Thursday, February 25, 2010

West coast friends....

if you are going to Stitches West, please stop by the booth of Crafting For The Peanut Gallery/Rabbitworks, where you will not only find beautiful handmade wooden lovelies like darning eggs and lazy kates, and the initimable Rabbitch and her handpainted yarns, but you will also find a small batch of Black Bunny Fibers yarns and patterns. Look for Booth 1242 and give them a big hug from me.

This week has gotten away from me, and not especially in a good way. Tuesday was the two-month anniversary of my dad's death, which still seems surreal to me, and we're getting smacked with more snow tonight and tomorrow. I'm feeling out of sorts, so I'll sign off now.

P.S. For Philadelphia area knitters, Clara Parkes' visit to Loop has been POSTPONED due to bad weather. (Thanks, J.!!)

Friday, February 19, 2010

BBF update: new silk-merino sock yarn & Tight Twist is back!

FYI: Just in time for your shopping pleasure, I updated the BBF site with some gorgeous hanks of a new base yarn, Softsilk Sock, which is 50% merino and 50% silk, superwash, fingering weight. Of course, you can make socks with it, but it would also be so lovely as a scarf or cowl, where it would brush gently against your skin and make your eyes look that exact shade of ice blue...

or gray

or cornflower

However, if you're thinking some serious stitchwork, you might also want to treat yourself to a skein or two of Tight Twist, the beloved wool/polyamide blend reminscent of the Serious German Sock Yarns like Opal or Trekking.

Some nice deep blue and red and green,

but also some nice multis, too. And if you purchase $25 or more, use the code "GROUNDHOG" for free shipping through February! Link to the shop is here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Homework time (or why Mommy needs Xanax)

This is how Little Miss does her homework.

Little Miss gets out all her papers and spreads them all over the living room floor.

Me: Do you want to work at your desk? or on the dining room table?
Little Miss: NO! I'm doing it here.
Me: Okay.

Little Miss: [whining] I don't know how to doooo this problemmmmm....
Me: Don't whine; just ask for help.
Little Miss: MOMMY I NEED HELP WITH THIS PROBLEM! [disgusted sigh]
Me: Okay, bring it over and quit yelling.
Little Miss: Why do I have to bring it over???
Me: Because you want me to help you with it?
Little Miss: Why can't I just READ it to you, Mommy?
Me: Okay.
Little Miss: I have to divide 8 dollars up among five people. But 8 doesn't divide by 5. WHAT A STUPID PROBLEM.
Me: Why don't you think about turning the 8 dollars into coins, instead? How many dimes are in a dollar?
Little Miss: EVERYONE knows there are ten. I'm NOT a dummo, Mom.
Me: Okay, so if you had 8 dollars, you could have 8 one-dollar bills OR you could have 80 dimes.
Little Miss: I'm NOT supposed to have 80 dollars. I'm supposed to have 8.
Me: I know, but I'm turning the 8 dollars into dimes. You would have ten dimes for each dollar, so 10 x 8 = 80.
Little Miss: WHAT ARE YOU, A STUPIDIO? I'm supposed to DIVIDE, not MULTIPLY.
Me: Did you just call me stupid?
Little Miss: [murms]
Me: You aren't allowed to call me stupid. If you don't want me to help, I won't.
Little Miss: But how am I going to divide EIGHT DOLLARS FOR FIVE PEOPLE????
Me: Why don't you try dividing 80 dimes among five people?
Little Miss: That's NOT the way I'm supposed to do the problem, Mom. Sheesh.
Me: Well, if you know how to do the problem, why are you asking me for help? Just do it.
Me: Go to your room. Your father can help you with your homework.

[Snit ensues. Little Miss retreats to her room. An hour later, Tom comes home.]

Little Miss (sweet as pie): Mommy wouldn't help me with my homework. Will you?
Me (from other room): Did you tell Daddy how you called me stupid when I tried to help and then had a snit when I told you to go to your room?
Tom: Oh really?
Little Miss (ignoring the peanut gallery): I have eight dollars and I have to divide it up among five people.
Tom: Why don't you turn it into 80 dimes? Then you can divide the 80 dimes among the five people. You can start by giving each person ten dimes. Then you have 30 left. What's 30 divided by 5?
Little Miss: 6?
Tom: Right.
Little Miss: So each person gets 10 plus 6 dimes?
Tom: Right. That's $1.60.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The new KnitScene

If you haven't seen the new KnitScene, I am pleased to report that in addition to all sorts of pretty things like the Helleborus Yoke and several pretty shawls (including one by Philly's own Kate Gagnon Osborn), you'll find two hats designed by me.

The Ribby Toque is knit in a heavy worsted (Zara Plus was used for the sample, which is a great yarn with beautiful stitch definition, like its skinnier sibling Zara)

and the Picot Cloche features a picot edge and eyelets through which you thread a ribbon -- lots of freedom to be creative in the combination of ribbon and yarn you pick, although the yarn that was used for the sample, Rowan Lima, is an absolutely luscious chainette tape made mostly of alpaca):

Both are great projects for less experienced knitters, and experienced knitters could whip one out while watching the Olympics one night.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Once again...

it's time to celebrate Speranza'a. For those of you new to the blog, here's the original explanation that I wrote a few years ago:

A couple of years ago, my kids got a Sesame Street DVD called Elmo's Happy Holidays. It's very cute, and covers Christmas, Hannukah, Eid and Kwanzaa, explaining the basic idea behind the holidays and showing real kids and their families celebrating them. My kids have watched this DVD over and over (and over). Somehow they got the idea that we should create and celebrate our own family holiday. Since their last name, like my husband's, is "Speranza," the obscure festival of Speranza'a was born.

Each winter, when the days are gray and cold and it seems like spring will never come, it is time for Speranza'a. (Technically speaking, it begins on the first Monday after Valentine's Day.) Each person in the family gets their own day. Monday is Tom's, mine is Tuesday, and so on, and the sixth and final day is for Charcoal [-- and any guests fortunate enough to be invited.] The person whose day it is gets to pick what we are having for dinner. Candles are lit and the person whose day it is gets to make a wish and blow out the candles. After dinner, we dance in the living room.

We are still working out some of the finer details; for example, someday I will have to take the kids to one of those paint-your-own pottery places so we can make special candleholders (a spenorah?). We still need to work on the Six Principles of Speranza'a: so far we've got the Principles of Irony, Gluttony and Magnetism, but I think they need tweaking.

But all silliness aside, it is sweet and surprising to see how much this family tradition means to my kids. They've been talking about it for weeks. They talk about what they are going to pick for their dinner (Elvis picked turkey breast; N. is opting for shells in tomato sauce; G. will probably ask for bacon and popcorn) and they are thrilled when it's their turn to make a wish and blow out the candles. From the parents' perspective, it is heartwarming to feel like we are making some special memories with our kids. I have little daydreams about them coming over when they are grownups, still celebrating this made-up holiday with us as we all grow older.

So from my family to yours, we wish you a happy Speranza'a!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We're still here....

even though we got hit with a one-two punch from Mother Nature. Around two feet over the weekend, and close to another two feet over the course of the last 36 hours.

While this has created certain logistical difficulties, we still have power and cable and internet, and God knows I've got plenty of yarn, so I am not complaining one bit.

Monday, February 08, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Color by Kristin, by Kristin Nicholas

We just had a weekend full of snow, and more is forecasted for mid-week. So while everything is white outside, it is the perfect time to drown oneself inside with color. In other words, it's the perfect day to review Kristin Nicholas's new book.

Whenever I run into Kristin Nicholas, I always get a huge smile on my face. She is one of the most genuine and nicest people you'll ever find in the knitting world, and she is incredibly talented. Kristin paints, she designs embroidery as well as knitwear, illustrates, is a photographer, has a great kid and raises sheep and cats on her farm. (I suspect she's one of those people who would excel at anything she tried her hand at, whether an artistic endeavor, construction work, neurosurgery, macrame...) So when I heard Kristin had a new book out, I was all over it like a donkey on a waffle. (I regret to confess that I've been meaning to do this book review for weeks -- weeks, I tell you! -- but, sigh, you know how it goes with me.)

Color by Kristin: How to Design Your Own Beautiful Knits (Sixth & Spring 2009; MSRP $24.95, available at the time of this writing for $16.47 via the link), was released this November, and it is a feast for the eyes, teeming with color and inspiration. It's a hardback book, about 172 pages long, and (obvy, as the young kids say) full-color. One thing that I do love about the book is how very jam-packed with color it is: the end papers are photographs of swatches, there are close-ups of knitwear all over the place, there are lots of photographs of colorful yarn and nature and collages and all sorts of pretty things, many of them taken on Kristin's farm.

Cuffed Mittens & Socks

The book begins with Kristin's introduction, called "A Life in Color." In it, she describes her fascination with color, tracing her involvement with textiles beginning with sewing, progressing through studying textile design, serving as Creative Director of Classic Elite Yarns, and currently running a sheep farm in Western Massachusetts. Kristin describes how she likes to mix up colors "with wild abandon," as she puts in, adding embroidery to the stranded designs she favors.

Child's Zip-Up Cardigan

Chapter 1 is a brief introduction to Kristin's interpretation of color theory. I say "Kristen's interpretation" because I think that different people like to work with color in different ways. For example, Kristin tends not to work with white or black, even as accents, because she feels "they make things stagnant." She presents, instead, a loosely-structured color wheel (with yarn pompoms instead of swatches or chips) and explains the difference between complementary, analogous and tertiary color combinations. If you are looking for traditional color theory, this isn't the place for you; what makes Kristin's style unique is that she is guided not by strict principles but by intuition and inspiration. Her approach to color "theory" is more an attempt to give the reader a very basic understanding of the general rules, and let the reader play with color herself. Accordingly, she includes a page showing the importance of swatching, with five swatches of the same motif knit in different color combinations. I love illustrations like this, that bring home in a visually arresting way how the same motif or stitch pattern can look vastly different depending on color choice. (Swatches are also included for alternate colorways in some of the patterns, a great way for a timid knitter to envision different color combinations.) Kristin ends this chapter by urging the reader to explore color, keeping track of color combinations that appeal and working with color on a regular basis.

On-the-Go Knitter's Tote

Chapter 2 contains general instructions for two-color stranded knitting. This chapter discusses a little about the background of stranded knitting; emphasizes the importance of gauge; gives tips on how to knit with two yarns, floats, and so on; discusses working in the round, including steeking, following charts, increasing while keeping the pattern correct, and centering a pattern repeat; and ends with an explanation of working duplicate stitch. The chapter concludes with two projects allowing the knitter to practice two-stranded color knitting; the projects are simple and involve no shaping, but will enable the knitter to practice reading charts, working with two strands of yarn, and other helpful skills.

Chapter 3 is devoted to designing with stranded knitting, using charts to ease the knitter into creating her own designs. This is a brief section, intended for an adventurous knitter who wants to plunge in and experiment with her own designs and motifs.

The book then turns to Kristin's patterns, well over twenty of them. The patterns consist of a combination of items for kids, women and the home. They're presented sequentially, rather than broken down into chapters, so I've grouped them myself.

Norwegian Dreams Pullover

We'll start with women's sweaters; you'll find the Hen Party Pullover, a yoke-sweater with colorwork around hem and cuffs; and the Norwegian Dreams pullover (above), both highly-patterned and very colorful. You'll also find the wild "Over the top Shawl," featuring lots of color and pattern; and the Southwest-Style Sleeved Wrap, a kind of ruana with sleeves sewn in (the boxy shape is a great palette for color design, while the sleeves enable the garment to stay on better than a wrap would).

Southwest-Style Sleeved Wrap

Women's accessories are a great place to experiment with bright colors and wild combinations, and those with more conservative style might feel more comfortable starting with smaller objects before plunging into a full-size garment. Great starting points are the charming Bloomsbury Gauntlets, the Mad For Plaid Mittens (sized for the whole family); the Extra-Long Scarf (designed for using up yarn odds and ends); the Last-Minute Mittens and Hat combo; and a cute set of cuffed mittens with matching socks (shown near the top of this post).

Best Friends Pullovers

Using bright color combinations is a perfect way to design for kids. For babies, there is the Many Hearts Baby Afghan, consisting of blocks which are then joined so that a border can be knit on; Kristin suggests that several knitters can each knit a block and then present the blanket as a joint gift; the Child's Zip-up Cardigan (shown toward the top of this post); the Scrap-Yarn Scarf; and the charming Best Friends Pullovers, two coordinating sweaters using different designs to reflect the differing personalities of best friends. In adult and child's sizes are the Greek-antique-inspired Family of Slipper Socks; and the Mother-Daughter Mittens,

Mother-Daughter Mittens

as well as the Mad for Plaid mittens mentioned above.

Rounding out the patterns are the home dec and bags: the On-the-Go Knitter's Tote, with lining and leather handles (above); a cover for a French press; a felted laptop cozy; a cylinder-shaped bolster;

Pompom Bolster

the Marrakesh Market Pillows, a set of four pillow covers in different sizes (some of them are shown with the bolster, above); a huge ottoman cover; and a sweet teapot cozy.

Lazy Daisy Tea Pot Cozy

When it comes to yarn and gauge, all the projects are knit in Julia, the worsted-weight, wool/mohair/alpaca yarn that Kristin created and which is produced by Nashua Handknits. (You can see that Kristin designed the palette, as it is full of the vivid colors she favors.) Sizing for most of the items isn't a big deal; all the home dec-type items and many of the accessories, like the scarves, are not dependent on the knitter's size. The women's sweaters run from the smallest size of around 36-inch finished bust to the largest size of a 52-inch finished bust -- generous sizing. The child's sizes run from around a 24-inch finished chest to a 36-inch finished chest. The handgear varies; some are sized, others are one-size-fits most.

After the pattern section, there are more goodies: a series of different edgings with directions; a set of colorwork charts with repeats of different stitch numbers, which allows the knitter both to substitute different motifs into the existing patterns, and to experiment with her own designs; and instructions on a few basic skills (like Kitchener stitch) and embroidery stitches.

I really enjoyed looking through this book, and not just because I adore Kristin Nicholas as a person. Of course, I love the use of color and the way that sources of inspiration -- flowers, swatches, color combinations -- are placed throughout. I like the way that alternate color palettes and charts are provided to let the knitter riff on the designs, making them her own. I like the way that the stranded knitting projects in this book will help introduce knitters scared of super-skinny yarns to experience the pleasure of making colorful stranded projects.

But what struck me the most about the book was how unique, and uniquely American, Kristin's style is. She uses a fresh and bright color palette based in large part on the countryside of her New England farm; she takes Scandinavian-style stranded knitting and gives it her own spin, using thicker yarns and different color combinations, and adding embroidery; she is inspired by all sorts of ethnic textiles and traditions -- you can see the influence of Greek and Turkish textiles in some of her patterns, the bold color combinations are reminiscent of African and Carribean cloth, the symmetry and borders and two-color motifs of Fair Isle knitting -- and like the proverbial melting pot, she mixes them all together and creates something new and striking.

Maybe Kristin's bold color combinations aren't for you, or maybe you prefer to work with skinnier yarns or make more tailored garments, or maybe muted colors and lots of neutrals are your thing. That's great. But there is certainly something for you to take from Kristin's work no matter what you prefer to knit for yourself: her sense of adventure, her willingness to play with color to see where it takes you, the boldness of unexpected combinations, and in the most general sense, the courage to trust one's own instincts when it comes to artistic pursuits.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Gitte's Socks

Allow me to introduce another pattern in the BBF line: Gitte's Socks.

They are knit in fingering weight yarn and feature a nice eyelet check pattern-- pretty but not excessively complicated. The sample socks are knit in BBF Bamboo Lite Sock (a base on backorder right now) but any fingering weight yarn in a solid or semi-solid would work, including Superwash Merino Classic, CashSock or Tight Twist Sock (which will be my next update).

One amusing anecdote: I did a photo shoot with Bridget as my foot model in Rittenhouse Square. (The photos I took weren't usable but this was entirely due to my skills as a photographer, rather than the beauty of Bridget's feet. The lovely photos you see here were taken by the uber-talented Laura Grutzeck.) We were snapping photos and Bridget was striking poses, and a woman walked by with her boyfriend and Bridget heard her ask, "Are they anybody?" We of course cackled at that. But we didn't pay her too much mind, because us Somebodies try to ignore the Little People as much as possible.

You can find Gitte's Socks on Ravelry here or Patternfish here. I'll be adding some hard copies to the BBF store soon, too.

Monday, February 01, 2010


You know nothing gets my former-lawyer juices flowing like a knitting-related lawsuit. I just found out that at the end of 2009, Cascade Yarns (maker of such well-loved products as Cascade 220) has filed a federal lawsuit against Crafts Americana Group, Inc. (a/k/a "Knit Picks").

From a lawyer's standpoint, the Cascade v. KnitPicks lawsuit is interesting because it involves an area of the law that is just beginning to evolve. You're no doubt familiar with the way that an internet search (using a search engine like Google or Yahoo) works: you go to the search bar, type in what you're looking for, and the search engine gives you results. The results usually appear in a numbered list. You may also have noticed that in addition to the numbered search results, you also get a bunch of ads at the top of the screen and along the side(s).

I'm going to oversimplify a bit, but a search engine generates these two kinds of search results -- the list of results (sometimes called the "organic" results) and the paid ads that go with them, in two different ways. The organic search results are derived by the search engine using some complicated method of searching the web for words and phrases, applying a formula or algorithm, and then generating a list of what the search engine thinks are the most relevant results. The search engines are very careful to keep secret the exact formulas that they use to calculate their organic search results.

But the paid ads that you see (sometimes called "Sponsored Links" or something like that), along the top or side of the screen, are different. For the paid ads, search engines like Google let advertisers pick words that the advertiser wants to trigger its ad; whenever the ad is clicked on by a user, the advertiser has to pay a specified amount (sometimes this is called "pay per click" advertising). The search engines may use a kind of auction to dole out the ads; the advertiser who agrees to pay the most per-click will get the ad space and the top ranking. So if I sell a brand of hay for people to feed to their pet rabbits, my company might bid on words or phrases like "house rabbit", "pet bunny", "bunny food" and "rabbit hay." If I bid enough, then whenever someone does a search for any of those terms, the search engine will display my ads along the top or side, accompanying the actual search results. If the searcher then sees my ad and clicks on it, I pay a certain amount for that click.

The idea behind all this is simple. I want to identify only the people who are interested in my type of product (in my example, I want to find people who own pet bunny rabbits and are looking for hay to feed to them). Targeting search terms is a shorthand way to narrow down the huge number of internet users to those who seem interested in what I am selling. That way I can pay only for advertising to those people. It's a way of targeting my advertising dollars to the places where I think they will do the most good.*

How does all this relate to the Cascade v. KnitPicks lawsuit?

Well, Cascade is alleging that KnitPicks bid on "Cascade Yarns", "Cascade 220" and/or "220 Superwash" -- three phrases that are trademarks of Cascade -- so that when someone types in a search for, say, "Cascade 220", a KnitPicks ad would show up at the top or on the side, with a heading that says "Cascade Yarn" or something like that. (see Paragraph 17 of the Complaint) But KnitPicks does not sell Cascade Yarn -- it only sells its own brands of yarn. Cascade is alleging that KnitPicks is improperly using Cascade's trademarked phrases to get consumers to go to KnitPicks' website (where Cascade Yarn is NOT sold), or to "free ride" off Cascade's alleged reputation for quality, or to create confusion in the customer's mind. (Paragraphs 18-26 of the Complaint)

Think about this from the consumer's perspective. Say you want to purchase Happy Brand Hay for your pet bunny. You don't know where you can buy it. So you go to Google and type in "Happy Brand Hay." At the top of the page, above your numbered search results, you see an ad that says "Happy Brand Hay ON SALE". You click on the ad, thinking you'll find a deal on the brand of hay you want to purchase. How would you feel if you ended up at an online shop that didn't even sell Happy Brand Hay, but sold other competing brands? Would you be irked, because you really wanted Happy Brand, and this advertiser didn't even sell it? Would you not care if you found an alternative to Happy Brand that was cheaper or seemed better? Would you go back to the search engine and do research on Happy Brand vs. the other brand you encountered, pleased that you now can compare two products to see which is better for you?

Now think about it from the pet shop's perspective. If you sell hay for pet rabbits, you might be interested in reaching out to anyone who has manifested an interest in buying rabbit hay on line. You might not care if they appear to be interested in a brand of hay you don't carry; once you get them to your website, you may feel that your prices, or your selection, or your free shipping, or your fabulous interactive web design, will get that consumer to buy one of the hay brands you do sell. Pay-per-click bidding on any and every brand name of rabbit hay may seem like a sensible way to target your ads.

Now think about it from the Happy Brand Hay perspective. You've spent a lot of time and money building up your brand name. You've gone out of your way to produce very high quality hay. You honestly believe your hay is the best hay on the market. You've invested in advertising and research about what kinds of hay are best. Now a company that doesn't even sell your hay is reaching out to people who have searched for your own brand of hay. That company wants to pull those people over to its website and sell them another brand of hay. Do you think this is unfair? Do you think it might confuse consumers who are looking for your hay?

In other words, like so many things in life, this legal issue is complicated .

One of the things that is fascinating from a legal standpoint about this lawsuit is that it involves a brand-new area of the law. The internet hasn't been around that long, and it's created all sorts of new fact situations that the law hasn't caught up with yet. This pay-per-click advertising using key words that are trademarked is one of those relatively untested situations. Intellectual property attorneys will be watching this case to see whether the court creates any new precedents. There have been other cases brought using similar legal theories; you can read more about some of them here.

If you'd like to read the complaint in full, you can go here. I did some vigorous searching but could not find any record of a response filed by KnitPicks/Crafts Americana.

Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves, but please don't trash either litigant in the comments. And if I've mangled the explanation of pay-per-click advertising, feel free to correct me. Don't forget: play nice.

*Another way that advertisers target their advertising is by bidding on certain specific product names that they sell. So if I am a pet store and I sell Happy Brand Hay, a delightful blend of dried grasses for pet bunnies to nibble on, I might pay a search engine to show my pet store ad every time someone searches for Happy Hay. That way, my ad will end up being displayed to people who have shown an interest in one of the products that I carry. If you search for Happy Hay, and you see my ad, and you click on it, you might end up purchasing it from me, instead of another Happy Hay retailer.