My Monomania

At VKLive in Chicago earlier this month, I happened upon a booth where all the women in it were wearing a cardigan of Ann Weaver‘s design, called Monomania. I fell instantly, dangerously, in love.

I loved the way it fit every body working the booth. I loved the varied palettes each knitter had chosen.

I loved the thoughtful, mathematically elegant, figure-flattering design – these are all characteristics I strive to achieve in my own designs, so I definitely appreciate them in others’.

The problem is, I seldom have time to knit someone else’s pattern. But Monomania… Well.

Had. To. Have. It.

Here are the first few inches of my version, with the color palette in deep greens and blues sparked by chartreuse.

IMG_1655

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still in love. Can’t knit fast enough.

Meanwhile, having completed all twelve of the designs for my upcoming knitting book, the reason I can knit my own Monomania is that until the end of this year I “get to” knit whatever I want. As soon as 2014 rolls around, however, I’ll be working on a new set of designs for another knitting book project.

Never Too Late To Have a Happy Childhood

When my sisters and I were little, we amused ourselves in what would today be considered extremely low-tech ways. Of course, those were the days when the mothers in our suburban neighborhood, fed up with the usual sibling rivalry and incessant bickering, would yell, “Go outside and PLAY!” and that’s what we did.

Kickball, and spy games, jump rope, and jacks. Yes, even jacks. Hand-to-eye coordination, people!!

But on rainy afternoons, stuck indoors and bored with Monopoly and Scrabble, we’d often entertain each other by making chin faces.

Don’t know what that is?

Well, the other night while in a silly mood, I resurrected this childhood diversion and persuaded my very game husband to play along.

IMG_1586

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now do you remember? With black eyeliner pen and a red lipstick as my only tools, I gave us both an extra face:

IMG_1585

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lying on the living room sofa with our faces upside down, our normally pedestrian conversation was suddenly hilarious. Or at least, it looked hilarious.

IMG_1590

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I’m pretty sure the cat thought we were weird.

IMG_1604

Handwork Mitts, Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2011

I received a copy of Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2011 last week. Lo and behold, my ongoing desire to design fingerless mitts patterns continues to bear fruit.

Designed to fit into the section titled “A House With Gables” theme (for the projects’ ornate embellishments), I LOVED creating the Handwork Mitts design. Not only do these mitts include a feminine picot bind-off, but they feature a simple but effective lace cuff as well.

Add to that the knitted and appliqued blooms that adorn the back of the hand. And, there are two options for those pretty little leaves that anchor the blossoms in place. IK shows both – very nice of them!

My original prototype (seen above) had tiny knitted leaves, worked on US Size 1 needles. The version of this project that made it into the magazine features wired-edge ribbon leaves, snipped into 3″ lengths and folded the long way, then stitched to create a center seam, as shown below. Charts for the knitted leaves are also included.

Below are the photos showing how IK modeled the mitts. So delicate and pretty, no? I’m always thrilled by how they photograph and style my projects.

The mitts themselves are easily a weekend project, and the knitted flowers work up, literally, in minutes (and are a fantastic way to use up those little remnant lengths of luxury fiber that we can’t bear to throw away). The leaves take a bit longer, but not much. So if you have a girly-girl on your holiday gift list this year, these Handwork Mitts should elicit the appropriately joyful squeal of happiness~!

Feeling Brittle

Every year I am asked to make the same contribution to the Passover seder we attend at the home of friends.

Matzoh brittle, with its buttery-caramelized crunch and chocolate-almond (and sometimes shredded coconut) toppings is as delicious as it is easy. In years past I was reliably guilty of consuming way, way more than my fair share.

But not anymore. Oh, sure, I still make the matzoh brittle – several batches, in fact. But being on a gluten-free diet means I no longer eat it. This could be considered a new form of culinary torture, if you ask me.

So knowing about my legendary sweet tooth, you are no doubt wondering if I was able to find a substitute gluten-free and yeast-free confection that would be an acceptable Passover treat.

Oh, yes. Yes, I did.

After making a triple batch of these light yet chewy almond macarons (though not as fine and fluffy as the Ladurée version from Paris that is showing up on every trendy dessert menu these days), the proverbial lightbulb went on. I borrowed the Ladurée macaron filling concept…

… and dug out the jar of Nutella that had been languishing at the back of a kitchen cupboard just waiting for its close-up.

Nutella is the ultimate mouth-gasm, in my opinion, and it spread with perfectly unctuous smoothness across one flat side of my macarons.

At our seder, I snagged a couple of these decadent treats for my dessert and left the matzoh brittle to the others.

And you know what? I did not feel at ALL deprived.

Signs of Spring

There are some things even the latest downpours have not been able to wash away.

Between storms this past week, I’ve been outside trying to capture the brave little spots of color around the garden.

Although I have not been successful at capturing on film any of the rainbows I’ve seen (why do I always seem to be driving when they appear?), the flowers are bright enough and hold still long enough for me to snap them.

I adore these crocuses that pop up along the front walk. They have a sprightly delicacy that never fails to captivate me. Whenever I see them, I envision a scoop-necked cardigan knit in narrow stripes with these three colors, or perhaps stripes of violet and cream piped with the golden yellow.

And these; that divine egg yolk yellow paired with rich violet is beyond gorgeous.

Not Your Traditional Knitter: Meet Mens Knitwear Designer Kevin Kramp

If you thought you’d seen all possible permutations of knitwear for men, let me introduce you to something completely different.

Kevin Kramp and I first talked several months ago when I interviewed him for an article in our university’s alumni magazine. I was immediately struck by his idiosyncratic creativity. In fact, the lede in my article quoted Kevin’s design mantra; “I think my work is stunning, and I want you to be stunned.”

Looking through images of his menswear designs prior to our interview, I understood in an entirely fresh way what people mean when they talk about artistic vision.

Not because I can actually imagine a “regular guy” wearing one of Kevin’s creations, but because he has an emphatic, highly original perspective on knitwear and menswear. His work is uncompromisingly true to this concept, despite published comparisons of his work to “Snuggies for men,” and other unflattering descriptions.

Kevin’s designs have won numerous awards in the world of high fashion, where his knitwear is assumed to have evolved from the work of avant-garde fashion designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyaki, and Comme des Garcons.

He rejects these comparisons, however, arguing that existing fashion is, instead, anti-inspiring in the creation of new fashion.

You may not like what you see, but I’ll bet it gets a reaction out of you because you’ve never seen anything like it before (oh, wait a minute, of course you have: think about ghetto kids with their jeans riding so low on their hips that their boxers are entirely exposed; think about oversized sweaters that make some of us feel – if not actually look – smaller).

If you appreciate nothing else about these images (Just for starters: luxe fabrics, texture in abundance, movement and drape), you must at least acknowledge the unique quality of the designs. 

Next month, Kevin’s work will be featured as part of a prestigious fashion design exhibition, Unravel: Knitwear in Fashion, at the MoMu Mode Museum in Antwerp, Belgium. The exhibition will introduce visitors to knitted garments and accessories from across the last centuries, with a focus on high fashion pieces and their vernacular interpretations.

From the exhibition press release: “Top pieces by national and international designers and labels (Ann Salens, Vivienne Westwood, Sonia Rykiel, Versace, Missoni) historic couture pieces (Schiaparelli, Patou, Chanel) as well as more avant-garde and cutting edge pieces by established designers and newcomers on the international fashion scene (Sandra Backlund, Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons, Mark Fast, Kevin Kramp) will sit side by side to reveal the richness and diversity of knitwear in high fashion.”

Perhaps I should have stated at the outset that Kevin is not a hand knitter. He works on knitting machines that allow him to manipulate his luxury fibers, slowly creating sumptuous textured fabrics. A single swatch takes hours to develop (hand knitters can definitely appreciate that), and a prototype of a single garment can take him ten months to complete.

Although you won’t find Kevin on Ravelry, next time you find yourself in search of inspiration, a scroll through his site just might turn your knitting mojo upside down!

All images accompanying this post are courtesy of Kevin Kramp.

Declassified

When the fun folks at Interweave Knits gave me a creative challenge, I did my best to rise to the occasion. And now that the Holiday 2010 issue is on its way to your mailbox and local yarn shop, I can share what they asked me to do.

It was a fun little project; knitted embellishments that are suitable for holiday gift-giving. Four different little leaves, to be precise, with the designs charted out to make them really easy-peasy. And oh, the magical ways in which to use them:

Little Pleated Clutch, Hana Jason, Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2010

I can see them tied to holiday packages, topping a length of I-cord for use as a bookmark, or lots of them gathered to make a wreath, or bulky weight versions pressed into service as coasters…

Looking through all the great projects in this issue, it is clear that the IK editors had a blast putting it together. I was happy to be included, as this project gave me a great excuse to browse again through a photography book by Karl Blossfeldt, a truly fabulous little book of inspiration that features sharply-detailed black and white photos of seed pods, leaves, and flowers.

CraftyPod Rocks!

Oh CraftyPod, How I Love You!

Notice anything different about this blog lately? If you have not yet taken an online class with Sister Diane of CraftyPod fame, I urge you to run, don’t walk, to her website and sign up right this second!!!

I recently completed her three-part online Craft Blog Tune-Up class, at the suggestion of Kim (another craft goddess whose work is awesome and inspiring).

Have You Looked Under The Hood Lately? Or, Why Your Blog Needs THIS Tune-Up

Craft Blog Tune-up made me rethink my entire blogging philosophy, from its most ephemeral qualities (high-value vs. low value topics) to the most nuts-and-bolts aspects (photo size, amount of white space vs. text).

Sister Diane is among the most generous and all-round wise craft-blogging-and-ebook-publishing gurus I’ve ever “met,” and it’s not difficult to describe what makes her classes so very, very worthwhile:

1) Meaty information: There’s nothing superficial about the class lessons. Sister Diane gives amazing value to the class content in terms of the students’ investment, and then she goes above-and-beyond by making herself available in class chats and forums to answer additional questions;

2) Visual inspiration: Between her incredibly astute understanding of the uses of photography (and the gorgeous quality of the photos themselves) and her thoughtful video lessons that alternate with text/photo lessons, Diane has nailed the most difficult aspects of craft blogging. She makes her lessons such a visual feast in and of themselves that students want to run straight back to their own sites and start making improvements;

3) Long-Term Results: You probably go in thinking you’ve already made your blog as good as it can be, yet you have the nagging feeling that you’ve missed something. You finish the class lessons feeling completely fired up to make a million changes, but confident that even taking one baby step at a time will make a noticeable difference.  By the time you’ve incorporated all the suggestions that are applicable to your own personal craft blog, you might not recognize it from its original format, but it’s still YOU – but a new and improved you that reaches your audience in equally new and improved ways!

Designer Spotlight #2: The Yarniad

Designer Spotlight #2: Hilary Smith Callis, The Yarniad

San Francisco resident Hilary Smith Callis was an easy choice for inclusion in Brave New Knits. Although at the time she did not consider herself a full-fledged designer, the foundation had been established and was just waiting to blossom.

Hilary writes an entertaining blog that shares all the fibery details of her knitting experiments, successes, and even the occasional frogged project. That blog “voice” is endearingly modest and just a little bit goofy in a highly entertaining way. Her knitting evolved quickly from covering the patterns of other designers to working up her own ideas from sketch to swatch to finished sweater. Since first discovering her blog, it has been a pleasure to follow her progression from basic knitter to accomplished designer.

Simple But Stunning

Hilary’s eye for simple but stunning details is unerring; she creates designs that manage to be both user-friendly and style-conscious. The project she designed for Brave New Knits is a perfect example of the wearable simplicity she strives for. Although the finished garment is as sophisticated as it is practical (love those pockets!), making it would not be beyond the skill set of a new knitter.

The detail shown below, with its neat textural juxtaposition (Whoa! An ‘x’ in two consecutive words! God, I love the English language!) of stockinette and reverse stockinette, the clean finished edge, and an unfussy, classic button choice, is just a tiny preview of the knitterly goodness to come.

In the year since we first met to work on her interview, Hilary’s knitting life has changed in major ways. “Back then, I think I was looking at designing more as a hobby and a way to express myself; now I’m definitely taking it more seriously as a ‘career’, even if that career is just part time.”

Soon after our interview, Hilary released a few free patterns on her blog. The enthusiastic reception these received was the tip of the iceberg, because “… when [the] Citron [shawlette] was published in Knitty [in the Winter 2009 issue], things really took off.” Hilary credits Knitty and its readers for the fact that her “… blog readership has grown about 1000% (!) and I’ve started being contacted by indie dyers to collaborate on designs.”

Collaborative Creativity

It is this kind of collaborative creativity that really resonates with the designer, whose inspirations seem to come at her from all directions, marinating in her imagination until she “sees” a precise image of what the design should be.

At the beginning of 2010, Hilary had three sweater designs accepted into Knit Picks’ Independent Designers Program. This additional exposure gave her designs an even wider online audience. In fact, she is convinced that “… because I design exclusively “for the internet”, almost everything I do is in some way influenced by the online knitting community.” And that conviction made her a perfect fit for Brave New Knits.

Even Ravelry has gotten in on the act of anointing Hilary as an up-and-coming designer to watch. Within just a few days of putting up a new pattern for sale  (the Lilas Cardigan, below), responses were overwhelmingly positive, and it had made the “New and Popular” list that is a regular feature on Ravelry. Thanks, Hilary, for letting me “borrow” this image of your lovely design to share with readers.

With more designs in the works for Knit Picks, more collaborations in progress, and other design proposals pending, her main problem is “… not having enough time to get everything in my head out on paper [and] yarn.”

Habu Goddess Tunic

Earlier in the week, we took a look at the unassuming beginning of the Habu Goddess Tunic. Two long pieces of stockinette in Habu‘s Tsumugi Silk, bordered at each end with deep swaths of Wool Stainless Steel carried with Kusaki Zome Silk. Each length measuring 60″ long by 18″ wide when blocked, they could easily be repurposed as a pair of ephemeral scarves.

But look what happens when we begin adding definition to these simple lengths of stockinette by pinning them strategically together. Gathers at the shoulders add delicate ruching and lend a hint of modesty to the fabric’s sheerness. Flattering shapeliness and drape begin to take form. Our curiosity is aroused; how else will these two pieces of fabric come together?

Suddenly it becomes clear. The gathers and pins work together to create a classic silhouette. The deeper-toned border gives the design a bit of weight, a feeling of substance that plays nicely off of the body’s transparency.

A delicate ribbon tie under the bust provides just the right touch of embellishment to make this tunic appropriate for dinner out, or an evening at the theater. Greek tragedy, anyone?

New Project Preview: The Knitting While Reading Tunic

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I accomplished a lot of vacation knitting in Mexico as I whiled away the hours between pitchers of margaritas and tall glasses of a frozen drink called the “Miami Vice” (a sweet concoction that seems to be a combination of daiquiri and pina colada that my daughter gleefully introduced us to. Although in the U.S. she is too young to drink *legally,* in Mexico she was “of age.”).

Remember those miles of stockinette I promised would allow you to read a book and knit simultaneously? I’m here to tell you it works. And the margaritas I consumed had nothing to do with it. Here is a first glimpse of the Habu Goddess Tunic, which is perhaps the most versatile garment I have ever created. Over the next few posts, you’ll see why!

It doesn’t look like much, draped over Grayce (my accommodating dressmaker form), and stuck full of pins. But just wait; it gets better. Much better.

A Little Reading With Your Knitting?

A few posts ago, I posed this question: Are you a knitter who enjoys reading while you knit? Do you take your knitting to the movies and click away in the dark while the film rolls? When you go out for a meal with friends, are you knitting even as you wait for your food to arrive?

Stockinette Rules For Knitterly Multi-Tasking

For knitting under these circumstances, I’ve always preferred an easy project that doesn’t require too much of my attention. Stockinette is in many ways ideal; on its own with no multi-tasking, it can be the ultimate bore. But when my attention is divided and I need to focus visually on something else, stockinette is just the thing.

Habu Love

These gorgeous fibers from Habu entered my stash at Stitches West this February. Tsumugi Silk with its slubbed perfection, Wool Stainless Steel in all its tensile glory, and Kusaki Zome  with its gorgeous sheen and dry, crunchy hand. Oh, how I love them. The clean orchidacious colors are the icing on the cake.

The fibers themselves are so interesting that I didn’t want to use them in a project with complicated stitches or texture, although they would certainly work well enough for those pursuits. As I thought more about my Knitting-While-Reading project, the Habu yarns captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go. I decided to work with them on a larger needle than their fine gauge might suggest; in this case, a US size 6. With yarn so fine, the airy openness of the Stockinette stitch is lovely.

Simple But Effective

Elegant Simplicity became my mantra. I wanted a simple project, but not quite as straightforward as a scarf. The photo below might suggest that this is exactly what I wound up making, but that assumption would be wrong. With enough of the Habu yarns to make a garment, I set my sights a bit higher. Taking advantage of the knitted fabric’s wonderful soft drape, I settled on the idea of gathers. Simple construction to be sure; the tunic will be made up of only two pieces cleverly assembled with seaming and ruching that takes advantage of the fabric’s best qualities.

Stay tuned! This is a vacation project that I’m knitting while reading, and it will be completed upon my return next week!

Knitting While Reading

Or should that be reading while knitting?

A group of us were sitting around the other evening talking about knitting (what else?), and one member of the group asked if anybody had figured out how to read a book while knitting. Now, most of us already watch TV while we knit and don’t think anything of it. Easy-peasy, right? But reading seems to require a whole new level of multi-tasking proficiency. It turned out that I was the only person sitting around that table who has been known to read and knit simultaneously.

Here’s my secret:

In a word: Stockinette. In another word: Garter. If the knitting project on my needles is worked predominantly in either Stockinette or Garter stitch, I am perfectly capable of reading a book at the same time – probably because I could do those two stitches in my sleep, so reading doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. Anything more complicated or demanding such as cables or lace, however, and I have to close the book and concentrate on the knitting.

The miraculous thing about knitting a long stretch of Stockinette or Garter while reading a good book is that by the time I finish a chapter and take a look back down at my knitting, a huge amount of progress has been made. It always astonishes me that the muscle memory in my hands can take over like that. Makes me wonder what else my hands might get into while my attention is elsewhere… such as the cookie jar, the chocolate stash, etc.

The Single Most Important Tool for Reading-While-Knitting Success:

In my opinion, this simple hands-free bookmark is your insurance policy against books that seem hell-bent on slamming shut all by themselves, thereby losing your place just when you were getting to the good part. A friend gave me one of these years ago and it is still my favorite bookmark ever. Yes, you do have to stop knitting momentarily to turn the page, but it’s worth it.

A Project To Facilitate Reading While Knitting:

We all want them; those projects requiring so little attention that we can focus without worry on our favorite TV program, or keep our hands busy on a long car trip but still be able to make conversation with the driver, or occupy us during a long flight (but allow us to ignore a snoring seatmate).

As it happens, I am working on one of those right now, made out of this gorgeous laceweight slubbed tsumugi silk from the geniuses at Habu:

I’m picturing something drapey and fluid, a tunic perhaps. Knit on large-ish needles (US size 6 or 7?) to render the finished garment translucent and cool. Gathers or ruching or smocking; whatever the fabric demands to create a sense of movement and simple elegance. Let’s see what I come up with.

I’ll be on vacation next week, and have already warned my family that I might not join them for every single activity: the zipline tour/swim with dolphins/sunset cruise (well, maybe just not the zipline tour…) kinds of things, so that I can simply relax (now there’s a novel concept). Lie around, free up my imagination, play with this silk, and see what happens.

Yum.

Love Bites Up

Love Bites Neckwarmer and Fingerless Gloves

If you’ve been on my Ravelry Designer page within the last 48 hours, you may have noticed that these patterns are up for sale. As promised, you can purchase them as a set for $7.00, or individually for $4.00 apiece.

In addition, way past my bedtime two nights ago I uploaded them to my Pattern Store on this site. The link routes you to PayPal to complete the purchase. I hope you’ll enjoy these projects – because even if you are not a fan of the Twilight books/movies, or the True Blood TV series, this is a project to love for its own sake.

Do Vampires Have A Sense of Humor?

And did you notice those brilliant red “drop of blood” buttons to fasten the neckwarmer? Resistance was futile, but they were selected with tongue firmly in cheek. Equally true for the toothsome (OK, a fang is a fang is a fang) “Shark’s Tooth” lace border that edges both the neckwarmer and the fingerless gloves.

This craze for all things vampire-ish seems to me to demand a sense of humor! That’s also the inspiration behind my cable choice for both projects; the X-O-X-O represents that strange attraction that humans seem to feel for vampires, and vice versa (at least according to the movies and TV shows that feature them).

 

Do Vampires Knit?

If you are an intermediate skilled knitter, or even an adventurous beginner, the Love Bites ensemble is designed to be only moderately challenging but provides a relatively quick reward for taking your knitting skills to the next level.

And just a reminder; the 1st, 13th, and 25th purchasers of one or both of these patterns will receive a skein (of my choosing) of indie dyed yarn. I’ll PM you so I can get your mailing details! Actually, Christina C. was the very first knitter to bite (hehehe!) when she purchased the neckwarmer two days ago, so she will receive a skein of luscious merino wool from Fearless Fibers.

Color Me Pink and Green

I make a lot of bouquets out of whatever is blooming in my garden, and love having fresh flowers in the house as well as outside my windows. During the spring and summer months there are lots of possibilities, sometimes a seemingly infinite variety of options to combine. Friends of mine, aware of my flower obsession, have enabled me with gifts of vases and other vessels to contain these bouquets.

While I don’t pretend to have any special skill in flower arranging, every bouquet is a soul-satisfying opportunity to play with color and texture – and these are driving forces in my life. From my 20 years as an interior designer to my current and equally long-standing passion for knitting and beautiful fibers, the visual feasts of my garden and my yarn stash are what make me so happy to jump out of bed in the morning.

This particular arrangement includes pink calla lilies, astilbe, and pink yarrow, a single fat magenta rose paired with a cluster of equally intense geraniums, and leaves that range from chartreuse to bottle green. It’s a decidedly Lilly Pulitzeresque color combination, but one that works in both flower combinations AND yarn:

For all that I love color, it’s surprising that I do virtually no Fair Isle or other colorwork in  my knitting. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to, but that I am still so enamored of the textural possibilities in cables and lace. While I sometimes play with color combinations such as those above, time and again when choosing a new project, I return to my purist roots and gravitate toward the solid and semi-solid colors in my yarn stash. They work especially well with the textural stitches I enjoy building into the projects I design.