Friday, December 21, 2012

Once (again) upon a time

Season's greetings, one and all.

Today's the winter solstice--tonight, the longest night of the year--and as I prepare to do the traditional naked solstice dance around the traditional tiny facsimile of Stonehenge (what, that isn't something every family does at the holidays?) my thoughts go back to all the wonderful things I experienced during the lengthening days of springtime and summer, as well as forward to the year ahead.

Springtime saw the publication of the first issue of The Sock Report, of which I was so proud to be a founding contributor. I taught a terrific class in the spring quarter, during which I got to explore with my students a lot of natural processes, including photoreactivity, oxidation, humidification, acidification, and decomposition, that have an impact on heritage preservation as well as on the fiber arts. (I'll discuss one of them at greater length in a future post, when I've had a chance to take the necessary photos.) I saw a solar eclipse and a hummingbird snuggled in its thimble-sized nest. I played a tiny part in a profound work of art. I gave my first keynote speech at a conference.  Lots of friends had babies, so I knitted lots of baby stuff. And I learned to fly (a little bit, and with a lot of help). It was a great year in so many ways.


As the days start to get longer once again and the year renews itself, I'm making a renewed commitment to all the things that restore and enrich me. One of those things is giving--whether that's in the form of gifts, money, or time, or teaching and writing, or cooking and feeding the people I love most. Hugs will also be involved; I see a lot of those ahead in 2013. (Cheesy. I know. Don't care.) Another is knitting. So what better way to mark the solstice, start bringing the light back, and celebrate the close of one year and the opening of another than by giving a gift of knitting to those who give me the kind gift of their interest and attention?

 Leave a comment on this post any time between now and January 1, letting me know what you gave in 2012 and why that felt good. You might have given up smoking, given a stranger a high five at a football game, given a crap about the election, given your relationship another go, given a child up for adoption or given a puppy a new home, given someone change for a dollar or the shirt off your back, given a party, given your word, given at the office, given offense or given comfort. But you all gave something, and here's your chance to give your version of that event! I'll select two of the comments at random and send each of you a copy of the bound edition of the first issue of The Sock Report to help you start the year off right and look forward to it being spring again...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Look but don't touch? Forget that!

Cascade Kid Seta

Sites like Knitty and Ravelry have brought us within a mouse-click of millions of amazing patterns, and online merchants have similarly enabled our yarn-stashing habits. Occasionally, one even hears about knitting video games, although no knitter I know plays them (and as the first comment on this post from 2010 makes clear, gamers don't seem clued in enough to know the difference between knitting and crochet--if there's yarn, they'll call it knitting, like all the other morons nice friendly people I meet when I craft in public).

It's obvious why knitting video games haven't been really popular, of course. Cost of a Wii = $149.99. Cost of knitting needles and enough yarn for a scarf = $14.99, tops. At the end of the Wii game, you have...a Wii. On which you can play the knitting game again until you get bored with it. At the end of the knitting, you have...a scarf! And needles, on which you can knit another scarf, or anything else you like. Duh! Real knitting totally wins.

Cascade Kid Seta

Beyond that, though, there's the fact that knitting is not a look-but-don't-touch pursuit. Knitters are touchy people (yes, in every sense). In fact, our handiwork involves all kinds of sensory signals. I often smell a skein before I buy it. I refer to colors as "delicious" or "tasty," and talk about yarns as being "creamy" or "crunchy." Our needles click and whisper, our swifts creak and our ball winders whir. Even our jargon is onomatopoetic--as my friend Julia explained to me, it's called frogging because you "rip it, rip it, rip it."

That sensory involvement in one's work is a familiar thing to me in my other professional life, too. As a film archivist and someone who teaches others to work with film and other materials in need of preservation, I've been thinking a lot recently about how much touch and feel, direct personal experience, and embodied knowledge are essential to understanding. This is just one more way in which knitting is connecting to my academic and intellectual life, I've discovered, so I'm going to think out loud here about both of them...

Cascade Kid Seta

That Wii knitting game really does have some interesting aspects--for one thing, it looks to me like it'd be helpful as an introduction to charted patterns, becoming comfortable with patterned stitches, and learning to read your knitted work-in-progress--but it presents knitting as a largely theoretical exercise, and knitted fabric as a straightforward product of idealized, sequential motions. It doesn't even hint at the dozens of signals a skilled knitter receives simultaneously through their eyes, ears, and fingers as s/he works. Like the hard little bump a purl stitch makes tugged against the needle in your right hand when you forget to bring the yarn back before working a knit stitch after it. The annoyingly raggedy loop of a split strand sticking out in the row below, and the satisfaction of dropping that stitch back and reworking it with the full strand. The way the weight of your project gradually tips from the left hand to the right as you work across a row, or the bunching and stretching between the needle tips that subtly influences you to push out stitches to the right and gather them up to the left as you work, without ever really stopping to think about it.

Cascade Kid Seta

All these little things have some kind of analogue in film handling, I find, where we also have joins and twists, and colors and smells, and where the way a long strand of something is wound and manipulated can create wonderful effects or catastrophic tangles. And while you can read about film preservation techniques online, or watch all sorts of stuff on YouTube--including knitting demos, of course!--there's really nothing like the real thing, which is why I've been doing Home Movie Day for the past ten years.

Thanks to punkybuddha for this great pic from 2010's Upper Valley Home Movie Day event!

For me, it's all about getting your hands on the stuff--finding places and ways to do that will yield so much rich information, as well as more satisfying products, and deeper, more lasting knowledge. In my next post, I'll be having a contest in which you can win both digital prizes and ones you can touch with your own personal digits, and I'll ask for your own thoughts and stories on what you've learned by doing and stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dear kitties...

We have hardwood floors throughout our house, with laminate in the kitchen and tile in the bathroom. The couch and two of the four armchairs in our living room, as well as three of the five chairs in the dining room, AND my desk chair, are all leatherette. I can tell you from klutzy experience that these surfaces are really easy to clean.

But it seems that when it's time for you to do your barfing, kitties, you really only feel at home on the bed, or on one of the upholstered chairs, or--and this is the one that really gets me--smack dab in the middle of the throw pillow with the incredibly involved intarsia-knit cover that I was so proud of. (WAS.) To add insult to injury, you did that thing where you try to bury your mess, and clawed the knitted fabric up pretty badly all around the barf spot afterward.

You're cute, and I really do love you, but sometimes that's not enough. It's going to be a while before I forgive you for this.


(I was going to post a picture of the barf and barf-related damage, but thought better of it. Instead, here's a picture of you two. Now everyone Knows What You Did.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fiber people are fab-er people

Here's where I've been the last week and a half. Jealous much?

Hero shot for Irma

That's my mom's garden in the background (well, part of it, anyway--there's like another acre and a half of it to either side).  And that's me, wearing the prototype for my newest design, Irma, the pattern for which is in the works and almost ready for test-knitting.

I got to enjoy a full week of abundant solitude, peace and quiet at my parents' place up here in the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. During that time, I decompressed from a really intense week-long conference at UCLA, and got more or less caught up on email and some shamefully overdue committee tasks. Yay, me. I also poked around in some of the local antique malls, where I picked up a frickin' sweet Pyrex dish (with matching lid--score!), some vintage hankies (I got run-down during that conference, which I think helped trigger an allergy attack, and you can never have too many clean hankies on hand when your nose is running on and off all day), and a terrifically classy knitting pattern booklet from Montgomery Ward, circa late 1940s? Early 1950s? I'm guesstimating based on hats and hemlines...

Nice haul from the antique mall

That pleasant afternoon of prowling through old stuff was capped off nicely when, on the way back to my car, I happened across the recently-opened LYS just around the corner. Cabled Fiber Studio had a sign out front reading "Yes, you DO need more yarn! (And rods and reels.)" Ah, I thought, I am once more at home among my people...knitters and enablers! (Dear Hubby: If you're reading this, don't sweat it that you don't fish. I also spotted a shop on the way home called The Dragon's Something-or-Other that sells Warhammer fantasy miniatures, so you're covered on the reciprocal-indulgence-of-hobbies front. Who loves ya, baby?) I was also pleased to see that they'd yarnbombed the public art on the sidewalk outside the shop, bringing a much-needed touch of color and pizzazz to the small-town street. Two of the proprietors, Mary Sue and Beth, were in the shop that afternoon, along with a couple of local knitters who were settling in for the weekly knit night, and they all made me feel very welcome indeed!

Cabled Fiber just opened a few months ago, and I'm rooting for them to make a real go of it. They've not only created a beautiful and inviting retail space, with a focus on locally-sourced and hand-dyed yarns, tools, and roving; they've also coordinated a great lineup of classes, and they've jumped right in as supporters of the local arts scene and community events, too. When I stopped by, they were working on assembling little mini-skeins of yarn for a hand-dyeing workshop at the upcoming arts weekend, and Beth was tinkering with an old knitting machine they had so she could experiment with a pattern she'd found for machine-knitted slippers. She and Mary Sue showed me around their shop, and we chatted about my visit to the Knit Picks headquarters a couple of years ago. Cabled Fiber stocks the Knit Picks needles and tools, and they're close enough to the Portland area to go down for a visit to the Crafts Americana group themselves. I walked out determined to come back for their knit night the following week, and was so fired up by meeting them that I cast on for one new project that night when I got home, and made sketches and notes for two others, in addition to friending them all on Ravelry!

I just love it when I get to travel and experience LYSes like this. There's really no such thing as a big-box yarn shop, after all, or fiber franchises. (Ha! Can you imagine a yarn shop with a drive-thru window? "I'd like a Brooklyn Tweed hat kit in charcoal gray, two ounces of BFL roving, and a side of stitch markers, please." "You want needles with that?") My experiences with many of these small businesses in the U.S., Canada, and Europe suggests that they're really reflective of the people behind them. Their tastes, temperaments, and talents are as much on display as their inventory. And there are so many little differences between them--one shop might carry the exact same yarn lines as another, but organize by color, fiber content, or weight instead of by manufacturer or brand. There'll be more books and magazines in one shop, a bigger worktable or more comfortable chairs in another. And of course the customers and staff contribute mightily to the vibe, too. I think you could blindfold me and plop me in the middle of any yarn shop in the world and I could probably guess where I am just by hearing the customers chattering with the staff. Like I said--these are my people!

Cabled Fiber Studio swag!

Before I left, Mary Sue and Beth offered me one of their nifty business-card-and-stitch-marker packets. There's a needle inventory chart on the back of the card, something I've been needing for a while--another score!--and a couple of buttons with the Cabled Fiber Studio logo and slogan: "Not your mother's yarn shop!" At that, I had to laugh--because, strictly speaking, being 2.7 miles closer to her house than A Dropped Stitch over in Sequim, Cabled Fiber Studio IS my mother's yarn shop. For this two weeks, at least, I'm happy that it's been mine, too. I'll see you at the Thursday Knit Night this week, Olympic Peninsula knitters!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Oh frabjous day!

The Sock Report is here!

I am thrilled to have a new pattern included in the premiere issue of this new publication, a quarterly e-magazine from the genius mind of Janel Laidman and her hardworking editorial partner (and part-time model!) Miriam Pike. The patterns and photography and styling are all stunning, showing off the beauty of Rustling Leaf Press's Oregon environs. Magnolias, rhododendrons, and windswept pebble beaches? With a romantic lace shawl? I'm SO there...

See what I mean? This shawl is probably my favorite design from the collection...and it's not even mine!

That's actually Miriam modeling the Cassian shawl right there. I must admit I have some hair envy going on when it comes to Miriam's beautiful chestnut ponytail in these photos, too. Janel reports that Miriam has special ponytail powers, and I believe it. I want to go around wearing ink-blue lace and tea-stained silk and a magic ponytail everywhere now would be so dreamy if I could!

The best part is, I feel like I don't even have to plug my own design. The whole Sock Report collection is priced at $16, and each designer gets royalties on collection sales --a rising-tide-floats-all-ships pricing model I haven't encountered before, but really like. It benefits the buyer, the designers, and the publisher all the way around. (I had the vague idea that someone always has to lose in marketplace transactions, but I haven't figured out who loses here. Good thing I'm an information scientist and not an economist. If anyone needs help preserving their knitted goods, I'm totally on it, though.) Individual patterns are also available at $6.50, so buying the 16-pattern collection amounts to an 85% discount, or a bargain-basement $1 per pattern! Amazeballs!

So even though I'd rather you DIDN'T buy it (buy the collection, so the whole Sock Report Volume One team wins!) here's my contribution: the Clio jacket, which is worked up in Lorna's Laces Sportmate. This color combo has a lovely Alice-in-Wonderland feel, and I think looks especially springy with the apple-green shirt they styled it with. It'd also look great with a sheath dress or a simple cami and a pencil skirt for work.

I thought a lot about color combinations when I was working this up--the prototype is actually a tone-on-tone mix of dark gray and silver, as you can see in this swatch and concept sketch. But I would love to see this design worked up with crisp navy trim on a white or cream ground, or in fire-engine red and a darker crimson or poppy red combo. Ooh, or what about celadon and jade green?

The yarn I swatched with is Knit Picks Gloss, which is a little finer than the Lorna's Laces Sportmate that final version ended up in, but still a sock yarn. Which leads me to my last point about how great The Sock Report is: It's about sock YARN, not just socks! I love, love, love the weight of yarn that's often sold as "sock yarn"--but I only like, like, like actually knitting socks with it. The Sock report, on the other hand, is a just a perfect mix of socks, shawls, scarves, gloves, and garments in fingering-weight or sport-weight yarn. It kind of reminds me of Marilyn Monroe trying on that tiara in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes": "You DO wear it on your head! I just LOVE finding new places to wear diamonds!"

It also makes me really glad they didn't call it "The Fingering Report"...;-)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

4,000 words on what's inspiring me lately which I mean, four pictures. Got lots of writing and reading to do for the next week or so, but I didn't want another month to go by without a post, especially when I'm actually doing some pretty good knitting these days. So here's a taste of how that's going, and where some of it's coming from, starting with my garden:

Garden - May 2012

I should note that I use the term "garden" very loosely. It would be more accurate to say "bunch of random plants I haven't managed to kill yet," but most of you will get the idea. I have a couple of big pillowy patches of nasturtiums that, as you can see behind this dazzling poppy, are starting to climb up the trellis that my sugar snap peas started on. Their fragrance is amazing; I've been enjoying it as I sit out there with my morning coffee and putter around at the start of most days. My mom told me about nasturtium capers the other day, so now I'm all excited for those patches to get bigger so I can try making those. I've got a bunch of herbs going--sage, three varieties of thyme, a few different kinds of basil, cilantro, parsley, oregano--along with red cherry, black cherry, and better bush tomatoes, some jalapenos, and just bit of lettuce that is struggling manfully in a few different places. I also have what might be either cucumbers or butternut squash or both (I planted seeds for both, but by the time the sprouts were big enough to transplant, I forgot which was which) along the side fence that are on the brink of going crazypants--they've been about four inches high for the last month. I'm pretty sure that in about a minute and a half they're going to start shooting tendrils all over the place.

My cherry tomatoes are especially delicious, and beautiful, too!

Garden - May 2012

I put a lot of elbow grease into hacking back all the creepers that were covering the back fence, in the hopes that I could encourage the pink jasmine, climbing white roses, and wisteria to stampede in once it was gone. The canvas cover of the old patio umbrella we inherited from the previous tenants rotted through and finally tore to shreds in that last big windstorm we had, so I had the bright idea of dragging it over to the corner of the yard and trying to train the vines over that as a kind of arbor. The look I'm going for is "fairy grotto," but at the moment, it's coming off more as "whiskey tango," since the vines are all sparse and haven't covered up the string I wove between the skeletal umbrella arms to give them some handholds. Stay tuned, I have high hopes!

Black and yellow is the number one color combination I've been mulling over lately, along with bronze and blue, and dusty pink and moss green. Mostly black and yellow, though.

Irma prototype

Yellow's a tough color for me to love, and I seldom if ever wear it, but I've got a lace cardigan in the works that's in a Madeline Tosh colorway called "Cloak" and I keep wanting to put butter-yellow things on it. I may not be able to resist adding pale yellow shell buttons to this one, although that would kinda restrict its wearability. Here's a little bit more yellow for you...


That's the palm and thumb of a glove I'm working on. It's got a lace panel down the back that extends up through the fingers in a way that I'm sure will end up being fiendishly clever but right now as I'm figuring it out is just feeling fiendishly difficult. You might be thinking "Lace gloves? That's weird. What's the point of wearing gloves with a bunch of holes in them?" But then you would just not be the particular kind of person who would would want to knit or wear these gloves, I guess. I think they're pretty. Although awfully yellow. I might have to make a pair in gray for myself to actually wear.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Things I learned at VKL, part 3

When you sit down with a group of knitters of any size, you'll hear a lot of opinions. (I mean that in both senses, by the way; the group can be any size, and the knitters themselves can be any size.) The number and strength of opinions is generally--but not always--directly proportional to size, too. When I was at VKL last fall, spending the days with hundreds of knitters in every possible configuration, I was definitely expecting to get an earful, and I did!

One of the things that I was most surprised by was the strong distaste several of the designers and workshop instructors expressed for seamless sweaters--and specifically, the top-down raglan style of construction. Given how many of the trendiest, everyone's-making-one-these-days patterns for the last couple of years have been seamless or required minimal finishing (February Lady Sweater, Whisper Cardigan, Owls...I'm looking at you, here!), all these voices united in abhorrence of the very idea of top-down-seamlessness may well have crossed the threshold into "backlash" territory. Now, it wasn't unanimous, by any means, but it was definitely a thing--so much so that one or two people were kind of back-pedally on the topic (e.g. "Now, I don't have anything against top-down seamless styles personally, if you like that sort of thing, that's fine, I just personally, for myself, would never make one, and here's why...") or seemed to feel a need to justify their acceptance of the technique in the face of the backlash ("Now, this design is a top-down one, but I think in this one instance it really works because..."). It was eye-opening, to say the least, and I started taking notes so I could sort out where I stood on what I didn't even realize was a Big Divisive Knitting World Issue. Here's my summary of the Seamless vs. Seamed debate:

Team Seamless says:

1) OMG so easy! When you're done, you're done! No more UFOs!
2) Seams are itchy, especially at the back of the neck or under the arms. Get rid of 'em!
3) It's one garment; why not knit it in one piece?

Whereas the Seams Team says:

1) Seams give you structure where you need it most--the shoulders, back of the neck, the sides of a garment. Sweaters with no seams quickly lose what little shape they had to begin with!
2) Knitting in the round yields a spiral fabric, not a flat one. Seamless garments twist around the body and won't hang straight.
3) Come on, people; finishing's not THAT big a deal. Don't knit crappy sweaters just because you're lazy.

I've been mulling this over for months* and I honestly still haven't picked a side for myself. Many of my designs, after all, ARE seamless, and some are top-down, to boot! There's also a difference between less-seaming, and seamless, if you know what I mean. Sometimes it really doesn't make sense to knit something in pieces and then sew those pieces together, and sometimes it makes such a huge difference in the amount of time you need to make a single garment that it'd be senseless not to try to cut down at least a bit on the seaming wherever you can. None other than the inspired and wonderful Jared Flood did a series of features in Vogue Knitting on how to convert "ordinary" garment patterns into seamless ones, and that man is anything BUT lazy or finishing-phobic. And of course, different yarns and knitted fabrics work differently when seamed--fine yarn and lace fabrics don't necessarily combine well with seams of any kind. (It all kind of reminds me of the more-product-less-process approach to archival processing, which is also the subject of great debate within its constituent community...but that wouldn't interest most of you.)

What I've finally landed on is "let the people decide."** Which is more or less exactly what the original Opinionated Knitter, Elizabeth Zimmerman, used to say, only more succinctly: "Knitter's choice."

Please ignore the fact that EZ was also the innovator who brought us the Phoney Seam and many, many variations on the seamless-construction theme. Seamless was her CHOICE, not her gospel. I would also like for you all to ignore the fact that the new project I'm working on right now is...a seamed sweater. And with set-in sleeves, no less!

*That's my excuse for that looooooong lag between blog posts, and I'm sticking to it. We shall never speak of this matter again.

**OK, that's what Magic 8 Ball said. I really, really still haven't made up my mind.