I snipped threads that were made decades ago. I had to. That was the only way to release the aging canvas from the prison of nails that held it to its old wooden frame.
I sewed my crewel-work version of Gauguin’s “Nafea Faa ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?)” many years ago as an entry in an art contest when I was 13. My mother had a print of the famous painting from the artist’s Tahitian period and it had always captivated me with its bold, colorful depiction of exotic beauty and youth. Unbeknownst to me, mom kept my old hand-sewn version, moving it from place to place over the years, leaving it in a closet or propped up against a wall.
When she asked me to re-frame it earlier this year, I was surprised that the long-ago piece even still existed, I having not seen it for some time. “Of course,” I said. “I’ll see what I can do with it.”
Although there were some areas needing repair, I gave myself a quiet little psychological pat on the back for how well I captured the lines and shadows of the picture. Instead of re-framing the picture, I wanted to renew it. I looked through my stash for yarn that was a fair approximation of the colors in the places that needed to be re-sewn; not easy when the original source of the yarn was the giant wall of bright acrylics at Woolworth’s. Actual wool and alpaca would have to do.
First up, a sponge bath with a mild wool wash. After drying, sew-sew-sew. Lastly, stretch the canvas on a new frame and finish the back, preparing it to hang proudly in my mother’s home once again.
It’s been renewed and re-gifted. Happy Mother’s Day, mom!
Sketches and swatches
Design images float free
Leaving me at sea.
My head and my sketch pad are positively volcanic explosions of ideas! I can’t show any of them as it wouldn’t be proper etiquette, according to the considered opinion of other knitwear designers. What I can do is speak in general terms about the submission process and – at least for me – the difficulty of translating visual ingenuity into a workable written pattern.
Most publications want 3 things: a sketch, a swatch, and a story describing the design and why someone would be compelled to knit or crochet your creation. Sounds simple enough, right? Yes and no. If you think the 15 days between the time the request for submissions is announced and the day the design is due is just about sketching and swatching, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Test swatches also require you to figure out the placement and rate of increases and decreases. Easy enough if your fabric is straight stocking or garter stitch. Oh, you’ve designed a beautiful 16-row, 20-stitch lace repeat into your garment? Your design life just became substantially more complicated unless you can easily answer the question of how you plan on incorporating increases in pattern, as well as matching any construction requirements of the garment to the stitch pattern.
This is why it’s wise to plan a two-pronged attack when it comes to submission deadlines. Why? Suppose your design is selected. Congratulations! You’ll have to make up a sample for the publisher using your pattern. Oh, you don’t have a pattern? If you’ve successfully sold your vision without at least the shell of a pattern and copious notes to back it up, you may have just stalled out your budding career as a designer. The publisher is counting on you and you’ve just put them – and yourself – behind schedule. No one wants to scramble at the last minute because you failed to plan appropriately.
You have a few of choices if this is your first time shopping this design around:
- Ratchet back some of the fantastic design features, especially if you need to create unusual fabric patterning from scratch.
- Give yourself time to the let the design (and your skills) mature so that you might come closer to matching your unique vision to a workable reality.
- Work off your own timeline and go the self-publishing route.
I’ve done a half-dozen or so patterns so I have a small taste of the difficulty inherent to creating repeatable, consistent instructions. However, as much as I wish it were so, design for professional submission requires more than pretty pictures. It also requires dedication, skill, and vision. It wouldn’t hurt to grow a thick skin to bear up under inevitable rejection, either. Despite all of this, I knit and crochet on. Hopeful.
How do you manage to meet the demands of the design process? Perhaps I’ve overlooked something. I’d be grateful if you’re willing to share your insight.
At some point, it becomes impossible to play catch-up. I’d say that two years since my last blog post falls in that “impossible” column. The task then becomes to determine exactly what makes the highlight reel. Let’s play this LIFO-style.
Not only was YarnCon, Chicago’s indie fiber fair, better than ever in its new home at Plumbers Hall, I was actually invited to teach one of the workshops. Who doesn’t love learning a couple of new crochet stitches. Bullion or bobbles, anyone?
So many friends – old and new (I’m looking at you, Susan). And yarn. Lots of yarn. I did what I could to support the local crafting economy with a couple of judicious purchases (Carpool Yarns, Happy Fuzzy Yarns, The Wool Dispensary, Piddleloop project bags)
My body was one giant ache but my spirits were light and happy. I got to spend the day playing with my peeps.
Never let it be said that I’m a prude. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t hesitate when a friend asked if anyone would be willing to make her some pasties as she’d need them for a burlesque show audition. Yep. Pasties. I did a little research, asked a few pertinent questions. My friend was happy with the result. Sadly, her dreams of dance stardom will have to wait for now. Maybe if I’d made the blue ones with silk ribbon instead…
Hats, scarves, even a couple of capelets have come off the needles in the past two years. I really enjoyed the near-instant gratification of turning Malabrigo Rasta into Ovate - so much so that I made two of them. But my adaptation of the Ruffled Collar Capelet remains one of my favorite things.
The pattern calls for Artyarns but since I had none in stash, I went with Rowan ASC in Concrete. It actually mimics the color of the pattern capelet, just not as drapey or refined. I found some slubbed cotton with a silver thread runing through it (also in stash) to add texture interest to the collar and the bottom of the capelet. I even added a row of clear beads, giving the finished piece the look of snow hanging off the bottom.
Other creative endeavors
Yes, there are other things besides knitting and crocheting. I’ve been writing a little and ─ wait for it ─ painting! I was getting a sip of water at the local art center drinking fountain when I happened to see a card announcing a juried exhibition. At first I dismissed it as an impossibility: there was only one week before the deadline and they probably wanted “real” artists anyway. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my defeatist inner voice. I had three canvases lying about, collecting dust. All they could do is say, “No.” Good thing I checked the spam folder or else I might have deleted the email announcing that I’d been accepted for the show.
What happens going forward? I’d say it all depends on how well I can focus my splintered creative mind-beams. There will always be a story to be written, a picture to be painted or ─ hey ─ is that a new kind of yarn? I might have the perfect design for that…
Strata Fingerless Gloves
I thought for sure that my friend T’s Rikke would spell the last of my winter knitting. I figured that she’d have very few chances to wear her hat, which was the last of a 3-piece gift: Rikke, Strata (from “Knitting New Mittens and Gloves”) and Eleanor.
Har-dee-har-har. There is actual snow on the car hoods this morning. Not much but it was snow! The average temperature for this date is supposed to be closer to 60 degrees (F) than to 32. Not funny, weather gods. Well, at least I don’t feel so bad about talking up my woolly adventures with alpaca(s). That, and a mug of coffee should warm me up – some.
Details of Strata and Rikke
The plan was to knit accompanying pieces that went together but that did not necessarily match.
I made the first layer of Strata with Blue Sky Alpaca sport weight in Capri blue. This was my first foray into making fingers although I’ve made an uncountable number of mittens and fingerless mitts in my time. It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. The only caveat? Make sure to save a bit of yarn to stitch up and secure any gaps between the digits. The fingerless cream-colored Plymouth Indiecita alpaca top layer was a breeze by comparison. The only digit required is the thumb.
A Winter Ensemble
And Rikke makes three.
I thought the German Twisted Cast-on would be difficult. At least it looked complicated the first time I saw the YouTube videos. I recommend watching 2 or 3 to get the hang of it as each person explains a little differently. How this cast-on manages to be both firm and stretchy is beyond me. I’ll chalk it up to a touch of knitting magic!
The only issue I had (and I’m not sure why) was snugging up the stitches when switching needles during the decreases. I took corrective measures with a tapestry needle afterwards.
For T’s Rikke, I cast on using the remainder of the KSD from Knitty’s Eleanor, completed in mid-November 2010. The 100 yards of remaining yarn formed the first 3 inches of Rikke. The body of the hat was done using Blue Sky Alpacas sportweight in the Capri colorway, held double with cream-colored Plymouth alpaca. Once that ran out, the crown of the hat and remaining decreases were done in cream-colored alpaca only. I love how it turned out!
Oh, and did I mention I made one for myself? Except mine was made from one skein of bellamoden’s sport weight yarn in the Fahrenheit 451 colorway. This hat, along with my version of Stephen West’s Boneyard shawl became my “go to” gear this past winter. Both have seen a good bit of wear but they still look fantastic.
Who doesn’t love an adventure?
Have you ever thought about adopting an alpaca? Well, that’s exactly what a group of friends did for Pirate Alice’s birthday (erstwhile alpaca farmer back story). We would occasionally talk about going to the farm where her alpaca lives but it was talk that came to naught. That is, until the fates intervened during the Chicago Auto Show. A media blogger friend of ours was given an SUV for a week and AlpacaQuest was ON! The four hours to the White Violet Farms in southern Indiana were worth it to see and feel the wool on the hoof, so to speak. It was a chilly rain and mud kind of day but with these faces, no one was complaining!
Stephen West at Loopy Yarns
And West is West – Stephen West, that is. Don’t know what you may have heard about this talented 22 year old designer, but I find his take on the humble shawl new, simple and fresh. How someone came fashion stockinette, garter stitch and geometry into flattering shape and movement is beyond me. A bit of hyperbole? Maybe. There is, however, no denying the modern beauty of his designs.
One of West’s first designs, the Boneyard Shawl, was my first of his knits as well. Of course, I had to wear it to his recent book signing and trunk show at Chicago’s Loopy Yarns. Lanky, unassuming and a bit shy, West seemed grateful for the welcome home after spending the past few months in Amsterdam. Somehow between studying dance, he published two collections of designs. The first book focuses on shawls and scarves, while book two branches into hats and mitts. I do love a trunk show because you can touch the fabric and see how the choices of color impact the design. You know where I’m going with this. It also tempts you to a) buy the patterns and b) buy the yarn to make them.
Fortunately, my yarn stash is deep so the problem of yarn-to-knits ratio is moot. I did gave in to Book One but just so you know, the patterns can also be purchased individually, either through WestKnits or directly through Ravelry.
These three will make it into my Ravelry queue sometime this year: Akimbo, Daybreak and Pogona. If you like Daybreak or Akimbo, be aware that they were among West’s first design releases and are therefore NOT included in either of his book collections.
There are still one or two things I want to make before any one of these hit the needles. February may be nearing an end but we’re still subject to wet and cold in Chicago.
WestKnits: Akimbo, Daybreak, Pogona
Venezia Boneyard Shawl
I’m trying really very hard to keep my hands busy doing anything but snacking. Looks like knitting is filling the gap at the moment. This shawl took me a little over one week to knit. Granted, it’s not fancy but one week. A shawl. Me? Never happened before. I must really want that box of Four Cheese Cheez-its. Knit, purl, knit, purl.
I might be paying the price for knitting-as-snack substitution, with finger numbness and an aching shoulder but I get a lovely prize at the end of it all. The silk merino wool blend I used blocks easily and drapes divinely.
Pattern: Stephen West’s Boneyard Shawl (Ravelry)
Yarn: 2 skeins Cascade Venezia in Hot Pepper
Needle: Size 8US circular
Instead of the left and right M1 called for in the pattern, I substituted yarn overs along the center and edges. I also took a cue from another Raveler with respect to the picot bind-off. The original pattern instructs you to knit a number of garter rows before doing the standard bind-off. Nothing wrong with that at all.
I went all ooh-la-la when I saw this version though. About three garter rows, then the grinding task of “cable cast on 2 stitches, bind off 4.” I’m not sure how many stitches I had by the time I decided enough with the 12-row stockinette sections. What I can tell you it that it took me over 2 hours to complete the picot process. Hard work. Really hard work but not so much that I wouldn’t consider doing it again. Just not right now, okay?
Another reason I’m seeing red is that February is American Heart Health month. The Go Red for Women campaign targets women with the latest recommendations for heart health. This year, updated guidelines rely less on dry clinical research and more on real-life situations and challenges. My father died as a result of heart disease. I’m making lifestyle changes that should go a long way toward keeping me around a bit longer. Go Red urges you to “Tell 5. Save Lives.” Consider this my due diligence.
My next door neighbor’s son, Colin, turns 3 years old on Monday. Until late this morning, he had no idea that his mom and I were cooking up a surprise for him in the form of a handmade scarf. Mom said it shouldn’t be too long because she didn’t want it to wrap around his neck too many times. She also said he preferred a neutral color – something in cream or beige tones. The main thing was that it be appropriate for a little boy. What? No crocheted rosettes? Guess not.
Thank you stash deities for the machine-washable aran weight Jaeger Matchmaker still in the original packaging. Perfect color and weight. I never gave a thought to searching for a pattern. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been on a seed stitch tear. Since color was not the star here, I reasoned that texture would add visual interest. My only other consideration was that the pattern be reversible since being tied “just so” is not part of a child’s clothing vocabulary. This is what came off the needles on Friday:
Colin's New Scarf
Yarn: (2) 90 yd. balls of Jaeger Matchmaker (discontinued) in Light Neutral
Needles: Size 7US
Finished size: 36″ x 5″
I cast on an even number of stitches – enough to create an approximately 5″ wide scarf. After a couple of establishing garter stitch rows, I started the 4-row American Moss Stitch. Didn’t know it beforehand but there is apparently a British Moss Stitch the looks suspiciously like a 2-row seed stitch to me. Eh. What do I know.
After 11 inches, my attention wandered and I found myself flipping the yarn back and forth, doing the regular seed stitch and screwing up the nice diagonals I had going with Monsieur Moss. I gave myself a little break in the form of about 3 inches of garter stitch, then it was back to moss for 5 inches. Tack on 3 more inches of garter then end with a final 11 inches of moss stitch. If you followed the math, I knit the scarf in thirds:
11 Moss + (3 Garter + 5 Moss + 3 Garter) +11 Moss = 33 inches of scarf
A cool water Eucalan bath and some light blocking turned those 33 inches into 36 inches as the stitches relaxed and lengthened. Speaking of math, everything apparently added up correctly because I get the feeling Colin really likes his new scarf!
Happy Birthday, Colin
January? I hardly knew ya and now in marches February, all brash and bold and blizzard-brained. Good thing I was well-stocked with yarn and Diet Coke because knitting definitely took place even though there’s no bloggish evidence.
Exhibit One: Leah’s Baby Jumper. Seven pound Leah was born December 31st. Leah is my friend Stacy’s first child and I just had to make sure she started the New Year right with her very first hand knit.
Leah's Baby Jumper
Yarn: Rowan Polar (discontinued) in pale blue; used a skosh over 1 skein
Needles: Size 13 US
Notions: One yard of .5 inch velvet ribbon in French blue from M&J Trimming I love this store for buttons, trims – almost any embellishment.
Since Polar is not quite as bulky as the Blue Sky Alpacas yarn called for in the pattern, I made up the difference by using smaller needles (size 13 instead of 17) and casting on more stitches for the size 1 jumper (66 stitches instead of 60).
Exhibits Two and Three: Tweed Houndstooth Mittens and Seedy Alpaca Mittens. I jumped-started my January knitting by signing up for a Mitten Knit-along on Ravelry. I wanted to do at least one pair and decided to challenge myself by creating mittens I’d only seen in my imagination.
Tweed Houndstooth Mittens
Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed in Rage, less than 1 skein; Beaverslide 1-ply light sport weight in Mountain Midnight.
Needles: Size 3US Addi circulars
Pattern: My own
This was a fun one – a bit frustrating at first but ultimately a real learning experience. Some time ago, I’d done a swatch of houndstooth from Book One of Barbara Walker’s stitch dictionaries. The problem with this fantastic resource is that the stitch patterns are not written with circular knitting in mind. My first lesson from this project was to convert one of the simpler stitch patterns. I chose “Houndstooth Check” on page 90 . For me, the key to successful conversion lies in 1) picking a pattern that doesn’t require more than one type of wrong-side stitch and 2) being able to “read the knitting” and chart it. Others say that you merely knit the purls and purl the knits to replicate the wrong-side with only right-side knitting.
Circular version: D = dark color. L = light color.
Row 1 D1, L1, D2
Row 2 D1, L3
Row 3 L3, D1
Row 4 D2, L1, D1
I also learned how to do an afterthought thumb (check out KnitPicks YouTube tutorials), as well as the rudiments of Continental (picking) instead of English (throwing) my knitting. I found it so much easier to manage two-color knitting this way. I was able to maintain tension and keep the floats tangle free. Like I said, a fun project that added to my knitting repertoire – and to my collection of mittens. They fit snuggly and have a rustic feel to them. Tweed is good.
Seedy Alpaca Mittens
I really wanted to do a second pair of mittens, what with the Houndstooth mittens taking so long. Darn that lightweight yarn. Enter 2 hanks of long-ago stashed Catalina Chunky Baby Alpaca (also discontinued).
I started someone else’s pattern using size 10US needles but didn’t like the results. When you get handed lemons, wing it! I had to work my way down to size 8’s to get a decent enough tension to keep the soft (but no memory) ribbing relatively secure. I decided to do the palm in stockinette and the back of the hand in seed stitch. You’ve gotta feel these mittens. Delightful!
Somebody stop me! Seed stitch (or cousin Moss Stitch) has cut a wide swath through me at the moment. I’m working on a scarf for my next door neighbor’s 3 year old. He’s just too adorable and his mom says he needs a new scarf. This is an offer I cannot refuse, especially if I get some Bulgogi as a reward (smacks lips expectantly).
Food, glorious food. It becomes a bit difficult to reconcile a 1500 calorie per day diet with anything even vaguely delicious, but the doctors say I must. I’ve started keeping a food journal that tracks not only calories but percentages of fat, sodium, carbs and the like. I’m also on the look-out for simple, healthy recipes like the turkey meatloaf and herb roasted potatoes I made recently. I’m even learning how to make brown rice which, for me, is still very much a work in progress. Any suggestions for entrees?
While you mull that over, take a look at my latest documentary, “Catnip Wars.”
Fresh ginger syrup
I looked out the window as the ginger syrup simmered. I decided to try a different sort of homemade gift this year, based on the recipe from Mags Kandis’ “Gifted”. I sliced an orange and added the pieces along with the zest to the mix, giving the syrup a more citrusy taste to add a different note to the bite of ginger. Italian glass bottles dressed in red crocheted circle ties about the neck of the bottle went home with my friends – a perfect end to an afternoon of mulled wine, loud singing and an evening of salsa, chips and hockey! Yep. Chicago won. Another gift.
My friend is an aunt again – this time it’s a boy. Another friend is impatiently waiting for her daughter to arrive. The gifts of life. And hand knits. Is there such a thing as too many handmade gifts?
Whether friend or stranger, there is always a need for the work of our hands which is why I’d like to tip my hat to the Crafty Angels. They send the gift of warmth and caring to people in need in the Chicago area and around the world.
Finally, I am grateful for you even though most of us have never met. You’ve given me the gift of your time and talent; you’ve given me your trust. Y’all do kind of rock. I’m a lucky duck.
Let It Snow!
Ginger scents the air
Snowflakes blow sideways outdoors
Wet boots stand empty.
Seasons change; new life
New year and promise of hope.
Yuletide gifts to you!
Red Java Slouchy Beret
I am a serial knitter. At least I became one in the last month. I committed to starting AND finishing three pieces to accompany an old (but still unworn) orange, brown and cream tweed cape. Two you already know about: Malabrigo Arm Thingies (Ravelry) and Malabrigo Neck Thingie (Ravelry). The newbie is Natalie Larson’s wonderfully slouchy cabled beret, Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret. The only change I made to this easy, cabled hat was to double the rows of k1, p1 ribbing.
Like they say on the infomercials, “That’s not all!” I’ve even resurrected a project started almost two years ago. Despite good intentions (and a cheat), I’ve never even come close to finishing the beautiful knitted lace Honeybunch (Ravelry). I picked it up last week and have made it to the 75% mark. Christmas? I really, really hope so. Must. Stay. Focused.
The only thing standing in the way (at least in my sometimes unrealistic head) is a baby gift. It’s getting down to the wire for the baby’s birthday and I need something quick, thick and chunky. I’ve thrown out the idea of finishing the beautiful vintage baby dress – for now, at least. I’m trending toward a jumper in some long-discontinued Rowan bulky yarn. I knit it before so it should be a slam dunk.
I know I promised to get a shot of me wearing the cape and the knits all together. Monday’s chilly weather and a trip to the courtyard of the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue offered the perfect opportunity.
Baby, It's Cold Outside