirondacks. The bride was rowed by her brother across a lake to the ceremony, and the entire wedding party met their canoe at the boathouse and downed a shot of craft bourbon before proceeding up a winding path to the altar. After Chad and Diana (collectively, Chiana) exchanged vows, we milled around in the tree-ringed clearing, drank champagne while the sun set, and got a closer look at Diana's beautiful dress--a vintage Mexican lace find from eBay that fit her perfectly right out of the mailbox.

The marriage of two archivists, let alone two film archivists, is a rare thing, and one that's well worth commemorating. My envy over the dress was also something that needed to be channeled in a more productive way. I can't spend every day trolling eBay for vintage wedding dresses for myself, after all, and even if I found one, what would I do with it? I didn't wear a wedding dress to my OWN wedding, and wearing a wedding dress at any other time is just too too Havisham-y, don't you think?

Hence, the Chiana sweater: Antique-cream cotton yarn in two different lace stitches, with flared hem and sleeves and a deep Edwardian v-neckline with a wide ribbed collar and placket. I'm still looking for just the right tiny little buttons to finish this prototype off, but when it's done I'm hoping it fits the bride as well as her dress did. And when the Chiana pattern's eventually released, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to support film preservation projects, which Chiana will definitely approve of!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What I've been up to...

Vintage buttons 1/17/10

Lately I've been trying to figure out a difficult design problem for a new pattern. It's not going that well, and it's frustrating. However, it makes me glad on a daily basis that my 8th grade algebra teacher, Mrs. Rita Gary, took such pains to make sure that I succeeded in her class. Turns out knitting is one of those things that you use algebra for ALL THE TIME. Thank you, Mrs. Gary, wherever you are!

To get my mind off my troubles, there's nothing like a little bit of antique-mall button-box prowling to cheer a girl up. Here's my latest crop of finds, hiding all my aimless pattern-brainstorming scrawls...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Resistance is futile

Wow, so, Myrtle's really taken off! It seems that lots of folks are casting on for Ravelympics and various KALs, and the projects gallery is absolutely blooming with works in progress. It's really gratifying, and quite tantalizing, to see each new picture posted. First of all, the colors just knock me out--despite the fact that my favorite color is gray, I really do love seeing the all luscious greens and oranges and blues that are being used. I can't wait for the first poppy red or marigold yellow to appear.

In case you had an inclination to be that first poppy red, or marigold yellow, or amethyst or peach or periwinkle or chocolate or whatever, you should know that Stacy over at Tempted Yarns has made a special offer--25% off custom dye orders of her Good Grrl fingering weight superwash merino for those who are making a Myrtle. 4 skeins for the price of 3 means you can make a Myrtle in any size, in any color you care to dream up with her, and maybe even have enough left over for a pair of matching socks! Those are some of her colorways above, but check out the Tempted Yarns site for lots more. She's obviously got a great eye for the hues. Me, I'm already eyeing that Blue Steele colorway and I should really stop looking at it NOW because I feel a new project coming on...uh oh. Might be too late.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Testing, 1, 2...

Ever wonder what I sound like? You can have a listen over at the Knit Picks podcast! Kelley from Knit Picks and I chatted a few weeks ago about their new Independent Designers Program, which officially launches today and is, I think, a very good thing for all parties. I'm chuffed as anything to note that among the other featured designers they invited to get the program off the ground is SweaterBabe, who is, like, totally famous and stuff. Squee!

One of the things Kelley and I (OK, mostly me--I'm like one of those Chatty Cathy dolls, just pull the string and I'll keep going until you smash crucial parts with a rock) talked about was the generational difference between knitters who started long ago, and those who are just picking it up now, when there's an Interwebs and Ravelry and whatnot. Kelley and I actually started knitting at the same time--literally decades ago!--but I think that generational difference has less to do with how long you've known how to knit, and more to do with how you knit now.

First of all, how mind-blowing is it that there are people out there who have never experienced knitting without Ravelry? There's a generational difference for you, and a profound one. I remember when I first heard about it from Splityarn, who was still knitting with our gang here in Austin then. Every week after that, the first topic of discussion around the knitting circle was "Where are you on the waitlist?" We didn't even really know what Ravelry was, but we wanted in on it!

Second, how many of you consider yourself well-acquainted with a knitter you may never have even met--someone you've friended on Ravelry, or whose blog you follow, or whose pattern you made after it appeared in Knitty? Lots of hands are going up out there, I can tell...

As I see it, the knitting community has gotten both way bigger AND way closer in the past few years. It seems like there are more people knitting together, in knitting circles and local groups, but also in virtual ways like knitalongs and NaKniSweMo and KIP Days. It also seems like we identify more strongly as people with a common interest--as knitters--now that we have more means of communicating and community-building around that shared interest. By that token, I'm definitely a new-generation knitter: I've known the mechanics for a long time, but now I think of myself as someone who DOES knit, not just someone who CAN knit.

Kelley and I talked about how I'm also a new-generation designer--someone who's benefiting from the fact that you can self-publish online, a pattern here and a pattern there, and thereby connect directly with the Great Knitting Public. It's so much easier for us this way--no long submission processes, no endless publication lead times! We also get instant feedback, most of it positive, which is so profoundly inspiring.

In fact, I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: I wouldn't be putting out patterns at all if it weren't for the knitters in my group, who I see every week, and for every single person who actually takes time out of their day to write a comment or fave a project. That's to say nothing of the people who actually MAKE something from one of my patterns--either just as written, or with their own modifications. It's a genuine treat for me to see how something looks in a different color, or with different choices for fibers and shaping and closures; it's like I get to experience the fun part of designing, the play and the possibility, all over again!

For example, just check out the WIP pics of the first two Myrtles being made by Ravelry users: reanbean and Northknitter are working on their projects in Massachusetts and Sweden, using colors that are totally different from one another and from my own prototypes of this design, but they could not be more delicious to look at. This may be a designer's proprietary pride, but viewed all together, I think they look even more beautiful than any of the individual projects. Thanks, Internet; thanks, Ravelry; thanks, Knitty; and thanks, knitters everywhere.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Everything old is New Year's

Happy 2010, everyone! I rang in the new year with an old friend, who was in town for a gig with his band (well, way OUT of town, as it happens, but here in Texas we just call any destination less than 300 miles away "yonder" and drive to it--carbon footprint, carbon schmootprint!). The resultant hangover notwithstanding, I put the finishing touches on the latest iteration of the Myrtle cardigan, got some pics of it at knitting on Saturday (including this absolutely gorgeous one taken by its recipient, above), and posted the pattern on Ravelry. It's been doing really well and I'm incredibly gratified by all the super-nice comments people have made--it's gotten my year off to a great start!

The funny thing is, although it seems to have struck some sort of sympathetic note with all those Ravelers, there's very little that's actually new about Myrtle. It rather slavishly follows my usual design formula:

1. Discover some yarn you love unreasoningly and realize that you HAVE to make something with it right NOW.

In Myrtle's case, this was a skein of Nantucket Red sock yarn from Cherry Tree Hill that I picked up at our group's swap. I don't even wear this color, normally, but for some reason I grabbed a bunch of coral-y reds that night. Go figure!

2. Ditto for a stitch pattern, usually from a Barbara Walker or Nicky Epstein book.

For Myrtle, this was Dayflower Lace, a really classic motif that's fun to work and easy to memorize. I came across it in a pocket stitch dictionary one of my professors had right around the same time I got the yarn.

3. Combine with a certain amount of alcohol and think of a librarian-y name for it.

A friend's beloved cat, which was named Myrtle, died around the time I was working on this and it just felt right.

4. Pour into a cardigan with 3/4 length sleeves.

Someone remarked to me recently, "You seem to make a lot of cardigans." This is true. I also wear a lot of cardigans. They're simply the best kind of sweater. And 3/4 length sleeves are the best kind of sleeve, because long sleeves are too long and you have to keep pushing them up if you're cooking, or if it's too hot in your office (or in Texas in general, which it almost always is).

4.1. Realize you don't have enough yarn and scramble around until you find more.

I only did this for the very first Myrtle, though. For the next two, I had enough left over to make a pair of matching socks if I wanted to. The green stuff you see above was originally an, um, intense yellow that my good friend Stephanie over at Spinning Colors overdyed for me, and it is even more delicious in person.

5. Attach vintage buttons.

These are some of the ones I picked up in St. Louis in November. Another eye-candy shot here from its new owner shows them off nicely!

6. Write up, release, repeat!

For Myrtle, this turned out to be a particular challenge, because of the lace motif, and because there were a bunch of little things in the prototype I realized I could/should have done differently, but I eventually pulled it off--the different-sized one I worked up purely from my calculations turned out perfectly. I hope to add a few more sizes at the top of the range to this pattern at some point in the future, since I kind of pooped out at 2X/48" bust for this one. Stay tuned, curvy ladies!

I even noticed that I'd made this sweater, like my previous design Decimal, in an orange version and a green version. Spooky, huh? Resolution for 2010: Try something a little different! But still the same, since this seems to be working for me...

(The Myrtle pattern is $5; includes charted and written instructions for lace.)