Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And another thing! (What I learned at VKL, part 2)

My latest object of lust: Carbon-fiber Blackthorn DPNs in an embossed leather carrying case.

My second workshop at Vogue Knitting Live was "Finishing Tips and Tricks" with Cirilia Rose. In many ways, it echoed the encouraging and positive tone of Janel Laidman's "Creating Your Own Stitch Patterns" session, and amplified the message that I think was my major takeaway from the entire weekend:

You don't have to do it "the right way," as long as the way you do it works.

One of Janel's tips was to have what she called an "ugly swatch" to work out new ideas with. If you need extra stitches, cast 'em on; if you need fewer for the pattern repeat you're toying with, cast 'em off--don't waste time casting on and working a bunch of set-up rows, just keep on knitting! Revolutionary, revelatory...and totally obvious once someone points it out to you.

Likewise, Cirilia shared some of her own secrets, preferred approaches, and insider knowledge from her time on the Berroco Design team. I mean, she worked with frickin' Norah Gaughan! That's probably like having a master class every day at work. Seaming, weaving in ends, and joining new yarn (especially using methods that reduce the number of ends you have to weave in) were the big subjects, but we also talked about closures and edgings--you know, the little things that can make or break a finished garment. The best thing I learned? Cirilia loves buttons, and she told us she often doesn't make a decision on closures until a garment is finished--which means no knitted-in buttonholes! Instead, she uses snaps and puts the buttons on as decorative, not functional, features. That makes sense in so many ways. It's way easier to reinforce a big ornamental button on a sweater coat, for example, if it doesn't have to actually BUTTON anything; not only that, but you're not forced to make your sweater close with just the number of buttons you actually have. That's a major consideration for those of us who have weird quantities of antique buttons from lord-knows-where, and no way to get extras. Another idea from VKL that was revolutionary, revelatory...and totally obvious once you think about it.

Cirilia's was probably my favorite workshop of the weekend, since it was the one where I had the most fun and felt the most at ease. Even though I'm pretty extroverted, I'm still subject to occasional and surprising bouts of extreme self-consciousness. I usually have a cocktail or two, if that's socially acceptable and even remotely appropriate in the setting, and just fake it til I make it, but whoof! That social anxiety does a number on me when it does hit. It's another good reason to take some knitting with me wherever I go--I've always got something I could be doing if I don't feel up to talking to people.

Luckily, the opening night reception and marketplace preview did have cocktails. (Actually, they had all the champagne you could drink, alongside an actual buffet of candy and chocolates, and dozens of vendors selling yarn and knitting accessories of every imaginable kind.) After a glass or two, I felt loose enough to start chatting up the folks in the Blackthorn Needles booth--their carbon-fiber DPNs use stealth-jet technology to create a VERY nice knitting experience. I now lust for one of their custom sets--see image above, which doesn't really do them justice. I was also in the mood for love, so I took home practically the first handbag I set eyes on, a Betty Knitting Tote from Atenti designs in what I am told is a one-of-a-kind fabric and color combination. But she looks a little something like this:

Ain't she sweet? Mine is done in a tomato-red velveteen wallpaper pattern with a taupe ground and lining--a bit like the orange one in back. But nicer, of course.

That was pretty sneaky, VKL--get a bunch of knitters drunk and hopped up on sugar, and then put purses and yarn in front of us. We didn't stand a chance! I am proud to say, however, that I stayed strong and did NOT buy any yarn. One day at a time.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Want to see something pretty?

Good news for you Cecily fans out there: The jacket has landed. Cecily is now officially a twinset! Check this beauty out...

Photo (c) 2011 by the lovely and talented Meg Rice.
Click on the image for super-duper detail...or here for more modeled shots.
The long-delayed and hotly-anticipated (by me, at least) Cecily jacket was definitely worth the wait. It's an awfully sweet knit, if I do say so myself. It's got a sort of kimono vibe going on, which I'm into these days. The motif is called Lotus Lace (thanks yet again, Barbara Walker Treasury!) and the inset of it at the high waist has an obi-like effect that's awfully flattering on any figure, not to mention really comfy to wear. Fans of Amy Herzog's Fit to Flatter series--and I know you're out there, because I just learned how to read my blog stats, and a LOT of you are coming here from her site, so thanks, Amy!--will know that this design will work especially well with top-heavy proportions. It's got a long vertical line from neck to waist, simple shoulders, and a draped lower half that balances wide shoulders with lace edging. Sleeve length is, of course, adjustable to your preference: Work the lace trim just an inch or so after picking up the sleeve stitches for a cap sleeve that broadens the shoulders visually, or work them down to bracelet length if you want more coverage for cool autumn evenings.

Sadly, I've just found out that the sample colorway, Pearlescent, is back-ordered until the end of the year, but don't let that discourage you. There's a kit-builder feature on the Knit Picks site you can use to select similar colorways from their other sock yarns--just drag and drop!--or a different colorway of the Stroll Tonal yarn I used. Cecily will also work beautifully in whatever solid or semi-solid sock yarn you've been stashing away in sweater quantities. (Don't lie, I know you do this. Oh, no, wait, that's ME...) Make yourself something pretty, already!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Things I Learned at VKL: Part 1

So, I said in an earlier post that Vogue Knitting Live was well worth the time and money for me; I also said that the staggering amount of stuff I learned there would be continuing to soak in for several weeks. As always (just ask my husband, ha ha) I was correct about this! I'm a huge believer in the idea that the more you give the world, the more you get back, so I'm going to share the wealth over the next few posts. No trade secrets, mind you--that wouldn't be fair--and some of it I couldn't tell you, you'd have to experience it for yourself. Just ask Nicky Epstein, the next time you see her, what they do for fun in the little desert town where she grew up...she is a 24-karat laugh riot, that one. Trust me, though, when I say that ANY of these instructors are well worth taking a workshop with. Whatever I say here is seriously just the tip of the iceberg!

My first class was "Creating Your Own Stitch Patterns" with the gentle and lovely Janel Laidman. Maybe it's because she's a font of quiet inspiration and understated genius, or maybe because all of us showed up at 8:00 am on Friday totally pumped for VKL, but you could really hear the gears turning as we all started paging through her stacks of stitch dictionaries and scribbling on our graph paper. I had signed up based on the class description, not even realizing that Laidman was the designer of the Rivendell sock, a pattern that I already had in my Ravelry library--a lot of her work has that graceful Art Nouveau sensibility that I really like. Rivendell was one of those patterns I bought more to learn from than actually knit; it's that pretty.

This class was really a subtle one. I wish I could describe it effectively, but it's hard to convey what we covered and how it helped. The general effect, for me, was like when someone comes into a room where you've been reading and turns on the light, or changes some little setting on your monitor so the text is suddenly bigger and clearer. Just a steady accumulation of little "aha!" revelations, plus some friendly encouragement, and some time spent focusing on how stitch patterns are constructed, and a bunch of really instructive swatches. Doesn't sound like much, I know, but the cumulative effect was quite something. I left the room determined to buy a copy of the Japanese stitch dictionary I was working from, as well as some highlighter tape. The highlighter tape alone has been a revelation, in fact--I'm working a stranded-colorwork pillow cover from a big ol' chart right now, and the little "taste" of tape that Janel handed out to everyone in class went right onto that. Now I can't believe I ever thought of attempting to work from a chart of any size without this stuff. It's amazing! So simple, so straightforward, and so helpful.

I brought some inspirational materials with me to the class--just a couple of scraps of things I've been holding onto, thinking they'd be nice to translate into knitting--and I expect I'll be continuing to play with those until I figure out what they want to be. The best part of the class, I think, was just hearing from someone who does this all the time the steps she follows when she's working up something new, and seeing how well they work. Thanks, Janel, for an inspiring and useful VKL session!