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!