September 2009 Archives

So close...

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

The entire Accessories Collection will be up SO soon: late today or tomorrow! We are working hard on the last details. In the meantime, meet the final design in the series: the Caulfield Beanie.


I know J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield is kind of a controversial character; a lot of people can't stand him, and I can see why. He's angsty and self-absorbed, takes his privilege for granted, and he says "crap" and "goddam" more than he probably needs to. But I have a deep and abiding affection for Holden and The Catcher in the Rye; I think it's a totally masterful novel. From the very first line Holden's voice is there in my head, with such strength and energy that I walk around hearing him narrate my own life for days after I finish it. And even though he's going through a rough patch during the course of the novel, I feel like he's getting through it, figuring himself out. Like he'll be a good person when he comes out of it.


So this hat is my tribute to the young, collegiate (and anti-collegiate) hero (and anti-hero) of Salinger's novel. Its twisted stitches lead organically from one element to the next: from the ribbing to the main argyle body, and then into the decreases of the crown. The version shown, sized for a man, is worked in 100% Cormo Worsted from Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm, but the pattern also includes ever-so-slightly altered instructions for knitting a women's version in a DK-weight yarn, because existential teenage crises are a gender-neutral proposition. The pattern also includes instructions for working those twisted-stitch cables without a third needle.


The worsted-weight yarn and needle-free cabling make this a super-quick knit. Several of my test-knitters whipped it up over the weekend, and I think it would make a great holiday gift. I can't help appreciating the irony of naming a good gift-knit after Holden Caulfield: after you've alienated your parents by getting expelled from school and drinking yourself silly in Manhattan on Christmas weekend, make it up to them by KNITTING THEM HATS.


So, enjoy Caulfield! Sometime tomorrow, it will be available individually or as a package with the Antonia Shawlette, Wednesday Socks, Gerda Hat & Mitts, and Julia Socks.

Exciting developments!


Thanks for all the lovely comments on Antonia, everyone! I have photos of the final accessory design to share with you in a couple of days. But in the meantime, I have two more pieces of exciting news. Thing Number One is:


Design classes!
I've been wanting to develop a class on Beginning Knitting Design for a long time. I envision a class that goes into the creative process - finding inspiration, and different methods for bringing that spark (a mood, a color, an era, an old photograph) into fruition as a finished garment - but also on the less glamorous nitty-gritty stuff like applying math, working with stitch patterns, planning increases and decreases, and so on. I finally got my act together to pitch this to my fave Portland yarn store, and they're on board! So, I'm nervous and excited to announce the following:

Mondays: October 19th & October 26th
at Twisted (2310 NE Broadway, Portland, Oregon)
$40 for both weeks
(to register, call 503-922-1150)

If anyone has requests or suggestions about what they'd love to learn in a class like this, I'm all ears. I'm still very much in the planning stages of putting together all the materials and curriculum, so please speak up! Right now, my vision is that the first week will be devoted to different methods of developing the ghost of an idea into a workable sketch/swatch/garment concept, and the second week will be devoted to taking that concept and working out all the details that will enable you to knit it up. We'll just be designing little scarves or wraps in the actual class, but the principles we'll be talking about are applicable to all kinds of design. Sound like fun? Call up Twisted and register!

Or, want to check out my credentials ahead of time, to see if you'd like to take a class from me? Why not attend Thing Two:


Portland Trunk Show
From October 9-19, all the Family Trunk Project garments, as well as the new accessory patterns, will be on display at Twisted for all to inspect and (hopefully) admire. And if you'd like to come hang out with me AND the designs, we're having a little opening soiree, with free wine and sparkling conversation:

Trunk Show: opening night!
Friday, October 9, 5-8pm
At Twisted (2310 NE Broadway, Portland, Oregon)

I really hope to meet and reconnoiter with some Portland people at these events! It's kind of embarrassing that the first trunk show was in Boston rather than my home town, but this will be lots of Portland excitement to make up for it. See you there!

(The excellent images on this post are courtesy of

Ground and sun and sky

I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass. While grandmother took the pitchfork we found standing in one of the rows and dug potatoes, while I picked them up out of the soft brown earth and put them into the bag, I kept looking up at the hawks that were doing what I might so easily do.
                 - Willa Cather, My Antonia

Meet Antonia...


...a light shawlette inspired by the wide, waving fields and circling hawks of bygone times in the American heartland. I can imagine a schoolteacher in Cather's Black Hawk, Nebraska throwing just such a light shawl over her shoulders on her walk home from the schoolhouse in the early fall, after releasing Jim Burden and Antonia Shimerda from their lessons into the prairie wilds.

(As always, click on all images for a larger view.)


I knew I wanted to include a small shawl pattern in my upcoming accessories booklet - one that would, hopefully, be workable from one skein of sock yarn. As it turns out, the Antonia pattern includes two separate versions: a standard, triangular shawlette that can be worked with a single skein, and a slightly larger, L-shaped version that takes just over one skein (you can see the shape in the first photo above). I've never seen an L-shaped shawl before, but it's actually an excellent use of yarn; with only slightly more yardage than my triangular version, I got a much larger-seeming garment - one that overlaps easily in front, and hangs further down the wearer's back.


(I thought the idea of buttoning the shawl's edging onto a blouse was pretty clever - do people do this? It leaves your hands free.)


My Antonia versions are both worked in Fleece Artist Sea Wool, which Erin at Eat.Sleep.Knit suggested, and which is a new love of mine. I knew I wanted something with the spring of merino but with a slight sheen, and Sea Wool turned out to be exactly what I was envisioning. The colorway, "Brick," is the perfect mostly-solid to show off the two lace motifs used in Antonia. And although "brick" sounds more like a red, the orangey-wheat quality of this yarn evokes perfectly, for me, the red scrub grasses and prairies of Cather's novel.


I structured the whole pattern around this scalloped edging: the entire bottom edge is cast on first, and the edging worked before the body of the shawl. I loved the adaptability of shaping created by the scallops; the initial bottom corner of the triangle is created by inserting more purl stitches in between the ridges of the center shell, and decreasing them all out by the top.


After the edging is worked, the shawl is shaped by centered decreases, with panels of a second lace motif converging at the mid-point of the shawl. I'm trying to err on the side of making this workable for the maximum number of people, so the pattern actually features written-out instructions for each row of both versions. This means the finished pattern may look huge and intimidating, but take it from me - it's really not. My test-knitters are finding that, after working a few repeats of the panel lace motif, the knitting gets a lot more intuitive and their speed picks right up.


This is the second-to-last pattern in the accessories collection, and I'm starting to feel like we're closing in on having the thing ready to release. I have some reflections about releasing things in chunks rather than individually, and what I've learned from the process, but I'll leave those for another time. For now, I hope you enjoy Antonia; she's being test-knit right now and should be on the market before too long!


Culture shock


I often shake my head ruefully when people suggest that I must be saving money by making my own clothes. World-wise in my own mind, I contemplate the naïveté of these well-meaning but woefully ill-informed folks who fail to consider that lovely yarn and high-quality fabric? Are not exactly cheap. Having spent my fair share of time on Ravelry groups where people drop huge amounts of money on luxury fibers, and/or bemoan the difficulty of restraining themselves from buying said fiber, it seems laughable that working up a cardigan in hand-dyed cashmere/silk/merino yarn could really be regarded as a savings. Likewise, having whiled away hours in fabric stores, mooning over imported Italian wool suiting at astronomical per-yard prices, I have a hard time believing that home sewists are making out like bandits in the modern economy. And that's not even taking into account incidental materials: needles, bags, storage bins, sewing machine maintenance, notions, tools, swifts and ball-winders, and all the detreitus of the dedicated knitter or sewist. That stuff really adds up!

And then, today, I looked at the Anthropologie website. And I was forced to eat some humble pie.

I just realized: I haven't made any new clothing purchases for a VERY long time. I started buying primarily used clothes in high school, and continued thrifting throughout and after college, due to a combination of preferring vintage styles, not having a lot of money, and not wanting to worry that I was supporting sweatshop labor. Then, shortly after I started Family Trunk Project, I made a casual resolution to try to make all my clothes for a while, and not buy anything. Just, you know, to see how that went. Of course I have acquired new clothes since then - my mom surprised me with a new sundress this summer, for example, and David's mom picked up a cute new t-shirt that she passed on to me. And that's not to mention the GORGEOUS locally-crafted blazer jacket that David surprised me with on our anniversary a few years back, or the gift certificate from my aunt to a local boutique specializing in Portland designers. But by and large? Not so much clothes-buying around here.

And it's amazing how time slips by. I don't think I understood how long it had been, until I started looking around the internet and realized that off-the-rack clothes have become way more expensive while I was looking the other way. I still kind of feel like I just made my no-clothes-buying resolution a few months ago, like it's something I'm trying out for a while but which is more of a hiatus than a way of life. But apparently, come to find, my "hiatus" has lasted two years. And in the meantime I've developed even more of an incentive to keep it up, because, while there's absolutely no WAY I could possibly afford to drop $200 on a lacy little blouse, I could whip up a similar one for about $45 if I were so inclined. To be honest, $45 still does not seem that cheap to me for a short-sleeved shirt. But it's a heck of a lot cheaper than $200.

I know there are several factors I'm not considering here. I'm not paying myself, except with enjoyment, for the labor hours I spend sewing, whereas the Anthropologie sewists are obviously taking home a salary (hopefully a decent one). And there are certainly stores less high-end than Anthropologie, although in general, the cheaper you get, the lower the quality of the clothing, and the sooner it will disintegrate - meaning that picking up that $15 dress at WalMart may not actually be such an awesome investment. But still! Looking at the price tags on some new clothes at contemporary prices really shocked me into a realization that I may actually be saving money after all. And even though budget concerns aren't my major motivator for making my own clothes, I have to admit that the realization adds to my already-high enthusiasm for the project.

So, to all the recipients of my head-shaking, I apologize. Apparently, you were right all along!

Moving along with Kim


Thanks for all the Wednesday-love, everybody! She's being test-knit by a great group of people, and I'm hoping to be able to show you more of the upcoming accessory patterns early next week. In the meantime, though, I thought I'd check in about my progress on Kim Hargreaves's Darcy design:


As you can see, I'm motoring right along. Shown is the seamed fronts, back, and one sleeve, along with a paltry amount of collar. I modified Hargreaves's instructions a bit on the collar finishing, to compensate for my larger gauge, but I think I'll rip out the bind-off and knit another 5-10 rows so that it will actually fold over in a satisfying way. Right now the right lapel keeps wanting to pop back up, and the top back of the neck isn't folded over at all.


That's easily enough accomplished, though, and I'm still feeling quite pleased with how the garment as a whole is shaping up. This side view gives a sense of the sweep of the peplum, and of how the whole thing might feel when finished:


I'm just LOVING the look and texture of the Manos worked up into seed stitch, and the overall hand of the fabric. I love its firmness, and the way it holds its shape so nicely, and I love the heathery distribution of variegation throughout the garment. Between the seams, cushy stitch, and hearty yarn, I'm betting that this jacket will last me a long time.


I cast on for the second sleeve while chatting with a new yarny friend yesterday, and after that I've only got the collar modification and buttons left to work. I've really enjoyed this little break from designing, but I'm also glad to be nearing the end - I have so many ideas for new things percolating in my head!

Are they made with real girl scouts?


Meet Wednesday: a playfully goth-inspired sock pattern, named for the lovably austere young daughter of the Addams family.


I actually can't believe how difficult it was for David and I to come up with a name for this pattern. I knew that between the dark purple/navy colorway and the cables that evoke lacing and braids, I wanted to pick a fictional character with distinct Gothic leanings. I toyed with the idea of calling them Ligeia, after the Poe character who comes back from the dead to haunt her former husband, or Madeline, after the incestuous sister of the House of Usher. But really, these socks aren't quite that dire - they have a certain asymmetrical playfulness that doesn't take itself too seriously.


I considered Lydia, after Winona Ryder's super-cute character in Beetlejuice. She has just the right combination of gothy aesthetic and lovable quirk, but frankly, I don't love her actual name. Given my amazingly strong crush on Morticia (as portrayed by Angelica Huston) when I was seven, it's hard to believe that it took me so long to think of little Wednesday Addams, with her neat little braided pigtails, Peter Pan collar, and games of "Is There A God?"


There's still a trace of a Poe influence here, though, because Wednesday is worked in Socks That Rock Mediumweight in the "Lenore" colorway. STR Mediumweight is significantly heavier than the sock yarns I normally use, meaning that this pattern is a good one for all you loose knitters out there: it features a 60-stitch cast-on, as opposed to the 72 I usually use. I've heard from a few people who have trouble replicating such a fine gauge, so Wednesday might be the socks for them! (Although, if you are a loose knitter, you might want to work these socks in a lighter yarn than STR Medium.)


Wednesday has a couple of details I particularly like. The twisted-stitch ribbing on the cuff transitions nicely into both the braid and ribbon motifs, and there's a column of twisted stitches centered on each large ribbon:


And there's a similarly organic transition to the heel flap, with the ribbons morphing into a standard slipped-stitch pattern while one of the braids extends down the length of the heel (and the other one extends down the side of the instep):


I'd say this pattern requires a bit more attention than the Julia Socks, with which it will be released in October. Wednesday features twisted-stitch cabling on every round, and knitting from four charts. On the other hand, the charts are easily memorized pairs of two, with the ribbon and braid motifs mirroring each other. Once you've worked a repeat or two it's easy to read the knitting and see what's coming next, since both sets of motifs are logically predictable.

I'm pleased to say I got this (and another design!) all ready for test-knitting yesterday, so things are moving right along on the accessory collection front. It's so glorious to be home, and productive again!


No place like home


Thank you so much to everyone who came by for the Boston trunk show at the Windsor Button! Despite TORRENTIAL downpours on the 29th, and the Kennedy funeral happening practically down the street, we got a steady stream of folks during the three hours we hung out at the Windsor Button, and it was so much fun to put faces to the names (or Ravelry handles) I've been getting to know for the past years!


David snapped these photos as we were finishing the setup; once people started walking in the door, I'm afraid we didn't take any, although Kate took this cute pic of David and I behind our table. I'm so bad at being assertive with my camera; hopefully as I do more of these I'll get better at it.


It was fun to see all the garments set up attractively in one place; looking at my Ravelry notebook is great, but not quite the same as seeing all this stuff occupying the same physical space. There are many times I feel like I'm slacking off or haven't accomplished that much since I started designing, and it was nice to have a physical reminder of what I've been working on for the past few years. Turns out it's quite a bit, after all! It was also lots of fun to watch people interact with the garments, and to see which of the new accessory patterns were attracting most attention. I remember reading an interview with Jarvis Cocker (the lead singer of Brit-pop band Pulp) when I was in high school, in which he said that they were lousy at picking the singles - they always picked the songs they expected to be popular, but when the album came out it was a totally unexpected track that people loved best. I feel sort of the same way! I can never predict which designs people will love best, but it's always interesting to watch the process unfold. I'm especially excited that a number of people liked the second sock pattern in the upcoming bunch of accessories; I'll be posting about it online in a few days!


Just to add to the niceness of it all, David's folks attended a sizable portion of the show, and then treated me to some yarn and (of course, given the location) buttons! Check out those fantastic mod buttons; maybe when I finally get around to watching Mad Men I can coordinate my viewing with the construction of a garment around these beauties. The yarn is Malabrigo Sock, in the beautiful Boticelli Red colorway; I also got a skein in natural white, and I'm sure nobody will be shocked to hear that visions of colorwork are dancing in my head.


Post-trunk-show, the rest of our trip unwound delightfully: some family time, some drinks and conversation with new knitting friends, and then we were on the plane back to San Francisco. From there we drove for two days back to Portland, following the scenic Redwood Coast Highway (aka 101) all the way up to Lincoln City. We had fantastic weather, for some of the most gorgeous scenery in the Pacific Northwest, and had mid-day walks with Mr. Bingley in the California Redwoods on Tuesday, and along the Oregon Coast on Wednesday. Doesn't get much better than that! But we're also THRILLED to be home, and hopefully done with our spate of bad luck. Today I feel like my life is finally returning to normal; I'm even back to making to-do lists and actually checking things off of them - shocking! Soon I may actually accomplish a thing or two.