January 24, 2014

A recent trip to work on my book, including a mini-hiatus to see old friends, is over. With a week-long visit to San Francisco in my rearview mirror, I’ve resumed knitting (and more knitting). While this gorgeousness:

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was plenty distracting, the purpose of my trip was definitely knitting-related. Over two days, the projects for my next knitting book were styled, primped, and positioned to best advantage during the photo shoot, some of which took place outdoors.

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While I created the designs and wrote the patterns, and the ultimate product (The book! The book!) is my responsibility, hiring a fantastic team gives me confidence that the end result will be all I could wish.

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From tech editing the twelve patterns, to design and layout of the book format, to photography of the knitted sample garments, the end result will be the work of many.

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And while overseeing the details has entailed many checklists, spreadsheets, and emails back and forth, at the end of the day it’s so worth it!

Happy December

It’s astonishing how quickly this year has flown by… December already! Thanksgiving is already in the rear view mirror, meaning that this:

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has been consumed in multiple forms, from roasted root vegetables (original Thanksgiving dinner), to Leftover Thanksgiving Pie (Post-feast casserole), to what will soon be a pot of our family’s favorite, Turkey Carcass Soup.

This was also the first year I made “Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish,” described by NPR’s Susan Stamberg as “atrociously pink, like Pepto-Bismol,” but delicious. Evidently, Craig Claiborne invented the original recipe back in 1959, but Ms. Stamberg popularized it beyond either’s imagining. And it is amazing, adding just the right degree of horseradish-y zippiness to the holiday meal.

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I also completed my first Lucy Hat, by Carina Spencer, the pattern for which is available for sale on Ravelry. My unreasonable love for cloche-style hats adds fuel to my suspicion that I was born into the wrong era, fashion-wise. Having made one Lucy Hat, I now feel ready to experiment with alternative cloche styles, brims, and embellishments. Stay tuned.

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However, I can’t decide which button(s) to use on this one as a simple adornment, despite many attempts. These are the three finalists. What do you think? Please help me choose! The first two options are antique carved black glass, probably Czech.

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The final option is the large antique brass button shown above. If the winner is either button #2 or button #3, I will also probably add some simple embroidery in the charcoal gray yarn to encircle the single large button. The three small buttons, however, can stand on their own with no additional embellishment.

Hat Weather

A couple of weeks ago, my friend W. and I agreed to do a hat-knitting swap. She’d been admiring a lace and appliqué one that I’d made for myself last winter and I, likewise, coveted a color work one that she had whipped up for herself.

We each provided the other with the necessary yarn, and off we went. She gave me two skeins of worsted weight tweed yarn, squashy and deliciously rustic in subtle gray and stormy blue.

I finished mine for her last week, and couldn’t resist trying it on:

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Naturally, it looks better on her, and fortunately she is happy with the end product:

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It looks darling on her, don’t you think? She wears a lot more gray than I do, so this hat will be the perfect accessory to her winter coat. Bonus – there’s enough yarn left over from both skeins to make herself a pair of matching fingerless mitts.

And with the temperature topping out at 26 degrees today, they’ll be good to have!

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Rainy Day Knitting

Outside my windows, today is like one of those Italian cookies called “bruti ma buoni,” which translates to “ugly but good.” It’s gray, raw, and drizzling, and I understand that out in the suburbs there are even snow flurries.

But this unpleasant weather makes staying indoors all the more cozy. What could be better than a mug of steaming, sweet herbal tea (or in my case, an extra-hot, large and frothy latté) at my elbow and my latest knitting project on my needles?

Ok, if I’m being honest, maybe a plate of homemade cookies to nibble between rows could make it even better…

I just finished and blocked a quick little birthday gift for my husband. He chose the yarn for this cowl from my stash; Madelinetosh Vintage in Tart, one of my absolute favorites, and a gorgeous color on him.

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Here’s a close-up of the chevron stitch pattern. It’s simple but visually effective, and addictive once you get going with it:

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I love the way it plays up the color subtleties in Vintage’s semi-solid colorway.

Is Anybody Out There?

They say that if one doesn’t write and post regularly on a blog, the audience drops off precipitously. Guilty as charged.

But what happens when life finally calms down and gets compelling enough that blogging begins to seem like a good idea again? Do formerly loyal readers slowly make their way back, becoming part of the blogger’s community with renewed interest? I guess I’ll just have to find out.

So…..

Hello. Is this thing on?

Hello…?

Is anybody out there?

It’s me. A Californian no longer, living city life in Chicago for a little more than two years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knitting more than ever, and designing collections of creative, fun-to-knit new patterns (all of which are test-knitted and tech edited from heading to footer, from charts to schematics).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gardening exclusively in balcony containers…although that’s over until next spring.

Shadow is still the household’s feline companion, never shy about letting us know when she needs a belly rub.

Happy to be back, and hoping you’ll come along for the ride!

Twirling Like a Gyroscope

With so much secret knitting kept necessarily under wraps, it has been quite some time since I last had the opportunity to design a new sweater for yours truly. In fact, it has been a long time since I could blog about anything more exciting than baby caps, of which I have been enamored lately both for their stash-busting properties and for their “instant gratification” factor.

But finally I’ve found a little window, and have thrown myself into the design of this new cardigan. Cardis are my favorite garment, cables are among my favorite stitch textures, and a full bag of this extraordinarily beautiful blue bulky weight yarn (Queensland Collection Uruguay Chunky, a sublimely soft and decadently dense blend of merino wool, alpaca, and silk) has been burning a hole in my stash.

After much tinkering and swatching, I’ve decided upon this combination cable and twist pattern that creates a lovely gyroscopic swirl, hence the name I’ve chosen for the project.

It’s exciting to see the pattern grow, and so far I am thrilled with the way the shaping of the cardigan is evolving. On US Size 10 needles, it’s moving along quite nicely, too; a couple of days of intensive effort as time permits and the front pieces are nearly complete.

Follow along with me; I’ll post updates on the progress as long as it takes.

I quickly realized that the 10 skeins I already had of this yarn were not going to be quite enough to complete the cardi I envision unless I made it with cap sleeves. I’ve ordered a few extra skeins and assuming the dyelots are not a perfect match, will have to alternate skeins as I work the back and sleeves.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

On this day of all days, I felt entitled to go outside early this morning and raid the garden…

Although I usually enjoy the roses ON the bush and seldom bring any into the house, today I picked myself a whopping armful of the most spectacular, wildly fragrant roses from every bush in the garden…

and arranged them into the most colorful, exuberant bouquet I could assemble, in my favorite antique etched glass vase.

Only my daughter’s phone call this morning to wish me a happy day (she’ll be home from college at the end of next week) gave me more pleasure than this riot of gorgeous blooms.

And to focus for just a moment on knitting (oh, yeah, this IS supposed to be a knitting blog, isn’t it?), I whipped up another sweet little baby cap during my plane ride home from NY on Friday. Blues, lavenders, and greens for this one, for which I used another skein of Koigu Kersti from my stash. Now to attend to the creation of a few crocheted flowers so it will have the proper embellishment for someone’s new babe…

Baby Caps: Gilding the Lily

Those baby caps were looking just a bit too plain to me. Back to the stash for inspiration I went… and came up with the following solution:

These pink crochet flowers are worked in some 100% wool that has been in my stash literally since I first learned to knit 30 years ago. Obviously, the passage of time has done nothing to compromise its thoroughly girly pinkness.

Whipping up the flowers was the work of less than 2 hours total. The exploration of my button stash for the right center buttons took almost as long!

These are vintage plastic buttons from around 1930, in pristine condition, that I scored from Jodi at greenrayprod on Etsy.com. She always has a wonderful selection so I seldom leave the site with an empty shopping cart.

I stitched the buttons VERY securely to the center of the blossoms, in hope that the new mommas won’t consider them a threat to their little ones’ safety.

Pre-blooms and buttons, these caps felt a little blah to me. Now I’m really happy with them. Sometimes a little extra effort pays off in a big way.

Mad-cap Knitting

Stash-busting is a goal of mine this year. Never let it be said that I don’t put ALL of my yarn to good use.

The left-over yarn from my baby cardigan was burning a hole in my knitting bag, so to speak, and I had enough of it to make these three little baby caps. Each one required somewhat less than a single 114-yd. skein of Koigu Kersti, knit on size US 5 needles, and took me a couple of hours one evening to knit.

Even when I’m not designing an original project from scratch, sometimes it’s fun to take a basic pattern and put my own spin on it; these caps are perfect examples. The only element I changed is the cuff of each.

As you can see, each one is different, and each one will go to a different newborn baby girl.

When I mentioned in an earlier post that all of my friends seem to be having babies or new grandchildren, I was not kidding! These caps put me a little ahead as far as the girl babies are concerned. I have to make a few for boys as well – more pleasurable rifling through my stash will undoubtedly turn up just the right yarn.

And in the garden, the poppies are up. Although most of them are neon orange, every year we get a few lovely mutants that are either a pale creamy yellow, or a delicate pink (see below). We make an extra effort to spread those particular seeds around to encourage them, but they seem a bit more temperamental than the orange ones and only take root where the conditions are exactly to their liking.

Lots of new daffodils this year; I love buying a bag of mixed bulbs to plant in the fall, and then seeing what comes up in the spring!

And the first irises are up as well; these stunning white ones smell like grape candy, and are as fluttery and fragile as a Victorian lady’s handkerchief.

Choosing Buttons: Help Wanted

I find myself on the horns of a dilemma (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase, “horns of a dilemma,” but never had an appropriate occasion until now. Just what does horns of a dilemma mean, anyway? I envision a gigantic rhinoceros and some poor hapless individual – me, in this instance – sitting astride it holding on for dear life.). This particular dilemma is vis-a-vis the buttons for my little baby cardigan.

I raided my out-of-control, barely contained, too-much-of-a-good-thing-is-wonderful stash of vintage buttons and came up with three different options.

The “problem” is that I like all three options equally, for different reasons. These cut glass buttons are sturdy – nothing fragile about them. Because they are clear, they take nothing away from the rich colors of the cardigan yarn.

Now these muted green resin buttons, on the other hand, pick up the exact shade of green that appears in the yarn variegation.

That could be a good thing, right? I like their shape, their smoothness, and their utter lack of cutesiness (is cutesiness even a word? I’m talking about all those brightly colored plastic buttons designed specifically for baby clothes and shaped like little duckies, or crayons, or trucks. You know what I mean…).

Finally, I also rediscovered these molded brass buttons that feature a swirling bunch of cherries. They have a lovely dimensional quality and a warm patina.

They stand out from the knitting, but not unattractively.

And they play off of the crocheted cherry motifs I’ve sewn to each front panel of the cardigan. These little bunches of cherries are special to me (but not necessarily baby-ish, nonetheless) because I found them in Paris six years ago when I went with my family for the first time.

I had read about a place called La Droguerie, and spent a happy hour there browsing its unbelievable abundance of knitting and craft items. The little bunches of cherries came back to the U.S. with me, and I’ve been saving them for the right project ever since.

And just to keep you up to date on what is happening in the garden, it looks like we might have a few pears this summer! Last year’s blossoms drowned in all the rain we had in April; this year’s deluge was in March, thankfully before the pear tree blooms.

So last year we had (literally) three pears on the entire tree; this year, I suspect it will be hard to count them all. Pear butter, anybody?

And the one of the two new baby peach trees is showing signs of life. I doubt we’ll have any fruit this year – that twig is basically the central trunk of the tree, all of half of an inch in diameter. The trees need a couple of years to settle in, and then they’ll begin producing fruit.

Peaches fresh off the tree are my absolute favorite summer fruit, however, so I’m willing to wait even though July seems awfully far away.

Baby Cardigan, WIP It Good!

Although at first I thought I’d make a simple stand-up collar for this little cardigan, I was having so much fun working strategic increases (along the center back of the collar so it would spread a bit more and lie a bit flatter) that ultimately I worked collar points to frame the top button that will close this little gament at the neck.

Here it is, close up (and regrettably blurry):

And of course, working outside as I’ve been for the last few days, I keep getting distracted by the garden. This bright yellow ranunculus began its life in a 4″ pot from the drug store about 3 years ago. I stuck the entire plant into one of the garden beds, not really expecting it to survive, but here it is, year after year.

And here is more of the mysterious spreading plant the name of which I can never remember.

They bloom in white, pink, deep red, and orange, and the centers often differ from flower to flower.

Baby Cardigan WIP, continued

This little baby sweater is coming along swimmingly; taking full advantage of our glorious spring weather, I’ve been knitting outdoors and working on my tan absorbing vitamin D as I whip through the rows.

Loved working the little texture stitch. Although the yarn’s pooling tendencies show up in these photos, in person it’s much harder to see because the texture stitch is so forgiving. Plus, I did a little “cut and paste” with the yarn to break up the color runs more effectively. I hate having to do that, but I hate pooling even more!

Knit in one piece to the armholes, I’ve just stitched up the shoulder seams. My next task will be the collar, after which I’ll ease the sleeve caps into their armholes and stitch down the arms to the cuffs.

Meanwhile, the garden is really coming back to life after our long and very, very wet winter. The camellias have never been so full of blooms, and the flowers below (the name of which always escapes me) are popping up in new places in addition to where we had them last year. Being an economical gardener, I take this wanton spreading around as a good thing – one of my favorite things about gardening, in fact.

Plant a dozen daffodil bulbs, for instance, and in following years they will multiply. If only knitting multiplied as easily and quickly!

Knitting for Babies

Lately, it seems as if everybody I know is having a baby. Some of my older friends have grown children who are starting families of their own. Some of my younger friends are adopting or bearing children at an alarming rate. Alarming only because I want to knit for all of them, but am simply not that productive.

Yes, I know baby clothes are small, use less yarn, and ostensibly work up much faster than handknits for adults. This is often true, but when you’re a slow knitter like me sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay a visit to Baby Gap.

This particular item will be a cardigan for a new baby girl. I started with the sleeves to make sure I’d be happy with the way this yarn knits up in the textured pattern. Sure enough, the effect is quite pleasing. The texture masks any pooling of the Koigu Kersti yarn I’m using (US Size 6 needles, for anybody who is interested).

I love these colors; they remind me of an especially vibrant tropical sunset. I even have plenty of skeins, having purchased enough to make an adult-sized sweater. In fact, I should have enough to make a couple of baby sweaters, with hats and booties to match.

This Kersti has been in my stash for a long time, and although I quickly decided it wouldn’t work for me as an adult garment, it seems quite perfect for a child.

When swatching with it long ago, I discovered that unless I am constantly vigilant, it splits quite horribly as the point of the needle goes into each stitch. Who needs that kind of headache? For a full-sized sweater, I don’t have the patience. But for a baby project, I can put up with it.

Now to search through my stash for the perfect buttons!

Blue Pleated Cardigan

Every once in a while, I remember something I forgot. The Blue Pleated Cardigan is one of those.

After I finished making it in 2009, I wore it to death for at least a year. Then, for reasons I no longer remember, I consigned it to the top shelf of my closet. That is to say, the shelf I can reach only if I stand on the kitchen step stool and reach up as high as my arms will go because that damned shelf is really high. The things that wind up there often don’t see the light of day ever again, or at least not often.

But the other day, I was fishing around up there looking for something else, and I rediscovered my old friend the Blue Pleated Cardigan. Tried it on and wondered what I could have been thinking when I put it up there, because I still love it, it fits me just fine, and the yarn (which I’m pretty sure is Shaefer) is so soft and warm – perfect for this time of year.

As detailed on Ravelry, this project evolved out of my desire to create a classic button front cardigan that combines supreme comfort with stylish design details.

Seed stitch ruffled “pleats” fall gracefully over the hips and taper up into a bobble, from which point they carry up into the body of the sweater as widely spaced ribs. These pleats result in a feminine and flattering peplum effect that eliminates the need for any additional waist shaping.

It is knit in pieces from the bottom up, with set-in sleeves that bell out at the ends due to the pleat detail. The seed stitch collar and button placket add texture that does not compete with the lovely shades of teal, green, and purple in the yarn.

Gleaming art glass buttons were the finishing touch of which I was most proud; the colors in the glass are dead-on against the colors in the yarn.

Not intending to self-publish this design, I never wrote up the pattern from my notes. I could probably recreate the notes now and devise a pattern, but I kind of like the idea that this cardigan is one-of-a-kind!

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.