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!