Sunday, February 26, 2012

Playing around

We all know how easy it is to get into a rut, even when doing something that is generally considered a creative endeavor.  I don't know that I've been playing with fabric long enough to have found myself in an official "rut," but I did decide it would be fun to try doing some patchwork squares that consisted of smaller pieces sew together, rather than bigger blocks made of a single fabric like I have been doing.  I found some instructions for making wonky nine-patch blocks (oh, you quilters, with your "wonky" and your "scrappy") and gave it a go.

I wasn't able to master the trick of shuffling the blocks around so that each block has one square of every different fabric, but it was still really fun to end up with pieced blocks.  Wonky pieced blocks.  Wonky AND scrappy pieced blocks.

Trying something different with fabric got me thinking the next time I was dyeing yarn.  I have always loved creating really saturated colorways, but lately I have been seeing a lot of yarns featuring more dappled colors, with more variations in how the colors take and more colors peeking through in layers.  I don't know if I'm being clear -- it's hard to verbalize this kind of thing -- but I figured I would play around with some different techniques and see what happened. The last batch of yarns I did (some Superwash Merino Classic Worsted and Cashmerino Sock) includes some of these skeins:

The top photo shows some of the dappled colors, and the peach one what happened when I played with overlapping colors.

These are two of the CashSock colorways that came out especially striking.  These are all in stock in the Black Bunny Fibers on-line shop.

Don't forget: there are still a few more days to participate in the Go Knit In Your Hat Summer-Search Fundraiser! The prizes are wonderful and we're SO VERY CLOSE to my goal of raising a thousand dollars for Summer Search:

See the list of fabulous prizes here..... -- including knitting books! yarn! roving! and other goodies!!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The first day of Speranza'a

My regulars know all about the obscure festival of Speranza'a, but for newcomers, here is the original explanation 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 Kwanza'a, 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?). Update: Last year we made a kick-ass 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!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Well, lookee here...

Guess what popped up for preorders on this week?  (Anne Marie from Philly, I hope you are squeeing....)

The cover photo will be up in a few weeks, but even without photos to show you, it is tremendously exciting to know that we are inching closer to our October 2 release.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Preview: Rowan 51

It's that time again:  a brand spankin' new Rowan Magazine is out. Are you ready for a preview?

The cover photo on the magazine (Marseille, a crocheted cardigan designed by Marie Wallin) screams "vintage" to me, and there is indeed a strong vintage feel to the Spring/Summer magazine. You'll find a total of 47 designs in this Magazine, divided into three themes or "stories," as well as three articles (two designer interviews, and a piece about an art college graduate working with a women's shelter in India).

Scout (Julia Frank)

The first story is called "Artisan," and is inspired by "ancient tribal and traditional textiles of Africa and the Middle East."  These pieces are designed to be casual, worn in layers and have a relaxed feel, like Crusader, a sort of draped poncho-style sweater by Marie Wallin.

Crusader (Marie Wallin)

Kaffe Fassett's muted Settler gives the boyfriend sweater some staggered rib and delicate stripes while retaining a comfortable but not sloppy silhouette:

Settler (Kaffe Fassett)

One thing I love about Rowan designers is the way they mix yarns from different Rowan lines together in the same garment, and there are several interesting choices that do this in the first story; Tamarind, by Lisa Richardson, creates vertical stripes in different yarns,

Tamarind (Lisa Richardson)

while Lead uses one yarn as a striped embellishment on the bodice.

Lead (Marie Wallin)

Another great characteristic of Rowan designers is their use of stranded knitting in less conventional ways, and Marie Wallin does this by cleverly using a band of colorwork to break up a striped pattern;

Posse (Marie Wallin)

then interprets the tribal motif in a more delicate way in this summer top:

Tribe (M. Wallin)

But best of all are the designs which are elegant, classic, and wearable, like the lovely Sarah Hatton's Quest

Quest (Sarah Hatton)

and friend of GKIYH Martin Storey's Discover, two of my favorites in this Magazine.

Discover (Martin Storey)

The second story is titled "Riviera," evoking the glamour of 1950s-60s resorts. The colors are brighter and the styling harkens back to the days of pedal-pushers, waved bobs and big sunhats.  The Mary Tyler Moore in you will enjoy polo-styled Monte Carlo;

Monte Carlo (Sarah Dallas)

while your inner Grace Kelly will look smashing in this lace tunic-tank,

Cannes (M. Wallin)

or playful striped cardigan;

St. Tropez (Erika Knight)

and when you want to relax on the veranda, you can reach for scalloped Vence,

Vence (L. Richardson)

the part-sheer and part-matte Nice,

Nice (M. Wallin)

or the drapey Toulon.

Toulon (L. Richardson)

Just as he managed to sneak his way into my hotel room at VK Live in January, hipster-bon-vivant-designer Josh Bennett managed to sidle into Rowan Magazine 51.  I am  not sure if it's possible for a man to be a minx, but if it is possible then Josh Bennett surely is a minx for getting a whopping six (6!) of his designs into the Magazine, along with a special interview.  With this bohunky Elvis-meets-Billy-Ray-Cyrus model, we've got lots of colorwork

Hell's Kitchen (Josh Bennett)

and texture, with all the patterns named after NYC neighborhoods.  Indeed, I could not help but opine that Mr. Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat would look hot in this good-looking sweater in Creative Linen:

East Village (J. Bennett)

Last is thestorywhere Rowan presents alternate versions of the new designs. The designs are simplified or reworked in different colors and styles.  For example, if you found the full-on intarsia bow version of Amber a little much for your personal style,

Amber (M. Storey)

check out how different it looks in a more muted colorway, sans bow:

Amber v. 2 (M. Storey)

Not sure about the draped poncho-top? How about in a very neutral cream, with loose-fitting floral pants and top?

Summer (M. Wallin)

Like the lines of the two-color Lead sweater, above? How about a version done in a single yarn, with the texture as the only contrast?

Mia (M. Wallin)

I know that a lot of knitters have trouble envisioning patterns in different colors or with slight modifications from that shown in the sample, so I think this feature is a terrific way for knitters to gain some confidence when it comes to making patterns their own rather than copying them exactly as shown in the photo.

Crocheters: there are only a few crocheted garments in this issue; I saw two (including the cover design and this lovely tunic)

Mission (M. Wallin)

plus a knitted garment with crocheted embellishment.

For the Philadelphians in the crowd, note that Loop now carries many of the fine Rowan yarns used in these patterns, as well as Rowan Magazine 51. . .

Shop Update

Please note that I have restocked the luscious new base yarn Devon, a DK blend of 70% merino, 20% baby alpaca and 10% silk -- just $40 for a whopping 600+ yds. hank.....

First Light (Devon base)

Orange Marmalade (Devon base)

and I've dyed 2 matching skeins in each colorway:

Rosedamson (Devon base)

Aegian (Devon base)

There are also some freshly-dyed skeins of fingering-weight CashSock (also dyed in twos in case you'd like to tackle a shawl):

Old Dog (Cashsoft)

Flannel Plaid (Cashsoft)

Pretty in Pink (Cashsoft)
So pop on over to the Black Bunny Fibers website if you are shipping on orders of $25 or more in merchandise with the code "FACEBOOK".....

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Another FO: Quilting Edition

This week blew right by me, and before I knew it, I realized it had been a whole week since my last blog post. To update you on the Summer Search raffle, I am very happy to report that as of today, my readers have raised

a whopping $ 770 for Summer Search Philadelphia.  Woohoo!  There's still plenty of time to donate--the raffle will remain open through the end of February, so please consider helping out the great kids who benefit from this program.  Details here.

In the meantime, I have another finished quilt to show you. This is a throw-sized quilt I made for a very dear friend, Kristi. I first got to know her through Ravelry, and then, when she was attending a conference in Philadelphia, we got to meet in real life.  We also got to see each other the weekend I was in Hartford (remember our tour of the Mark Twain house?).

Kristi is going through some tough times, so I made up a care package for her, of which this quilt was a big part. Her favorite color is orange, so I gathered up squares from every orange fabric I could find. In addition to plain squares, I also put scraps and strips together to make some wonky patchwork squares.

The best part was finding the perfect fabric for the backing: Kristi's Ravatar is a pig, and I stumbled across pig fabric--in orange.

(This is a shot of the quilt all rolled up before I started machine-quilting it. but you can see the little piggehs on the backing really well.)

I decided to bind it with a neutral color, but didn't want to use black (too Halloween-y) or a lighter beige (would get drowned out by the orange) but found a perfect gray dot to do the trick.

Last step:  sewing on the BBF label!

I had so much fun making this quilt, not the least of which was because it was a surprise for a very dear person who deserves a huge pat on the back for handling an awful situation with incredible courage and grace.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

No-Bull Book Review Twofer

Recently I was sent two review copies of books that appealed to the child in me (in the best sense of the phrase).  So let's do a No-Bull Book Review Twofer.

First up is a charming children's picture book called Extra Yarn, with text by Mac Barnett and illustrations by Jon Klassen (Harper Collins 2012; MSRP$16.99, available via the link for $10.19 as of the time of this writing).

The simple, sweet story is about a girl who finds a box "filled with yarn of every color." What else can this clever girl do, but use the yarn to make a sweater? After she makes herself and her doggie a sweater, and makes sweaters for all the creatures around her, and makes sweaters for the other people in her life, but the magical box doesn't run out of yarn, she makes sweaters for trees and buildings and pick-up trucks. An evil archduke covets the box, but you probably won't be terribly surprised to hear that there is a happy ending.

If Barnett and Klassen aren't knitters, they must be married or related to knitters, in particular the yarn-bombing kind.  For example, only someone with a knitter's soul would imagine a world in neutral, restrained colors --except for the yarn, which adds a rainbow of color wherever it is used by the girl. Only a knitter can truly understand the desire to cover everyone you know in handknit goodies, like the girl who lovingly knits sweaters for all the people and animals and even inanimate objects in her life.

I particularly loved the way that the illustrator used the shapes of real knitted fabric for all of the knitted items -- a nice touch that packs a lot of punch. It's a lovely book and would charm any knitter or under-8-year-old child.  Not surprisingly, the book has been getting rave reviews from both the knitting community and the publishing world, so I highly recommend it for any kids in your life. And even for the grown-up yarn lovers with a sense of whimsy.

The second book is a more traditional knitting pattern book but one with a somewhat untraditional topic:  knitting dinosaurs.  Knitted Dinosaurs: 15 Prehistoric Pals to Knit from Scratch (STC 2011; MSRP $16.95, available for $11.53 through the link as of the time of this writing), is a delightful book full of detailed patterns for knitting dinosaurs.

When I was in first grade, I remember very distinctly going through a phase where I was fascinated with dinosaurs. I had little plastic ones of all kinds, and I knew all of their names, what they ate, and so on. (Once my kids reached that phase, I was shocked and appalled to learn that some of the dinosaur names I learned don't exist any more.....good-bye, Brontosaurus!)

Barrett notes that when she began working on the book, her daughter was in a prehistoric phase:
We were surrounded by dino books, a roaring plastic Spinosaurus and even a "hungry dinosaur" game. Therefore, I felt well qualified (one step away from being an expert paleontologist in fact) to tackle the challenge of creating some woolly dinosaurs with my own needles and yarn.

As noted in the title, there are 15 prehistoric creatures contained in the book. After the introduction, there's a gallery in which each creature is shown in a full-page color photo. Since these patterns do have a lot of

thoughtful details (in the allosaurus above, for example, note the way that garter stitch is used for stomach and paw pads, and clever shaping makes the face modeled and more expressive rather than a simple oval or rectangle), the big photos are helpful for the maker to use as reference.

The patterns are then presented, with a description of what the real dinosaur looked like, more close-up photos, list of supplies, templates for felt embellishment, and often including additional interesting factoids about the dino (e.g. "Stegosaurus had a tiny brain, about the size of a walnut, but he had very BIG spikes on his tail.").

I was really impressed with the cleverness of the designs. For example, the ankylosaurus was a dinosaur with thick bony spiked plates on its back. Barrett uses bobbles and a textured pattern to mimic the plating and spikes:

It's fun to see someone who takes both her knitting and dinosaurs seriously enough to get all the details right!

The vast majority of the patterns are done in DK weight yarn (various fibers are used, including wool, cotton and bamboo), with a few done in superchunky yarns. While many of the brand names used might be relatively unfamiliar to American knitters (e.g. Stylecraft), the back gives distributor information and in any event, the gauges are certainly common enough that substituting would be very easy.

The instructions look pretty detailed, walking you through each body part, then explaining how to put the pieces together and embellish. After the pattern section is a separate "Techniques"section, including instructions for gauge swatching, basic stitches, and tips on stuffing, using thread to make joints for the creature, attaching eyes and embroidery stitches. There's even a two-page layout on dinosaur names, with miniphotos of each dinosaur along with pronunciation and the name's meaning.

This book was released a few months ago, and I don't know how it slipped under my radar. All in all, an excellent and surprisingly detailed set of prehistoric creatures to knit for the kid or adult in your life who is fascinated with them.  Yabba-dabba-doo!

Raffle for Summer Search:  Progress Report

Wow.  My readers are amazing. In just a few days, we've already raised over $600 for Summer Search Philadelphia.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you haven't made a contribution yet, there's still plenty of time. Here's a link to my original post with all the details. (Also, Summer Search's United Way Donor Option Number is 46628.)