January 2009 Archives

Musings, and some socks


Maxine is progressing beautifully, although more slowly than I might hope due to secret knitting. But I still have yet to share these lacy little socks, another project left over from Australia.


As you can see, they're ridiculously, optimistically summery. I am wearing stockings underneath them in these shots, not only to show off the lace pattern better, but because oh mama, it has been chilly here. These are pretty much the absolute opposite of what I feel like wearing and working on right now, but that's okay. It's good to have a reminder that Spring will come again.


To tell the truth, I don't think it's so much the weather as my state of mind that's keeping me holed up in my house, working madly on projects. I've reached a point where I'd really like design to be my "job," which is a scary yet exciting thing to admit. David and I have been brainstorming about ways to make that happen in the long run, and as a first step I've decided to cut a day from my work at my regular job. I'm really looking forward to having the extra time to work on proposals and projects, and hopefully I can start replacing the lost revenue. I think, at this point, it's more of an emotional risk than a financial one, but it still feels a bit nerve-wracking; lots of whatifs, in the words of Shel Silverstein, prancing and partying in my head.

(That's a great poem, by the way. When I'm prey to anxiety, the couplet "Whatif I tear my pants? / Whatif I never learn to dance?" cheers me up every time. I mean, why worry about never learning to dance, when you can just make the decision and teach yourself? You're in control! It's useful to remind myself of that, from time to time. Plus, of course, the image of a person tearing their pants is a classic nugget of hilarity.)


Notice how I'm using sock photos to disguise the rambling, meta nature of this post? I suppose I have a few things to say about the socks themselves: they're a faithful version of MintyFresh's Zokni pattern, in Sundara's Beach Glass colorway. I have to say, although this yarn is more variegated than most I work with, it was some of the most well-behaved variegation I have ever encountered. Absolutely no pooling, no striping, no undesirable patterns of any kind. Just consistent, pretty heathering throughout. The pattern had good flow as well, and overall these were excellent vacation knitting. Come Spring, I'm sure I'll be stepping out in these socks with joy.


Fair and biased


This report is shamefully out-of-date, but Maxine is progressing nicely.


Knitting the alternating on-grain and bias panels simultaneously creates some interesting design challenges. The bias panels both slant upward from the center portion, so the sweater front has "wings" at the top. I'll be starting the shaping for the armholes, therefore, while the center portion is still below my bust, and in order to create a straight bound-off line, I'll have to decrease one stitch at the outside edge every row, since the stitches move at a 45-degree angle to the side of the piece. If I want to do the equivalent of the normal "decrease one stitch at each side every alternate row," I'll actually be working those decreases every fourth row. I think all this will work out fine in the end: the neck shaping will be contained in the on-grain center panel, and the shoulder shaping can't be too difficult to figure out (famous last words)!


The angling also pulls the sides of the piece up, creating a kind of peplum effect that you can begin to see in the photo above. I wasn't expecting it, but I like it! In fact, despite the challenges, I'm really loving how this whole garment is coming out. The yarn, held double, is heathering beautifully, and the beads are just the right amount of sparkle. Now that I'm approaching the armholes, it's looking more strikingly period than it does in these photos, but I think it will still be wearable by modern ladies. The knitting itself, once I figure out all the details, is probably the easiest of any pattern I've designed: aside from the beading (which is not hard), one only needs to increase, decrease, knit and purl. No steeks, no colorwork, no cables, no lace. Yet it's still interesting, I think.

Yes, so far I'm pleased.



A delicious project start for a cold, sunny January day.


My great-grandmother, Maxine Elliott, was a flapper in the Roaring Twenties. She drank, smoked, and burned the candle at both ends. I do none of these things, but I do love a beaded shift in rosy silk and merino, with sparkling beads like bubbles in a flute of champagne.


This is generally what I'm going for with the Maxine shell, although I haven't decided whether to include the circle sleeves or not. They're really more 1930's than 1920's, although i do like them. The deep V isn't open; that section is "on the grain" (regular knitting), and the two side panels are bias-knit and beaded along the drawn lines. So far, I am loving the work on this design; the combination of yarn (Sundara's Fingering Silky Merino, held double) and beads feels amazingly indulgent. It's a reminder that spring will come...eventually.



Normally, for a sweater-sized project, we make a point of going out into the wide world and doing a photo shoot at a (hopefully) well-chosen location. But Vivian? That's not really the way she rolls.


Vivian is a much more casual garment than the ones I usually make, and she is all about cozying around at home. Everything about her - the zip closure, the hood, the extra-long sleeves, the bulky yarn - evokes a day spent lolling about, reading a novel, sipping a cup of tea. Instant cozy!


This yarn is something I would never have thought of buying had it not been for a series of events involving a 40%-off coupon with a looming expiration date, a limited color palette, a desire for a sweater's worth of yarn, and a panicky refusal to admit defeat. It's bright purple, for one thing, which is not my favorite color. It's also bulky, a weight I generally find uninspiring. Even its lovely sheen and soft texture were not enough to make up for these two faults, so it sat in my cabinet for a year and a half. I know some of you are laughing, but that's a long time for yarn to sit around unused at my house; until I started designing, I had pretty much no stash at all. So I was feeling a little guilty about this sweater-quantity of unused yarn, and every once in a while I would take it out and try to design something with it...but it was purple. And bulky. And I would put it away.


But eventually I was glad to have it, because without it I wouldn't have made this pattern, and the pattern turned out to be super-fun. It's so well-designed and cleverly constructed, and the entire time I was knitting it I was thanking my lucky stars that I didn't have to worry about figuring out the sizing on it. Such an integrated, flowing design, where the cables and seed stitch panels form internal shaping in line with a six-row cable pattern in which all the pattern rows align across the entire sweater, was undoubtedly a giant pain in the ass to work out - and gloriously, it was Someone Else's Problem. Thanks, Ysolda!


The only part where I had to use my brain was the the saddle shoulders. They're designed in a very clever way: the shoulder decreases are worked into the far left and right stitches of the cable that runs up the saddle. This is such a pleasingly elegant solution that I was disappointed when it didn't work with my knitting style: the edges of the cables looked all wonky when I knitted them according to the instructions, and I wanted a clean line. So I ripped back and hid the decreases in the purl stitches next to the cables, instead. This worked beautifully, but threw off the math for the hood. After a couple of attempts to follow the directions while modifying them in my head, I just chucked the whole attempt, looked at Ysolda's hood photos, and did what I needed to in order to make mine look like the pictures. No muss, no fuss!


I remembered while knitting this sweater that I learned everything I know about knitting from following other peoples' patterns and observing how they construct garments and solve design dilemmas. And I still have so much to learn. This pattern involved a couple of things I've never done before (shaping a hood, for example, and making seamless saddle shoulders), which are sure to prove useful at some point. This project was a surprisingly productive, inspiring thing to knit, and I realized afresh that I should make other peoples' sweater patterns now and again, to keep my bag of tricks expanding and my range of knitting experience diversifying. An excellent realization!


Mr. Bingley thinks so, too.

Who's got the button?


Vivian is VERY nearly done, and I'll be emailing the Ethel test knitters later today. I feel quite happily surprised by how well my sweater-and-sizing plan has worked, actually, and I can't wait to share the results. But I just realized that, in all the commotion, I forgot to share the most thrillingly fiber-y part of my trip to Australia. Namely: buttons.


There's a fantastic button shop in the touristy Rocks neighborhood of Sydney, and David and I spent a blissful hour or so there after breakfast one morning, winnowing down their impressive selection into just the buttons I knew I had to have. The little beauties above were the second ones I settled on; I think they would be lovely as accent details on an Art Deco-influenced garment. I only got four of them, because as much as I love them I think a full sweater's quantity would be overkill. A few rhinestones can be perfect, but too many are bad news.

These little beauties are the first ones I knew I MUST get, and in a quantity sufficient to go all the way up the front of a cardigan:


Aren't they beautiful? They're Czech glass, and came wrapped individually in little paper wrappers, like tiny lozenges from an old-fashioned sweetshop. I think they're so romantic. I have some grey cashmere yarn coming in March that may be the perfect match for them, but I'll wait and see. I definitely want to find the right home for such treasures.

I got the little dudes below because I thought they were cute, but also because they're slightly outside my normal range of styles, and I thought it would be good to push myself into a less serious, more modern vibe for a garment or two.


There are enough of these for a sweater front as well, although I don't have a specific idea what that might look like yet.

And then there were these:


These are very special buttons indeed. Made in Austria circa 1910, they are tiny - around the size of my pinky nail when I've just clipped it. They're color-stained metal, and I think they're some of the most gorgeous things I've ever seen. Unfortunately, they were also expensive enough that I originally bought just three, thinking I could use them as an accent detail on a very special garment. When we got back to our hotel room, it occurred to me that they would look beautiful on an angled neckline along the lines of this:


(What is this type of neckline called? I couldn't find any images of it online, but I adore it.) Obviously, though, I would need a minimum of four buttons to pull this off. So, back we went to the button store a few days later, but we couldn't find the matching ones anywhere. Tremulously, I approached the shopkeep, and she looked everywhere for my quarry. Finally, as a last-ditch attempt, she peeked into a catch-all box of odds and ends...and there was the button tube. There were only three buttons left in it, and David was so impressed with having located them at last, that he bought me the last two in addition to the one I had wanted. How sweet is he?

So now I have six of these beauties. I'm not sure exactly how I'll use them, but they scream for a place of honor, near my face or some other attention-grabbing locale.

I realized throughout our Australian button adventures how suggestive tiny details can be, how a single button can spur my imagination and cause me to imagine an entire garment around it - in a similar way, I suppose, that a garment can inspire me to imagine an entire character or personality. Evocative details: a motivational phrase for 2009, perhaps?

Looking back, looking forward


Happy New Year!


2008 was a good year for me, knitting-wise and otherwise. I started the Family Trunk Project, figured out how to write patterns, learned a ton about garment sizing, connected with a fantastic bunch of knitters, designers and teachers, and generally had a blast. David and I set up e-commerce on a site of ours for the first time. I got a fancy new camera and started teaching myself about photography. I tried several knitterly techniques that were new to me (steeking, modified intarsia, cable design), and incorporated them into patterns. I knitted up others' designs, as well as my own, and learned a lot from them. Folks sent me their own stories in exchange for patterns, and I learned about a rich diversity of people and places. I grew so much as an artist and project-organizer in 2008; it's exciting to think what 2009 might bring.

During the first three-quarters of 2008 year, the Family Trunk Project completely took over my life, even to the exclusion of other Very Important Things. Which was necessary and understandable, since we were getting everything ready and figuring out how to do so many things that we had never done before. But now that things are sailing on a slightly more even keel, my knitting resolution for the new year is to find a balance between Family Trunk projects and other, non-knitting pursuits. I hope to find more time for reading and writing in 2009, two activities that have always kept me sane and formed the backbone of my spiritual life. (I'll be writing about books over here for anyone who's interested.) The weather is profoundly disgusting right now, but a little way down the road I hope to get out onto the hiking trails and campgrounds of Oregon/Washington more than we have for the past year, and go for longer walks and jogs with David and Mr. Bingley on a regular basis. I'm so proud that we have managed to put the Family Trunk Project together; now the challenge is to continue running and improving it as an integrated part of our lives.

So, enough introspective blathering! Updates on Vivian in a few days; in the meantime, I hope everyone has the New Year they want.