Friday, February 27, 2009

Flat Friday

I've just added a bunch of sock flats to my website:

Unfortunately, my camera -- which I dearly love and finally felt like I was learning how to use properly -- died this week. This is making me very sad, for so many reasons. Most relevant to the sock flats is that although I am trying to photograph them stretched out, so you can see the color progressions, the logistics (they are long and thin, which makes for an odd rectangular photo) combined with the lack of a real camera are making it very hard to do so. In particular, I'm having trouble capturing all the colors accurately. So right now, it may seem like something of a leap of faith to order one, and I apologize for that.

These are the same kind of flats that I used for the Sunrise Chevron Socks in the new Knotions, in case you've wanted to try them. If you aren't sure how the flats work, you have two options. The flats are knitted up with two strands of sock yarn together. If you knit your socks two at a time, you can just start one sock with each of the two strands, unwinding the yarn from the flat as you go. If you knit your socks one at a time, you can unravel the yarn, simultaneously winding two balls as you go (it helps to enlist a friend to wind one strand while you wind the other). Each ball will be identical for those of you who are anal about matching socks. All of the sock flats contain wide stretches of color (similar to, say, Noro sock yarn, or Trekking XXLs) that will make wide stripes, but because of the way they are dyed, the colors will not have as sharp a delineation between stripes as some of the commercial yarns.

Now I'm off to research cameras (heavy sigh) -- so have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Just because you CAN make it, doesn't mean you OUGHT to

The hamburger dress.

In crochet.

Two new sock patterns

It's official: the spring issue of Knotions just went live. In it, you will find two sock patterns of mine, both well-suited for handdyed yarns. The first is the Sunrise Chevron socks, which were knit using a BBF sock flat:

There are still some sock flats left at the BBF shop and I'm dyeing some more (hopefully tomorrow). I think the pattern would also work well in self-striping yarn like the Kaffe Fassett stuff from Regia, or the Trekking XXL colorways that meld into each other. (Which is one of my favorite things about teh internet: being able to see other people's versions of my patterns using different yarns. So don't forget to put those projects up on Ravelry!)

The second pattern is a quick "fair isle" project, using two muted multicolor sock yarns instead of solids. I hadn't done any stranded knitting in a little while, and these socks reminded me how much fun it is:

I've also done a review of the new Nashua Handknits magazine, which premiered this fall. And Knotions also has some very pretty patterns for a lovely lace stole, two more sock patterns, a textured vest, a stranded-style cardi and a baby blanket and a cool belted there are plenty of goodies for you to explore over at Knotions today.

Monday, February 23, 2009

We knit and we noshed.

Saturday night was the last night of Speranza'a, and we celebrated with the traditional ball. Miss Thang wore all her bling:

and her brother put on a nice shirt, too:

and there was even some minuet-ing:

Yesterday, I spent a lovely afternoon with Allison and the Knit-n-Nosh gang. I got to get some kitteh love -- this is Seamus:

We had some delicious refreshments, and we knit a lot, and Knitty D showed off her new shawl (made in Socks That Rock):

None of the humans would cooperate with the photographer, so I bring you Jake, the sleepy little Maltese:

Note to Philadelphia-area readers: I'll be book-signing at Ewe and I, at their (relatively) new location in Narberth on Sunday, March 22d from 1 to 3 p.m.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Too funny

If you need a chuckle, or an "aw", go here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Knotions preview is up!

Go to Knotions here and see the spring preview: the issue goes live next week. I've got two sock patterns in this Knotions and they are free (Jody pays us through advertiser dollars -- so business-owners: buy ad space! and if you need something knitting-related, patronize those advertisers!). There are some lovely patterns in this one; that cherry-red t-shirt sweater would be awfully cute (knit in pink, of course) for my daughter. . .

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Put on your fancy shoes

for the third night of Speranza'a... (sorry, Anne-Marie, I can't miss Speranza'a or my kids will kill me....).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No-Bull Book Review: Custom Knits, by Wendy Bernard

It is embarrassing how long ago I started this book review. However, I like the book, and the review was mostly written, so I finished it off and here you go, the first No-Bull Book Review of 2009:

Wendy Bernard writes the popular knitting blog Knit and Tonic. When she began writing about her attempts to design her own sweaters, her blog-readers responded with great enthusiasm, urging her to keep designing and to begin selling her patterns. Last fall, Wendy released her first book, Custom Knits (Stewart Tabori & Chang 2008), subtitled “Unleash Your Inner Designer with Top-Down and Improvisational Techniques” (which is quite a mouthful, albeit an accurate description). As of this writing, the book has a MSRP of $27.50 but can be purchased for $18.15 through the link above.

Bernard’s take on knitwear is one that many of us can sympathize with. She discusses the first sweater she made for herself: “I spent many hours knitting and many more seaming, but when I finished it and pulled it over my head, I discovered, to my horror, that it didn’t fit, and the shoulder seams looked awful.” Happily, Bernard was not deterred, and continued to experiment with different knitting techniques. Her epiphany came when she learned how to knit sweaters in the round:

[O]ne day I discovered that sweaters could be knit from the top down and in one piece, which basically means you start working the front and back at the top of the sweater, connect them when you get below the armholes, and then work in the round down to the hem. Sleeves are added next and are worked in the round from the shoulder to the cuffs. And then a collar of your choice can be added on last. Knitting this way allows you to try on as you go, change your mind in the process, and essentially design on the fly. Because you’re picking up stitches at the shoulder and working down, you can add sleeves to a garment that you thought would be a shell. You can lengthen or add shaping to an otherwise boxy sweater, or change the look of a collar entirely, with only a little bit of know-how. And because you’re working the front and back at the same time on a circular needle, all of your design elements and shaping happen at the same time, so you don’t need to take meticulous notes and remember exactly what you did on one piece in order to mimic it on another – maybe a month later. And the best thing is, except for weaving in some loose ends, there’s little to no seaming, so after binding off your last stitch, your sweater is pretty much complete.

Bernard presents her preferred method quite nicely in the book, including technical information about fit and construction; providing patterns that can be followed either as shown in the book, or with modifications; and adding tips and suggestions for how to tweak the garments to suit the knitter’s individual style. Let’s take a closer look at the content of the book, chapter by chapter.

Chapter 1 -- “Understanding Your Style, Size and Fit So You Can Make Sweaters You Love To Wear” -- is arguably the most important one in the book. It presents the technical background that a novice knitter will need to plan sweaters to ensure that they fit the wearer in both size and style. Bernard starts by explaining her design philosophy (see the lengthy quote above), and reminds us that not every sweater that we want to knit is going to look good on us, so we need to think it through before we cast on for that fantasy sweater. (Excellent advice that we don't always want to think about.) Her exhaustive “Reality Checklist” contains common-sense reminders -- e.g., is the color right for me? -- as well as some questions designed to make you think realistically, and a bit psychologically, about your knitting experience (“Will I complain so much that my friends and those close to me will beg me to stop knitting it?” made me laugh). Certainly spending some time with the checklist (which may then require a session or two with your therapist) is a good and thoughtful way to maximize the likelihood that you’ll love knitting and wearing your next project.

Bernard then addresses several other good things to know before casting on for a sweater: how to take accurate body measurements, how to read a schematic, understanding ease, and how to modify a dress form to match your own exact body measurements, so that you can use the mannequin to fit your own sweaters. Experienced knitters may be familiar with much of this information, but it will be a gold mine for newer knitters who haven’t encountered this sort of technical background before.

Chapter 2 is devoted to “Top-Down Raglan Sweaters,” and contains 7 patterns: a v-neck pullover with optional sleeve striping; a belted long cardigan (inspired by smoking jackets); a pullover with a cabled detailing that can be worn with the cable in the front or with the opposite side, a deep v-neck, as the front; a wide-collared pullover; another long cardigan with a ruffled collar; an empire-waist top with ruffled edging; and a button-front cape with ribbon edging.

Chapter 3 is devoted to “Top-Down Set-In Sleeve Sweaters,” and contains a simple crewneck; an empire-styled cardigan with ribbon tie; a short-sleeved turtleneck with saddle shoulders; a button front short-sleeve top with a stacked rib pattern; a scoop-neck short-sleeved sweater with ribbing on the top half; another long cardigan or coat; a shell with cable detailing at the neckline; a tuxedo-styled vest with deep, deep scoop (it’s boobtastic!); a beach cover-up that could also, I suppose, be worn as a short overlayered dress.

Chapter 4 are the “Round-Yoke Sweaters,” and oddly it only contains two patterns: you’ll find a round-necked cropped cardigan with single-button closure; the cover sweater, which is probably my favorite in the book, a yoke sweater with lace-up front.

Chapter 5 is titled “Designing on the Fly,” and includes patterns that Bernard says she designed without as much formal prepwork. Some of the patterns are, indeed, simple: a ribbed wrap, a scarf or rectangular wrap, a tank. Others are bit more detailed, such as a cabled-button-front cardigan, a beret with some stranded colorwork; a tank with a herringbone stitch that can double as a skirt (unless your butt is bigger than your boobs, which, alas, is the case with me).

The last chapter is called “Unleash Your Inner Designer” and contains even more technical information designed to help the knitter alter patterns or create her own designs. You’ll find helpful schematics that show how sweaters lay on the needles when knit top-down; tips on changing various types of necklines (i.e., changing a crewneck to a v-neck); common neckbands and collars; tweaking armhole depth; length and shaping tips; adding sleeves as an afterthought; changing pullovers to cardigans; substituting edgings; formulas for knitting circular sweaters; and a chart on how to determine how much yarn you’ll need. Lots of good technical info there.

Here are some breakdowns for you:
  • This is all knitting – no crocheted garments (an occasional crocheted edging is all you’ll find).
  • All of the patterns are for women.
  • Generous size ranges go from finished garment sizes of 20-some inches through 50-some and in at least one case 60-plus inches finished chest size.
  • Most garments are knit in worsted or heavy worsted/aran gauge (4.5 sts per inch was the most common gauge), with two knit at 6 sts per inch; two at 5.5 sts per inch; and two at around 3/3.5 sts per inch).
  • A total of 24 patterns (although most include tips on variations, and one thing I love to see: variations of the same pattern knit in different yarns to give the knitter a sense for how variations will actually look).
  • Of those patterns, all but four are for some sort of sweater; the remainder are the cape, beret, and two scarves/wraps. Of the sweaters, approximately eight are pullovers of some kind; seven are cardigans (three of which are long); three are tanks or shells (one of which doubles as a skirt); one cape; two scarf/shawls; one beret; and one cape.

When it comes to quality, once again, Stewart Tabori & Chang is top-notch: You'll get a hardcover book, with color throughout; beautiful clear photographs by Kimball Hall; lots of schematics; and insets with additional tips and techniques to accompany specific patterns. There was something vaguely reminiscent of 50s pinup girls about the photos and styling.

This was perhaps inspired by the garments, which are worn without much ease (or as my husband said, “I like the titty sweaters!”).

What about style? Well, you know my philosophy: style is a very individual and idiosyncratic thing when it comes to sweater design, and people have different reasons for buying knitting patterns and books. Very experienced knitters may feel that they already have the skills to create top-down sweaters in the round, and with many of these sweaters knit in stockinette stitch, they may want to take a close look to see if the patterns, the technical info or both make it worth their while to add to their collections. Newbie knitters should find a wealth of technical information that makes the purchase worthwhile – not to mention patterns that are stylish and fitted without looking excessively trendy. Of course, if you have a strong preference for seamed sweaters, or you want sweaters that feature a lot of complex patterning, colorwork or stitches, or you prefer boxy rather than fitted garments, this book – full of seamless fitted sweaters with a minimum of patterning – may not be for you.

As someone who designs knitwear, I find books like these to be refreshing. I love the emphasis on fitting the garment to the individual wearer, and I love the fact that the book helps give you the technical tools to be able to do so. I started the v-neck raglan called "Pink"

a while back (I'm still plugging away on it, shut up), and there are several other lovely sweaters in this book that I will be adding to my Ravelry queue. I've said before that there are, quite honestly, a lot of times when I just want to sit back and follow someone else’s directions rather than figure things out on my own. I’m glad to add Custom Knits to my knitting library, and I suspect I will refer back to it on many occasions.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another week flies by

Last summer, when making casual chit-chat with people, it would often be mentioned that the twins were entering first grade in the fall. It never ceased to crack me up how many people greeted this news by saying something along the lines of "Well, with all the kids in school all day, what are you going with all that free time?"

And most of them meant it in a non-ironical way, too.

Well, you can plainly see that I have not been spending all that free time updating my blog. My husband can assure you that I have not been spending all that free time cleaning up the house. My ass can assure you that I have not been spending all that free time at the gym. So what have I been doing lately?

Dyeing, swatching, photographing, writing, and bailing water against the oncoming tide of emails which never seem to all be answered. I'm not really complaining, mind you (except about the email.... since when did spam start getting sent in Greek? you know, in a whole different alphabet?). I feel lucky to be doing the things that I'm doing.

One of the things I was doing last week was meeting some deadlines. I had some articles to write, including a review that will appear in the new Knotions spring issue, which will go live in about a week. I also will have two sock patterns in the new Knotions, so look for them.

In the meantime, allow me to wish you all a happy Speranza'a. New readers: you can learn about the obscure yet delightful festival of Speranza'a here. Details about tonight's celebration, the first night of Speranza'a, tomorrow. Hint: I think we are celebrating the Principle of Irony tonight.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reading Report: January 2009

Okay, I completely lost track of the end of last year, so I'm just going to start fresh with January. (That's one good thing a New Year is for, right?) This year, I decided that my reading resolution is to read fewer "lazy" reads (meaning plot-driven, easy reads for diversion) and read some good books for the quality of the writing.

But before I got to that resolution, round about the 27th of the past month, January saw me reading, um, five mysteries (see? plot-driven, easy reads, diverting), although right now I'm working on a "great book" that I've been meaning to read for a while...

I read my first Inspector Morse novel, The Daughters of Cain. In this novel, Inspector Morse is called upon to solve the murder of a retired Oxford don. Morse is having health problems (could it be that diet of beer and cigarettes, Inspector?) and his sidekick Lewis is feeling acerbic. Twisted into the plot are a terminally ill high school teacher, her ne'er-do-well student, a housecleaner with an abusive spouse, the hooker with a heart of gold, and the college janitor/handyman who looks an awful lot like the don's murderer -- 'til he becomes a victim himself.

At the recommendation of one of you, I read A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis. Set in early 1900s Vienna, this historical mystery features a police detective and his friend/assistant, a medical doctor entranced with the "new" theories of Sigmund Freud. I enjoyed reading about life in turn-of-the-last-century Vienna and the changes in medicine and psychiatry (and police work) that were taking place in Europe during this era.

Down River by John Hart. This novel won the 2008 Edgar Award for best novel. Five years before the book begins, Adam Chase was tried and acquitted for murder in his small North Carolina hometown. Estranged from his father, he left town. As the book opens, Chase is on his way back to North Carolina after a childhood friend calls and appeals for help. I can see why this book won the Edgar: it's suspenseful, features interesting characters, the plot is intricate, and the writing is both tense and elegant.

What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell. I got this book as part of an program that provides customers with free items in exchange for writing reviews. I didn't realize the book was supposed to be a "young adult" novel at the time that I received it. Personally, I think a lot of kids' fiction today is dreary and excessively gritty ("the uplifting story of a victim of rape and her alcoholic mother set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War", ""a homeless kid's heartwarming struggle to overcome his autism during the Dust Bowl"). Which makes me not a very good person to judge whether this is "appropriate" for a teenager to read. It's a kind of noir/murder mystery/coming of age novel (sounds weird, I know), as a sixteen-year-old in the late 1940s learns about love and life and war and what being an adult really means -- and who killed the object of her crush (was it her drop-dead gorgeous mother? her ex-GI father? or was it an accident?). I enjoyed this book very much and it was a quick read. I liked the 1940s noir vibe: you could picture Lana Turner and Dana Andrews as the protagonist's parents with, um, a teenaged Natalie Wood as Evie?

My fellow sheep-lovers may enjoy Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story, by Leonie Swann, as much as I did. It's the story of a sheepherder's murder -- as told by the sheep in his flock. Unconventional, yes, but a very enjoyable read, with lots of funny observations about humans as seen through ovine eyes.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Woolbearers report

I can't believe I forgot to take my camera to Woolbearers yesterday! What a great shop. It's huge: Sabra, one of the incredibly nice people who work there, told me that the location used to be a pharmacy, and it's a great big space full of great yarns: Rowan, Jo Sharp, Classic Elite, Manos, Mountain Colors, and so many more, including Woolbearers' own handpaints. I met lots of wonderful customers and blogreaders (hi, Becky!) and some Ravelry-pals, and we sold all the books, AND they were even having a Super Bowl Sunday sale. A huge thanks to Myra for inviting me! (I will confess to being a little nervous when I realized I parked right next to Nancy the bail bondswoman -- would it be an omen? -- but I can assure you that Nancy's services were in no way needed by any of the knitting crowd.)

Right now, I'm in the process of scheduling visits to Twist in the New Hope area, and Woolgathering in Kennett Square. I'll be at Prairie Fiber Arts (IL) hopefully the weekend of April 18 (Franklin -- you need to email me, hon) and I'll be at Finely A Knitting Party in Swarthmore, PA on May 17th. If you live within driving distance of Philadelphia and want me to come sign books, please email me using the contact bar over to the right. (I'll come farther if you're willing to pony up a plane ticket...)