Thursday, July 28, 2011

FO: Sewing edition

A few weeks ago, while I was in-between projects, I got the urge to sew. I downloaded a very cute pattern for a girl's peasant dress -- Sis Boom's Molly Peasant Dress.

I had some fabric that I'd gotten on sale (from Anna Maria Horner's Innocent Crush collection).

The pattern was easy to follow, and there were only a few pieces to cut out and work with.

The only modification I made was to add a ruffle to the bottom in the same fabric I used for the sleeves. For some reason, the dress seemed to need the ruffle to balance out the proportions. (I just cut a rectangle that was twice as long as the circumference of the skirt, basted it on to get the ruffles right, and sewed it.)

Best of all, the dress fits (although next time I will go up a size) and looks adorable.

P.S. Still plenty of time to use the coupon code TOOHOT for 15% off orders of $25 or more (not including shipping) at Black Bunny Fibers....

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Book Process: part I

I did a blog post a little while back about some of the similarities I noticed between the quilting blog world and the knitting blog world. One thing I've seen on a lot of quilting blogs lately is a "Process Pledge." The Process Pledge is a vow to not just "show finishes or occasionally confess about our moments of indecision, but chat openly and often about our works in progress, our inspirations, and our moments of decision," to quote one blogger.

It got me thinking about blogging about the process of writing a knitting book, and since there's been some positive feedback from you, the readers, about me doing that, well, here goes. It's important to remember when you read this that these observations are based mainly on my personal experience, which is limited, and to a lesser extent on my conversations with others in the knitting/crochet industry. Others may have had different experiences. It's probably also worth noting that I don't have any background in the publishing industry. If anyone else wants to chime in by leaving a comment to give a different take on this, please feel free. So here goes.

Part 1: Selling your idea

Every book starts with an idea. It can be a topic that hasn't really been covered before in a book, or one that hasn't yet been covered adequately (I envisioned Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarns because no one had written a book about that topic but so many knitters seemed to struggle with it). Maybe it starts with a sensibility or a very distinct knitting style -- Melanie Falick books do this beautifully. Often an author uses a theme to group projects around, like Kristen Rengren's Vintage Baby Knits, or gathers projects that all use a particular technique, say all fair-isle patterns.

One of the things that's exciting about a creative industry like knitting is seeing the fascinating ideas that people come up with. Stitch 'N Bitch is a great example. By combining her own sensibility (hip, urban chicks with sticks) with a learn-how-t0-knit book, Debbie Stoller came up with a franchise that hit exactly the right spot at the right time. Charmed Knits: Projects for Fans of Harry Potter was published in 2007, but is still selling strong, cleverly sensing the overlap between knitters and Harry Potter fans. There have been knitting books for roller derby fans, a book featuring knit bloggers, two books devoted to punk-themed knits, a book of vampire knits, and coming within the next year is a book of goth knits, knits for self-proclaimed nerds, and who knows what else. There have been books based on Barbara Walker's techniques, socks inspired by oriental rugs, knits in skinny yarns, knits in chunky yarns, and so on.

However, the world of publishing is littered with the carcasses of book ideas that never made it. Sometimes good ideas just don't make good books. Sometimes a trend doesn't have a long enough shelf life to make it through the book-writing process; books take at least a year and often two or more to write from beginning to publication date. If you pitched "Grunge Knits" in 1993, by the time the book came to press in 1995 or 1996, grunge might seem passe. Sometimes an idea is good, but it proves to be difficult to get the people at a publishing company (especially one that doesn't specialize in craft books) to realize it. Or maybe they recently published a book that seems too similar ("we just published a sock book last year'). And sometimes an idea is good, but sadly, it just doesn't make it in front of the right editor at the right time.

In any event, once you've got that idea ("Deep-Sea Knits: 25 Projects Inspired by Jacques Cousteau") you've got to somehow get it in front of a book editor -- specifically an acquisitions editor who has the cool job of reviewing proposals and ideas for books and deciding which ones to pursue.

It can be really hard to get an idea in front of an acquisitions editor (although I can see why -- you know that everybody from their son's softball coach to the bag boy at the supermarket is always trying to sell book ideas to them, so who can blame them for being kind of hard to approach?). If you can manage it, it helps to run an idea by an editor in an informal way to get their reaction before going to the trouble of putting together a proposal. Generally, they either wrinkle their nose and say "I don't think we'd be interested in that" (oh boy, have I seen that nose-wrinkle a million times) or they say "That sounds interesting; do you have a written proposal?"

If you get past the nose-wrinkling test, then you've got to come up with a professional-looking written book proposal. Every editor and publishing company has a slightly different style and format (check the publisher's website; often they have written guidelines to help you) but basically you spell out your idea, tell why you think it's worth writing a book about it, give some analysis of the market (i.e. who do you expect will want to buy it), and provide outlines, sample chapters, sample projects and so on. Putting a written proposal together is a lot of work. Having it look super-polished is well worth the extra time it takes. When I first started mucking around with the idea of writing books, I thought that the strength of the writing and the concept were more important than the packaging; now I think that the packaging of the concept is half the battle. If you think that spending a lot of time crafting a book proposal is too much work, then trust me: you don't really want to write a book.

When your proposal is ready to go, you send it to the acquisitions editor, and wait. And wait. And maybe wait some more.

It's hard to say how long it can take to get a firm answer on a proposal. Sometimes you get a pretty fast no. Sometimes you are contacted and asked more questions, or to provide more material or elaborate on your idea. You might be asked if you are open to a slight change of focus. Sometimes you don't hear for ages and you have no idea why.

If you're lucky, and the proposal ends up in front of the right person at the right time, you'll get a call or email telling you the editor wants to do the book, but first has to present the proposal to a committee of some sort. The committee members may include management and other corporate overlords, marketing people, publicity people, art people, who knows who else? If you're very lucky, and if the acquisitions editor has all the information (s)he needs, your proposal will sail through and you'll get approval. Yay! Hurry up and sign the contract before they change their minds!

If you're not so lucky, the editor will come back with more questions, which may be hard to answer (e.g. "We did a book on beach knits a few years ago; how will Deep-Sea Knitting be different?"). You'll provide more information and hope it goes through the committee next time. Alas, there are times where you and the editor like an idea, but for some strange reason, perhaps a reason that is never articulated fully to you, the committee says no. Could be budget; could be publishing trends; could be a zillion different things. If you really believe in the strength of your idea, take that proposal and send it out to another publisher.

The conventional wisdom says that a prospective author only submits a proposal to one publishing company at a time; after they give you an answer, you then approach another one; and so on. However, if you sign with a literary agent, the agent can submit the proposal to multiple publishers simultaneously. I don't know why it's somehow appropriate to do it one way if you're unrepresented, and another way if you have an agent.

By the end of this process, you will either have a book contract, or will have been turned down by every publisher of craft books known to humankind. You can either try self-publishing, start work on a new proposal, or decide to go in a different direction.

You can see how the process of getting a book contract tends to straddle the line between doing something new and interesting (which seems risky to publishers but has the possible upside of being very popular while being the only or first book to tackle that topic) and doing something tried-and-true (easier to sell because publishers can look at sales figures for similar books and feel more confident there's a market for the topic, but may feel derivative or repetitive). It also explains why a year and a half after "Deep Sea Knits" is published, you might see "Underwater Knits" and "Titanic: 20 Knitting Projects Insipred by the Greatest Shipwreck of All Time" and maybe even "SpongeBob Knits" for the kiddies.

Next in the series: beginning work on a book

Friday, July 22, 2011

St-Denis Magazine Issue 3: Preview

Okay, I'm a little late getting to some of these magazine previews, but what the heck. It's that dead part of summer where the heat in Philadelphia makes everything seem used up and dried out. We need some inspiration, some color, some beauty to perk us up. And when it comes to beautiful knitting patterns, you all know how Véronik Avery is at the tippy-top of my list. One of the best things I got to bring home from TNNA with me was a copy of her latest St-Denis Magazine, Spring 2011, Issue 3. Let's look at the pretty things....

The issue begins with a gorgeous lace stole created by Franklin Habit in honor of his grandmother, Pauline, knit with St-Denis Boréale, in fingering weight:

One other item features lace, Vévé's Lace Weekend socks (love the photo!).

If you're looking for sweaters, you've got several gorgeous options, from Robin Melanson's versatile Woodward Cardigan,

to Laura Grutzeck's wonderful pullover with a detachable cowl,

to Cecily Glowik McDonald's Spicy Rose crossover cardigan,

to Véronik's Dolman

and Market Jacket,

but my absolute favorite might be her Ito Yoked Sweater vest... love it.

For accessories, you've got the aforementioned socks and shawl, along with two lovely pairs of stranded mittens, one by Jared Flood

and one by Kirsten Kapur (which also includes a hat pattern).

Pam Allen and Véronik collaborated on the adorable slippers:

while my Popcorn Muffler is shown on a dead-sexy Justin Timberlake-esque gentleman.

The cover pattern is Robin Melanson's Lucky Seven Beret (aren't those mushrooms around the edge too cute?).

For kids, you've got an adorable bear

and a sweet boy's sweater -- I like how the sweater is interesting to knit but not too cutesy or ornate for a boy to wear. Of course it would look darling in, say, Cyclamen, Magenta or Azalea for a girl....

Last up is the Galaxy Pillow, which I can appreciate even more given my current obsession with patchwork and quilting.

You can purchase St-Denis Magazine either directly from the St-Denis website, or from many fine shops (there's a list on the St-Denis website).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

No-Bull Book Review: Knit Noro (Trisha Malcolm ed.)

It is with great pleasure that I write today's Book Review. I've been a fan of self-striping yarns since the time I first saw one, and I am particularly fond of the ones created by Eisaku Noro. I understand that Noro yarns seem to trigger a love-'em-or-hate-'em response, but even if you aren't crazy about Noro self-stripers -- I personally love the vividness of the colors, the homespun texture and the wild color combos -- there are plenty of other self-stripers out there now that do similar things.

Our friends at Sixth & Spring have presented Noro lovers, and indeed, all fans of self-stripers, with a great gift by publishing Knit Noro: 30 Designs in Living Color (MSRP $24.95, available for $15.67 via the link).

What I like so much about this book is the combination of irresistible patterns that take advantage of the colors and striping tendencies of Noro yarn, and the terrific production values of the book. So let's take a closer look.

Knit Noro is a hardcover book, approximately9 by 12 inches, and 144 pages. From the minute you open the book, you are greeted with luscious color. The endpapers are a vintage-feeling floral print; the table of contents, title page and other pages aren't printed on a plain white background but are white type on more gorgeous photos; and every pattern is photographed at least 3 or 4 times in its individual pattern section. It seems like photographer Rose Callahan was able to record every nuance of color and texture from the Noro yarns in the photographs in this book. Also it's worth a shout-out to Sarah Liebowitz for the lovely styling in the photographs.

Striped Shawl (Tanis Gray)

The book features 30 patterns which are all shown as women's patterns, although a few of the accessories, like the Chevron Scarf, could be worn by men (perhaps with some color alterations). The patterns are pretty evenly divided between sweaters and accessories, with a few afghans/throws thrown in for good measure. And wisely, editor Trisha Malcolm let the color take center stage. (As my husband breathlessly told me when he opened the box containing my copy, "Each project gets its own two-page spread: FULL BLEED!")

Rainbow Knee-highs (Barb Brown)

It's hard to pick out favorites in the book since there is a wide variety in terms of techniques used, difficulty level and style -- and all of the patterns are simply luscious. So I'm just going to highlight a handful of the designs; you can see photos of all the designs at KFI's website here. The cover design is a belted kimono style cardigan that showcases the Noro stripes by creating a dramatic V in the back.

Belted Cardigan Vest (Theresa Schabes)

I like the way the Block Cardigan uses a solid color (in Cash Iroha) for cuffs and buttonbands, and also to create some framing around the component pieces of the sweater.

Block Cardigan (Peggy Forester)

Some of the patterns allow the yarn to stripe as it wants to,

Leaf Lace Socks (Judy Sumner)

while others deliberately alternate two different colorways (or start at different places in the color repeat) to create contrast.

Chevron Scarf (Cheryl Kubat)

This fair isle design, done in Noro sock yarn, is exquisite.

Fair Isle Cardigan (Mary Scott Huff)

I was happy to see some different techniques featured, like Rosemary Drysdale's entrelac scarf:

Entrelac Scarf (Rosemary Drysdale)

modular knitting, as in this throw:

Modular Afghan (Anna-Beth Meyer-Graham)

and stranded colorwork, including my own stranded chullo-style cap:

Fair Isle Cap (me!)

There's even a felted project:

Felted Cloche (Tina Whitmore)

The sweaters tend toward those styled as vests or sleeveless layering pieces,

Sideways Stripe Vest (Cheryl Murray)

and again, here the yarn's striping tendencies along with multidirectional knitting and other cleverness create interesting effects:

Modular Vest (Linda Cyr)

For my statisticians, here is your breakdown of the patterns:
  • 4 hats
  • 4 cardigans
  • 1 pullover

Trinity Stitch Sweater (Valentina Devine)

  • 5 scarves and 1 gaiter
  • 2 pairs of socks (one crew-length, one knee-high)
  • 1 pair of gloves & 1 pair of wristwarmers
  • 3 afghans/throws
  • 6 vests
  • 1 sleeveless tunic
  • 2 shawls/wraps

Fair Isle Cap (me!)

I am really happy to note that there are some nice expanded size ranges for many of the sweaters (well into the 40s and in some cases 50-some inch finished chests) and of course the accessories and throws are one-size fits all. You'll find schematics for the patterns that need them. The yarns used are Noro's Kureyon and Silk Garden (both worsted-ish weight), and Silk Garden Sock and Taiyo (both fingering weight).

Cabled Cap (Faina Goberstein)

So for the terrific patterns, the juicy color photography, and the overall fun factor, I give Knit Noro two self-striping thumbs up. I am not giving away any secrets when I tell you that the book has been so enthusiastically received that there is a second Noro-themed book coming in January...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shore Score

Our week at the beach is over. We are home and sunburned (in my case), nut-brown (in Little Miss's case)

and exhausted (all of us). Charcoal enjoyed his time at the beach but is happy to be back in his usual home in the kitchen.

As usual with these trips, they seem to fly by in an instant during those magical times when the water sparkles and the sky is deep blue,

and drag on forever when the kids are tired, hungry, crabby and whiny. But we always end up with lots of good memories.

This week we seemed to enjoy particularly beautiful weather. We had rain only once, and it didn't start until after 5 p.m. so it didn't affect our trip at all.

On Monday, I made the mistake of sitting with a portion of my arm outside the shade of the beach umbrella. Despite sunscreen and a cover-up, I ended up with a nasty burn on my upper arm. I got a rash guard to cover it up, but was taking no chances the rest of the week:

The water was reasonably warm and there was much frolicking about.

Another thing that I enjoy about our trips is the way we've created some family traditions. We have one or two restaurants we enjoy going to, there is always mini-golf and salt water taffy eating, and we usually eat in a couple of nights, which the kids love. (Our annual lighthouse climb will take place in August.)

On the last day of our trip, we were at the beach to squeeze in a last couple of hours, when much to our dismay we discovered:


Seriously, I cannot remember the last time I saw so many jellyfish in the water. Just standing by the water, peering in, we could easily count ten or twenty in the area right in front of us. Swimming was just not possible.

But we were staring out at this bee-yoo-tiful beach!

The boys had the brilliant (?) idea to start catching the jellyfish. I want to go on record here as saying that I was not in favor of this idea, envisioning a dropped bucket and a nasty sting, but you know boys.

(Big ones as well as little ones.) Little Miss initially reacted with "Ew!"

but then scientific curiosity -- as well as a thirst for revenge caused by a jellyfish sting she received a few years ago --- convinced her to take a closer look.

Soon she was catching jellyfish with the rest of them.

No one got stung, and the kids were fascinated by this slice of aquatic life.

Now we're back home and getting the avalanche of laundry done. Even though I miss the beach, it's still good to be home.