Monday, December 30, 2013

Tillie baby blanket

What do you know? It's baby season again. A colleague just announced her pregnancy, and I have two other friends with a bun in the proverbial oven now. Time to fire up the ol' baby-knitting engine and get some gifts in the works before the showers hit!

Luckily, I just finished writing up a pattern from the LAST baby avalanche I went through, in which a bunch of the expectant parents opted to find out the baby's gender on the day of delivery. While I totally respect the decision--and even admire it, as I wouldn't have the willpower to resist finding out--it does throw a bit of a wrench in the works when it comes to almost any kind of baby gift. I am seeing that there is NOT a lot of gender-neutral stuff out there past the plain white onesie. Even the items that come in yellow or pale green (which are apparently, and respectively, the classic and contemporary code colors for gender-nonspecific baby gear) tend to have some coded gender references. You know, ladybugs or lizards, that kind of shit.

Knitting patterns aren't much better, although the silhouettes are at least more non-aligned. Where you hit the wall with those is in the baby-yarns section of the LYS, which just looks like Tinkerbell's toilet to me. LOTTA pastels on that wall, folks. Don't babies need basic black and classic navy too? Or, you know, teal and tangerine and deep, rich earth tones?

If anyone knows a better way to style a baby blanket than draping it on a chair, please tell me.

I'm not saying I've totally solved these problems, but along with the Peabey Bear stuffed animal (which is nice because it's soft and baby-safe, especially if you knit it up in and stuff it with organic cotton) the Tillie Blanket pattern is my stab at it. It's got a bit of eyelet texture, so it's not so boring to knit, and there's a subtle flounce at the edge, yet the overall effect is not so lacy and ruffly as to be categorically girly-girly. It works just as well in blue or pink as it would in yellow or soft green; I opted for a nice sandy neutral, which should go with pretty much anything (but coordinates especially well with burp stains). It's worked up in an easy-care sport-weight yarn that comes in a wide range of colors--including a fabulous tangerine orange, rich red, chocolate-y brown, and yes, basic black, if the baby in question has a daring fashion sense or artsy parents who would go for that. No more waiting 'till the baby comes out to cast on and start knitting!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas blues!

Dear Santa,

It's great that you came early this year with a set of those new Caspian interchangeable needle tips from Knit Picks, because I'm still clinging to the idea that I might fulfill my New Year's resolution to seriously bust some stash in 2013. New needles are going to be just the thing to help me settle in with a few pounds of wool and all ninety-one hours of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and crank out stuff for everyone's stockings before the clock runs out on my promise to myself!

I really am absurdly pleased by these babies. Something non-knitters, or new knitters, often find surprising is the intensely personal--and contingent--nature of one's choice of needles. (Actually, what non-knitters seem to find most surprising that there is more than one kind, since point sticks are pointy sticks, right? I can't tell you the number of times I've been knitting in public on circulars and seen that puzzled look on someone's face that comes immediately before they ask, "What does that string in between the sticks do?")

(Image from WoolFreeandLovinKnit--thx!)

Me, I've been through 'em all, practically. As a kid, I first learned on the kind of metal-capped, size 8, pastel-coral-colored plastic straights that look so nice arranged in an antique jug in your sun-drenched craft studio. I knitted on and off throughout my teens and twenties, mostly with a few pairs of hand-me-down plastic circulars from my mom's 70's-era collection (possibly Bryspun, but I've never been able to verify that conclusively). I didn't know anything about gauge and was pretty cavalier about things like fit and finish, so the results weren't always great, but at the time I did like the way they felt in my hands--springy, with nice sharp tips that slid neatly in and out of the stitches. The plastic finish was smooth, but not so much so that the needles were always slipping out of the live stitches at inopportune moments or during transit.

When I got more serious about knitting in my late twenties and early thirties, I discovered that gauge was a thing, and that you actually get better results when you use the right size needles (see, kids? College, graduate school, and then more graduate school really do make you smarter!). So I started buying needles as needed for various projects: Lantern Moon ebony circulars, Chiao Goo bamboo dpns, the odd pair of Addi Turbos. I developed a wee obsession with Brittany birch dpns for a while there--I liked that there were five in each set, instead of four (having lost a couple of those extra needles to cat-chewing incidents over the years) and the smooth blond wood spoke to me, especially in the shorter lengths they offered. But I will freely admit that for a long time I was a promiscuous knitter--I'd still go with just about anything that came to hand, and my needle library was a real hodgepodge of different brands, styles, and sizes. Given the only common feature, which was that they were mostly sizes 4-6 (with just the occasional 8 or 9), you really could say I knitted like I dated...

So perhaps it's no coincidence that when I moved to Texas in 2006 with my new husband, I was finally ready to settle down with one kind of needle, the one that was just right for this here Goldilocks. Turns out the Knit Picks Options interchangeable tips in the Harmony wood finish was THE NEEDLE FOR ME. Other Harmony knitters will know exactly why: Super-pointy tips; smooth but still toothy finish on the wood; fine, flexible cables with unobtrusive joins; very reasonable price point. The only thing I didn't love about these needles was that they were...purple.  I don't hate the color; obviously, it's not a dealbreaker, since I've been knitting happily on these needles for years now. I have a plum-colored dress I quite like, and a dusty lilac one, too. But I'm not really a purple person, and deep down in my heart, I confess, I have wished for these needles to be a different color. (Different, that is, from any of the OTHER three finish options these needles come in, which include a nickel-finish metal, Zephyr clear acrylic, and Sunstruck blond-wood laminate, none of which are so much better than the original purple for my purposes that I've felt it worth switching...perhaps since they all come with the signature purple cable.)

Lo and behold, they come out with these Caspian needles! They're a beautiful peacock-tail blend of blues and greens, with lovely deep-teal cables. I heart them so much; they're just what I've been wishing for all these years. To paraphrase Dean Martin: Santa may have brought you some stars for your shoes, but Knit Picks kindly gave me the blues...the ocean-colored, emerald-cabled Caspian blues.

I'll be wishing all of you the best for a warm and joyous holiday season, and for a bright and bountiful year to come!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Winter Bride

Thanks for checking in--I'm back, and with a new pattern, too! Winter Bride Gloves just went up on Ravelry, and is perfect for your holiday giving projects (fancy! but easier than they look) as well as any New Year's nuptials to which you might be invited (buttercream frosting will blend right in on these babies).

I've missed knitting, but putting together a new pattern was fun, and I'm really pleased with how these turned out. It's almost enough to make all those false starts from the last year feel more like sketches than failures. (A recent home-office clean-up effort ended with me surrounded by a pile of half-finished and aborted and unraveling attempts at all kinds of things, in tears and feeling like they were a self-portrait of the artist as a young fuck-up...and honestly, I'm not even that young!) With luck, these will be the first little flurries that turn into a proper snowstorm of creativity. Watch this space!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Players gonna play, ballers gonna ball.

You know what? It's been a tough couple of months. We finally said goodbye to our sick kitty at the end of April (see previous post), I've been making little headway on my dissertation, my Myrtle cardigan went through the wash and came out with a gaping hole that seems to have unraveled from a dropped stitch...


And the cherry on top of the dog-poop sundae? This weekend saw the return, once again, of some dissatisfied customers who periodically post nasty comments about one of my patterns on Ravelry. Now, I know I'm not perfect, and neither are my patterns--errors, omissions, and just plain bad writing can and will make it through even the most rigorous tech-editing and test-knitting protocols, and this was an early release for me, so my protocols weren't the best then--but I make an effort. And these are people A) whom I did make an honest and strenuous effort to assist, B) most of whose problems I was unable to replicate myself, and C) to whom I not only apologized, repeatedly and sincerely, and gave a full refund of their purchase price, but ALSO offered their choice of a different pattern from my own store, or any pattern from their own Ravelry queue, as a gift, by way of apology for the inconvenience.

A reasonable person might consider our business concluded with that refund. But still, going on two years after their initial complaint to me, a couple of them will periodically log on to Ravelry and post afresh on the pattern page, calling the pattern unworkable and me unethical, a fraud, an unhelpful person, etc. I delete these comments as soon as I'm notified about them, which only seems to make them angrier. The content of the comments now has as much to do with the fact that I deleted their previous comments (and am therefore unscrupulous, amoral, and foolishly loath to peacefully accept their well-intended defamation) as it does with the fact that they had trouble knitting the pattern. (I should note, and you'll have to take my word for it, that these are the only comments I've ever deleted from a pattern page.) For what it's worth, I'll respond personally or publicly (depending on the situation) to Ravelry forum posts that are critical in nature. I'll even reach out to someone personally if their project notes indicate that they encountered a problem or error that they didn't convey to me directly, thanking them for the heads-up and letting them know if, for instance, a new version has been released with a corresponding correction. But my very strong feeling is that I'm not morally obliged to allow anyone to defame me in my own (virtual) store, and no unhappy customer is morally obliged to tell all potential purchasers of the pattern know they had issues with it and/or me. Especially after they've gotten their money back! Or, to put it most succinctly:

Embroidery project
One reason this phrase has such power is that it speaks to the fundamental vulnerability required of everyone who does something creative. If you publish, perform, work collaboratively or in teams, or otherwise live out loud, you're inevitably going to hear from some haters. Much as I'd like to say I've learned to rise above it like Princess Pony galloping across the rainbow to Glittertown, that vulnerability can be really crippling. The haters speak much louder than the lovers in the ol' interior monologue, even though the lovers almost always outnumber the haters.

Worse yet, the hate of the haters is infectious. A very talented friend recently asked me about starting to publish her own designs, and the first draft of my response to her was a real shit sandwich: Your ideas are great! You should definitely give publishing them a try! People are going to be totally crappy to you, of course, and you'll spend most of your time dealing with inane tech-support questions, especially for the patterns you give away for free, and still other people will pretend the Internet exists solely so they can revive the petty tyrannies of middle school and make fun of you for making your own clothes. But totally, you should put your beautiful and inspired work out there!' It'll be super-fulfilling, except for when it makes you want to die inside! Although I think I managed to make it somewhat more encouraging of her wonderful talent and potential, and much less about my personal experiences and insecurities, I'm ashamed of how much of the latter made it into the final response that I eventually did send her.

So do me a favor, everyone out there: While I take crochet hook in hand and set to mending my messed-up Myrtle, take a minute today to send someone--whether you know them or not--a wholly positive, wholly unsolicited compliment on their creative work. Or write a nice thank-you note to someone. Give a penny instead of taking one (or instead of putting your two cents in, if they're two picky cents). Above all, don't hate! There's already plenty of that going around.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The life cycle of warm, fuzzy things

Back in June of 2009, I bought some yarn. My friend Stephi custom-dyed it for me in my favorite shade of gray. It was a super-soft laceweight singles merino--a lot like Malabrigo lace, but obviously better because it was made just for me!

Graphite merino lace singles

In July, I started a new sweater project to keep my hands busy during a fascinating symposium on noncommercial film in a small town in Maine. I was experimenting with new construction methods, and particularly fascinated with seamless, top-down, and reversible garments, and with a little bit of tinkering and tinking I came up with something I really liked.

Agatha - FO

Soon thereafter, Knit Picks launched their Independent Designer Program, and asked me to join their initial roster of collaborators. Although first executed in a laceweight yarn, Agatha was a great candidate for adaptation to heavier gauges, and it became my first IDP submission.

 Just being invited to distribute my designs through Knit Picks was a huge deal for me, but seeing the Agatha pattern in the pages of the catalog was really a kick. It was the first time a real model had worn one of my sweaters, and also the first time I'd seen my work in print. Prior to that, I'd published a pattern in Knitty, which was an equally major accomplishment, but this was the first time I had something I could send to my mom for her to brag about to her friends. (She's got an iPad now, and is totes web-savvy, but back then she was all about the paper media.)

A few months later, when I was in Washington state to visit family, I took a day trip down to the Knit Picks offices and met the whole gang down there, including Stacey, the IDP coordinator. I wore the original Agatha to meet them, of course, knowing I'd get props from them as fellow knitters...


That day was especially exciting because it just happened to be the day that Agatha became the first IDP pattern to pass the milestone of 1,000 copies sold! It's still one of their top sellers, I'm happy to say--and remains firmly in the top 3 for my patterns on Ravelry, both for copies sold and total number of projects from all users. Given that Knit Picks reaches a lot of non-Ravelers through their web site and mail-order business, I strongly suspect that more people have made Agatha than any of my other designs.

Over the years, that original Agatha was my go-to sweater on a daily basis. Being reversible was a major factor in that, I'm sure; I could strip it off one day and toss it on the next with a minimum of fuss and bother. Of course, that meant it also saw a LOT of was my favorite thing for pulling together an elegant outfit with a skirt and camisole, and also the perfect all-purpose extra layer on days that were a little too cool for a t-shirt but a little too warm for a fleece or a heavier pullover. This was how I eventually learned that singles yarn, while awfully soft, is also really pill-prone. My Agatha held up manfully, but it was inevitable that age and use would start to tell on the fine yarn I'd knit it with.  About a year and a half ago, Agatha made the transition to "evenings and weekends" status--OK for wearing to the Farmer's Market on a Sunday morning, or throwing on when I changed into jeans after work and before heading out to a casual dinner, but no longer something I'd want to wear to present a paper at a conference or teach a class. As the pills continued to multiply, and the elbows and underarms and center back got increasingly thin and felty, Agatha stayed soft and eminently wearable, so soon she was got further downgraded to my "geez it's chilly in this bedroom!" choice. She went great with my gray flannel pajama pants and my cat-hair-covered black fleece pants, or occasionally with my yoga pants when I biked to the studio on a breezy day for a Restorative class.

I should note that this transition has always been hard for me to make with favorite garments, and that it is an interative and gradual process, not an immediate one. I once had the following conversation with a coworker about my then-favorite black wool cardigan:

ME: Oh, crap, my button's coming off again.

Co-Worker: Yeah, it looks like you have a little hole there, too.

ME: I know. This sweater is totally my favorite, but I guess it's getting kind of ratty. I'm probably going to wear it until someone pulls me aside and tells me to stop.

Co-Worker: .....

ME: I should just stop wearing it now, huh?

Co-Worker: Yup.

So I will admit that I more than likely wore Agatha out in public for much longer than my normally acute shame-o-meter might have allowed. (I really gotta get that thing recalibrated...)

About nine months ago, after nearly three years of cat-hair accrual and continuous, year-round, and enthusiastic wear, after which it was often tossed on the foot of the bed, Agatha made a further step, this time to "cat nesting sweater." Our kitty Totoro has always been irresistibly drawn to anything sweaterlike left anywhere on the surface of the bed. In the time it takes to walk out of the room and come back in, he will be ON that sweater, feet firmly tucked under him in fresh-baked-loaf-of-cat position, showing no inclination to move. Who could fight something that cute? I'd just have to pull a different sweater from the pile on the shelf so he could stay put. And it made me feel better to not be giving Agatha UP for myself, but giving it TO my cats so that they could get the same enjoyment I had.

Last week, Totoro went to the vet for a check-up after having lost a noticeable amount of weight. His blood tests came back with wildly elevated creatinine levels, which along with some additional tests pointed to congenital (and incurable) kidney dysplasia. He spent the next several days in the hospital, getting his itty bitty kitty kidneys flushed with IV fluids and a course of antibiotics, while we waited to see if his numbers would respond to treatment and the crisis would pass. I brought Agatha with me to visiting hours so he'd have something that smelled and felt familiar in the midst of what was probably a very scary and stressful experience. You can just see the IV line leading off his leg at the bottom left of the picture below.

We brought him home again on Tuesday, and he's perking along, as my mom would say. We'll see how he does with periodic injections to keep him hydrated, continuing antibiotics, and some antacids to counteract the effects of his impaired kidney function. Our effort is to keep him relatively comfortable and interested in eating and living normally for as long as possible. Sadly, the damage that this renal crisis did (or just alerted us to) is progressive and irreversible. His kidneys are going to work harder and harder, with less and less effect; he'll get tired, drink and pee a lot, and lose whatever weight we do get back on him. Eventually--and who knows exactly when--we'll have to help Totoro have a peaceful and painless end.

Sweaters wear out, and so do living things. In the long run, it makes no difference how much we love them, nor whether we use them gently or harshly--there will come and end to it. Totoro's warmer and softer than any sweater I've ever knitted, obviously, so I'm expecting it to be much harder to say goodbye to him, and there won't be the same opportunity to move him progressively through everyday, "go-to" use to "evenings and weekends," either. I'm trying hard to accept the fact that he'll have to go straight to "cat nesting" status, and recognize that moment when it comes. After all, he's ALREADY covered in cat hair, which makes it a lot harder to tell...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Happy New Year, and congrats, contest winners!

Welcome to 2013--and congrats to the winners of the end-of-year giveaway draw, MJ and Barb!

Interestingly, MJ and Barb both posted about giving of themselves in a very specific, physical way--through blood donation and signing up with the bone marrow and tissue registry. That's something I've been meaning to do myself since moving back to Los Angeles in 2011, so this was a great motivator for me to go and join the Be the Match registry online. Consider signing up yourselves--it only takes a few minutes, and if you're young and in good health, being a tissue donor is one of many ways you can share that gift with others.

Barb and MJ, please email me directly with your mailing info, so I can get your copies of the first Sock Report volume sent off to you right away. (I'm reachable at TT820.B43 at gmail dot com, or via Ravelry--I'm TT820, if we're not already on one another's friends lists!) Be sure to let me know your favorite color and/or type of yarn so I can personalize the parcel for each of you, too. :-)

Although I could only pick two for the giveaway, I want you to know that ALL of your comments were inspiring--so much so that I'd like to give something to all of you in return. For the next week, you can use the coupon code IMAGIVER to get one free pattern download** from my Ravelry store! Thanks for being such generous people, and making such a positive difference in the world around you. I'm glad to know ya.

In the month or two ahead, you can expect some exciting things from me, including several new patterns, and a series of posts focusing on some of the trickier technical aspects of my existing designs. In the meantime, here's another teaser pic for an upcoming pattern release--the Chickpea blanket, also shown in my last post. This was designed for my friends' new baby, and I think it's PRETTY clear that she likes it...also, that she could NOT be cuter. That little yellow onesie just kills me; I wish it came in adult sizes.


**The fine print: This promo expires at midnight, PST on January 12. Limit one free pattern per user; you need not be a Raverly user to download. In the interest of simplicity for me, it's on the honor system, but capped at 34, the total number of if you DIDN'T post a comment last week, please don't steal a download from someone who did! You'll have other chances to get freebies from me in 2013, I promise. :-)