Thursday, March 29, 2007

Away from my desk.

Thanks Everyone for your compliments on Morgan. I started the pattern-writing, to be available in six sizes, in 4 inch increments from 34-54 inches, but I have a lot more careful number crunching to do before I can make it available.

The SABLE clan is hitting the road for spring break, so don't expect much news from me until toward the end of next week. Right now I'm in a frenzy of laundry and packing and errand running and so on before we take off. Mr. SABLE has been gone since Monday and I'm finding the single mom thing a little difficult at times. I can't imagine how people get through that as a permanent condition.

Catch you on the flip side!

Monday, March 26, 2007

I'll Call it Morgan

While I was sewing in the zipper and darning in ends last night, I was trying to come up with a name for this cardigan.

As a work in progress, I've called it The Shetland Sweater and The Andrew Morrison Honorary Cardigan. This is because I found the original inspiration in a sweater worn by a man named Andrew Morrison, photographed on a mink farm in the Shetland Islands in the early 1960s. The photo was in the online archive of the Shetland Museum. It was the first image listed in a search of their archives for my surname.

So, while I sat there sewing and darning, I tried to come up with something that was less of a mouthful than Andrew Morrison Honorary Cardigan, or even AMHC, which is a bit cryptic. Because, not everyone cares about the story, you know?

And I've been working on the Mead Scarf from the lovely handspun alpaca I received from Sarah aka Teleknitter. And her last name is Morgan.

So, I like that Morgan is one of those names that can be for a boy or a girl or a last name. And there are Morgan horses, too, and maybe someone going riding on a gorgeous fall day will want a zippered cardigan.

Unfortunately, Mr. SABLE left on a business trip this morning, so I had to do my own pics with the self timer. It's always a challenge. And usually I have this funny, half-expectant, half bewildered look on my face, wondering if and when the camera will click. So, I edited off my head.

Harrisville Highland Yarn. This yarn feels like steel wool at first, but softens up considerably when washed. I wanted a yarn with a rustic, hairy quality.

Needles: US size 5 and 7 Options circulars.

Pattern: My own, pending.

Note: separating zippers only come in a limited range of colors (maybe more online, but I was shopping locally), so choose your yarn colors with those limits in mind. I ended up with a black zipper, when I would have preferred very dark brown. Nothing else was remotely right.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


After giving my hands a break and working on fine gauge stuff for a few weeks, I was ready to come back to the Andrew Morrison Honorary Cardigan, aka Shetland Sweater, yesterday. I need to work a few more inches of garter stitch on the collar, sew up a few things, like the underarms, and give it a wash before I install the zippper. I want to wash it before the zipper because I know from my swatch that this yarn blooms a lot, and I don't want it puckering or pulling when it changes gauge.

I did a quick try-on this morning and I'm excited to see it all come together. No, I didn't get a picture of the try-on because I was still in my dissheveled state: unbrushed, ungroomed, in p.j.s, etc. And I was home alone, so it would have meant setting up the tripod and messing with the auto-timer. (Note to self: buy a remote control for the camera.)

Today's weather is warm and humid. What a pleasant change from a few weeks ago. Bulbs are coming up, the grass is greening up, most of the snow is gone. A few days ago I was trying to get some pics of last year's flowers, but didn't really succeed. This sunflower was the best I got. (Click it for a bigger version.)

On Thursday I got a call from my dad. His mother died that morning. It's not the kind of devastating loss that makes ordinary life grind to a halt. She was very old. She had always been a difficult person. She particularly never liked my mother and never cared for me. Well, eventually I think she liked me some, but only after I produced two adorable baby boy grandchildren. As it turns out, my husband has a very important work trip scheduled for the coming week, so if I tried to go to the funeral, I'd be taking my kids out of school and driving at least 5 hours each way with them. And they're prone to car sickness. And they fight a lot. And, they act out worse than usual when in a situation with a lot of new people when they are expected to behave well. So, my folks and I decided that I'll stay home.

Several years ago I noticed that my grandmother's clothes were all getting really ratty and dingy. She had a lot of money, but was a tightwad and as shopping became too hard for her, she just didn't do it. I had some magenta knit fabric and sewed her a jacket and pants that were cheerful, clean, and easy care. My parents told me that she wanted to be buried in that outfit. She wore it to all her functions (art shows, cocktails with friends, etc.) and bragged to all who would listen that I had made it. So, maybe by the end, she didn't dislike me as much as she had in my youth.

Fritzi Morrison

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What is a Designer?

When I first started knitting, I very quickly made the jump to constructing my own patterns for basic shapes. I was in my late 20s. Having learned knitting basics as a child, it was not hard for me to get back into it. I made a pair of mittens, following a '70s era pattern for hats and mittens in both crochet and knitting. The pictures were comically out of fashion, but the basic mitten shape works no matter what decade it is. Once I knew how to increase and decrease as well as knit and purl, I figured that was all I needed to know to knit a basic sweater; the sweater just took more stamina. I had another '70s pattern called Six Classics By Bernat which featured sport and worsted weight cardigans and pullovers, with a variety of neckline options. I made a very simple raglan pullover in worsted weight yarn. I did not make a gauge swatch. As I was knitting, I could see it was too big, but I kept going because it was the late '80s and giant sweaters were in and I've always liked my clothes a bit oversize. It was huge. I decided to try again on a different sweater, and was more careful about gauge. I wore that second sweater for years, until after having my first child. It had an all-over texture of knits and purls, was made from a Brown Sheep yarn called Cotton Top, and wore like iron. And now we're coming to the design part of the story.

My husband wanted me to make him a sweater. Or maybe I wanted to make him a sweater. We weren't married yet, and I had never heard of the boyfriend curse, but wouldn't have paid attention if I had. So, I went to one of the three local yarn shops in Ithaca NY where we were then living. I had seen a pattern for an all-over textured sweater that might suit him. Then I picked up some yarn on sale, which was more like a DK weight, but I didn't know the difference. The pattern I remembered seeing was actually all-over cables, which I didn't think I was ready for. But the yarn shop had another pattern with a knit and purl texture. It was written for worsted weight yarn. The clerk tried to tell me that it wouldn't work, but I said, "I'll just recalculate how many stitches to use based on the gauge I get." She seemed dubious, but I did just that and it was fine. The pieces were, after all, rectangles and trapezoids. Then I had the AHA! moment. I didn't need to buy patterns for rectangles and trapezoids! Or even raglan-sleeve shapes, which were kind of like mutant diamonds. Anyone who passed 5th grade math could do this. And I was free! It was, after all, the '80s, and sweaters came in two sizes: big and bigger, and with very little in the way of shaping.

Since that time, sweaters have followed the fashion trend toward leaner, more body-conscious styles. It's more of a challenge to write a pattern for a fitted garment that will accomodate a range of sizes from XS to XXL and fit and flatter every body. It isn't just rectangles anymore.

I while back I read a post on The Knitting Curmudgeon in which she mentioned that she considers herself more of a pattern drafter than designer. I can't find the post now, but the gist of it was that writing patterns for simple items isn't designing, in the same sense that thinking through complex garment construction is. A few days ago, on a designer list serve, a young woman expressed a similar sentiment. She commented that putting a stitch pattern onto a top-down raglan isn't really designing and she was, for one, sick of seeing top-down patterns on the market.

Is Alice (She Who Cannot Be Named) Starmore a designer? For a lot of years, most of her work has involved putting gorgeous color combinations onto simple shapes. Same with Kaffe Fasset. Yes, you can come up with examples for each of these two that counter that statement. But, the majority of their work has been more about the color and less about the garment construction, compared to someone like Norah Gaughan. So, are they not 'designers'? How about people who figure out ways to arrange holes and decreases on a rectangle or triangle to make a lace shawl? Are they not designers?

I made a comment on KCs blog about the post in question. I said, "Maybe being a designer doesn't mean as much as you think." Making the simplest of choices about the best marriage of yarn and pattern is designing. Yes, it's a lot simpler than calculating waist or bust darts. But it's designing never-the-less.

Not all designing is truly original
What? Is that heresy? How often have you seen a new pattern for a basic pullover or cardigan? At least several times a year, if you spend much time looking at magazines, knitting pattern books, and yarn company pattern offerings. Maybe it's in a new yarn that a yarn company wants to sell. Maybe in this year's colors. Maybe they fiddle the gauge up and down or play with the design ease a bit. But designers and the folks who hire them keep releasing new versions of tried and true classics because there's constant demand, and knitters will want to make those garments. That first sweater I made was from a pattern with very out-of-date photo styling. I had to use my imagination a bit to see why it was still a fine pattern. A lot of knitters will not do that. So, is writing a new pattern for a long-standing concept not really designing? Do you choose the color? Do you choose the gauge? Do you see if the gauge suits the yarn? Do you tweak the silhouette so that it doesn't look passe? Those are all design decisions. No, they aren't as complex as planning exactly where to put the short-rows for a D cup bust, but they are still design decisions.

About those top-down patterns. This comment got under my skin a bit. I've written several top-down patterns. They can be harder to write out than those for garments constructed in pieces. Easier to execute, harder to write. And one of the great benefits of top-down construction is the ease with which one can alter and adjust for personalized fit. But this, too, makes it harder to write a complete pattern. I don't consider it a sell-out or less work to release a top-down pattern than I would one knit conventionally. And I don't consider the end product to be an inferior garment. Choosing to explore this construction method doesn't make me less of a designer. I still have to consider the marriage of materials to design, the fiber content, the color, the shaping, textures, collars, bands, edge treatments. The list goes on. And further, top-down construction is not limited to raglans. I happen to like raglan lines. I much prefer them to set-in sleeves, and not just because they're easy. But top-down one piece construction can be used for set in, drop, modified drop, or saddle shoulder sleeve treatments.

I think a designer is person who gets a vision of the garment or item she wants to create, and plans how to create it. Those plans might be very complex or relatively simple. The item being designed might involve a completely original way of constructing the style of garment, or might be merely a new reworking of an age-old concept. But, you say, doesn't that make 80% of the people who knit designers? Well, yes, probably. But I don't see that as a problem. I don't like all the art that so-called artists make, but I don't dispute their right to the term. Similarly, I don't like all the designs that knitting designers create. And sometimes, I think, the more complex or innovative construction can be worse from a wearability and function point of view than something more straight-forward. Spend a few minutes looking through the images from fashion shows on and you'll agree that designing often has very little to do with making the clothes that most of the people want to wear. If I can write a pattern that people want to wear, and they buy it, and enjoy the result, am I less of a designer than someone who creates a new way to cover two arms and a torso, but no one wants the result? And if every knitter whoever took up yarn and needles and made a scarf with a stitch pattern from Barbara Walker is also a designer, then I say, the more the merrier.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Knitting For Fun!

Last year I found this delightful book at St. Vincent's. I can't imagine why anyone donated such a classic. It was published by Octopus Books in London in 1973.

Let's have a closer look at the model's expression:

I can't decide if she's suffering from severe depression or maybe went off her anti-anxiety meds, or maybe, she's hallucinating about giant day-glow petrochemical afghans devouring her in her sleep. Mostly, I think she caught a glimpse of the rest of the outfits for the shoot. See:

Even David Soul (spelling?) of Starsky & Hutch fame isn't safe:

OR maybe that's just his evil twin.

In all fairness, this book did have a few blandly innocuous patterns. But it wouldn't be much fun to show you those!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mead Scarf Progress

I took the Mead Scarf in progress out on the porch and pinned it out a bit so you can see how the design is shaping up.

I think it's turning out very nicely.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wet Wool

Here are the Komi Mittens, wet and laying out on an old dishtowel on the porch. Do you think I have a problem with delayed gratification? Yeah, I haven't darned in my ends yet either.

For people who read this kind of stuff, I'm including the technical details.

Pattern: Mitten #23 in Mostly Mittens, by Charlene Schurch; Large size.

Yarn: Red, Yarn From the Barn, Sport wt, from Rainbow Fleece Farm, New Glarus, WI.
White, Columbia Minerva Fingering wt worsted wool, vintage yarn from the stash.

Needles: US #2 double points, Ribbing in US #0 double points.

Notes and Modifications: I just launched into the larger size without a swatch. When I make the next pair, I'll make the smaller size, or use smaller needles. These will fit Mr. SABLE. My back-up plan was to felt them slightly if needed to make them fit someone. I didn't alter the pattern one bit, other than using different yarn than shown. These are really fun mittens to make. The patterns are simpler than they look. I plan to make more.

In Other News
We had an interesting time last night. About 11 p.m., just as I was drifting off to sleep, Owen came into our room to tell us that he was shivering and couldn't stop. I took him back to his room and covered him with more blankets, and realized there wasn't much more I could do for him. Like a bad mom, I went back to my own bed and tried to get back to that delicious state of just drifting off that I had been yanked from. Mr. SABLE had opened the window a bit, as it was the first warm day of the season. As I was lying there, I thought I smelled something off. I have a terrible sense of smell, so I asked Mr. SABLE if he smelled a skunk. He snorted and muttered no. About ten seconds later, he said, "Ewww, I do smell a skunk!" and slammed the window shut. We still smelled it, but not as overwhelmingly. Now I had two worries. First Owen and his fever/chill and then, realizing one of our cats had not come in for the night. And he was out there with a skunk. I checked back on Owen about 11:30 and he was less shivery, but starting to feel hot to the touch. Then I went to bed and slept until the alarm went off at 6:50. (Have I mentioned how much I hate the time change? Getting up in the dark? Again.)

I let Owen sleep, called the school to let them know he wouldn't be coming, and asked Mr. SABLE to check for the cat. Thank goodness, the cat smelled just like his normal self. And thank goodness there was no lingering whiffiness in the yard, because I surely believed that skunk had sprayed right outside my window. We had skunk action last spring. They were fishing for koi in the garden pond. I hope they aren't actually living on our property. I really don't want to find a family burrowed in the lilacs or worse, under the porch!

So, Owen's home sick today. And if I had to choose between my children, I'd rather have a sick day with Owen than the Little Emperor any day. He's far more self-sufficient.

A note about Last Saturday Knitting
We are taking a trip to San Diego for spring break, so I won't be at Last Saturday Knitting this month either. I've had more days away than there lately, it seems. Sorry. But I really really really will try to be there, as scheduled, for April.

Monday, March 12, 2007

WIP Report

Regular readers will remember back in the fall when Sarah sent me lovely hank of handspun alpaca yarn. I hemmed and hawed about how to best use this precious gift. Finally I decided this yarn wants to be a very simple lace scarf:

Just a zig zag of eyelets running the length of it, with a seed stitch border. But, Mead looks so happy, doesn't she? (Sarah named the yarn Mead and dubbed her a "she," so I'm just going with it.) The scarf-to-be is scrunched on the needles a bit, but I tugged out the stitches for a look, and I think it's the perfect choice.

In other project news, I'm about half-way done the second Komi Mitten:

These are great fun and I'm definitely planning to make more of them. If I start now and just keep making mittens as time allows, I'll probably have enough to distribute to all my family next winter. Meaning, my parents, my brother and his wife, my sister and her husband, and maybe some of the in-laws, too.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Like Christmas in March!

Last week, the UPS truck pulled up in front of our house and dropped off a big box. My brother in law and his wife didn't ever get it together to send out Christmas presents back in December, but eventually got around to it. Here was my haul:

3 skeins of baby alpaca. Have a closer look:

Here's the tag:

I don't think it's handspun, but obviously small production. This yarn feels wonderful! Even when I don't go looking for more stash, it finds me.

After my earlier post in which I mentioned finding my copy of Mostly Mittens on, I thought I better go back and have a peek at their knitting books these day. A peek led to a purchase, which came in today's mail. It felt like Speedy Delivery to me!

Christmas in March, indeed!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Finished One Mitten

I finished the first Komi mitten for Mr. SABLE this evening. I'm pretty pleased with it, even if my grafting was a little wonky and tends to distort the ends. I'm hoping that a little swish in water will help it all settle down. Very fun project!

Because we live at the end of a cul-de-sac, all the snow gets piled in front of our house. Our kids love this. Earlier in the season, the plow guys were using a different theory of plowing and distributed the snow much more evenly around the circle. The boys were not pleased. Earlier today, when the sun was bright and the air not too cold, I sent Mr. SABLE and The Little Emperor out to play in the snow for a while. The LE was in dire need of enforced recess. Mr. SABLE took about 10 pics of him on Mt. Snow. These two are especially cute:

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Road to Recovery

Thanks to all for the well-wishes for my family. Owen ended up only staying home one day. I guess he had flu-lite, too. So far, The Little Emperor is unscathed. I still think I have a low-level sinus thing going on, but nothing too debilitating.

I am only a couple rows away from being done with the body on the Shetland Sweater, aka The Andrew Morrison Honorary Cardigan. My left hand was threatening mutiny the other night when I thought I could push on through. Having stared in the face the prospect of losing knitting for life, I know that I can't ignore those warning signs. As it is, ibuprofen is practically a food group for me.

So, here it is, just a couple rows shy of being ready to cut the steek.

Here's a detail shot of the neckline area. I've made a shallow v-neck, rather than rounded neckline, where the collar will attach, which makes the whole thing look a little strange right now. Like there's shaping for a single mono-boob up high on the chest. Have no fear, after I cut the steek it will all be fine.

So, I was loafing about getting kind of depressed with the weather and feeling like I should do something productive with all those hours when the kids are at school and not really having a focus. I just felt like napping all day every day this past week.
And while puttering in my lair, stumbled on the Yarn from the Barn I bought last spring at Rainbow Fleece Farm. (They don't seem to have a website, or I'd link it.) I still hadn't done anything with that yarn. I got out Mostly Mittens (I just noticed the shocking price on that book when I looked on Amazon for the link! I think I got mine for about $15 on a couple years ago!)and picked a chart. Then dug out the white sport weight vintage yarn to pair with this dark red Yarn From The Barn.

Although this is coming out a bit large, it'll work for a pair of mittens for Mr. SABLE. These mittens are a perfect little antidote-for-what-ails-you kind of project: detailed, visually grabbing, fun. They're the kind of project that impresses non-knitters and those who don't yet do two-color knitting, but in fact, the pattern is very repetitive and not overly difficult. And the gauge is different enough that it gives my hands a break from the AMHC.

Cindy G over at Baxter Knits has been exploring slip stitches with the intent to make a little tutorial on their wonderous uses. Regular readers have seen this before:

It's a detail shot of my long-standing WIP, Scott's Tweedy Sweater. The magic of slip stitches allowed me to finally use a yarn that defied every other use I tried to find for it. The beigey-brown yarn with dark brown and gold flecks came in a big batch of shetland-style yarns I bought around 1990. It would not settle in to any Fair Isle pattern. It looked ugly on its own. I kept thinking I would find a way to use this yarn (see why I have a stash problem???) and finally, I did.

Finally, here's an image from my porch, looking out toward the backyard:

I bet if I put on my boots and went wading out in the snow, I could find some cool shadows and dead plants to photograph. But somehow, I just can't seem to leave the comfort of my couch these days.