Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Different Kind of Swatch

Last week I took a morning off for a trip to San Francisco to see the Intimate Impressionism show at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. These paintings, on loan from the National Gallery of Art, are smaller works intended for domestic interiors. The exhibit includes work by all the big Impressionist names.
Of all the paintings on view, the one that most struck me was this:
Seascape (Gravelines) 1890 by Georges Seurat
It was painted by Georges Seurat, who is best known for his masterwork Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte, now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte 1884-1886 by Georges Seurat 
Seurat was the pioneer of pointillism, a painting style founded on scientific study of the interaction of colors in light. Seurat did not blend his colors on the canvas. Instead, he painted tiny dots of pure color, relying on the eye's ability to blend these colors and resolve them into an image. The picture you see exists in your head, not on the canvas.
When you look at these paintings on the screen, you are missing the sense of scale. Sunday Afternoon is huge - 10 feet wide by 6 feet tall. The figures in the foreground are nearly life-sized. When I stood in front of this painting in Chicago, I felt as if I could walk into it.
The seascape I saw last week is tiny. The inner image is 6 1/4" tall by 9 3/4" wide. When I saw it, I turned to my friend Diane and said, "Look! He painted a swatch!"
Take a closer look at the seascape. Within the ornate gold leaf frame is a flat wooden frame which the artist has covered with his signature dots. To me, this feels like what we as knitters do when we practice edge treatments on our knitted swatches.
The very fact of this small painting astonishes me. It was painted just a year before Seurat's death (at the age of only 31). His masterwork was several years in his past. You wouldn't think he needed to practice with such a simple piece.
Why did Seurat make this painting? Was it a study for a larger seascape that was never completed? Was he experimenting with new color combinations? Was it the painter equivalent of "procrastiknitting", fooling around to create the appearance of work while avoiding the work that actually needed doing? (Come on; you know you do it, too.)
We knit swatches for all these reasons - to practice a new technique, to experiment with a new idea on a small scale, to test color combinations, to doodle in 3D. If you only knit swatches to measure gauge, you're missing a wonderful opportunity to play.
We'll never know why this tiny seascape was made. But this little painted swatch made my day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Yarn Adoption Update

Well, I must admit I'm surprised.
Who knew there were so many people willing to send money to a complete stranger in exchange for yarn sight unseen?
Over the past two days, 40 Yarn Adoption shares have been claimed by 20 different people. That means I've found new homes for yarn with a retail value of well over $2000.

The few skeins that remain are being donated to a local church for their charity knitting program.
To all who adopted yarn, THANK YOU! I hope you and your new skeins are very happy together. To those who wanted to think about it for a day or two, I'm sorry. As my brothers would happily say, "You snooze, you lose."

I had a tremendous amount of fun matching yarn to requests. It was like shopping for presents for a bunch of people I don't know. If you were an adopter, I'd love to see what you make with your yarn.

What else have I been up to? I just finished spinning a project that I assigned myself as a challenge. I took up spinning less than 3 years ago, and it gives me an enormous amount of pleasure. Last year, I was given 3 ounces of natural golden Muga silk top as a gift. I'll admit I was a bit intimidated. But last month I decided to tackle it. I wanted to spin a fine, tight, even 3-ply yarn. Here is the result, with a penny included for scale.

It is far from perfect, but I'm proud. I think it will knit into beautiful lace.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Too much yarn...

Yes, it is possible to have too much yarn.
I design knitwear and write patterns for a living. That means boxes land on my doorstep nearly every week filled with wonderful yarn. I'm always sent more than I need, which means there is always yarn left over.
This is beautiful yarn. Almost entirely natural fibers, mostly wool and wool blends, in a variety of weights and textures. This is yarn I would be happy to use, if I ever had the time to knit something just for me. But the necessity of paying my bills means there is always a next project, which means more yarn coming in.
The leftovers are piling up.
I have a BIG NEW PROJECT on the horizon - a book of crochet tank tops and camisoles. I can't tell you how excited I am about this. In the past 2 weeks, I've ordered yarn to make all the projects in the book. Do you see a looming problem?
Where am I going to put the yarn to make 25 new projects? Stacking boxes and bags in a corner is not acceptable to me. I feel it's necessary to honor my work by organizing my thoughts and supplies in a neat and logical way. (At least at the beginning. As the deadline looms, this may all go out the window.)
Here is where you come in. In order to clear space, both mentally and physically, for the BIG NEW PROJECT, I'd like to move some of my beloved stash on to new homes. Would you like to adopt some of my yarn and give it a good home? Are you willing to take a chance?
If so, here is how you can participate:
1. Send me an e-mail at
2. In the subject line, write Yarn Adoption.
3. In the body of the e-mail, include your mailing address. Also include any guidelines you want to give me in choosing your yarn. Color preferences, no laceweight, only mohair, only sock yarn, whatever.
4. Finally, tell me how many "shares" you would like to adopt.
5. I'll dive into the stash and choose some yarn for you. For every share you request, I'll pick yarn with a retail value of at least $50.
6. I'll send you a Paypal request for a $20 "adoption fee" for each share you've requested.
7. When Paypal confirms that you've paid, I'll send your share(s) via USPS Priority Mail.
8. You'll get your box, open it, and be thrilled with your new yarn. You'll wonder how I managed to pick something that was so perfect for you. You'll abandon whatever else you were working on and immediately start a new project with your new yarn, all the while congratulating yourself for rescuing it from the neglect it suffered while stored in a bag in my yarn closet.
Q: Can I see photos before I decide?
A: Nope - this is a game for those with a spirit of adventure. I'm trying to avoid taking the time to photograph and catalog the stash.
Q: What if I ask for chartreuse and you don't have chartreuse?
A: If I don't have anything that matches the specs in your e-mail, I'll e-mail you back to let you know.
Q: Is the yarn in good condition?
A: Yep - it has been stored in plastic bags in a smoke free space. But I cannot guarantee the absence of a stray dog hair or two - those little suckers get in everywhere. Baxter says "sorry".
Q: What if I don't like it when it comes?
A: Pass it on to someone who will love it. I can't offer to take it back - that would defeat the purpose.
Q: How long will I have to wait?
A: I'll pick your yarn and send you a Paypal request within a day or two of getting your Yarn Adoption e-mail. Unless the postal service messes with us, you should get your box within 5 business days of payment.
Q: I live in Timbuktu. Can I play?
A: Sorry, no. The adoption fee is too low to cover international postage. US addresses only, please.
Thanks for helping me set the stage for the BIG NEW PROJECT.

Edited May 9, 2014 to add:
All of the adoptable yarn has been claimed. Thanks!

How about a sneak peak at what I'm working on? The first rows of the first design.....

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


I love stripes like a toddler loves apple juice. Something about a stripe just makes me happy. A quick run through my closet produced these shirts.

Stripes and knitting are a match made in heaven. Changing colors row by row in an orderly sequence is just enough variety to keep the knitter entertained. But stripes have gotten a bad rap. Every woman "knows" that horizontal stripes make you look wider. It is drilled into us practically from birth that vertical lines = slimming and horizontal lines = not slimming.

How can I reconcile my love of stripes with my desire not to look as wide as the side of a bus? Break up the horizontal line of the stripes with a little intarsia.

Take a look at Interleaf, my latest design for Twist Collective.
Stripes, right? Wide stripes and narrow stripes.
But the overall impression is vertical colorblocking, not horizontal stripes! There is a little bit of asymmetry at play here, too. The blue stripes wrap around the left side to meet their partners on the back; the gray stripes wrap around the right side.
Other flattering design features include a shaped waistline (very slimming), and a square neck to show off pretty collarbones. The armholes are close enough that you don't need to worry about bra exposure.

The intarsia technique used in this design is as simple as can be. No intricate shapes, and no more than three sections in a row. If you are new to intarsia, or need a refresher, this issue of Twist Collective also includes an article I wrote explaining everything you need to know.

The yarn is Tahki Cotton Classic Lite - crisp, smooth, cool, and perfect for a hot summer day.

While you're clicking around, be sure to take a look at the rest of the Spring issue. My personal favorites? Belleville, a classically feminine cardy by Anne Podlesak, Sugarbeach, a girly summer aran by Fiona Ellis, and Aello, a gossamer lace shawl by Marnie MacLean.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Warming up for Stitches West

We are less than a week away from Stitches West! I'm doing my best to wrap up lots of work before leaving for a few days surrounded by knitters and crocheters. I have several things I'd like to share with you.

First, I was proud to be invited to contribute to the Halos of Hope Designer Invitational Hat Collection. Halos of Hope is an organization founded by the remarkable Pam Haschke to collect and distribute handmade hats to cancer centers around the country. Your purchase of my pattern, or any pattern from this collection, will help fund these efforts. Click on over to their website to learn about their mission and how you can help.
My design was inspired by the cloche style hats popular in the 1920's and 30's. I've always been struck by how the slightly flared brim of these hats frames the face and focuses attention on the eyes. In a soft cotton yarn, this hat will be ultra comfortable, whether or not you have hair.

I've also been designing lots of new projects for my friends at Kollage Yarns, featuring the newest addition to their line - Happiness. This superwash merino wool is spun and hand-dyed in the USA, and comes in fingering, DK and worsted weights.

Mitts yet to be named

Since getting this yarn last month at TNNA, I've made 3 hats, 2 cowls and shawl and a pair of long fingerless mitts. Kits for these designs will be available in the Kollage Yarns booth at TNNA (booth #824). That's also where you'll find me - I'll be working in the booth all weekend. Please stop in and say hello!
Maritsa Cowl
Arches Hat
Tidepool Shawl

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A weekend spent among my people

Today is my re-entry day. I sort the mail, do the laundry, and avoid work as much as possible. Today is my day to recover.

What am I recovering from? The semi-annual trade show of the National Needlework Association, known as TNNA. This past weekend, the knitting, crochet and needlework industry gathered in beautiful San Diego.
This was the view from my hotel room at sunrise on Saturday. Not bad, eh?

While I spent the show working in the Kollage Yarns booth with my friends Mark and Susie Moraca, for me the show is mostly about relationship maintenance. 90% of my work is done at my desk at home. This gathering is the opportunity to re-connect with friends, clients and potential clients, and to polish the rust off my social skills.

After setting up the booth on Friday, I joined Marnie MacLean and Julia Trice for the Friday night festivities. These included a cocktail reception and fashion show. There was a photo booth set up at the party. We decided to forego the available props, but this strip of pics is pinned over my desk as a reminder of a great time.
We went to dinner after the Fashion Show at a fun Mexican restaurant. It was Julia's birthday, so margaritas were mandatory.

Saturday brought a full day in the booth, then dinner with the wonderful Amy Gunderson, Design Director for Universal Yarn. It's a good thing Amy doesn't live closer, because she and I would spend every evening together drinking and talking into the wee hours.

Sunday was another full day in the booth, then dinner with the brilliant Julia Grunau, Prime Minister of, and Travis and Sara Romaine from Paradise Fibers. We went to a Russian restaurant. The only thing on the menu that was familiar to me was beef stroganoff (and I didn't think that Hamburger Helper Stroganoff was really a reasonable analog), so I was glad that Mark suggested we have the waitress order for us. The feast that followed was an incredible array of unusual flavor combinations. Russian food - who knew?

Monday began with a breakfast meeting with the brilliant Amy Herzog. I'm proud to be working with Amy to tech edit her upcoming book, so we had lots to talk about. She is also excellent company. If you haven't explored her new custom knitting pattern website, Custom Fit, click on over and spend some time. She is dedicated to enabling knitters to produce clothing that makes them feel beautiful. Isn't that a great mission?

The rest of Monday was spent in the booth. What were we showing? Let me give you a sneak peak of a yarn so new, it doesn't yet have labels.

Meet Happiness...

This is a superwash merino that Kollage Yarns just introduced at this show. It is spun and hand dyed by a small, family-owned mill here in the United States. Now hand-dyed merino is not unusual, but having this yarn spun in America is. I really appreciate Mark and Susie's commitment to creating American jobs.

Happiness will be available in worsted, DK and fingering weights in a delicious palette of 30 semi-solid colors. Kollage will have it for sale at Stitches West (only 6 weeks away!), and it will be shipping to local yarn shops soon.

I've cast-on for a Fair Isle hat, and will be working on new designs for all three weights. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The virtues of early flights

I'm at the airport, waiting to board my 7:00 am flight to San Diego for the gathering of the clan known as the National Needlework Association trade show.
SFO is a 90 minute drive from my house, so early morning flights mean getting up in the middle of the night and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in the pre-dawn hours. Most people would choose to fly later in the day. That is exactly why I often choose this sort of itinerary.
At 6 am, the airport is calm. The lines are short, and the staff haven't yet had time to remember that they detest the flying public. I can easily find a quiet corner to sit with my coffee and my knitting, without feeling oppressed by the crowd and the noise.
Also, TSA pre-check rocks. I don't know how I got on their "low threat" list, but I'm grateful. No more undressing, no need to empty my bag before screening. It feels like a return to pre-September 11 travel. What a pleasure to begin a trip with minimal stress.
I'm so happy to be traveling to spend time with friends I see far too infrequently. Watch this space for a report on the trade show early next week.