Saturday, August 2, 2014

Vacation time...

...and time for a vacation.  I need one, my friends. My dance card for August is already filling up, and I have to carve out pieces here and there just for moi.  Here I am, living a mere ten miles from the Atlantic, and I've not yet had time to go to the beach!  How crazy is that? So, gentle knitters, I'll say farewell for a month, but not before I announce yet another interesting contest.  YOU can win a very nice book (if you live in the US of A), which I will review below, by posting a comment on this blog before August 9th at 11.59 p.m.  Just tell me why you want the book.

Since I already own the book--a review copy, thanks to Sixth and Spring, the publisher--and don't need to tell you why I want it, I'll tell you why I like it very much. First, it's all about beautiful ways to use some of Cascade's nicest yarn, Venezia, which is a merino-silk blend with a beautiful hand and drape. Second, the patterns are really excellent and all accessory-sized, so they'll not take too long to make. And third, there are sixty patterns in one book--as I am wont to say, that's a lot of bang for the buck. But that's also the appeal of much of Cascade's yarns--the yardage is excellent, the colors beautiful, and the fiber is highest quality. I love Cascade yarns without reserve. I've just finished a pair of socks in Cascade's Heritage Paints yarn, and they are breathtakingly beautiful.

Now I'll bid you happy rest of the summer, and say see you in September, when I'll announce the winner of 60 Quick Luxury Knits, and point you towards some of my newer writing projects. I'll be doing a column of personal essays about knitting and life on the Lion Brand website, and attending to my sundry other online and offline articles, fiction, etc. etc. Thanks for asking, and happy knitting, mes amis!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

And the living is easy....

Gentle knitters,
Either my brain is fried or I have a bad case of summer-itis, or both. Proof:  I was asleep at the wheel on June 18th, which was apparently National Binge Shopping Day, but even earlier I neglected to participate in WWKIP Day/Week (or World Wide Knit in Public Day/Week, for those of you who dislike acronyms). Why? Was it really just the somnolence of summer with its murmurings of innumerable bees?

Or perhaps, actually, I just don't care about these events.

Well, having thrown that bomb into the crowd, I'll switch gears and talk about my latest complete project, which has the unwieldy title of the Buss Pillow. It's a free pattern from Berrocco, and very lovely indeed.

This version (photo credit:  Berrocco) is done in that company's yarn called Vintage, which I did not use since I wanted to bust my stash, as it were.

My handiwork was knitted of two discontinued worsteds, one by Adriafil (Roller), the other by Kerzer (Rejuvenation).  Use whatever you want, if you feel inspired to embark on this highly-recommended project. What matters only is that the worsted knits to pattern gauge, and I must say the instructions are well-written and exact without being overly technical. The backs of the pillows are solid, so the project provides many hours of mindless knitting, useful if you want to talk to someone and not concentrate on the XO chart.

And why XO, which actually represents BUSSES and HUGS, not simply a Buss, as the title implies? (Do you hate that word, BUSS, as much as I do? It is so ugly, and people are always thinking its meaning is bus, not kiss.) That inadequacy notwithstanding, I decided to make these pillows as a wedding present for Vanja and Nadia, a charming young couple in Berkeley, California, former students who met in one of my creative nonfiction classes shortly before I cut the academic umbilical. It was a pleasure to watch them, all that semester, make goo-goo eyes at each other from across the room (they made a point of not sitting near each other to indicate their serious dedication to the course), and I feel somewhat like their fairy godmother.

So off the pillows will go to California, and I'll work on finishing two pairs of socks and ignoring other faux occasions littering the calendar.  It's summer and I'm allowed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Good things, small package....

Driftwood Yarns in Mystic, Connecticut has everything a knitter needs, in a charming little space.

Please notice the driftwood arch surrounding the entrance.
How little is this place? Well, to put it in perspective, it was once a garage. As in:  "two-car garage."

The address is 29-1/2 Broadway Avenue, Mystic Connecticut 06355, and the proprietor, Elizabeth Weil...

is affable, knowledgeable, and creatively packs a lot into this small space. Her high-quality yarns are thoughtfully selected and wonderfully appealing to a range of tastes and budgets.

Moreover, she has a playful selection of buttons!

Go and be charmed. There's good energy in abundance.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Lace is more....

Conventional wisdom has it that knitting heavy woolens when the weather's warm isn't entirely pleasant. I suppose if there's no access to trade winds or a/c this is so. Anyway, if an excuse is needed to embark on a knitted lace project, it's too hot to knit an aran sweater is as good as any.

Which brings me to Brooke Nico's new book, Lovely Knitted Lace (Lark Publishing, 2014).

If you're the kind of knitter who's intimidated by the L word, this book is for you. Nico's approach is calming and rational. She organizes patterns by essential shapes--triangles, rectangles, circles, squares--so that the knitter isn't necessarily thinking about the project line by line. The psychological benefits of the geometric approach are palpable. There's a vision in place that allows the knitter to focus on intermediate and long-range goals--how a garment can be viewed as the joining of triangles or rectangles, how its form as a whole is a shaped statement rather than a string of disjointed phrases.

So it's summer now, and you could get started on something light and ethereal, like the"Angel Shawl."

How could you not love a pattern of which its designer says, "this shawl makes use of the pizza wedges concept of shaping"? Especially since, in the end, you have something decidedly more gorgeous than a pizza! (Hard to imagine, I know.) This might be my favorite pattern in the book, though all the designs, from cowls to sweaters, have great merit.

The publisher has made available a giveaway copy of Lovely Knitted Lace. If you'd like it, post a comment telling me why, before midnight on Thursday June 5th 2014.  Kramer the Haruspex will help me select the winner.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Handicraft House

That's where you live, right? I do as well, but the official name of my residence is Knitting, Chamber Music and Pet Fur House. As I write this, clouds of Molly's, Kramer's, Alfie's and Foxy's naturally discarded fluff tumbleweed across the floors, patiently awaiting their final resting place in the bowels of Electrolux.

Well, I was reading the Providence Journal earlier this week and came upon an article about the Handicraft Club, an institution on College Hill founded by Ladies Who Lunch in 1904, now lurching into the twenty-first century. They were having an open house, so I went, interested to see the place--a glorious nineteenth-century edifice surrounded by lovely gardens--diagonally across the street from Rhode Island Superior Court.  And across from the Athenaeum.  And RISD. And down the street from both the Hope Club and the University Club. So there you have it--justice, handicrafts, literature, art, polite society--beacons of civilization, only a stone's throw apart.

I was most curious about the knitting exhibits, which were, alas, somewhat lean. The Handicrafters are big on decorated metal trays, découpage, needlepoint, figurative paintings, basket-weaving, cloth-weaving, and other genteel hobbies....And the elegant setting is conducive to these pursuits. I was quite taken by the wrinkly couture wallpaper, a copy of a nineteenth-century French mural, depicting tiger hunts in India or some such vestigial practice of empire.

Knitting, Exhibit A.

Knitting, Exhibit B.  This is perhaps a Christmas stocking? It was on the large side, somewhat truncated, and had no mate.
Another view of the exhibition hall.

The Secret Garden (behind the house).

Street-side shade garden.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Knits of yore...

My friend Aeromum, who lives in Grafton, MA, sent me a photo of a cape she began knitting approximately forty-five years ago, then abandoned. She visited her mother this past Mother's Day, and mother kindly returned the project to its rightful owner.

Pretty nice work for a teenager, I'd say. My sense is the yarn will be recycled....

The venerable cape got me to thinking about things I'd knitted in past decades. Not only were there a cursed boyfriend sweater and scarf, there were two pullovers (one ribbed, one cabled) I gave to girl friends who are long lost to me, and many exquisite sweaters for Don Giovanni, a.k.a. Husband the First, a toxic quasi-human about whom the less said the better. I'm sure if all that beautiful handiwork wasn't burned or otherwise destroyed, it was given to Sally Ann or Good Will (but somehow I doubt its fate was so benign).

This is the part of knitting that upsets me, much more than frogging a labor-intensive project, or having knitting come out totally wrong. It's the putting of one's heart into a knitted garment that ends up being trashed. If I were more rational, I'd accept that once a handmade gift is given, there's no control and no guarantees--just like life.   AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!

This melancholy meditation led me to the cedar chest in the upstairs storage room. There I retrieved two of the many sweaters I knitted for my sons in the 1980s. One sweater had reparable moth damage--an entire cable twist neatly eaten out, but nothing else (thanks, cedar chest!); the other was intact.

The intact one was immediately claimed by Molly, who found it an agreeable bed.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Opportunity knocks...

The swift growth of knitting retreats, nationwide and worldwide, is a recent phenomenon, and New England's been a big part of that boom. Next week, in fact, from May 13-18, Manchester, New Hampshire hosts The Interweave Knitting Lab, sponsored by Interweave Knits Magazine.  Amazing and wonderful to contemplate that for six days total immersion in knitting--through workshops, classes, community, commerce, camaraderie, and all the other good things inherent in such an event--is delightfully possible. 

Interweave facilitated an interview with designer and teaching luminary, Shirley Paden, whose work I've admired for years. Her designs combine elegance with beautiful fit and timeless style. If you knit something she designs, it will look stunning for decades--and let's face it, if you're going to knit a sweater whose materials are high quality, and if you're going to knit to the best of your ability, you want to be able to wear that sweater for a long time. So here's the good news:  Shirley Paden will be teaching a two-day Design Basics Masterclass at the Knitting Lab!  And after that, a one-day design class on skirts and dresses!  There's still space left. What are you waiting for?

SMW:   Your designs are classic and elegant.  What draws you to this look, and do you see, over the course of your career, an evolving or changing design perspective, either in your work or in hand knitwear generally?  If the latter, how do you relate to the rest of the field?

SP:  Thank you for the kind words. I grew up sewing.  My best friend's mother was a professional seamstress who worked for a well known designer who's pieces were classic and elegant.   She had a professional sewing machine at home and spent lots of time working with us and teaching us professional techniques.  She was kind, loving and generous and I owe her a debt of gratitude.  This early exposure to the world of couture clothing design gave me a lifelong appreciation for finely tailored and finished garments.  I try to bring this attention to detail to my designs.  

I like the classic concept because many hours of work and concentration are needed to knit and finish a garment.  Therefore, at the end of the construction journey I want the final product to be something that the knitter feels is really special.  I also want it to be something that can be worn for many occasions over many years.  

As designers we are all artists.  Therefore, we are stimulated by creating in different ways.  For me, working under the dual themes of "classics" and  "quiet elegance", my design direction remains unchanged.  However, although always working within the boundaries of those two broad themes, experimentation is never ending.    

As with any group of artists I think every hand knitwear designer brings their unique approach to the craft.  There is a broad knitting audience and a need for a broad range of design ideas.   We make cloth stitch-by-stitch and there are so many things that can be done as it is constructed.  I am fascinated by the range of creativity that is in the market.  We all have our places.  International conferences like Knitting Lab are living testimonials to this.  Also, we are lucky enough to live at this very unique historical moment with the internet.  It was to the 20th century what Gutenberg's printing press was to the 15th.   As knitwear artists It has given us a wonderful worldwide sharing of ideas on a level that was unthinkable even 20 years ago.  It is a wonderful rising tide and every boat is being lifted.     


Gentle knitters, I ask you:  How can you not love a designer who thinks like this?