Wednesday, January 31, 2007

About colorways

At Stitches East last year, I helped a customer who was looking for Koigu. She was a very nice woman and she came clutching a Vogue Knitting in her hand, one that featured a beautiful multi-colored garment designed by one of the Koigu ladies. She also had a handwritten list of the color numbers and quantities used in the sample shown in the magazine. She handed me the list and asked which of these colors we had.

The simple answer was that I had no idea, nor did anyone in the booth (except maybe Lisa, whose steel-trap mind can recognize some colorways of Koigu; you’ve haven’t lived until you’ve trawled a yarn festival with Lisa, only to have her stop mid-sentence and dash over to a nearby booth, saying over her shoulder “I think they’ve got 107B!”)

But we generally don’t pay much attention to color numbers or dyelots with Koigu because it’s a handpainted yarn created by artists. Even skeins from the same dye lot can look drastically different, and skeins from different dye lots in the same (alleged) colorway often look very different too. I tried to explain this to the customer, but she just couldn’t wrap her mind around it. She settled for searching through each bin of Koigu, examining the tags carefully for color numbers. She found maybe three of the ones she was looking for. We offered to help her find alternatives that would look good, but she refused. She went on to the next booth, after carefully crossing off the ones she had purchased, confident that she could replicate the list by the end of the weekend.

I haven’t seen this customer again, so I don’t know whether she found all the ones on her list. But I would bet serious money on the fact that when her Holy Grail of Koigu quest is done, and the garment is complete, it isn’t going to look exactly like the one in the magazine.

When you’re a new knitter, you invariably discover the importance of dye lots when it comes to commercially-dyed yarns. Sadly, this often happens when you start a project, run out of the yarn you originally bought, and get more. Happily you knit along until you notice that the last part of the sweater is a noticeably different shade than the first part. Then some kind soul takes pity on you and explains why it’s best to purchase all yarn for a single project dyed in the same batch, or dye lot. Why? Because variations in the dyeing process – even when commercial mills do it – can make the same shade of the same yarn look like a different color if the dye lots are different.*

This is particularly true of hand-painted yarns. Even if I take careful notes of the exact process I used – dye colors and proportions, the way I apply the dye, and so forth – I still can end up with two strikingly different batches of yarn that are supposed to be the same “colorway.” There are just too many variables, many of them intangible (perhaps different skeins of the same yarn were made from the wool of different sheep, or maybe one batch soaked longer, or maybe the strength of the dye varies slightly from container to container. I could think of a dozen more variables like that.).**

For this reason, when I do stuff for Black Bunny Fibers, I don’t profess to have a set of regular “colorways” nor do I profess to be able to exactly repeat any given set of colors. I can take a shot at it, and I might produce something that looks pretty close, but I can’t guarantee it. There are certain batches that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt I can’t replicate, because I sometimes mix all sorts of dyes together and it would be impossible to ever mix the same batches in the same ways again without taking painful copious notes – and at the risk of sounding like a smacked ass, part of the fun for me is playing around and seeing what I come up with. You know, following my muse and all that.

Still, I do struggle with the issue of replication. I frequently get emails from people saying “Hey, are you going to dye up any more of that [fill in the blank] colorway?” And I’d like to accommodate them, and I try, but it doesn’t always work out. Part of what makes my stuff unique (I hope) is the way I do it and becoming too anal about that would, I think, make my stuff more generic. This is not meant as an apology but simply an explanation.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when it comes to handpainted yarns, particularly from small producers like me, try to ease up on the expectations. Sure, it may be comfortable and predictable to believe that your garment will look exactly like the one you saw, or that your skein will look exactly like the one on etsy. But isn’t it also kind of cool knowing that you have a skein that, by definition, is unique in all the world? Isn’t there something exciting about diving into the color and putting aside your -- or someone else's -- preconceived notions about it? Is making a mistake or getting something different than you anticipated such a horrible thing, or is it an inevitable byproduct of using unique yarns and fibers?

That was what I tried to explain to the Stitches customer. She’s probably still going from yarn shop to yarn shop, though, desperately trying to score 3 skeins of color 375 rather than trusting her own instincts about what she likes and what she thinks looks good.

*I learned this while knitting a baby blanket for my oldest kid. I ran out of cream cotton yarn and was stuck taking a different dye lot. When some friends came over and were admiring the blanket, my husband’s asshole observant friend said “Oh, look at the stripe in the blanket!” Yep, it was where the two dye lots diverged.

**In fact, even two skeins which are dyed together as part of the same dye lot, exactly alike in every controllable way, may look different – startlingly so – when you knit them up. This freaks a lot of people out, but it’s inevitable when it comes to yarns that are individually dyed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More crafty oddness

You wouldn't think that an order of nuns, given that whole "poverty, chastity and obedience" vow, would engage in Enron-like financial hijinks. However, a gaggle of Greek sisters is now on the run after incurring debt by purchasing knitting machines so they could sell knitted goods:
The order, whose 55 members have been described as a "feisty crowd", are believed to have run up the debt after splashing out on six industrial knitting machines to produce woollens that became highly popular with the local community around their convent, close to the Greek-Bulgarian border. They apparently sold products to some 25 chains around Greece. Store owners complained that the nuns had also run off with a substantial amount in pocketed deposits. Apparently they removed their equipment a few days before they disappeared.

Greece's authoritative Kathimerini newspaper reported that the knitting business began to unravel when the nuns accrued massive debts after attending foreign fashion shows in a bid to keep up with the latest designs in woollen garments. They are then believed to have mortgaged the monastery of Kyrikos and Ioulittis to the hilt to pay off the debt.

The full story is here. I must admit to snickering when I think of the nuns sitting by the runways of Milan, taking notes on fashion trends. (Do you think they were at Pitti Filati?)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

This just in...

Vanna White, TV's favorite letter-turner and avid crocheter, introduced her new yarn yesterday in California. Described as a "premium quality basic yarn," Vanna's Choice will be marketed by Lion Brand Yarn Company. No further details available at press time.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Spring preview: Rowan

It's that time again: a few weeks before the new Rowan Magazine will come out. Even though there's still plenty of winter left in this hemisphere of the world [updated to remove my Northern-Hemisphere-normativity, with apologies to M-H], and there's still plenty of time to wear all those sweaters and socks we've been knitting on, we are daydreaming about spring. Here is some of what I was able to glean about the spring '07 line from Rowan and its sister companies, RYC and Jaeger. Get ready to drool.

Let's start with new yarns:
  • Damask, which is DK weight, is a blend of 57% viscose, 21% acrylic and 22% linen, a yarn with slightly different color plies and a fairly dressy look.

  • Bamboo Tape is a, well, tape made out of bamboo. (No duh, right?) 100% bamboo, in fact, and around worsted weight, with its own book of designs by Marie Wallin and Martin Storey. Looks like a chained construction. Think drape, more relaxed fit than we've seen, and that gorgeous bamboo sheen.

Summer Tweed gets some new colors for '07, along with The Kasbah Collection, a booklet featuring 12 new designs in Summer Tweed -- including some stripes, an assymetric cardigan with a keyhole opening in the front (?), and what appears to be a lacy dress.

Four new shades of Kid Silk Haze -- biscuit, black, frosty lavender and a dusty sage; an updating of the Handknit DK Cotton palette with ten new colors; a couple of new colors in Cotton Rope, Cotton Glace, Calmer and 4-ply Cotton.

Magazine No. 41, thankfully, looks a bit more traditional and accessible than last year's Maori abomination. Some of the preview shots show a pink cardigan, 3/4 sleeves and a wide V-neck, with ruffle and embroidery trim photographed in Ye Olde English Greenhouse; a lovely lace stole which looks like it's in Kid Silk Haze, photographed in Ye Olde English Meadowe of Wildeflowers; some nautical stripes (shot near Ye Olde English Coaste?); a stylized intarsia throw (or maybe a very large and drapey jacket -- it's hard to tell from the shot -- that has Kaffe written all over it (oh God, how embarrassing it will be if I'm wrong....);

and a muted striped short-sleeve sweater with some chevron patterning.

(Anyone else notice that she's giving us Yanks the one-fingered salute?)

From RYC, we've also got some new yarns and books:
  • Cotton Jeans, a worsted-weight, 100% cotton in an interesting palette of sort of subtly-marled variations in color. Reminds me a little of Debbie Bliss's Denim Cotton Aran, but not quite as heavy. Coast is a collection of 15 designs by Martin Storey featuring Cotton Jeans and Natural Silk Aran (we've got the Natural Silk Aran at Rosie's, and it's a very pretty yarn).
  • Bamboo Soft, a sportweight 100% bamboo, soft and beautiful, with a sheen and lots of drape. Twelve colors, including some neutrals and deep, complex pastels. Nature is the pattern book -- also by the uber-talented Martin Storey -- using Bamboo Soft as well as Luxury Cotton DK.
  • Mother & Baby is yet another new book with 17 knitting designs by-- you guessed it, Martin Storey. Looks like a mix of moms' and kids' designs in Natural Silk Aran and the Cashes (Cashcotton 4-ply, Cashsoft DK and Cashsoft Baby DK). Look at this cute baby blanket, reminiscent of some older Debbie Bliss patterns:

That'll get you over your fear of intarsia. New colors in Cashcotton 4-ply and DK; Luxury Cotton DK: and Natural Silk Aran.

Jaeger is continuing its more contemporary sensibility, while still keeping the professional woman in mind. On the casual side, JB43 features several cardigans with lacy and ruffly edgings, a short-sleeved sweater with some kind of patterning across the chest, and a tunic, also showing a lot of cool pastels.

I'm a little troubled by the furry trim on some of these garments --

-- it's like, so 2003, -- but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. For the workplace, JB44 has some sweaters and jackets that one could conceivably wear to the office, depending on your dress code, like a black and white Chanel-esque number. The only new Jaeger yarn I see is called Ascot, which is an interesting blend of 85% viscose, 15% elite (which is elastic like Lycra). It knits as a DK and looks pebbly the way Fixation does. New colors have been added in Aqua and Siena 4-ply.

I haven't gotten any hints about Nashua's new line (hint, hint) but as soon as I do, I'll update you. Now get back to those wool socks and finish those sweaters while you still have time to wear them, missy and mister. I'm off to, gulp, the Dubya-Bee (W-B, or Wilkes-Barre, for the blessedly uninitiated).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Shattered snow showers

This will surprise those of you who live in places that have actually seen some serious winter weather, but my kids are absolutely dying for a good snow. We here in the Philadelphia area didn't see a single flake until last week, when some light snow showers thrilled everyone. Here is Miss Thing trying to catch some snowflakes on her tongue:

(She has a pointy little reptile tongue, no?)

Earlier this week, we had another unexpected snow shower and it made the whole world look so pretty. It was the perfect amount, barely a covering but enough to give everything a little buttercream frosting. We may get an inch or two tonight; as G. told me, they are predicting "shattered snow showers."

Things were pretty quiet here at home -- the kid back in their school routine, me noticing a sharp increase in my energy level. Which is odd, considering what time of year it is. This is partly because I think I'm getting closer to the end rather than the beginning of my Lyme, and partly because I joined a new gym and have been exercising pretty regularly.

Then on Tuesday, I got a call from my mom, who had experienced chest pains and was sent directly to the hospital, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. In today's world of crapful health plans, the notion that her doctor would see her and immediately check her in to the hospital struck me as ominous. After doing a battery of tests, it was decided she did not have a heart attack and was sent home. I am planning on driving upstate, God have mercy on me, to visit her this weekend.

As far as actual knitted objects, I've been primarily working on stuff for the book. Which, sadly, I can't show you yet. There's been a lot of thinking and planning and graphing out, and some ripping back, too. But our first deadline is rapidly approaching and so panic is setting in. I've been trying to keep some small, mindless projects on the side for times when I need a break or am knitting away from home. I'm nearly finished with a sweater that I originally intended to give to N., but upon seeing how much he dislikes wearing sweaters, even bee-yoo-tiful handmade ones, I may revisit what to do with it. What I'm really yearning to work on is socks. I've got some great sock yarns queued up in my stash and I'm going to cast something on soon, dammit.

Plus it's hard to keep my hands off my own handiwork. To wit, "Reckless,"

part of tomorrow's etsy update.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Follow-up: Charity Knitting

A couple of months ago I wrote a review of Knitting for Peace, a book devoted to what is sometimes called "charity knitting." It amazes me that I still get commenters from latecomers who have just discovered that post. In fact, I got one just about two weeks ago, and it went like this:

I was disappointed by the negative and even spiteful comments about people who knit for charity. There's enough vileness in this world already without adding to it.
It's not about ego or "ugly yarn" it's about doing something to make the world a better place.

Indeed, most of the latecomer comments are in this vein, e.g.:

I never thought I would see the day that there would be some sort of "controversy" or argument over charity. Especially the comment about a friend (with good taste?) who recieved a prayer shawl and her saying she wonders what he did with the "acryllic wonder", wow, I would be ashamed of that comment. A lot of love and hope for wishing him well went into that shawl, and hopefully he came through all right, and came through with a sense of thankfulness that strangers were thinking good thoughts for him.

This is WHY we need a book like Knitting for Peace (charity, etc) because peoples hearts have become so guarded, jaded and self interested, that we NEED instruction books for being kind and giving humans. :(

I have to say that this perplexes me a bit. There seems to be a sentiment that simply because the topic of the book is "charitable," any objective review of the book, particularly any criticism, is mean-spirited, and, likewise, that since charity knitting is A Good Thing, any discussion that is not all hearts and sunshine and :)s is mean or cynical.

Does a knitter have to participate in knitting for others to be a nice person? Or is it possible to be a kind, giving person concerned for others who simply does not to wish to participate in knitting charities? Maybe you'd rather give money or do things for people who live in your own community, like work in a soup kitchen, rather than knit stuff to mail halfway across the world. Does that make your giving acts less "good"? Or maybe you have limited time to knit and feel you'd prefer to knit for yourself or your family and friends. Does that make you selfish? or just someone with limited time who prefers to knit for her/himself or her/his family and friends?

If you do choose to participate in knitting charities, isn't it entirely appropriate to keep your focus on the intended recipient of the knitted item? Isn't it possible to say "Yes, I like to participate in knitting for others but only where I know the item will be needed and useful"? If you knit lacy pink hats for The Ship's Project, when they tell you over and over again that they can't use lacy pink hats for the mostly-male recipients and the coordinator ends up throwing them in the trash, is the fact that you knit something for someone else all that counts? If you knit scarves patterned like the American flag, and some kid in Afghanistan might get shot for wearing it, is that okay because, well, beggars can't be choosers, or because we're all being "too politically correct" these days? And can't we discuss these issues without being accused of cynicism or "vileness" -- or without being judged harshly by those who like knitting for charities?

I guess what I'm trying to put my finger on is the narcissism that I sometimes (of course, not always) see in the context of knitting for others (not to mention the heavy-duty judgment being laid on those who don't believe such causes are worthwhile or who simply choose not to participate). Knitting what you want to knit rather than what is needed. Sending stuff to get rid of it, or because it isn't "nice enough" to give to someone you know. Ignoring the guidelines or requirements that the organization sets out because you assume everyone in the world thinks like you -- or because it makes you feel all rosy inside because you're Doing Something For Others. If you are going to participate in knitting for others, then oughtn't you do it right? Or is it still all sugar and spice and everything nice when fifty lacy pink berets end up in a trashcan?

Monday, January 22, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Knits from a Painter's Palette (a.k.a. The Koigu Book)

Koigu is one of those yarns that has a rabid following and an almost mystical appeal. A handdyed merino yarn, in fingering weight (or thereabouts), it's nearly impossible to define its appeal or do justice describing its colors. Solid Koigu colors – which vary in shade and should be called nearly-solids – are rich and interesting. And the multis? Wow. Even colors I don't usually like or combinations of colors that seem unlikely somehow attract me when they're done in Koigu. Koigu is incredibly versatile, too. You can knit it at a variety of different gauges and it always looks great: tight for socks, loose for lace, add a strand of Kid Silk Haze for luster, or double it for faster knitting. See? A couple of sentences into this review, and I'm already kvelling about Koigu.

I know there are some knitters who don't feel the Koigu love. Maybe it's one of those things where you either passionately love Koigu or you just don't get it, no middle ground. When it comes to Maie Landra's new book, Knits from a Painter's Palette: Modular Masterpieces in Handpainted Yarns (Sixth & Spring Books 2006; MRSP $24.95), I suspect that your attitude toward Koigu will color your opinion of this book: people like me, who can’t get enough Koigu, will love it. Those few unfortunate souls who don’t particularly care for Koigu are unlikely to go wild for a book devoted entirely to this one yarn.

Knits from a Painter's Palette is a good-sized book, hardcover, and full of color photographs -- I mean, how could you do a Koigu book without zillions of color photographs? The endpapers show bins of luscious Koigu yarns and the pages are edged with close-up shots of Koigu strands. The book is wider than it is tall, and this works well, giving extra page width for the photos and diagrams of this visually striking yarn with plenty of white space to go easy on the eyes.

As for content, the book begins with an essay called "The World of Koigu," which tells about the background of Maie and Taiu Landra, discusses how Koigu came into being and describes how Koigu is created today. The next section contains some pointers for selecting Koigu colors, along with a "Stitch Workshop" that demonstrates Maie's modular techniques, including some photographs of shapes in various stages of knitting.The remainder of the book is devoted to patterns.

It's hard to generalize about the patterns. They aren't divided into sections, but rather are presented in a fairly random manner, one after another. The most significant thing they have in common is, of course, Koigu. But of the 22 patterns (some designs include multiple coordinating garments, like a matching stroller blanket and pillow, so there are actually patterns for more than 22 individual garments in the book), you might break them down this way: 4 shawls/wraps, 1 poncho, 4 vests, a baby blanket and pillow combination, a "cloak," 3 jackets, 2 dresses, a cardigan in both adult and children's sizes, 2 skirts, 2 scarves, 3 sweaters and a tunic. Oh yeah, and some pants.

Another way to sort out the patterns is by method of construction: there are about 5 or so lace patterns (and I’m using the term “lace” very loosely, to include simple patterns knit on large needles), about 4 or so sweaters knit in the traditional fashion, about two garments knit in strips that are sewn together; the rest – the majority of designs in the book -- are knit modularly. This is a pretty unusual and significant consideration, since there are knitters who simply don’t care for modular construction.

Koigu aficionados will note that some of the patterns have previously been released: the well-known Charlotte's Web Shawl, for example. If you are buying this book solely for the patterns, you'll want to skim through to make sure you don't already have the patterns you're most interested in.

A further note on the patterns: I have heard mixed reviews from knitters about the garments featured in the book. Many of the patterns are boxy and flowing; they tend not to have the body-hugging shaping that is now in style.

This is largely (but not totally) a function of the modular techniques used. If you have no interest in flowing jackets or vests, boxy fit, dropped shoulder, though, caveat emptor. If the dreaded butt sag makes you leery about knitted pants or skirts or dresses, again, buyer beware. The signature style of the Koigu ladies is what it is and creates garments that are as much works of art as they are pieces of clothing. If their style isn’t yours, don’t be disappointed if you don’t knit some or most of the garments in this book.

From a technical standpoint, everything looks in tip-top shape. The printing is easy to read, there are many color photos, there are detailed diagrams (some in color) showing the modular construction methods, measurements are given, and colorways are even identified by the trademark Koigu number. Many of the patterns come in one size, but the sizing is so generous and, well, flowing that this shouldn’t present a problem for the vast range of female figures, although the tiniest and slimmest may be overwhelmed by the amount of fabric that will swirl around them.

Last, I would be remiss if I didn’t try to express the “eye candy” aspect of this book. If you love handpainted yarns, Koigu in particular, just browsing through the book is inspirational. To see that many garments showing off to perfection the many hues of Koigu makes me happy. Considering different methods of construction, unusual combinations of multicolors, the mixing of shape and color, solids and multicolors, inspires me. And having met the Koigu ladies a few times, learning about their lives and their home and their art though this book makes me feel a connection to them.

As my husband would say, this book is the functional equivalent of pornography for knitters. And after seeing the glazed look in my eyes after I leafed through it for the first time, and wiping the drool off the coffee table, he should know.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Further on knitting books

After thinking a bit more about Lisa’s post, I thought about the publishing process – or at least the book-proposal process. Having pitched several book ideas to various publishers, I can tell you that one of the things most publishers ask for as part of a proposal is for you to tell them what other books address the same topic and what your target audience is. This seems to me to be mostly to give the marketing team – who are unlikely to be knitters – a feel for whether they think your book will make money. And examining previous books, marketed to the same audience, to see if they sold well would be a logical starting point.

I suspect – although this is purely speculation on my part – that a bunch of publishing companies who didn’t historically put out craft books looked at the sales figures for Stitch N Bitch and said “Holy crap! We’ve got to get us some how-to-knit books for younger women and make some money off this phenomenon.” And perhaps this is why we see so many books that strive diligently, often painfully, to be “hip” and “funky” and aimed at “chix with stix.”

However, when you have to pigeonhole your book by likening it to previous ones in order to appease the marketers, you may end up with a book that is just like all the other ones. Or you may have a great idea for a book, but the publisher decides your patterns are too hard for beginners, or that no one wants to do a provisional cast-on, or that maybe we should put in a simple scarf or two for people who want easy stuff, and then your book morphs into something else entirely. Or maybe your book is good, but it gets “spin” that makes it sound like a bunch of other books and it’s overlooked.*

This may be why I tend to really like books that come from a handful of publishers who specialize in craft, and particularly knitting books: Interweave Press, Stewart Tabori and Chang (the editor used to be the editor of Interweave Knits), and Schoolhouse Press (run by the inimitable Meg Swansen) come to mind. When your publisher really knows knitting, it's able to take a chance on a topic that maybe hasn’t been done a zillion times before, but has a lot of merit (Estonian Folk Knitting, anyone?). Or it's willing to print yet another book about Andean folk knitting, because they know it’s a fertile ground for inspiration even if it seems obscure to non-knitters. Or they want to make sure a knitting book classic, like the Barbara Walker stitch treasuries, remain in print, even if they don’t sell a gazillion copies every year and the author isn’t around to do a promotional appearance on Knitty-Gritty. Or they are willing to pump up production values and cherry-pick designs from numerous authors in order to end up with a high-quality volume that may be more pricey than a black-and-white paperback, but is much better value for the knitter. (Say, Handknit Holidays?)

You know my motto: these things are usually more complex than they might first appear.

But I’m still sick of people insulting my intelligence and maligning my poor grandma. Even if the stash of craft magazines I inherited from her contain gems like this:

damn, that woman could crochet.

*Please rest assured that as I’m working with a wonderful publisher right now, I am not meaning to suggest that any of this is happening to me. So far, so good.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sick of dumbed-down knitting books?

Well, so is Lisa Myers. [Regular readers know that she's the owner of my LYS, Rosie's Yarn Cellar, and author of The Joy of Knitting: Texture, Color, Design, and the Global Knitting Circle]. After a trip to a trade show last weekend, and seeing the crop of new knitting books, Lisa wrote a rant, er, passionate blog entry:

We're sick of people claiming that what they do is "not your grandmother's knitting," as if there was something wrong with our grandmother's knitting.

(Hey, publishers--stop insulting my grandmother. I know that's not what you're trying to do, but I've had it. Eve Plotnick and Dorothy Myers were women of skill, patience, resourcefulness, and creativity. And if you think I'll ever think better of anything you're showing me because you tell me it's unlike what they did or would do, you're way wrong.)
Rosie's new policy is to be more selective when it comes to new knitting books (in particular ones with "easy" or "not your grandmother's" in the title), and stock books with content.

[Insert non-cliched version of "You go, girl" here.]

Monday, January 15, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Wedding Knits, by Suss Cousins

I was a bit skeptical when I first saw that an entire book had been devoted to knitting projects for one's wedding. Especially upon reading some of the breathless text: "timeless designs for an unforgettable day," "I got to recreate a fantasy wedding in my mind and then in my studio," "famed knitwear designer Suss Cousins makes brides' dreams come true," and so forth.

Then I thought about all the weddings I'd been to in my life. (There was a year in the 90s when Tom and I attended some ungodly number of weddings -- 25 maybe? -- in a twelve-month stretch. One day I'll do a blog post on the truly bizarre and unintentionally hilarious weddings we've been to, like the one where the best man told the groom during the toast to get tested for AIDS because his sister had a pet monkey that she was preternaturally fond of ... but I digress.) If you are a rabid knitter, and you have lots of family and friends getting married, maybe a book of wedding-themed patterns isn't so crazy. I often hear knitters talking about knitting special items for their weddings or the weddings of someone dear to them. In fact, I've even done it myself, knitting a beaded bag for a good friend who got married a few years ago.

So I approached Wedding Knits: Handmade Gifts for Every Member of the Wedding Party by Suss Cousins (PotterCraft 2007), with an open mind.

Quickie background on the author: Suss Cousins is a Swedish-born designer who moved to New York in the 1980s. She first became popular for her handknit sweaters, knitting them for celebrities and for use in movies and TV shows. Cousins has written several knitting books and has a popular knitting shop in Los Angeles (and maybe one in New York?). She also has her own line of yarns, which are used exclusively in the book.

When I picked upWedding Knits, the first thing I noticed is how handsome a book it is. It is big (about 160 pages), hardcover, has glossy sturdy pages, and is full of color. The photography, by Suzuki K, is very well-done and most of the designs are shown both in stylistic close-up and full frontal (if you'll pardon the phrase), so you get a better sense of what you're knitting. Put out by PotterCraft, it's another sign that under Rosy Ngo's editorial direction, PotterCraft is becoming a knitting publisher to reckon with. The MSRP is steep; $32.95 is a lot for a knitting book, especially one with less than thirty designs, but given the high production values (including my favorite: fancy endpapers inside the covers) and the amount of photography and color inside, I guess the price tag isn't too surprising. Plus, the internet being what it is, you can find it discounted at various on-line retailers. [At the time I wrote this, Amazon was selling the book for $21.45.]

The book is divided into three sections: "For the Bridal Party," "For the Bride," and "For the Wedding Night and Honeymoon."

The first section, "For the Bridal Party," is by far the most successful part of the book. It includes patterns for a clutch bridesmaid purse; a knitted headband with beads; a rosebud hair clip; a cotton tunic/wrap dress; a tote bag; a wedding album cover; a "bracelet" that is essentially a knitted cuff with ribbon lacing; a shrug; a bridesmaid wrap; a ring bearer's cushion;

and a handkerchief with lace edging. Many of these -- tunic dress knit in slubby cotton aside -- would make lovely gifts for a loved one's wedding, so that even if you are already married, or have other things to do in the months before your wedding than knit your bridesmaids matching tote bags, these patterns could be useful. For example, the clutch purse and the shrug could be used for any formal occasion, not just a wedding.

The book gets progressively sillier with the "For the Bride" section. To answer the question that I know you are dying to ask: Yes, there is a knitted wedding dress.

It's a form-fitting gown with V-neck and lots of ruffles, knitted in various viscose blends. However, if your bust measurement exceeds 35 inches, you're pretty much out of luck, for the dress comes only in measurements of 31, 33 and 35 inches. (This strikes me as particularly odd for a California-based designer: isn't L.A. the land of breast implants? And if you're gonna shell out a couple of thousand for some extra perk in your tits, shouldn't you end up with a bigger rack than 33 or 35 inches?) I don't think the dress is unattractive, mind you, but not every woman is going to fit into it and not every woman is going to like it. And I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many women who are willing to forgo the bridal-gown-shopping/princess fantasy that the patriarchy inculcates into women from the time they are young.

Even siller are the veils. The long one

is reminiscent of Guinevere, and the short one looks oddly nun-like.

Personally, I think if you are going to knit a bridal veil, you'd be well-advised to use a cobweb-weight yarn and maybe some delicate lace patterning or edging. (The short veil uses a simple eyelet pattern.) Next up are three wraps: one is a feather-and-fan stole, one is a bolero with lace trim (cute but the trim is sewn-on, not knitted),

and the third is a shawl made with eyelash yarn. A garter (which would perhaps be a good gift for a friend's wedding), some small bags, a pair of long fingerless gloves and a "jewel keeper" round out the chapter.

The last chapter, "For the Wedding Night and Honeymoon," is a mixed bag. Of course, there's more breathless prose ("For your wedding night, you want to wear something that makes you feel like a princess") and of course, lingerie, consisting of a simple robe with embellished trim; a "sexy nightie" with butterfly appliques (now me, I think butterfly embellishment is more kindergarten than boudoir, but what do I know?), and an angora camisole and shorts set (if it's hot enough for shorts, won't angora be too hot? if it's cold enough for angora, won't tap pants be too cold?). Methinks Suss was having trouble filling out this chapter, for it ends with a monogrammed throw, a striped bikini, a "his and hers vacation scarf" set (I wasn't aware one needed matching scarves to go on vacation), a simple cotton sweater, and a wraparound skirt.

Overall, the patterns are on the basic side, definitely items that a newer knitter could make without too much trouble. Lots of stockinette stitch, nothing really complicated in the way of construction, and even the embellishment on some items is fairly simple. Personally, I didn't see much that was particularly original or groundbreaking; you can find a gazillion shrug patterns, for example, and simple purses, whether clutch or drawstring, are also easy to find, even with a simple Google search. If you're up for knitting lingerie, I'd recommend White Lies Designs (which also come in a much wider range of sizes) for some truly gorgeous and innovative designs. But like all matters of style, it comes down to your personal taste.

I found particularly interesting that the patterns themselves were written virtually without the standard abbreviations. Instead of "CO x sts," you'll read "Cast on X stitches." People who find knitting directions cryptic should like this style of pattern-writing. All of the patterns feature schematics, too (although the white printing on light-colored pages makes the diagrams harder to read).

When it comes to sizing, as I mentioned above, the options are pretty limited. The wedding dress is sized for 31/33/35 inch chests, for example, and several of the patterns come in one size only (e.g. the Maid of Honor shrug is designed for "up to chest 38"); the so-called "Sexy Nightie" has a finished measurement of 30/32/34/36 inches; and so on. Granted, many of these items don't require sizing; handkerchiefs and handbags and throws are truly one-size-fits-all, but if you are looking to make some of the garments, you'll have to scrutinize the sizing to make sure you'll fit in them.

Wedding Knits is not a book that I personally will find terribly useful. There are a few things I might make, sometime, for someone, like maybe a handkerchief or garter for a shower gift, but nothing that screams out at me "Knit me now!" I found the styles a bit basic for my taste, and primarily items (like this simple bag) that I could find elsewhere in my (admittedly extensive) knitting library.

If you're a newly engaged knitter, though, or are in that phase of life where you are constantly being invited to the weddings of people you care about and want some pretty easy but thoughtful gifts to make for them, then you may want to take a look at Wedding Knits.

I only hope that during my next shift at Rosie's, I will not encounter Bridezilla, stomping into her LYS with swatches of seafoam green taffeta, insisting that she's going to knit fifty table runners that exactly matched her "colors", dammit, then bursting into tears that "the biggest day of my life will be ruined" if I cannot find her a suitable shade of seafoam green yarn.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

On a more serious note

I have to confess that I was not originally a fan of Keith Olbermann. I knew him as a sports commentator, and I didn't realize his journalistic expertise extended beyond home run averages and field goals.

Boy, was I wrong.

Lately, Olbermann has been one of the most passionate and articulate critics of George W. Bush, focusing in particular on the fiasco that is our involvement in Iraq. When many other media figures seem to shy away from asking the tough questions, or accept unquestioningly Karl Rove's latest spin, Olbermann sees through the bullshit. For the past months, I've been following his "special comments," delivered at the end of his Countdown TV show, and reproduced on's website. Take Thursday night's commentary, for example, responding to the recent presidential address on Eye-wrack:

Mr. Bush, this is madness.

You have lost the military. You have lost the Congress to the Democrats. You have lost most of the Iraqis. You have lost many of the Republicans. You have lost our allies.

You are losing the credibility, not just of your presidency, but more importantly of the office itself.

And most imperatively, you are guaranteeing that more American troops will be losing their lives, and more families their loved ones. You are guaranteeing it!

This becomes your legacy, sir: How many of those you addressed last night as your “fellow citizens” you just sent to their deaths.

Olbermann is one of the few voices in the mainstream media who consistently reminds us that the emperor, Emperor George Dubya Bush, has no clothes. I just hope Olbermann keeps his taxes in pristine order, because I have a sneaking suspicion that the mother of all IRS audits is in his near future.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Has it come to this, then?

Thanks for this go to Franklin. Although once you read it, you will perhaps NOT thank Franklin for calling this to our attention. Whenever a craft project starts out with a used bra, you're in big trouble.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

December book report

1. Rituals of the Season (Deborah Knott Mysteries), by Margaret Maron. Another in her Deborah Knott mystery series.

2. A Fountain Filled With Blood (A Rev. Clare Ferguson Mystery) by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Another in her Clare Fergusson mystery series.

3. Thunderstruck by Erik Larsen. The book traces two seemingly unrelated events, Marconi's development of wireless radio and the murder committed by Dr. H.H. Crippen. There is a connection, though; Crippen and his girlfriend were captured on a ship steaming to America from Europe after the wireless transmitted information about the fugitives to ship captains. I have to confess that I skimmed through a lot of the Marconi stuff; way too technical and dull. This one could have used a really good edit; Devil and the White City was much better.

4. A Bitter Feast (A Bill Smith/Lydia Chin Novel) by S.J. Rozan. A new-to-me mystery series involving a Chinese-American private eye named Lydia Chin. Good escapist reading, which is mostly what I've been doing these days. Also, since every other scene involves someone, somewhere sitting down to a bowl of noodles or a cup of jasmine tea, it made me crave Chinese food.

5. Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank: And Other Words of Delicate Southern Wisdom by Celia Rivenbark. Humorous riffs on modern-day motherhood. How can you not love a book that discusses a trip to the pre-teen clothes department like this:

Now that my kid is practically of childbearing age [is six the new seventeen?] I must choose from ripped-on-purpose jeans and T-shirts that scream things like BABY DOLL and JAIL BAIT, not to mention a rather angry GIRLS RULE AND BOYS DROOL! where an embroidered flower with buzzing bee should be.

When did this happen? Who decided that my six-year-old should dress like a Vegas showgirl? And one with an abundance of anger issues at that?

Meaningless Statistics

In 2006, I read a total of 33 (I think) books, 20 of which were fiction (14 of which were mystery novels) and the rest nonfiction.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Spontaneity has its time and place.

I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to NYC one day during Christmas week to hang with Marilyn. Originally, Marilyn's granddaughter (Mar was a child bride) was supposed to come, too, but she blew us off. (Thanks a lot, Liz. Bite me, babe.) But we had a wonderful time, made all the more fun for me by the fact that my kids had been off school for two weeks. The luxury of spending 8 hours without hearing plaintive cries of "Mo-o-o-om!" Lots of laughter, adult conversation with a dear friend, the stimulation of New York, and some yarn ho-ing. What could be better?

We met at Penn Station, and Marilyn wanted to check out Seaport Yarns. This place is unbelievable. The owner used to have a marketing firm and about five years ago, converted her suite of offices into a yarn store. You go into a nondescript office building, take the elevator up to the fifth floor, and you walk into a little reception area. Signs direct you down a hallway and -- WHAM! Hallways and former offices literally full of yarn. Some on shelves, some in bins and baskets, some on tables. Yarn falling out all over the place. At first there is so much and it seems so disorganized, you can't even begin to make sense of it. Then you start to see some rough organization, mostly by manufacturer. Every brand of yarn from Araucania to Zitron. Tons of handpaints, tons of colorways, tons of fibers (meaning type of fiber; I didn't see any spinning supplies). Marilyn asked the owner if there was anything she didn't have, and the only thing she could think of was qiviut, and the Koigu hadn't arrived yet. I scored an old Rowan magazine that I didn't have, and bought some Diakeito Diamusee Fine to make socks, at Marilyn's urging. (Well, it's not like she had to twist my arm.)

In our travels, we passed Ground Zero. I hadn't been there since 9/11. What struck me most wasn't the size of the crater, or the conspicuous lack of the World Trade Center, or my memories of 9/11, but at how the site itself didn't make me feel anything. I've thought about 9/11 a lot, and I knew people who died (2 guys I went to college with), and I've been very moved by all the images I've seen, the stories I've heard, the things I've imagined. But the site itself left me cold. It may be because it looks like a construction site: chain link fences, construction equipment moving along, that sort of thing. It also had to do with the bizarre tourist trap feel it had. I saw tons of tourists with cameras and video recorders buzzing around the site, casually snapping photos -- cheesy grins, arms around each other's shoulders -- as if they were standing in front of the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty. Feh. To me, that site is sacred ground and should be approached reverently, not as a place to be ticked off on your Fodor's inventory of must-sees while in New York.

Our afternoon trip was to Soho, and of course Purl, which is a polar opposite of Seaport Yarns. Where Seaport is huge, Purl is tiny, claustrophobic even. Where Seaport is sprawling and disorganized, Purl is very tidy and organized. While Seaport had a variety of price points and a staggering number of yarn lines, Purl's selection was more limited and definitely tended toward the higher price points with lots of luxury and unusual fibers. Unlike Seaport, Purl's space was definitely designed with yarns and a certain sense of style in mind. I picked up some Koigu Kersti for a baby gift (remember that baby sweater I mentioned for the judge I used to work for?) and some striping Lorna's Laces.

Perhaps nicest of all, my yarn crawl made me appreciate Rosie's all over again. Because even when I go to other yarn shops that are wonderful, I still like Rosie's best.

Okay, enough of the Pollyanna routine. On the train ride home, I had a brilliant insight. Or "A Modest Proposal," one might say. I hereby propose that all cell phones cut out after five minutes. You get five minutes in case of emergency, to firm up plans, and so on, but then -- dead air. This would prevent future incidents like the one on my train, in which a first-time pregnant woman yammered on the phone to her friend the whole trip. "And I don't want to gain too much weight, blah, blah, and my husband and I are picking colors for the nursery and I'm so glad we're on the same page about what we want, yadda yadda, and then the doctor said I've never seen a vagina as infested with yeast as yours, blah, blah, blah." Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the idea.

I couldn't help myself: I shushed her.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Happy 9th birthday, Elvis!

No, not that Elvis. Our oldest kid, whom we affectionately call "Elvis." (Because he thinks he's the King.) It was nine years ago, on just such a freakishly warm January day, that he was born.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

All hail!

Nancy Pelosi, first woman Speaker of House. Okay, she's got shellacked hair (which means she will fit in with all the other awkwardly-coiffed members of our esteemed House), but I still consider this a Good Thing.

Black Bunny Etsy note

It has come to my attention that there is some kind of snafu with Etsy such that pasting my shop address in your browser or using links will net you an error message. I expect that this will be fixed fairly quickly but in the meantime, try searching the tags for "blackbunny" or the sellers for "blackbunnyfibers" and see if that helps. I apologize for any inconvenience. Next update will probably be Sunday evening.

Mea Culpa

Okay, I definitely am a few skeins short of a sweater these days. I mangled the name of Jane Sowerby's Victorian Lace Today until an astute commenter pointed it out (along with a Yahoo group and knitalong). There is, in fact, already an errata page here, and if you are interested, Karen K included links to the knitalong and Yahoo group in her comment to my original post. Thanks, Karen K!

Also, Marilyn urged me to consider Aran Sweater Design by Janet Szabo. Sadly, I was confused, and thought that this was the same self-published volume I had purchased a couple of years ago. But Kate set me straight:

Aran Sweater Design is not the same book as Handbook of Aran Sweater Design. ASD is 171 pages, plus Index, vs. 90 pages for HASD. While ASD began as a revision and updating of HASD, it has more patterns and more explanatory text than the original, as well as better production values. I own them both, and will keep both.

So I apologize to Marilyn for being such a know-it-all. (I should know better; Marilyn knows more than nearly anyone I've ever met about knitting.) And thanks to Kate, too.

Book News

For now, I will remain coy and tell you only that I am working on the book with Lisa and Laura, two of my colleagues at Rosie's; it is being published by Interweave Press; and our release date is spring 2008.

Coming soon, by popular demand: A photographic tour (with explanatory notes) of the bomb shelter.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

First -- and perhaps last -- time I do this

Only because Bridget made me and I love her nearly as much as life itself.

Six Weird Things About Me:

1. I have an uncanny ability to identify voices, such as commercial voice-overs and lead singers of songs. Even when the voice belongs to someone relatively obscure, like a bit actor or one-hit wonder rock group.

2. When I was seven years old, my family lost everything we owned when the Susquehanna River overflowed 38-foot-high levees and flooded my hometown during Hurricane Agnes. Rescue workers rode boats over my two-story house. (Aside: Now me, I say this is merely unfortunate, and not weird. Maybe because nearly everyone I know from my hometown had the same thing happen. But my husband says this is officially weird. You decide.)

3. When I was in kindergarten I had a Miss America metal lunchbox.

One day we had a fire drill, and I asked the teacher if I could run back to the coatroom and save my Miss America lunchbox. [She said no, because my parents could buy me a new Miss America lunchbox but she couldn't buy a new me for my parents.]

4. I learned to read at a young age (three). My father taught me by sitting me on his lap with Guns & Ammo magazine, and helping me sound out words like "Win-ches-ter." Because of my precocious reading skills, my parents’ neighbors would call me over to have me read random articles from the newspaper, as a kind of parlor trick for their dinner parties. I distinctly remember reading an article about marijuana, which I mispronounced “mary jane-ah.” The dinner party guests were highly amused. (Probably having just smoken some mary-jane-ah. This was the the late 1960s, you know.)

5. I was a childhood model. My father owned a small company that produced educational filmstrips and he frequently photographed family members to use as part of the filmstrips. If you've ever seen scintillating programs like "Fun With Magnets," you may have seen me.

Yep, that's me in the knee socks. Oh, the horror! I often wonder what would have happened if the US actually adopted the metric system. Perhaps I would have a trust fund, a McMansion and no consumer debt...

6. We have a bomb shelter in our backyard.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The New Year's Knitting

New Year's resolutions? I tend not to do them. Maybe it's because I feel like mentally, I'm constantly resolving to do things all year through. But lately, I've found myself making mental notes about projects I want to tackle "someday." Instead of joining in with the "I'm going to knit from my stash" crowd, or even the "I'm going to finish x, y and z" crowd of January resolvers, I've decided to start a list of projects that I would like to tackle someday. With the hope that at least 1 or 2 of those "somedays" occur in 2007.

People I'd Like To Knit For This Year:

1. Tom. Yep, the old ball and chain. He's mentioned wanting a vest, and he's always amenable to socks, so I've got to figure out what he'd like to wear and I'd like to knit.

2. My friend Molly. One of my oldest and dearest friends, the kind of person who would totally appreciate something beautiful and handmade.

3. My friend John. Shouldn't you make a nice scarf or something for a friend you've had since first grade and love to pieces? Hell, yeah.

4. My mom. She asked for a vest for Christmas (not handmade) but I wasn't able to find what her mind's eye view was. So I ought to knit it. (She's a really sweet mom.)

5. The Judge's new grandson. Back when I was a lawyer, I clerked for a judge. She's wonderful and she just welcomed her first grandchild. This is one I need to put at the top of the list.

6. My friend Pat. One of the first friends I made when I moved to Philadelphia and certainly one of the most enduring friendships.

Projects I'd Like to Complete This Year:

1. Socks. In particular, socks that are knit according to a pattern, rather than ribbed or stockinette ones. I've got some great sock yarn and there are so many great patterns out there.

2. Simple shawl in handpainted yarn. Well, maybe I should be more specific and say "my handpainted yarn," although Koigu would also make me happy. There's a pattern in Getting Started Knitting which is calling to me; simple enough to not drive my overstressed brain crazy, but more interesting than stockinette. I'd even settle for another Landscape Shawl.

3. Something for me in Manos.

4. Wallaby. (Hey, maybe in Manos!)

5. Crocheted scarf in a beautiful yarn. Nothing fancy, just lovely yarn and simple crochet at a fine gauge. With help from Kathy....

6. Casual, wearable sweater for me. It's kind of embarassing that I don't knit more for myself. Let's set those body issues aside and knit something, for crying out loud. (Hey, maybe a Wallaby in Manos!)

7. Koigu sweater for me. See No. 6.

I'm trying not to drive myself crazy here: realistically speaking, the next six months of my knitting life are booked solid (get it? "booked"?) and to the extent I can catch a few rows here and there, they've got to be mindless stuff that I can pick up and put down effortlessly.

I'll check back periodically and see if I make any progress toward any of these projects. No stress, though. Like Jody just said, hobbies shouldn't stress you out.