March 2008 Archives

Praise and curses

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First off, I'd like to direct lavish thanks toward Ysolda for hosting a lovely interview with yours truly about the Family Trunk Project! And for all of you who are clicking over here in response to Ysolda's piece, welcome. I really enjoyed doing it, and I'll be back to answer more questions in a day or so.

As I mentioned over there, I've started working on the next Family Trunk garment, which will be a jacket inspired by my paternal grandfather, Warren Johnson. I'm taking my cue from this photograph of Warnie as a little boy - or, more accurately perhaps, as a little working-man:

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What a serious little kid! Can you believe it? Most pictures of my grandfather are very serious, unless his face is cracked in a wide, contagious grin. I always loved it when he laughed, although his frequent grumblings were also a source of rueful amusement among the family. He was a generous, cantankerous jerry-rigger all his life, which makes the beginning stages of planning for this jacket especially funny. Let's just say, it has done a fair amount of cranky grumbling itself, and I had to rig up an improvised combination of knitting techniques in order to come up with this:

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This is the general idea: a lightly felted, tri-color plaid, made up into a mid-length drop-shoulder jacket. Red, camel and charcoal should make a classic, masculine combination. I have an ongoing relationship with plaid, which is only partially explained by how amusing I find the actual word, and was excited to get back to plaiddish pursuits. "That's interesting," I remember thinking, "I haven't seen many imitation-plaid garments in the knitting world. I wonder why that might be." Lucky me! I didn't have to wait too long before I found out.

Originally I had planned to do this project with slipped-stitch pattern that would mean only knitting with one strand of yarn at a time. If I'd been angling for a bi-color plaid, I might have even stuck with this plan, despite being less-than-thrilled with how the swatches were turning out. But trying to put together a tri-color plaid with slipped stitches just wasn't happening, and everything I did in an attempt to mitigate the difficulties just made the pattern look more like a Mondrian dress from the 60's. A cool look, I grant you, but not what I was going for here. The problem is that true plaids are woven fabrics, with warp and weft colors apparent, and it's a challenge to get those vertical lines happening in a knitted fabric. The more forward-thinking among you have probably already arrived at the solution, and I got there eventually as well:

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Oh, horrors! If you guys needed any more proof that I'm not in this for the money, here it is. I am starting a double-thick, felted wool jacket in April, and it involves about a million bobbins. Will ANYone have ANY interest in buying this pattern and following me down the plaid-colored road? Well, never mind. My grandfather would have mumbled grumpily at naysayers, and I'll do the same.

The thing about it is, that while there are vertical stripes of color which necessitate the bobbins, there are also horizontal stripes of color which necessitate a continuous strand of yarn to alternate with the strands of each bobbin in turn. My solution? Strandtarsia: a cobbled-together fairisle/intarsia blend whereby I knit or purl two-handed in the fair-isle style (except back-and-forth rather than in the round), throwing each old bobbin strand over the new bobbin strand when I get to a transition between two vertical lines. Cantankerous and jerry-rigged enough for you?

Really, it's not so bad now that I've grown accustomed to it (and I'm sure I'll find out via a comment that this is actually a time-honored technique of which I wasn't aware). It's pretty darn cool to see the plaid pattern emerging and the vertical columns sitting so neatly next to one another. But this project had another ace up its sleeve which is still causing me to break out some of my grandfather's juicier swear words.

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You may have noticed in comparing the photos of the swatch and the bobbins, that the camel color in the swatch looks closer to a muddy pink. That's right: this yarn was not colorfast AT ALL. So, in an effort to maintain my classic working-man color scheme, I am making every ball of red and charcoal into a hank, washing and rinsing it repeatedly, and hanging the hanks over every doorknob in our home, with hand towels underneath to catch the drips. David has been an awesome sport about this, especially as I keep forgetting the hand towels and leaving him to discover the puddles of yarn water with his stocking feet.

So, I've been alternating my delight and consternation. And really, I think it's quite remarkable that this jacket has managed to remind me so forcibly of my grandfather, before I'd even started knitting it.

New Pattern: Paul Atwell Socks

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We've posted a new pattern! After the hectic pre-Knitty scramble, and the involved sizing and chart-checking related to the Kenneth McNeil sweater and Jessie Lambdin shawl, I wanted a more manageable design project. An elegant, simple sock pattern seemed just about right.

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Paul Atwell was a unique challenge as inspiration for a design, because he is the only member of my family tree about whom very little is known (by us, anyway). The biological father of my grandmother Marjorie, he separated from my great-grandmother when "Margie" was only two. The only things I know about him are that he was a sailor (and later recruiter) in the U.S. Navy, he moved from Kentucky to Vallejo, California in his late teens or early twenties, and his mother was rumored to be part Cherokee. I'm still working on researching this last detail, but so far I've come up short.

In developing the pattern, I decided to focus on Paul's connections with both the land (he came from several generations of farm families) and the sea. Modifying the traditional gull-and-garter stitch motif, I juxtaposed the "gulls" with seed stitch instead. There were purely aesthetic reasons for this; I thought the seed stitch brought out the golden hues of the sock yarn beautifully. But I also thought that the combination of seeds and sea birds was a representative one for a man who left his farming roots to pursue an oceanic career.

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The pattern is quite basic, with my modified motif giving a little character to a standard, cuff-down sock with a slip-stitch heel. There are a couple of nice details, though: I like how the motif flows into and around the heel, and how the cuff ribbing is planned to transition smoothly into the gulls and seeds.

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This is a good pattern to use with a semi-solid or lightly variegated yarn like the Sundara "Bronzed Sienna" pictured here. (If anyone doesn't already know about Sundara's beautiful dyeing work, by the way, I highly recommend her.) The vertical stripes and slipped-stitch gull pattern show up over the changes of color, and the columns of seed stitch make the yarn's lighter hues shine. I think the overall effect is unified and reasonably subtle, suitable for a lady or a fella.

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The pattern is written for two sizes, Medium Women's and Medium Men's, and is for sale over here for $3.50 or 2 pages of your own story. I hope you like it!

Knit Sinister

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When plotting the execution of a grand scheme, a true lady must take a step back. She must know to stop a moment in contemplation.

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Pausing for a bit of perspective, she must take stock, surveying her domain. She will find moments of quiet clarity lurking in the midst of the bubbling, churning cacophony that she calls home.

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Rousing herself, she musters her arsenal. The reticence and the provocation. The sidelong glance and the diplomatic loss - or was it a victory? - at pinochle. The unclasped buckle of a high-heeled shoe and an afternoon fete with precisely the right number of cucumber-watercress sandwiches.

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And then, when the players are primed, alliances drawn and the relevant maps secreted away in her garter strap, she turns to and commences action.

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Pattern: Eunny Jang's Ladylike Gloves, from Interweave Knits
Yarn: Rowan Kidsilk Haze, in Seafoam and Navy ("Seafoam and Navy" would be a good band name, I think.)
Notes: This was the quickest knit I've ever made. Pattern well-written and easy to follow, as always with Eunny's work. Also as usual, I learned a new trick: the attached i-cord was an easy, clean-looking way to finish these off. I love the wrist slits, as well. All in all, a charming project for a weekend at the beach, whipped out in a bit of downtime before the next big undertaking.

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Mad as a...

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Whew! Well, Knitty mania has settled down a bit over here, and we're beginning to climb out of our chart-checking, sizing-figuring and website-making burrows. One thing this means: more consciousness to devote to blogging! I'm still adjusting to having two blogs (this one and Sepia Salax), and I've been trying to work out what goes where. My tentative decision is that knitting- and design-related entries will be double-posted, and most other entries - rhapsodizing over books, ranting about politics, and relating personal adventures - will go up over there. So if you want to read the whole shebang, subscribe to Sepia Salax. If you want a pure, unadulterated knitting/design fest, albeit with fewer entries, keep an eye on the Family Trunk Project. Also, know that the Trunk Project blog is still morphing, design-wise, and will only get better from here.

I do think I'll continue posting knitting I do from other peoples' patterns in both places, because hey, knitting is knitting, right? And I always learn new things from making other peoples' patterns, that can then be applied to my own stuff. Believe it or not, there are a few little things I managed to crank out in the interim periods between Family Trunk patterns. For example:

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Portlanders will remember that we had an extended cold snap back in January. It started to dawn on me at about Day 4 of the extremely chilly weather that I didn't own a hat. Not a single one! I have made hats for other people, and at some point I owned a store-bought hat, but even that had slipped away into the mists of time. It's not very often that Portland gets cold enough for me to want a hat and mittens, but that time came this winter. So, like so many modern knitters before me, I whipped up a version of Jenna Wilson's Shedir pattern. I used about a skein of the Felted Tweed left over from the Kenneth McNeil, which helped to alleviate my jealousy that David, and not I, would be getting that finished sweater.

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It was a quick, well-designed pattern, as many have observed before me, and it made a charming change from having to figure out the math for each step on my own. It took me about three days, and convinced me that a small project sandwiched between each big one and the next would be Family Trunk policy from here on out. Zoning out for a few days really helped me get back in the math-and-charts groove. Mark Twain called this phenomenon "refilling the tank," although in his case the zoning out occurred in the middle of certain projects and often lasted years. As far as I'm concerned, though, if it's good enough for Mr. Clemens, it's good enough for me.

We're getting press!

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This is about to be the most meta blog entry I've ever made, but only because nobody has ever spontaneously written articles about me before.  So put on your postmodern hats, because...

The Family Trunk Project is getting written up in "The Press"!  Our town paper, the Oregonian, ran my favorite Knitty picture and some explanation of the project on their knitting blog.  They also correctly identified the location of our photo shoot: the beautiful Peninsula Park rose gardens.  It's a favorite haunt of ours from days of yore, when David lived in Northeast Portland.  We second the suggestion to check it out in June, although it also has a certain Gothic charm in the winter, when the bare, clipped rose bushes and manicured, slightly dilapidated brickwork look like something out of Brideshead Revisited.  See?

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Podcasters Lime and Violet also posted and extremely nice and enthusiastic review of the Trunk Project on their blog.  It features my favorite photo of the Jessie Lambdin shawl, and is headed up by a pretty screenshot of the embroidered tree.  Better yet, it's succinct, well-written and wildly complimentary.  My favorite kind of review!  Thank you, ladies!

And finally (for now), the first person to take me up on my offer to trade stories for patterns has posted about the experience over on her own blog.  Her stories were vivid and intriguing, and I hope to run into more people up for a story-for-pattern trade.  (If you hadn't realized this was an option, check out the Payment Options page for the scoop.)

Needless to say, I am also very excited to start seeing different version of the shawl and sweaters out in the world.  If you're one of the folks who has bought a Family Trunk pattern over the last few days, I would love to see shots of finished projects when they come off the needles!


Marjorie published in Knitty!

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Wow!  David and I got back from a leisurely, relaxing sojourn at the Oregon Coast, reciting Orlando in the Virginia Woolf room at the lovely Sylvia Beach Hotel, to find that Knitty.com had gone live and we were inundated with attention!  My pattern Marjorie was published, which was a fantastic way to kick off the Family Trunk Project for real.  Thanks to everyone who has had nice things to say.  It's really made my day to read all of your comments, on Ravelry and elsewhere.  In addition to Marjorie, the Jessie Lambdin Shawl has been getting an unexpected amount of attention, with quite a few pattern sales already!  I am unbelievably excited to see other peoples' versions of these patterns.  Bring them on, folks!

While at the coast we took some photos of the next Family Trunk pattern, a gentlemanly sock project about which I'll post at greater length soon.  For now, thanks again and enjoy the site. 

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