Is there a knitter alive who does not owe a huge debt of gratitude to Barbara Walker? Her body of work spans half a century. Her stitch dictionaries are some of my most precious design tools. Her innovative thinking rivals Elizabeth Zimmerman’s. She created the mosaic technique of color work that only uses one color per row. She pioneered the resurgence of top-down knitting. She unvented the ssk! She is a living legend and a Goddess in the knitting universe. And she still has so much to teach us.
So we should not be quick to turn our faces away from her designs, right? But when was the last time you looked at a garment she designed? Let’s parse today’s Fabulous of Gawdawful offering.
I know your first impulse is going to be, “not in a million years,” but wait a minute. Let’s start at the bottom. I admit knitted pants are trying to most figure types. The way they cling. The way they bag. The way they get pill-ie and worn across the bum. Not so lovely. But look at this beautiful stitch work.
Now use your imagination. Boot toppers? Leg warmers? Leggings? Hmm. Not so terrible after all. Even the colorway works better if there is a little less of it and it’s applied to a contemporary style accessory.
And the top? Forget the hair style and matching reticule. Just look at the beautiful stitching.
Love the updated application of traditional Scandinavian colorwork across the shoulder and upper sleeve. Love the scaled red and gold body. Again, use your imagination. What if it were a tiny bit longer? Would you wear it with jeans? Or what if it were a tiny bit longer, with leggings, or tights and leg warmers? Probably.
And I have to say, I really love the modified set in 3/4 length sleeve.
Everyone uses the stitch dictionaries as templates for creative design. Could we use the original patterns in the same way?
I really love the custom labels you can put on your finished items. It’s like tying a bow on a package or signing a painting; such a satisfying moment. But I have been uninspired by the designs I’ve seen lately. And they don’t always have all the information I want on them. What’s a knitter to do? I am the boss of my knitting and I know I can be the boss of my labels and make them exactly how I want them. Really. I know I can. I just don’t know how, yet.
Well, I did what I usually do. I Google-ed “diy garment labels” and, oh, my lovelies, did I get some great ideas. It’s a lot simpler than I thought it would be. From carving my own custom stamp out of an eraser to using printable t-shirt transfer paper to printing directly onto fabric, it even sounds like fun.
Here’s a list of my favorite tutorial sites:
My favorite method turned out to be the butcher paper/print directly to fabric method. It was easy and Liz and I had a great time watching them come off the printer.
Design your label on whatever software you have on your computer. I used Pages on my MacBook.
Here’s me ironing my freezer paper to my muslin.
Trim the fused freezer paper and muslin to 8.5 x 11.
Put your fused freezer paper and muslin in the printer.
Cut out your labels. I like the ones that fold in half with the care instructions on the reverse side.
Sew onto your finished project. And, voila! Very quick. Very easy. Very fun. Very satisfying!
If you’ve been hanging around the shop recently, you know that Liz and I are “racing” to finish our dueling sweaters. It started about 6 months ago when a young sternman came into the shop with a pair of neoprene wristers in his hand and a gleam of hope in his eye. (For those of you who don’t know what a sternman is, he is the second working man on a lobster boat. His position is toward the stern of the boat…hence the name.) This particular sternman had a sweater he loved but it had some flaws and it was wearing out. Sternmen get wet while they work and their sleeves catch on the wire of the traps and other things. In Maine, the ocean water fluctuates between about 45 and 55 degrees Farenheit. That, my lovelies, is cold. And on a brisk mid-winter day, when the wind is whipping and the temperatures plunge, wet cuffs can be awfully unpleasant.
We all know the fiber your clothing is made from is important to over all comfort. Any maritimer will tell you, cotton is a deadly no-no. Polar fleece can block wind and keep you toasty, but loses all its effectiveness if it gets even a little damp. Divers will tell you that neoprene will keep you warm, and they are right up to a point. Thinsulate? Maybe, but again wet is an issue. Our sternman was hoping we could make him a new sweater and attach neoprene wristers to the sleeves in an attempt to keep the wet out…in the hopes of keeping dry and warm. What to do; what to do?
Now I can hear some of you shouting from the ether because you already know the answer. For those of you who don’t already know, wool has a wonderful property; it retains heat even when it gets wet. Yup. There’s a really good reason all those Irish and Scottish and Scandinavian folks developed their various sweaters and shawls and mittens and socks. They live in cold damp climates with maritime traditions and they needed ways to stay warm even if they couldn’t stay dry. For hundreds of years, long before the invention of polar fleece, neoprene and Thinsulate, those folks relied on wool.
They developed techniques and traditions of using wool that incorporated making it thicker, too. Stranded color work, heavy cables and…fulling. What’s fulling, you ask? These days we call it felting, but they are technically two different things. Felting is when you use unspun fleece and apply moisture and agitation. Fulling is what you do after you spin and knit wool. All of these methods make the worked wool thicker, more wind and moisture resistant, and more hard wearing. Sounds perfect for a working stern man, right?
After Liz started working on a traditional boiled wool sweater for our stern man, I got in touch with Captain John of the J&E Riggin. Low and behold, he has the same criteria for the perfect sweater. Wind and moisture resistant, warm and hard wearing. So…Liz and I are knitting dueling sweaters.
Old Wives may tell tales and you might be tempted to discount what they had to say, but they often had good reasons for doing things the way they did. And we’re taking their advice. Stay tuned, and we’ll tell you how to do it, too.
Everything old is new again…sort of. I’ve been a knitter and a crocheter for most of my life. I’m the daughter of a life long knitter and crocheter. Some of my fondest childhood memories of the fiber arts world were the arrivals of the magazines. My mum went grocery shopping every two weeks and, while my siblings flocked like seagulls around the peanut butter to see who would be the first to put a finger track through the virgin smoothness of a freshly opened tub, I would make a dive for the knitting magazines that periodically graced our shopping bags. The hours I spent pouring over the designs and trying to figure out which sweaters I would ask Mum to make for me…or, later, which ones I wanted to make myself.
To this day, I don’t have subscriptions. I love the hunt and the moment of serendipity when I run across a tried and true favorite, or discover a new title. Interweave and VOGUE probably wish I would just go ahead and subscribe, but then the joy of pulling a fresh copy out of a shopping bag would be lost.
And I am nostalgic enough to have saved many of them. My mother’s hand written notes or hash mark in the margins where she modified a pattern or was counting rows are part of my knitting legacy. Like a scrap book, they make my past so immediate. There’s no way I’ll part with them. I’m also nostalgic enough to pick up back issues and genuine antiques when I run across them. I have boxes and boxes of old McCall’s and 101 Sweaters Workbasket from the 1950’s onward.
You see, I owe a debt of gratitude not only to my mum for teaching me the stitches, but also to the stable designers whose name I never knew and the editors who kept putting out the information I craved. It was in the pages of these magazines that I learned to be a knitter. It was there I learned my psso from my k2tog. It was there I learned my sleeve length to blouse size ratios. It was there I developed my sense of knitwear fashion…and color…and fit…and proportion…and the passage of time.
Let me share with you something fabulous…
Remember the 80’s? I know you’re tempted to roll your eyes and mutter something about big hair and awful color blocking, or the decade long obsession with Victorian florals. Or maybe you’re a hipster with a nostalgic eye for the retro statement of dolman sleeves. Okay, I admit all of it. But there are a few other things in these pages. Look at this beauty.
I know, I know. No one is ever going to put me a mock turtle neck again, either. I have no real neck to speak of and the mock turtle line just makes me look like Uncle Fester. And I gave up shoulder pads a long time ago. And a great sweater should never stop at the natural waist. And the gathered sleeve caps; don’t even get me started on the gathered sleeve caps. But here’s the deal. Once you’ve learned the building blocks of great design and how to manipulate them modifying this pattern for an updated fit is quick and easy. And all that’s good about this pattern is still there for you to use. The lace work is very pretty. The proportion of vertical stripes to graceful arches is eye catching and flattering. If you’re looking for a spring/fall sweater or something to layer under a blazer for business wear, you could go farther and fare worse. It only takes a little reworking. Shorter sleeve cap and deeper armhole, scoop neck, longer waist. Can you see it?
A little imagination, a good handle on the building blocks and a little time and this gem gets a new lease on life. And it was in the pages of this magazine and ones like it that I learned the imagination, the building block and how to manipulate them. Because of them, I’m the boss of my knitting and I can do what I want. The next time you see an old magazine at a yard sale or in a book shop, take a minute to see what’s inside. Or if you ask at OTR, I’ll show you some of my collection and we can parse it together. There’s gold in them thar pages…and everything old can be new again.
I really, really, really wish we were all on our way to Rhinebeck, but it just doesn’t seem to be my fate this year. I’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing to make it happen and it just keeps eluding me. But there are still things to look forward to.
It is half way through October and I’m already planning my NaKniSweMo sweater. Some of you may remember my adventures last year with Corinne and Boyfriend. This year I am planning to do Kerrera in Cascade Lana D’Oro in a beautiful ruby red.
This is Justine wearing our sample. Isn’t it lovely? (Yes, I’m sure Justine is lovely, too, but I mean look at that beautiful sweater!) I’m charmed and I want one in my size. I want to cast on right now! But I’m being a very good girl and waiting until November 1.
Meanwhile, I have started on the crochet version of the Through The Woods hood. Justine is doing the knit version. Knit version is in Berocco Voyage. Crochet version is in Cascade Eco+. They are both red, heavily cabled and beautiful.
Are you sensing a theme here? Can you guess what our November windows will feature?
And I have the Community Blanket to bind off. And if I get all those things done, I’ll do a pair of mittens or two for the Mid-Coast Mitten Tree. Surely that will keep me busy until November 1 when I can be with my true love.
In most cultures in most times in history there have been standard openings to stories. Think about it. “Once upon a time…” is one we’re all familiar with. Or how about, “A long, long time ago in a land (or a galaxy) far, far away…” Or maybe, “In the beginning…” There is a category in certain storytelling traditions known as the “No s*%t, there I was…” You’re probably familiar with the format. It comes at the beginning of a story that is wild enough that you’ll be tempted not to believe it, but is true none the less. Well, during the Community Blanket Marathon I was thinking of you guys because…no s*%t, there I was…
The shop closed at 7pm as usual, but I wanted the clip board with the whole knitting roster on it, so I would know who was supposed to be showing up, who was late, who didn’t show up, etc. So I went back to the shop to pick it up.
There is an alley between us and the insurance agency next door that is the habitual parking place of our insurance agent. This alley is also the shortest route between the overflow public parking lot and the big art museum, and the art museum was having a gala opening for their big new show. There were people coming and going throughout the down town area, especially to and from the museum.
It was about 8pm, the insurance agency was closed and the parking opportunities were slim, so I parked in the alley. Before going in to retrieve the clipboard, I decided to download a Vine app onto my smart phone so I could post videos of the blanket in progress. I sat quietly in my car wrestling with my iTunes password, wondering why it never seems to work the first time and not really paying attention to the people coming out of the museum across the street in front of me, or the people getting into their cars across the street behind me…or the couple who were walking down the alley chatting. On some level I registered that it was a man and a woman and that they were on their home, but I didn’t clue in to what they were talking about until they got just to the front bumper of my car.
That’s when I tuned in and realized what they were talking about was whether he could have a quick pee in the bushes without getting caught. Yup. Standing beside the front bumper of my car, where I was sitting bathed in the blueish glow of my smart phone, not six feet away. The wife said she thought he could manage it if he were quick about it and that she would stand guard. She walked to the end of the alley behind me, looked both ways and told him there was no one around. He hadn’t even waited for the all clear before unzipping and beginning to tinkle on the rhododendrons. They continued to chat about emergency peeing as it pertained to toddlers and others. Apparently the woman had had a three year old in tow, once upon a time, who had watered that exact same patch of ground some years before. They decided that it was probably more common than most people realized.
I was stunned. I couldn’t even decide what to do. I have several objections to public urination on public health grounds, not to mention olfactory esthetics in the immediate environs of my storefront. I have other objections to being the unwitting observer of said acts on ground of privacy…mine! I don’t really want to watch while a stranger hoiks out his apparatus and performs a pretty intimate maneuver in a public place. Public. You know, public? Like in “there are people around!”
Why didn’t he go before he left the museum (which I happen to know has nice bathrooms) or where ever it was they had been? Why did either of them think it was okay to irrigate the posies in the insurance agency’s garden? How did they miss seeing me illuminated in my car with my mouth hanging open in shock?
Before I could even figure out how to respond, he pants-ed up and they wandered to their car and drove away. I went inside, got my clipboard, and went back to the blanket marathon. And I put I put it to the knitters; what is the ethical thing to do? Interrupt him in mid-stream (so to speak) or stay still and silent and let him get on with it?
Some said I should have honked my horn and embarrassed him. Maybe it would be a deterrent to future urinary adventures. One said I should remain silent so as not to startle him and ruin his aim. Another said I should report it to the police. Really?
So now I put it to you… What would you have done?
It has been a whirlwind season since I wrote here last. It seems strange that so much time has passed me by without me really noticing it. But here we are and I really want to tell you about our great “I Love Yarn Day Adventure.”
As many of you will recall, last years blanket marathon was held on the coldest day of the season with gusty winds and rain in the morning. This year we had perfect weather. Warm and clear and calm. Setting up was a breeze and just as we finished setting out the chairs, a black clad server brought a fresh, hot pizza with compliments from from Bricks restaurant. When the first knitters arrived we got down to work with a sense of comfort. I got to knit with the starting crew while the blanket itself was still so small we all had to lean in close and knock knuckles as we worked.
As the blanket grew, more knitters came and went and the talk rambled back and forth from work concerns to “Orange Is The New Black” vs “Scandal” TV critiques. We had folks drop by to chat and folks drop by to put in a few stitches.
We had some repeat knitters from last year, and some new folks to round out the shifts.
As the knitters worked on into the night, Tim Horton’s sent donuts and coffee, Justine brought cardamom buns, and everyone brought their best good cheer.
And the non-perishable food just kept coming. Area Interfaith Outreach beat out Pope Memorial Humane Society by one food item to be the recipient of this years raffle. Altogether, the non-profits were able to give 554 pounds of food to the food pantry.
The raffle proceeds will arrive just in time to feed some hungry people during the holidays. You can get your raffle tickets here at the shop to help support this much needed community resource.
I’m so grateful to everyone who knit, everyone who voted with food, everyone who brought snacks, everyone who stopped by to chat, everyone who kept the shop running and everyone who showed up to the 12 Weeks Of Christmas Week #2 even after they knit all night. Special thanks to Cascade Yarn for sending such beautiful colors of 220 Superwash. All in all, it was a smooth, comfortable, fun extravaganza that proves how much we love yarn and our community. We’re moving into our holiday knitting with a deep sense of satisfaction.
Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together and takes on a life of its own? Yeah; me, too. So long, Community Blanket. See you next year.
The entrelac cowl is lovely. Marlowe is soft and beautiful and I love the way the tonal variegation is brought out by the directional stitches. And it’s moving really quickly, as entrelac is want to do.
And I have been beguiled by something new. Isn’t this pretty?
This is Cascade Casablanca. A wool, silk and mohair blend in a color called “Fire.” Coupled with Cascade 220 in a nice Kelly Green, like this one right there…
Together they are going to become gorgeous two color mittens from Celeste Young’s new book “Knits Of A Feather.”
The book hasn’t started shipping yet, so I can’t show you a picture, but trust me; you’re going to love these delightful patterns inspired by birds! And my start-itis is going to escalate to new heights.
And did I mention my Diamond Crochet Cowl? There’s a crochet-along on Ravelry. You can join me here if you like.
So that’s only three projects started in three days. I wonder what I’ll start tomorrow?
Maybe it’s the tang of fall in the air, or the way the light has turned from bright white to golden. Maybe it’s the later sunrise or the earlier dusk. Maybe it’s an innate sense of the turning of the earth, or some vestigial seasonal awareness from the primitive parts of my brain, my ancestral memory. Whatever is causing it, I have a serious case of start-itis. I’m deeply aware of snow and fire wood and Christmas looming over the horizon, and my response, as always, is to start knitting and crocheting so my loved ones will not be cold or lonely or sad through the winter.
So I’ve started a Crochet-Along on Ravelry. You can see my beautiful Diamond Cowl and crochet along with us here. I’ve also picked out two “little Red Riding Hood” style hoods (here and here) and a hoodie sweater (here) for our October window and have chosen yarn and downloaded patterns. But I didn’t start them yet, because I got distracted by the idea of an entrelac cowl. In Juniper Moon Farm’s Marlowe (153 yards of 50% Merion/50%Silk worsted weight loveliness), this is going to be exquisite.
And, just because I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, we’re going to be starting a “12 Weeks ‘Til Christmas” Club. Starting October 5th, on Saturday afternoons we’ll be hosting in-store knit and crochet alongs with a focus on getting ready for holiday gift giving. We’ll have one knit and one crochet project featured each week. They will be easy, quick, inexpensive and fun.
We’ll be sending out more details in the newsletter, but for now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look at sock patterns.
(Click on the photo above to watch a short news video)
You may not know it to look at them, but you are surrounded by radical, subversive women. They carry with them raw materials and tools to perform fundamentally world altering acts. They blend into their surroundings. So much so that you probably have some in your home, your family, your work place. You probably even see them plying their trade in meetings, on busses, in parks and coffee shops, and have no idea what you are looking at. They are able to recognize each other and often congregate right out in the open (and, really, is there any better place to hide?) to share secrets and tricks that further their individual and collective goals to undermine the fabric of our built-in-obsolescence, consumerist society.
Actually, I’m pretty sure the folks reading this know all about it. I’m pretty sure most of you are members of this not so secret society. You know I’m talking about you. Yes, you! You knitters and crocheters out there. Not to mention spinners, weavers, felters, quilters, sewers, etc. You radical fiber artists and crafters.
Maybe some of you never thought of yourself as radical or subversive. But consider this: the most fundamentally radical act we humans can engage in is the act of creation. Think about it for a moment. Creation. Even the word has a decidedly mythological, one might even say biblical, ring to it. This act of creation is one usually ascribed to divine forces. “In the beginning…” as the story goes.
And for us, “In the beginning…” there is some fiber that we got from somewhere; from a plant or animal who isn’t using it anymore. It’s pretty formless though perhaps not entirely void. Then we do something to it. We change its form. From a handful of fluff, through human agency, we spin a thread or mat it together or sculpt it into three dimensional form. And we find that it is good. Maybe then we take a thread and perhaps add other threads or change its color or lay it back over itself. We play with it and twist it and spin it until it becomes yarn. And we find that it is good. We take that yarn and wind it around rollers and criss-cross it over and under and in between itself, or we form it into loops and pull loops through other loops until we have woven or knitted or crocheted a fabric. And we find that it is good! We shape that fabric into garments to clothe ourselves and our loved ones, functional or decorative items to enhance our homes, objects of art that lift our souls. We find that it is so good, that we keep on doing it. It becomes so much a part of us that we forget what a magical, radical act creation actually is.
Know the other thing I find interesting about the ladies from the UK who have been asked to leave their local library and find meeting space elsewhere? All the things they create are for babies and children, and some of the things they create are meant to train midwives and teach breastfeeding mothers. The whole gestation and rearing of children thing is probably the most complex and mysterious creation act of all. Yet it happens so regularly, so frequently, it is normalized. We take it so for granted that we rarely stop to think about it.
Yet, even when we aren’t thinking about it, we are drawn to it. And those around us are drawn to it, too. The ladies of Crumlington were invited by their city’s council to begin this group, and more ladies joined. Over the three years they have been active, this group has attracted more members and expanded their list of recipients. They have created something compelling and productive. So compelling and productive they are now the targets of some uncomfortable feelings coming from the very council that invited them in the first place. Are knitting needles really dangerous? Well, I’ve left some size 1 dpn’s on the sofa and gotten a nasty surprise the next time I went to watch a little TV, but that hardly constitutes a public safety hazard. (and serves me right for not taking proper care of my tools) Are they really so noisy? I suppose a large group of women chatting, even in their most careful tones, could be difficult for some folks to overcome. But the sound of their needles is cited as one of the areas of complaint. Really? The rhythmic clicking and swishing together of knitting needles is the sound of creation. Is that really part of the problem? All that creation can get a little uncomfortable?
When you birth a child or finish a shawl, you’ve brought something new, something you’ve built by hand, from your soul, into the world. And who knows how the world will be changed by it? Maybe that’s the most dangerous things about creation. In subtle but profound ways, each time we make something where nothing used to be, the old world changes and is no longer the old world, but a brand new one. The outcome is unknowable, and fear of the unknown is the most potent fear of all. But that’s what creation is all bout. Make something new, know that it is good, and wait to see what happens. Dangerous stuff, indeed.
I hope the knitters of Crumlington and everywhere will keep on knitting out loud. I hope you all will keep on creating. These radical acts sustain each of us personally and the whole world collectively. And if it occasionally gets loud or messy or dangerous, bring it on over here. We’re having another meeting of the radical, subversive women’s secret society right out here in the open any minute now. You’re welcome to join us any time.