December 2010 Archives

What I've been doing instead: Gilberte

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I have one more project that got the silent treatment during my months of blog silence, but it/they are so close to completion that I don't want to show them to you until we can put an actual photo shoot together. In the meantime, this is what I cast on immediately upon posting about my new-found commitment to artistic freedom, and what I've been knitting feverishly ever since; I've decided to call it Gilberte.

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Gilberte is a gleefully non-commercial design, something I never would have devoted time to before The Epiphany, for the simple reason that one casts on over 300 stitches to begin, and, due to the way the lace pattern gains and loses stitches throughout, most of the rows are actually longer than that. (When finished, it should be a very generously-sized rectangular wrap, perfect for cozying up with.) Add to that the complexity of the lace and the lack of any shaping to liven things up, and I don't imagine it will be the next runaway hit. However, I? Am loving every moment of it.

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If you're very observant, you may have noticed that the lace motif in Gilberte is the same one I used for the edging of Ántonia. I loved the effect of multiple vertical repeats of the pattern, and in fact experimented with a way to incorporate multiple tiers into a triangular shawl, but it wasn't to be for that design. For this one, it occurred to me that adding in a stripe of a different color might create a cool, slightly scalloped effect, and I love the look of these wide, Edwardian-looking stripes. The color change also keeps things interesting while the knitting is in progress, and creates those cool little pineapple-tops where the color below peeks out from behind the wrap of the color above.

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Basically, I'm spending every spare knitting moment with Gilberte right now, and like the coquette she is, she shows no compunction about keeping me from my other, languishing projects. It doesn't hurt that she is made out of Malabrigo Lace, whose luscious softness is just perfect for warming one's hands during this frigid time of year. I've just hit the halfway-point with my yarn, however, so the honeymoon can't last forever.

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Don't forget you have one more day to take advantage of my 20% off sale: just enter coupon code EXPERIMENT! at checkout, and have a lovely and safe New Years, everyone!

Casualties: Maddelena Shawl

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Whew, no sooner do I go and write a post about how manageable my day job is, than it gets insanely busy! A big belated thanks to the Yarn Harlot for blogging about the Paul Atwell Socks pattern, and welcome to all the folks heading over from there! I know it's a little late for many of you, but FYI I am having a 20% off promotion through the end of December; just enter the coupon code EXPERIMENT! at checkout. I really hope you enjoy the pattern.

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I thought I'd write a few notes about the second project to get put on hold during my last few months of soul-searching: the Maddalena Shawl.

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Let me admit that none of my ancestors were named anything so lovely as "Maddelena." The shawl is named after David's great-great-grandmother, Maddelina Camerlingo Artone, who (maybe needless to say) came from Southern Italy; it's also the name of his great-aunt, although she goes by Molly. (Galli relations, please correct me if I have these relationships wrong!) I haven't done a lot of research on Maddelina herself, although David's uncle and aunt did give us a beautiful book of family photos for our Partnership Celebration, which includes some shots of her. She appears as a tiny, elderly Italian woman, with a light-colored shawl knotted around her neck. As she was undoubtedly Catholic in addition to being Italian, I thought this somewhat church-inspired shawl would be a good match for her beautiful name.

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I've loved this stitch pattern since first spying it in Barbara Walker (she calls it "shower stitch"), but oh my, I have been through about a zillion iterations trying to actually USE it in a design! My problem was basically that shower stitch cries out for a very fine, lace-weight yarn, but I stubbornly tried over and over again to use it in designs with fingering or light fingering-weight choices. A couple of sock yarns and a heavy laceweight later, I've finally arrived at the finest yarn I possess, Jade Sapphire Lacey Lamb in a sort of eggplant color. I'm finally liking the general look I'm getting here, but it's seriously been YEARS, people. If I end up actually completing a shower-stitch design to my own satisfaction, it may truly be miraculous.

Which brings me to the theme of this shawl:

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Shower stitch reminds me of those curved, layered roof tiles one sometimes sees in Southern European architecture and are sometimes paired with arches (the photo above isn't exactly what I mean, but it's the best I can find in ten minutes' searching). My idea for the Maddelena shawl is to create a transition out of the shower stitch section that would mimic the church arches, as if the eye is traveling down from the roof to the outer, arched walls. Here's a quick sketch of what I mean:

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I'm thinking that the heavy lines will be represented by, perhaps, double columns of ktbl's, and that there will be some kind of delicate mesh between them. I have some ideas about how actually to accomplish this, but hit a gumption trap somewhere along the way related to (what else?) whether this design is "marketable," and haven't gotten around to sitting down at the computer to actually figure it all out. Now that I don't have to worry about that anymore (I just love writing that), I hope to get back to it soon!

Casualties: the Jo Aakre Jacket

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Now that I've unloaded some of my design-related angst, I'm ready to show y'all the projects that have unintentionally gone by the wayside the past few months while I've been trying to figure out what I wanted from life. :-)

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First up is a cardigan/jacket project based on my paternal great-grandmother, Jo Johnson (née Aakre), universally referred to in my memory as "Grandma Jo" or "Grandma Johnson." Translating Jo's character into a garment is a challenge because I think of her as rather un-ornamented, both in her own clothes, and also in her manners. I want the final product to look "plain" but somehow still attractive. Walking the line between "classic" and "frumpy" is always a challenge, especially when Grandma Jo's character keeps inspiring me to veer to the frumpy side! (No disrespect meant, Johnson relations!)

A few months ago I became very enamored of the brioche family of stitches, which combine yarn-overs and k2togs to make a lofty, reversible ribbing that's slightly more visually interesting than a regular 1X1 rib.

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Perfect for my goal here: plain and functional, but interesting enough to knit. I knew I wanted a longish cardi/jacket, with pockets (something about Grandma Jo has suggested "cardigan with pockets" since I first started thinking about her design), so I started work on this, which is knit in one piece, back and forth from the bottom up. At some point I started worrying if potential buyers would find the brioche stitch too boring for such an extensive project, but HA HA HA I needn't worry about that anymore! Ahem.

So, that said, there are a few things that I'm going to rip back and revise. You can see a rough sketch of my thoughts here:

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My major gripe with Jo Aakre version 1.0 is that the placement of the front decreases is not ideal. At the moment they're right over the pockets, a position based on the princess-line seams in my favorite leather jacket. However, by the time I add a band of knitting to the top of the pocket to hide the lining (indicated by the peach rectangle, although of course the real pocket band will match the rest of the sweater), the first set of decreases will be almost obscured. Given that the architectural lines of decreases and increases are the primary visual interest in the sweater? This is not a good call. It also leaves the front of the sweater looking kind of blocky, an unflattering silhouette for most people.

I'm thinking I'll rip back to just above the pockets, and move the line of decreases and increases over to one of the two locations indicated by the peach V's. I'm leaning toward the right-hand set, since it will coincide with the vertical line of the bust, although the left-hand set of lines might give more of an impression of a narrow waist when the sweater is viewed from the front. Either one will be a lot better than what I currently have, will also create the same kind of long lines I have going on in back:

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I may also increase the distance from the first set of decreases to the second, further lengthening the lines. I may also spread out the back decreases more evenly; the benefit of having knitted so much of the bodice already, is that I can position my markers just where I want them, ready to direct me as soon as I get this back on the needles.

So, a fair amount of ripping and soaking is in my future with old Jo here. A good project for a movie night, perhaps. When that's done, and the sleeves are knitted (I was most of the way done with Sleeve 1 when I bogged down on this project previously), I'll just have the raglan yoke remaining. This sweater is one of the top contenders for what to work on after I finish my current project, as it's been sitting on my dress form for months and I've been fitting other sweaters around it!

Celebrate with me!

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Y'all, I feel SO much better since posting yesterday's entry about my goals of artistic freedom and experimentation in 2011! Seriously, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and suddenly I'm excited to talk and write about designing again. YAY! Thanks so much for all your thoughtful comments, emails, and Ravelry messages of support; it's so validating to hear that some of you struggle with these same questions. So, THANK YOU.

And in addition to thanks, please celebrate my newfound enthusiasm along with me! Now through the end of the month, the coupon code EXPERIMENT! will get you 20% off any Family Trunk Project patterns here or on Ravelry.

(Note: To use the promotion code, click the "Add to Cart" link rather than "Buy Now"; a link at the bottom of the pop-up window will invite you to "use a coupon code," and after you enter it the 20% will be deducted.)

In other news, I braved the cold, rainy gray day to take some pictures of actual knitting this afternoon (I really have no choice, since it will be raining here through June), and soon I'll start showing you the damage from my months of indecisive shilly-shallying. I'm already feeling so much better about all the projects I've put on pause over the past few months. Au bientôt!

If not now, when?

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I've been absent on the blogging front for some time now, and the truth is that I've been having a sort of knit-design-related identity crisis. It's not that I haven't been knitting: far from it. I've been working steadily on several designs for the past three months or so, but somehow as each sweater or shawl begins to take shape, I find myself unsure of how it's turning out. It's not that the final product isn't matching the picture in my head—I know how to deal with that, which is rip out and revise. No, my problem lately has been that I'm just not sure whether what I'm ending up with IS what I want, or not. Which makes it really hard to get anywhere. Am I done, or just getting started? Is this a success, or a failure?

A little while ago I realized what's behind this lack of confidence: as is so often the case, the culprit is money. Specifically, it's the question of to what extent I want design work to be my "job" (or a job), and to what extent I want it to be an art project that satisfies other, non-financial requirements. Is it okay to have an art project that makes a little bit of money, but is not my main source of support? Do I want to try to expand Family Trunk Project into more of a full-time job— which would mean teaching more classes, getting loans to publish pattern hard copies or books, traveling to trade shows and trunk shows in order to sell said hard copies? And if I don't want to do those things, does that mean I'm not committed to my art form? Does it mean I should be working on pursuing some other career path—going back to school, or searching out a full-time day job?

Questions like these are challenging enough on their own, but they've also been directly affecting my design process because I haven't been sure what my basic goals are. Will a design be a success if I conceive a project in my mind, then realize it in the physical world? Or will it only be a success if it sells a certain number of copies? If the latter, what is the magic number?

What's more, these questions were giving me designer's-block because I've been feeling conflicted about the TYPES of design concepts I should be generating and pursuing. The other day I made a sketch of a design that was very exciting to me—the kind of challenge I'm not entirely sure how to execute, but feel 90% sure I could crack. My brain started humming with all the different approaches. Then I thought about trying to grade it for my normal range of sizes, and got a sinking feeling—the cardigan yoke isn't modular, so while I might be able to figure out two or three sizes, my normal ten or twelve was out of the question. Combine a small number of sizes with a fairly advanced pattern, and would anyone buy it? Did I care? Since I didn't know whether I cared or not, into the hibernation pile it went. Like I often do when stymied in my fiber-related life, I knitted blanket squares instead. Knit, knit, knit on the blanket squares.

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The other night, though, a conversation with a friend got me thinking. He has his own creative project in the works, and he's looking for a way to finance it so that he can take his time, not cut any corners, concentrate on doing his project right without worrying about money all the time.

It occurred to me that what he wants is exactly what I already have.

I have a day-job I genuinely enjoy, which pays me enough money to pay my mortgage and all my basic expenses. I'm done by 12:30 every day. Sure, we could all use more money, but basically, anything I make on top of my paycheck is icing on the cake. At the same time, I have my afternoons free to work on whatever art project I want, however I want. If I can't take the time to explore complete artistic freedom now, when I have arranged the time and money to allow myself to do so, when WILL I be able to?

Anything could happen in the future—I might decide to go back to school, or have a baby, or move to another country, or open some kind of shop. Who knows? But for now, I have a precious space to delve into what most interests me about making things with my hands. So, an early New Year's resolution: throughout 2011, I will prioritize experimentation and personal interest level over any concern over a pattern's popularity or financial profit. I will still work with test-knitters and make my patterns the best I can, because that's only fair (and continuing to improve my pattern-writing is a personal goal as well). But if I end up putting out a pattern in only a few sizes, or an idiosyncratic design that is likely only to interest me, so be it. This is my time to explore my own creativity. Hopefully other people will find the process interesting.

Experimentation! If not now, when?

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Photos feature squares from my slowly-progressing Barn-Raising Quilt. While cogitating on all these weighty Life Issues, I've been knitting squares and joining them together. I now have 31 total, sixteen of which are crocheted together. I think I'm shooting for a final total of 80 squares, but really—who knows?

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