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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Many FOs and 1 WIP

As promised, I have pictures of many FOs. Some I've posted before in one form or another, but here they are finally complete - ends woven in, blocked and buttons sewn on.

The first is the pea pod cardigan I made for my friend - who gave birth on Thanksgiving to a healthy boy! The yarn shop owner chose the buttons. I think they're perfect - very much in keeping with the botanical nature of the sweater and a cheerful splash of additional color. She never fails with her good taste.

The second is the pea pod set I made for the shop. Again, the shop owner chose the buttons. They're also flowers, but in a more elegant and understated metal rather than the bright pastel I used for the first pea pod.

The shop owner also brought in the Shetland Triangle I knit for the shop. She very kindly blocked it for me since I don't have the equipment and I think the results are great. I love seeing the transformation lace makes once it's been stretched out. The gentle variations in the Schaefer Anne are beautiful worked up in the simple lace pattern. I had a hard time photographing this and finally settled for draping it over a chair. Hopefully, it's reasonably clear.

And finally, here's the progress on the Cabled purse I'm making for the shop in Rowan Silk Wool. I so love the teal color - it's brilliantly clear like the undisturbed waters of a lake (sounds cheesy I know) and the cables really pop in the yarn. I'm done with one side and am in the process of knitting the cabled straps.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Quick update from Ithaca

I'm in Ithaca for the week and blissfully knitting at the yarn shop. I hope I'm not annoying too much the people who have to work there! Everyone who works, frequents, and visits the shop is really friendly. I would have loved to have such a great knitting community to knit with while at grad school here, but maybe it's for the best that the current yarn shop owner didn't acquire the business until after I graduated. I don't think I would have finished my disseration if she had bought it before!

I have updated pictures of several projects that are now completely complete, but posting them will have to wait until I'm back in Jersey within reach of my laptop & camera cable. Among them are the pea pod sets (now with buttons) and a blocked Shetland Triangle, as well as the beginnings of the Cabled Purse in Rowan Classic Silk Wool.

I love how the Cabled Purse is knitting up. The combination of the lush, braid-like cables with the smooth shininess of the Rowan Silk Wool makes it very very very hard to put down! I keep on wanting to see what the next cable twist will look like, even though it's a very regular pattern.

Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. My cousin (who lives in Ithaca) is going to be making some very yummy things, according to my mom who heard from my aunt ;)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pea pod #2 Complete

I just finished pea pod #2 for the yarn shop. I love the little hat and I loved working with the yarn - think Manos, but softer and at a lighter gauge.

Next up is this with Rowan Classic Silk Wool:

Friday, November 17, 2006

Chi vuole fare la maglia?

My mother-in-law, who lives near Milan and is well acquainted with my knitting obsession, sent me this article about the state of knitting in Italy. Apparently, the craze is just hitting the capital of style and what was formerly seen as mainly the province of grandmothers is starting to infiltrate the young & hip. To tell you the truth, I was a bit surprised by this. I would have thought Italy, with its fantastic mills and access to fibers, would have its knitting renaissance well underway.

The article talks a little bit about Italian stitch n bitches as well as the trend in the US. It even mentions Knit NY, a cafe-yarn store in NYC.

At any rate, I'm thrilled it's becoming more popular there. The last time I visited knitting stores in Italy was about 2 years ago and they were warehouse-like, filled with a confusion of yarn arranged in no particular (at least to me) order. Even with the help of my husband, I had a hard time communicating what I was looking for since he didn't know the knitting terms.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Quick pea pod update

Just a quick pea pod update. I've finished the pea pod cardigan I was working on for my friend. It's just missing buttons and the hat.

I'm also quite a ways into the pea pod I'm making for my LYS. I'm just having a great time knitting with this Mericash. It's so soft! I'm just a bit doubtful about claims that it can be machine washed. It's single ply and seems to bloom even with the slightest agitation. I can't imagine it surviving even the gentlest cycle. But who knows, it may surprise me (of course since this is a sample for the store, I'm not going to test this! ;) )

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ithaca is Gorges

Ithaca was recently named the eighth best place to live in the US by Kiplinger's. I'm not sure what the criterion were, but it is a nice town if totally isolated. The people are friendly, the scenery is beautiful - something the residents proudly express in the title sentiment Ithaca is Gorges on T-shirts and bumper stickers, and the atmosphere is comfortably collegiate/granola/green. It's been compared to Berkeley, but more intimate. This week I came along for my husband's weekly trip to Ithaca in the neverending quest to finish his Ph.D. On Tuesday, we hiked along Buttermilk Falls - one of the many waterfalls and creeks winding among the numerous gorges Ithaca is nestled among.

Ithaca also means visits to my favorite yarn shop. This time, I handed over the unblocked Shetland Triangle and picked up two projects. The first one is the following:

Yep, it's another Pea Pod set. I showed the yarn shop owner a picture of the blocking (and as yet unassembled) pea pod set that I'm making for my friend and she immediately asked for one for the shop. This one is being made in Punta del Este's Mericash, a machine washable merino and cashmere blend. It's a new yarn (and I believe yarn company) that's kettle dyed and very reminiscent of Manos with its subtle nearly solid washes of color. I've never worked with a single ply yarn before. It's wonderfully soft and very easy on the hands (unlike the Jaeger Matchmaker Merino), but at times I'm afraid of breaking it so I'm treating it very gently.

The second project is the lovely cabled handled bag from the new Rowan Wool Silk pattern booklet. I'll show pictures of the bag and the yarn (in a clear teal) when I start to work on it.

Last night was also my and my husband's monthiversary and we went to Red Lobster to celebrate. Maurizio's been wanting to go for ages ever since he saw a commercial for the chain on TV. I get such a kick out of his excitement for such things. I sometimes forget he's Italian until he expresses desires for American staples I take for granted like oreos and twinkies.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Today my husband and I went to the city to cheer on a friend of ours who ran the NYC marathon. It was a lovely fall day - crisp and cool and intermittenly sunny. The city was crazy crowded, with several streets and bridges closed and cross-park traffic severely hampered by cordoned off pedestrian paths two people wide. Here's a view of the finishers wrapped in their sponser tarps and staggering towards their designated family reunion areas.

And here's a picture of my latest FO. It's the pooling colors scarf from one of the interweave knits issues made from Schaefer Anne. It only took me two years to complete. Or more precisely, the knitting was completed in one week two summers ago and the two long neglected yarn ends were finally woven in yesterday in 3 minutes flat.

I'm horrible when it comes to completing stuff. I almost always end up running out of steam after the main knitting is done. After that there are several rate limiting steps that clog up the progress. The first is blocking - I hate the whole process of wetting and pinning out the individual pieces, making sure they match the desired dimensions without too much scalloping action. The second is seaming. But the most loathed step of all is weaving in yarn ends. Looking at the tangle of ends makes me want to shove a nearly complete project to the bottom of the stash box. Several things reside there now, but this scarf is happily no longer one of them! I find that ever since I started my gig as a sample knitter for the LYS, I've become much more conscientious about finishing projects.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Another baby knit in progress

I guess I'm at the age where all of my friends are getting pregnant. At least it's a good excuse to indulge in a little instant gratification knitting. Here's the latest baby knit I'm working on - the Pea Pod set by Kate Gilbert. It's a cute and unusually sophisticated knit as far as baby knits go - I love the asymmetry of the cardigan and the leaf lace motif is charming. My friend, who's due in 4 weeks, has opted not to know the sex of the baby - hence the green color choice. I'm going to make the matching hat too and modify a basic booties pattern to incorporate the lace leaf stitch.

The yarn is Jaeger Matchmaker Merino. It's scratchier than it feels in the skein, but I'm told that it'll soften up with a washing. When blocking it, I mixed in a little hair conditioner and it does seem to be loftier as a result.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Guest blogger - Donna Druchunas, author of Arctic Lace

Today I have a guest blogger - Donna Druchunas, author of the just released Arctic Lace - who has graciously agreed to write a guest post on this leg of her blog book tour. Her new book is available online at Amazon. More information can be found on her website.

Donna is an experienced knitwear designer whose designs have appeared in Family Circle Easy Knitting, Knitters, Piecework, Interweave Knits, Fibre Focus, and INKnitters magazines as well as pattern booklets for various yarn companies. In addition, she's a great resource for those of us who love to knit, generous with her advice and her encouragement. Arctic Lace is emblematic of her passion for design and teaching; it is easily one of the most unique knitting books I have seen -- incorporating patterns, history, sociology, and tools for the reader to come up with their own designs. So, without further ado, her guest post:

Inspiration and Design
by Donna Druchunas

One of the questions I'm asked most often is, "Where do your ideas come from?" My subconscious mind is the only answer I can come up with. I am constantly flooded with ideas for books, lace patterns, and projects. I think it's because I am open to new ideas, so I get ideas wherever I am. I'm not afraid that I won't have enough ideas. I think fear stops you from recognizing good ideas when they come to you. My guess is that everybody has good ideas all the time, but most people are not paying attention.

A few weeks ago, for example, I was looking at a pile of dyed qiviut yarn sitting on a table at a booth and I saw a modular lace scarf. The image just popped into my head as I was staring at the pile of yarn. I haven't made this yet, because of the cost of the yarn, but whenever I'm ready the idea is just sitting there in my mind. I also keep files on my computer to make lists of ideas. And sometimes I'll make a little pencil sketch, scan it, and place it into the idea file with the text.

While I was doing the research for Arctic Lace, I made photocopies of arts and crafts pieces from several books about Yup'ik and Inupiat art in my public library. I also visited the ethnology collection at the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. My husband was the photographer for Arctic Lace and he took pictures of dozens of woven baskets, ivory carvings, painted wooden utensils, and sewn bags in the collection. I also had photos from museum collections showing the daily life of Yup'ik and Inupiat people in the 19th and early 20th centuries. When I got home, I looked at these photos over and over again until a design just popped out at me.

I'm not very good at forcing designs. I just have to look at things and wait for a design to show itself to me. I'm sure that my subconscious mind is working on these ideas while I'm sleeping, showering, and driving. And then when I'm ready, the idea just comes up into consciousness.

With that said, here are a few interesting questions Connie asked me about my inspiration for Arctic Lace and for the projects in the book:

What inspired you to write a book combining history, sociology, and knitting patterns? Were you inspired by efforts by Nancy Bush and her Ethnic knit series?

Yes, definitely. Nancy's book Folk Knitting in Estonia is one of my favorite books and I kept it on my desk while I was writing Arctic Lace. My favorite part of the book was the short chapter on Estonian folk customs and holidays. I haven't actually made any of the projects from Folk Knitting in Estonia, but I have read the book over and over again and I am still inspired by it every time I crack the cover open.

Another of my favorite books is Gossamer Webs by Galina Khmeleva and Carol Rasmussen Noble. I loved that the authors interviewed the Russian knitters and included their photos and quoted from their interviews in
the book. I enjoyed hearing the stories of the knitters in their own voices. This book was very much a montage, including pieces written by both authors, the quotes from the interviews, and a story about knitters that was translated from Russian.

Both of these books left me wanting to know more. Not about the knitting, that was covered in depth. But about the history and culture of the knitters. I wanted to know more of their stories, and about the yarn they use, and the animals that provide the fiber, and, and, and... So in Arctic Lace I tried to write the kind of book that I wanted to read, even though I had never seen a book just like that before.

What is your process in designing when the jumping off point is historical in nature? Do you start with sketches and come up with a general game plan or do you start swatching with yarns immediately?

I actually chart first. When an idea comes to me, I go right to the computer and chart it. When I was writing Arctic Lace, I used Stitch and Motif Maker. I've recently switched to Knit Visualizer for charting. Both programs allow me to cut and paste and move symbols around, so I don't have to wear a hole in your graph paper with an eraser.

Because the first chart I make is never correct. I usually get the general outline of the lace pattern the way I want it, but as I start swatching, I may change my mind about what types of decreases work best in a certain spot. Sometimes I don't even like the basic outline when I'm done, so I go back to the charting program. Some designs just look much better when you add a double outline, so a boring pattern suddenly becomes interesting. Other patterns look better as individual motifs, and still others work better as all-over repeats. I experiment with all of this on the computer, and when I think I have something that I like, I swatch it in worsted or sport weight wool.

I find wool to be the easiest inexpensive yarn to swatch with. I usually use Brown Seep or Plymouth yarns because the cost is so reasonable. I like to swatch with heavier yarn and thicker needles first because then I can really see how the stitches look and I can work out the problems with the stitch before trying to knit it on tiny needles and thread-like yarn. I highly recommend this to all lace knitters: Always swatch a new lace pattern on worsted or sport weight yarn and size 7 or 5 needles. That way you can learn the pattern and make your mistakes on your swatch instead of in your real project. This is especially important when knitting with qiviut, which usually costs for about $70 US per ounce.

What is the first thing you knitted and what is the first thing you designed? What kinds of garments/objects do you gravitate towards?

Let's see, the first thing I remember knitting is a yellow honey comb swatch after my grandmother taught me how to use a cable needle. The first piece of lace I ever knitted in my entire life is the swatch on page 112 of Arctic Lace. This is the swatch I use to teach new lacer knitters as well. It includes yarn overs, and three types of decreases (left slanting, right slanting, and a double decrease). I knitted this in cheap worsted weight acrylic yarn because I was sure I would mess up. I had never been able to knit lace successfully before I used the techniques I included in Arctic Lace. But once I learned the secret (or not so secret, as it turns out) techniques that I explain in Arctic Lace, I was able to go right into designing my own lace.If I could learn to knit lace, I know that every knitter can learn, too!

I don't really like designing sweaters. I much prefer to make items that don't have to come out a specific size! Sweater patterns usually have to be written for at least 3 sizes, and I just don't enjoy figuring all of that out. It's not hard. It's just tedious. I'd rather just be knitting. So while I do design sweaters to knit for myself, I usually design accessories and other small projects for publication. Lately I find that I'm designing and knitting a lot of shawls.

Who's your favorite designer?

There are so many great designers out there today that it really is not fair to pick just one or two favorites. But....

Debbie New came to mind immediately when you asked that question. She is just so creative, that it's hard to fathom! I think I read that Debbie is a retired biologist and a mother of eight, so I can't even imagine how she found time for creativity. Everything she does it outside of the box. Her techniques are outrageous, but she uses them to create designs that regular people can wear. Of course, she makes strange things, too, like a sea-worthy lace boat that was shown in Meg Swansen’s book, A Gathering of Lace.

I am also a big fan of Dorothy Reade. She worked with the Oomingmak co-op at the beginning to develop the knitting techniques and yarn that they use for their lace scarves, stoles, and hats. She also wrote and self published one book and several other booklets. Her book, 25 Original Knitting Designs, is out of print and very hard to find, but it is full of wonderful charted lace designs that she created from scratch. There are no projects in the book, but she gives several ideas on how the knitter can incorporate the lace patterns into existing projects.