Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: My personal knitting year in review

It's that time of year again, time to reflect on what was done -- and left undone -- in my personal year of knitting. When I look back over my knitting resolutions, I have to laugh. Of the list of six people I wanted to knit for, none of them received anything handknit. Of the seven general types of projects I envisioned knitting, none of them got finished and only one made it onto the needles, simply to languish there for most of the year, and is still gathering dust somewhere.

And yet, that's not to say it was an unproductive knitting year for me.

I knit four adult-sized sweaters for Knit So Fine, along with the sleeves for another, and an accessory. I fiddled with many swatches for another accessory for the book, along with another sweater and a half -- all of which ended up, in final form, knit by others. I knit two adult-sized sweaters for JCA/Reynolds that will appear in their Spring 2008 line (I hope!) and designed a pair of socks in Soft Sea Wool (also for spring 2008) that were knit by a test knitter. Those projects alone probably set a productivity record for me.

In my "personal" knitting, I finished a baby blanket for a charity project; a skirt for G.; a pair of socks each for N. and G.; have finished a cardigan for G. which just needs buttons sewn on (I need to find a needle with a very small eye for the particular buttons I want to use); two baby sweaters for gifts; and finished a pair of BBF socks for myself. There were some miscellaneous projects which I have forgotten (mostly pre-Ravelry projects), and a few things still on the needles (3/4 of a sock for Elvis, the last 3/4 of a sock for me, the Koigu log cabin blanket come to mind) but that's a very satisfying mix of finished items for me, especially given my time constraints.

Oh yeah, I wrote most of the text of a book, too.

I'm also proud of my continued work on the blog. I enjoy doing knitting book reviews and other technical posts, and it's gratifying that other people seem to enjoy reading them. So I'll add that to my list of knitting accomplishments this year: keeping up with the blog and, hopefully, adding something constructive to the on-line knitting community.
Then there's Black Bunny Fibers. I sold my one-thousandth item on Etsy earlier this year (holy crap!) and am fine-tuning a website. I started the Sock and Fiber Clubs which will begin soon, and even ran my first ad ever (on Ravelry). I've tried to refine my product mix with some consistent regular offerings, while still doing one-offs when I found interesting stuff in limited quantities to dye. I introduced my first plant-derived fiber, too, with the merino/tencel blend sock yarn.
Thank you for all your support, your BBF purchases, your encouragement and enthusiasm about Knit So Fine, and most of all, thank you for still reading.

Here's hoping we'll all have a happy, productive, knitting-filled 2008!

2007: The knitting year in review

If I haven't been posting as frequently as usual -- and if you've sent me an email that's been languishing an unusually long time, even for me -- I am hoping to get back into my usual groove soon. This weekend, we fixed the computer snafu that was interfering with my Internet access, not to mention the ability to print. Keep your fingers crossed.

In the meantime, here's my review of 2007: The Knitting Year That Was. Since my sense of time has completed devolved (I am convinced that things that actually happened two years ago happened two months ago, and vice versa), please cut me a little slack on the timing...

  • Ravelry. Whether you're a rabid user, an impatient wait-lister, or an indifferent observer, there's no doubt about the profound impact this website has had on the knitting world. If you are a loner, you can use the "My Notebook" function to keep track of projects, itemize your stash, make lists of projects you want to try and show off finished items. If you're a social butterfly, you can find every conceivable group to join (and many inconceivable ones), participate in message boards, and make new "friends." Designers can showcase their patterns and yarn-makers can show off their skeins. If you want to make a project but need inspiration, you can surf through other people's projects, finished items, patterns and/or stash. Ravelry is a stroke of genius, beautifully implemented and, unbelievably, free.
  • Facelifts for some industry stalwarts. Have you noticed the new look given to the Lion Brand catalog? Here's a page:

    Sleeker design, more fashion-conscious patterns, better photography.

    And how about Berroco? Updated styling continues in the leaflets and print ads, as the super-talented Norah Gaughan continues to make her mark.

  • In the litigation chronicles, it seems the court battle over who "owns" S-N-B continues to drag on, although with talk of settlement but no major developments. Ptooey.
  • Continued interest in non-novelty yarns, all-natural fibers and skinnier weights. Classic Elite introduced Classic 150, Alpaca Sox and Silky Alpaca Lace; Berroco added Ultra Alpaca Lite and Jasper; Reynolds added Soft Sea Wool Worsted to their Soft Sea Wool and Whiskey all-naturals; Nashua added undyed Ecologie Wool and Ecologie Cotton; RYC added an all-bamboo; I've noticed that even Lion Brand has added organic cotton and pure wool yarns to their line-up. We saw more and more sock and laceweight yarns, including yarns that incorporated newer fibers, like sea cell and chitin (derived from shrimp and crab shells).

  • A greater selection of fresh and innovative crochet patterns. Interweave Crochet became a regular magazine to which one can subscribe (instead of an occasional "special issue"), and editor Kim Werker is filling it with cool patterns like Kathy Merrick's Babette blanket,

    helping push thoughts of past acrylic ignominies out of our collective memory. We also saw more choices in stylish crochet books, including Sasha Kagan's Crochet Inspiration; Kim Werker's Crochet Me: Designs to Fuel the Crochet Revolution; Teva Durham's Loop-d-Loop Crochetand Doris Chan's Everyday Crochet.
  • Great offerings from some of my favorite designers: Kaffe Fassett designed the colors for a wonderful line of Regia sock yarns, then updated some of his best-loved patterns in Kaffe Knits Again. Kristin Nicholas released Kristin Knits, giving us fresh inspiration for color. Veronik Avery released her first book, Knitting Classic Style. Alice Starmore published a pattern in Vogue Knitting, after a long hiatus from the magazines.
  • A new look for Interweave Knits, including photo shoots in Philly. Okay, I'm a tad prejudiced, but Philadelphia is an underrated and lovely city with plenty of atmosphere. Us Philaphiles are thrilled IK has figured that out. Now we just need to work on IK's new "look," tweaking the photography, choppy layout, and other stylistic changes that rocked our worlds with the most recent issues.

  • We bid a sad adieu to Jaeger. I'm still disappointed that this line of yarns from Westminster Fibers was discontinued, although I understand the rationale behind it.
  • A new special issue of Interweave devoted to felting was released. Felting offers great possibilities for creativity, but I sense that the uncertainties involved in it -- i.e., little control over the rate of shrinkage, variabilities in the tendencies of different yarns to felt -- scare away some knitters from playing around with it more. We'll see if felting catches on as one of The Next Big Things...
  • All sorts of musical chairs in the industry. Pam Allen takes the helm at Classic Elite Yarns, while Eunny Jang becomes editor of Interweave Knits. Trisha Malcolm steps down as editor of Vogue Knitting, and Adina Klein is named editor of VK (as well as retaining her spot as editor of Vogue's Knit.1). Have I forgotten anyone?
  • The digital dilemma. If Ravelry has revolutionized the on-line knitting world , then don't forget the rise of the PDF. It's pretty common now for designers to have their own websites where they can offer their own patterns via PDF. But what about patterns that have already been featured in a knitting magazine or other publication? Is it fair for knitting publishers to expect designers to sign away all rights to a pattern -- including digital ones -- for the same compensation as, say, first North American rights? Is it reasonable to expect designers to lose control over whether their patterns are, after a magazine goes out of print or is sold out, given away for free on the publisher's website? Or to be precluded from offering their patterns from their own websites due to exclusivity or non-compete clauses?

    There are no easy answers to questions like these, but if you want to know more, try reading some good posts here and here. The internet continues to change the knitting world in ways we haven't quite muddled through yet. I daresay we'll be grappling with issues of fair compensation and copyright control, as well as others that haven't even surfaced yet, for some time.
  • Big anniversaries. Spin-Off magazine turned 30; Vogue Knitting celebrated its 25th anniversary; IK released a "Best Of" book to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

  • The passing on to that great yarn shop in the sky of knitters Gail McHugh, moderator of the original Knit Design list and KnitU moderator; Mary Walker Phillips, knitting writer, teacher and artist; Sidna Farley, teacher, writer and designer.

Next post I'll take a look at my personal knitting year in review, but overall, I'm pretty sanguine about the future of the craft. The internet continues to draw in and keep knitters connected, and is providing new ways for knitters to interact with each other in terms of sharing inspiration, selling and buying patterns and yarns, and educating each other.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I despair.

I awoke this morning to learn that Benazir Bhutto, first woman to serve as prime minister of any Islamic nation, former Pakistani Prime Minister and current opposition leader to "President" Musharraf, was assassinated today. Some days I cannot bear to think of the world my children will inherit.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Best of 2007: Knitting Books

It's time for my annual review of the year that is (almost) past. Before diving in, if you are a Black Bunny aficionado, please note that I'll be doing my last pre-Christmas update this weekend, probably Sunday morning. I know it's not a great time, but I've still got computer problems and I'd like to sneak one last update in before Christmas as I'm skeptical I'll be able to do another before the New Year. I've got some merino/silk sock yarn, some alpaca/shetland laceweight, and some roving (a merino/border leicester/mohair blend from Virginia).

In other exciting news, this week I received the page proofs of Knit So Fine. Let's just say they surpassed my expectations! I can't wait until June.

Now let's start off our look back at 2007 with my favorite new knitting books of 2007. It's hard to narrow down my list, and there were lots of good books that I didn't include just because I was trying to focus on a list of around ten books, so please don't be offended if I skipped one of your favorites. Just mention it politely in the comments and tell me why you think I should have included it.

  1. Kaffe Fassett Two-fer: Kaffe Knits Again: 24 Original Designs Updated for Today's Knitters features some of Kaffe's best-loved designs revised and updated in two ways: the patterns use contemporary Rowan yarns instead of discontinued ones, making it easier to replicate the patterns without angst over substitution of yarns and shades; and many of the designs have been simplified into rectangular or square shapes (pillows, scarves, throws) in order to avoid the boxy silhouettes that some knitters don't favor. If you've been afraid to try a colorwork masterpiece, maybe it's time to pick up this book and give it a go.

    Although not a knitting book, I have to mention Kaffe Fassett's Quilts in the Sun: 20 Designs from Rowan for Patchwork and Quilting, an absolutely luscious book with gorgeous designs. I don't quilt but when I need a mood-booster or just a shot of inspirational color, I leaf through books like this one.

  2. Knitting Classic Style: 35 Modern Designs Inspired by Fashion's Archives by Veronik Avery. Yep, she's one of my favorite designers and a new pal, but all favoritism aside, it's a really lovely book, with wearable patterns that are interesting to knit and will look good on.

  3. Kristin Knits, by Kristin Nicholas, is full of color and enthusiasm, urging the fearful knitter who says "I don't know how to use color" to play and have fun. Great for stash-busting, too.

  4. Martin Storey's Knitting for Him: 27 Classic Projects to Keep Him Warm is a great resource if you are a guy or want to knit for a guy. Strikes that difficult balance between a project that keeps the knitter engaged but isn't too cable-y or too colorful or too whatever for a guy to wear.

  5. The Knitter's Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn by the founder of Knitter's Review, Clara Parkes, is a wonderful book full of solid technical information about yarn. There are projects, too, but the wealth of info this book contains makes it special, especially for knit-nerds like me.

  6. Knitting New Scarves: 27 Distinctly Modern Designs, by Lynne Barr, yet another one on this list that I didn't get a chance to review yet. If you think you've seen it all when it comes to scarves, there may still be some new ideas in this book for you. I love books that push us to think in new ways about old garments, and this does that for sure.

  7. Budd-A-Palooza 2007: Ann Budd must not be getting very much sleep lately. In 2007, she released Getting Started Knitting Socks, a great introduction to sockknitting that also contains some excellent patterns for already-proficient sockknitters; The Best of Interweave Knits: Our Favorite Designs from the First Ten Years, a compilation of patterns from past (often sold-out) issues of IK; Favorite Socks: 25 Timeless Designs from Interweave, another compilation containing favorites from IK, six brand-new sock patterns, and one or two from IK's sister magazines (like Spin-Off); Bag Style: 20 Inspirational Handbags, Totes, and Carry-alls to Knit and Crochetand Lace Style: Traditional to Innovative, 21 Inspired Designs to Knit, two new installments in the popular Style series.

    Whew. Even if you take into account that Ann had co-authors on some of these, that's one hell of a year.

  8. New Pathways for Sock Knitters: Book Oneby Cat Bordhi, who is another knitter thinking of untraditional ways to approach traditional knitted garments.

  9. SELBUVOTTER: Biography of a Knitting Tradition and Arctic Lace: Knitting Projects and Stories Inspired by Alaska's Native Knitters because you just can't get enough of folk knitting books. Or at least I can't.

  10. Knitting Fashions of the 1940s: Styles, Patterns and History by Jane Waller, a detailed look at vintage knitting patterns from the World War II-era, updated for today. Excellent social history and fascinating photographs, along with some interesting vintage styles.

As I've said before this year, these are good times for knitters, with a great selection of interesting knitting books being released. Let's hope that 2008 brings us even more.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The deception is killing me....

I would be the worst secret agent in the world, and don't expect any help from me if you're interested in adultery, illegal conspiracy or embezzlement. I am just no good at deception. I have one of those faces that shows every emotion as I experience them. Even the most emotionally inept of my acquaintances has no trouble telling how I really feel about things.

Which is why this time of year kills me.

If I buy a really cool present for someone, I want to give it to them right away. In fact, it's completely typical for me to give Tom at least one present sometime in December, before Christmas Eve. And when it comes to the kids, I spend the last few days before Christmas in a torment, terrified that my secret hiding places will be revealed, or that a particularly astute almost-ten-year-old will ask a penetrating question pointing out a logical inconsistency about Santa Claus, or that I will inadvertently give away the existence of a special present through an ill-timed slip of the tongue.

This week will be the worst, as preparations reach fever pitch and as I pick up two relatively large presents that Santa has asked me to keep on site until the big day. (Thank God our garage is so messy that large bundles covered in painter's dropcloths are likely to go unnoticed amidst the chaos.)

In the meantime, there's been some sort of computer snafu chez GKIYH and I'm without a printer and without access to the main computer that we use (i.e. the one with all the files and storage on it, and the one that runs our wireless internet access). I'm hoping we can figure out a way to fix this soon -- but in the meantime, please excuse any temporary service outages as we fiddle with our fried motherboard (or do I mean "mutha-board"?.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Qiviut is coming...

While the weather is doing this:

I've been skeining yarns for tomorrow's update. I've spent the past week dyeing up some of the limited-edition qiviut blend -- 1/3 alpaca, 1/3 merino and 1/3 qiviut. It's been an interesting experience, as the base yarn is dark: much more of a deep taupe, rather than the ivory yarns I've generally been using. As a result, the colors I've been getting are more muted and subtle.

I quite like them -- but don't look for the brights or pastels in this batch. The finished skeins will be listed tomorrow at my Etsy update, along with some more sock yarns, like these wool/nylon babies:

The update after that will include laceweight yarns, and after Christmas, when all that holiday cash is burning a hole in your pocket, we will see at least one new yarn at BBF . . .

One thing I've noticed since I started dyeing yarns is that I seem to have a limited amount of creative mojo. When I spend a lot of time hunched over the dyepots, I knit less, and when I knit a lot, I tend to have less to give to the dye pots. It's not just a matter of limited time, either; there definitely seems to be a finite amount of creativity that gets "used up" on one or the other. Since I've been focusing on the qiviut, my knitting this week has been rather utilitarian: I've been finishing up a baby blanket for Knittah, who is gathering up some items for an orphanage in Botswana, and am sewing together a baby sweater for a new arrival named after a Pac-Man ghost and a modern French playwright, and have been playing around with a quickie sweater for Her Nibs, who complains frequently of being cold.

And then, this Christmas-present-to-myself arrived:

Noro sock yarn.

I want all the colors.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mini No-Bull Book Reviews: Assorted Plushy Shmoos

I have little kids, as well as a relatively robust sense of whimsy, so I naturally gravitate toward books that feature knitted (and crocheted, and sewn) toys. Today I've got some mini-reviews of four recent books devoted to cute little plush-filled anthropomorphic shmoos -- none of them knitted.

Our Japanese friends have kindly exported their own particular brand of cute in the form of Amigurumi. Wikipedia contains a handy definition for those who aren't familiar with the term "amigurumi":

the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and
anthropomorphic creatures. Amigurumi are typically cute animals (such as bears,
rabbits, cats, dogs, etc.), but can include inanimate objects endowed with
anthropomorphic features. Amigurumi can be knitted, but the vast majority of
amigurumi are crocheted.

How can we discuss crocheted amigurumi without also mentioning Mr. Funky's Super Crochet Wonderful by Narumi Ogawa (North Light 2007)?

I mean, it's worth it just for the title alone. Mr. Funky is a paperback, about 112 pages, full color, and contains twenty-five or so patterns for crocheted animals and accessories (there are 25 separate patterns in the table of contents, but some of the patterns include directions for more than one item, so technically you're getting more than that). MSRP is $16.99; available through the link above for $11.55 at the time of this writing. About nine of Mr. Funky's patterns are for animals, all crocheted, including boy and girl elephants, a hamster,

bears, a kitty and a striped snake.

The remainder of the patterns are for accessories, which aren't, in my opinion, as cute as the animals: lots of hats, mittens, scarves and bags.

The book contains directions on how to assemble the animals, along with charts and lots of sketches to help you create some of the embellishments -- it's helpful stuff. The finished items are shown in photographs that are superimposed on illustrations, which gives a whimsical look to the book, but makes it a little hard to judge how the clothing items look on a real human.

Next we have Fun Dolls by Japanese uber-purveyor of twee, Aranzi Aronzo (Vertical 2007).

This is a paperback book, about 80 pages long, with patterns for making sewn dolls. Fun Dolls is a translation from the Japanese, containing 18 patterns for animals like the "Haha Bunnies" (they are "always laughing `Haha!' so they're called Haha Bunnies")

and Eyelash Bunny

as well as humanoids, like the Unmotivated Kids, and other anthropomorphized objects like these coffee mugs.

Instructions are given in comic-book form, and include less-than-actual-size patterns (you are instructed to enlarge them on a copying machine before pinning and cutting), detailed lists of materials,

patterns for stamping and other embellishment, as well as close-up photographs of each doll. If you like Fun Dolls, there are other Aranzi Aronzo titles available, like The Cute Book.

Next up is Plush You!: Lovable Misfit Toys to Sew and Stuff by Kristen Rask (F&W Publications/North Light Books 2008), a paperback with over 140 pages.

MSRP is $19.99 but it can be purchased for $13.59 by clicking on the link above. Plush You is chock-full of photographs of silly stuffed toys, and the variety is pretty amazing: the back cover claims that around 100 different plush toys are shown in the book. You certainly will find photos of all sorts of oddball dolls, from typical amigurumi animals

to less-typical creatures

to zombies,

but I felt a little ripped-off when I realized that patterns are included for just 15 of the hundred or so dolls shown. (And it seems to me that the ones for which patterns are given aren't the most complicated ones for which patterns might be most helpful. Sigh.)

I wish the outside of the book had made this clearer. That's not to say I wouldn't have necessarily purchased it, but still.... In any event, the directions for these projects are less detailed than the previous two books; there are a few patterns to enlarge and use in the back, but the directions tend to be given in list form without diagrams or photographs. I did like the book's emphasis on the "counterculture" of plush creators, including miniprofiles and links to the designers, some artists' tips sprinkled throughout, and little blurbs describing the artist's favorite sources of inspiration and other background info (although I wish this could have been done in more depth).

Last but certainly not least, is Sock and Glove: Creating Charming Softy Friends from Cast-Off Socks and Gloves by Miyako Kanamori (Penguin; 1st American Ed. 2007), which uses pre-existing socks and gloves (mostly commercially made, by the looks of them) to create adorable stuffed animals.

MSRP is $12.95 but the book can be found for $10.36 by clicking on the link. Sock and Glove manages to capture a somewhat different sensibility than the previous books, going for a more spare, less kawaii feel in mostly neutral colors, with suprisingly elegant photography and layouts. Sock and Glove contains instructions for fifteen dolls made from one or more gloves and socks, as well as a few pieces of clothing for them (also made from cast-off handgear and socks).

Sock and Glove is a paperback, slightly larger than the previous three books, with very simple but clear photographs of each item, and directions which include thumbnail photographs of each step for some of the animals, and sketches for the rest.

How about that sheep pupik?

To sum up, all four books contain ideas and inspiration for funky little stuffed creatures, some crocheted, some sewn, some using more than one method. They'd make great gifts for a crafter with an appreciation of offbeat plush, keeping in mind that Plush You is more in the nature of a coffee-table browser rather than instruction manual, which could cause frustration in those who like to follow patterns rather than riff.