Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In vogue

A bit of knitting history fell into my hands yesterday. Well, to be honest, it didn't exactly fall - what happened is that I bought a number of back issues of Vogue Knitting from DBNY. Often, when a LYS (local yarn shop) closes, they'll sell their inventory, including store copies of magazines. While I am sorry that the yarn shop closed, I hope they'd be happy to know that their back issues of Vogue Knitting are in appreciative hands.

I've been knitting since 2006, a relatively short time. During those years, I've read and subscribed to VK as well as other knitting magazines, but it's rare that I've seen any from before then. These back issues are a selection ranging in date from Spring-Summer 1983 to Spring-Summer 2001. It's been so much fun going through them. They're almost like 18 years of time capsules. I'll flip through one thinking, I was 10 years old when this design was published. I had a sweater in that exact color when I was 16Wow, that's some big hair.

It surprised me that cotton and cotton blend yarns were so populer - a large number of the designs used them, whereas now we see more wool. Novelty yarns really were a novelty. Some of the designs were of-the-moment (as is to be expected from a Vogue publication) and therefore dated now - think wide dolman sleeves or huge intarsia graphics. Peach & turquoise. Slubby and boucle yarns. Primary colors on a white background. I was pleased to discover, however, that a large number of the designs, were true classics; they would look as good now as they did then.

A few familiar names popped up here and there: designs by Adrienne Vittadini and Norah Gaughan, for instance, have evolved since then, but I could see unmistakable evidence of their developing styles. I liked their early designs, sometimes as much as their current ones. I especially liked Adrienne's beaded rib pullover (Spring/Summer 1986, pattern #28) and Norah Gaughan's rose motif fair isle pullover (winter 95/96, pattern #14). It was also a kick to see columns written by VK's "new columnist" Elizabeth Zimmerman.

There were two features of the magazine that I especially liked and wish they would bring back. First, each issue contained a feature called "Then ... and Now". A classic pattern from an older Vogue Knitting (1950s-60s) and showed both the original photo and the same design styled on a current model. It was a great example of how timeless good knitwear can be.

Second, in all the magazines through 1980s, the the non-knit clothes worn by the models were all made from Vogue sewing patterns. The photo description gave the pattern number, and the final page of the magazine was a "Vogue Patterns Guide to pattern and fabric information." As much as I like VK, the current issues are more "fashion-y" rather than knitting for real life. Are you listening, VK?

Anyhow, if you ever get a chance to peruse some old knitting magazines, I recommend you do so. You never know what you'll find, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Perpetual Bliss

After the stranded colorwork post from the other day, you were expecting something Fair Isle, weren't you? Well, surprise: new today for your enjoyment, the Perpetual Bliss cardigan! I designed the sweater around the yarn because my wardrobe was lacking a versatile gray cardigan, and I wanted one. It has quickly become one of my favorites; in fact, it's keeping me warm as I type this. I’ve always liked the way sweaters with allover ribbing fit and shape without too much tailoring, and the borders add pattern and interest without bulk.

The sweater is named for Vicky Bliss, the amateur detective heroine of a series of novels by Elizabeth Peters. Though from Minnesota, the character works as an art historian at a museum in Bavaria; because that’s the origin of the twisted-stitch patterns used in the borders, I thought the name was appropriate. Made in a soft, warm yarn, it should provide the wearer with perpetual bliss too! Unfamiliar with the books? Check them out at the author's official website, MPM Books.com or at the Unofficial Vicky Bliss site, Perpetual Bliss.

Have you ever worked a twisted stitch pattern? It's not as complicated as it looks. Usually no more than two stitches cross at a time. The twists are formed by knitting (RS) or purling (WS) into the back of the pattern stitch. The background is regular reverse stockinette - purl on RS, knit on WS. For information and literally oodles of stitch patterns, I highly recommend Twisted-Stitch Knitting by Maria Erlbacher, published by Schoolhouse Press. Ravelry also has a group for knitters of Traveling Stitches, Bäuerliches Stricken, Steierische Strickkunst: twistedstitches. It's a great resource.

Wondering what book you're seeing in the photos? It's the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It was chosen because the binding color coordinated with the sweater, but it is, as I believe I've mentioned, a great read. Despite a truly prodigious number of pages of small type, it goes very quickly. If you've seen the movie, don't feel that the book is spoiled for you; the characters are the same, but the events are often quite different. In fact, it helped me to see the movie first, because it made it easier to keep track of who was who when I was reading the book. Hm. Now I want to go read it again.

Perpetual Bliss Cardigan pattern: $6.95 at Ravelry or Patternfish.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Handling long floats in stranded colorwork

Stranded colorwork: unless you're twisting every stitch, you will end up with yarn floats. I’m not a big fan of long floats. It's tempting to say just leave them, and many do. It's a matter of taste, I suppose. But though the knitter may be the only one to see the inside of a piece, it’s important to me that I be as happy with the inside as with the outside. I had a great-aunt who was a fantastic artist and needlewoman, and whether I’m painting, embroidering, or knitting, I always look at it afterward and ask myself how it would measure up to Auntie’s standards. Here’s what I do, anytime a float is too long for my taste. Hope it is of help to you, too.

Many instructions I’ve seen say that you should “catch” the yarn if you must cross behind more than 5 stitches; I like to do this anytime the gap is more than 4 stitches.

When you’re stranding colorwork, the strands as you hold them should stay in the same positions relative to each other - one closer to the work, one further away. I knit Continental style (with the yarn held in my left hand), so I carry one yarn over the top of my index finger, and the other yarn under it, with the yarn held under the finger being closer to the work. The yarn held closer shows a little more prominently in the design. See how the multicolor stripes look thicker in the light mitten than in the dark one? The cream was held further away, and the brown was held closer.

To catch the yarn float when there is a long stretch of another color, the relative positions of the yarn must change. So I knit to 1 stitch before the halfway point, then move the carried yarn between the working yarn and the fabric. If it’s the yarn you normally held above, move it down. If it’s the yarn normally held below, move it up. Knit the stitch, then move the carried yarn between the working yarn and the fabric back to its original position.

See the little dark lines in the large areas of blue and the little blue lines in the large areas of black close to the center circle? That’s what it looks like from the inside.

This may or may not be how others do it, but it works for me. I hope it is helpful to you, too

The patterns shown above, in case you were wondering, are Alesund (the mittens) and Harmonic Curves Tam (the hat).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Harmonic Curves

As you may have guessed by now, I like (and play) the harp. As of today, I've designed, knit and released into the wild two new coordinating patterns: the Harmonic Curves Tam and Harmonic Curves Wristwarmers.

“Harmonic curve” is a mathematical term describing a parabola, or a U-shaped curve formed by the intersection of a plane and a cone. Musically, it is the term for the shape of a harp’s neck (the piece across the top). A curve is necessary so the harp’s strings can change in length rapidly as the notes get higher. The exact shape of this piece varies depending on the luthier (harpmaker). On both pedal and lever harps, the harmonic curve will resemble the design depicted in the new patterns.

One of my favorite things about the design is the difference made by a change in fiber and color. The tam is very floppy, so choose your size accordingly. The brown and white hat is size medium, the black/multi tam is small. Blocked over a bowl, it would be a regular slouchy hat; blocked over a dinner plate (as these were), it becomes a tam. The wristwarmers have a finger loop that keeps them in place without getting in the way of the fingers.

Harmonic Curves Tam: $6.95 at Ravelry
Harmonic Curves Wristwarmers: $5.95 at Ravelry

You may be wondering about that book I mentioned in my last post, The Bride of Newgate by John Dickson Carr. I wouldn't rank it among the great literature, but I did rather enjoy it. There was lots of swashbuckling, and I did not see the ending coming. Set in Napoleonic England, it is considered to be the one of the first historical mysteries. The author includes an afterword of explanation as to how much of the novel is fiction and how much is fact. While the main characters are all fiction, there are quite a few historical personages who make appearances in the background. He also researched speech patterns of the time to make the dialogue as realistic as possible. There's a good no-spoiler summary of the mystery at classicmystery.wordpress.com, and I mostly agree with the reviewer's opinions of it. Wikipedia also has a page about the book. The book reminded me on a very small scale of The Count of Monte Cristo, a massive and sweeping historical novel which I much enjoyed. As thick as it was, I couldn't put it down.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Jukebox in My Mind

... an entry in which there is no knitting, because my hands are too sore from holding a paintbrush.

We are still working on the kitchen. All the trim is now done. It was a HUGE job, and when I say huge, I mean 40+ cabinet doors and drawer fronts. It's a small kitchen, which makes it all the more amazing to me that there were so many pieces. We took them all off, removed the hardware, painted it all and the framework, and then put them back up today. It's looking good! Normally I'd be unhappy about painting over wood grain, but much of this was in very bad shape - uncleanable; painting was the right solution. The white brightens everything up and makes the room look bigger, and when the pale yellow goes on the walls it will all look so crisp. It will maintain the vintage atmosphere of the house (50's / 60's era) and be retro-modern at the same time.

When you are working without background noise, what goes through your mind? Of course there are things to think about, and I do. But when I'm not actively concentrating on anything, there is apparently a jukebox in my mind that is set to "random." Here's a sampling from the past few days:

Minnie the Moocher
If I Had a Hammer
The Crawdad Song
Danny Boy (as sung by the Muppets)

I have heard that the technical name for this (getting a song stuck in your head) is "earworm." Maybe that applies here and maybe it doesn't; each song stays around for a little bit, then eventually changes to something else. It amuses me to no end.

Here's another positive thing about working on an older house: sometimes you find cool stuff. I came across a 1950 mystery novel in the basement. It's entitled "The Bride of Newgate," by John Dickson Carr. Here's the description from the flap:
Dick Darwent, ex-fencing master, was waiting in a dark cell of Newgate Prison -- waiting to be hanged.

While Dick waited for the hangman, Lady Caroline Ross, rich, cold and beautiful, prepared a champagne breakfast to celebrate her marriage to him, a marriage which would cost her fifty pounds, and which would be ended an hour after it had begun.

But a shot through a bathroom window, where a lovely lady sat in a tub of milk --
a riot in the opera, led by champion pugilists --
a pistol duel at dawn --
and a mysterious coachman, whose cloak was shiny with graveyard mold --
changed everything!

As did Napoleon Bonaparte!
I was intrigued. (I think it was the "As did Napoleon Bonaparte!" that did it.) The story could be fabulous, or it could be fabulously terrible. Or it could be so terrible it's fabulous. Now I must read it to find out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Redoing a kitchen, and a new pattern

So sorry haven't blogged - too tired! Helping redo a house for eventual resale. It's a 50's house with lots of character. This stage: the dreaded KITCHEN. The (orange and green!) wallpaper has now been removed from above the (pink!) stovetop. Took all cabinet doors & drawers off yesterday; today, emptied them. So. Many. Mugs. Tomorrow: painting doors, drawers and facings - first coat, maybe second. Wouldn't that be great?

Meanwhile, I have two pieces of happy knitting news for you. First, Patternfish's 10,000th Design Competition is nearing its end. All the patterns are in and the finalists have been chosen. Head over there now to see the designs and cast your vote. It's hard to choose. My favorites: Angela Juergens' Magic Lace Cardigan, Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer's Dragonfly Dreams beaded scarf, and Lotte Wackerhagen's Shawl With Plaited Border. There's also a Contestants' Collection with 19 more designs. You'll find my latest, Inca Glory, there, along with 18 other patterns. While I was a ittle disappointed that my design isn't one of the finalists, I feel I'm in good company - some of the other runners-up are drop-dead gorgeous. (I'm looking at YOU, Cherry Blossom Haori!) Inca Glory is a flutter-sleeved stockinette-based cardigan with a large lace sun medallion on the back. It's knit top-down and is seamless; the only sewing needed is for the buttons and (optional) snaps. Fit is easy around the middle, and the light weight and short sleeves make it a practical project to work up now so it will be ready for the spring and summer months. Bring some sunshine into your life?

Now for Knitting News, Part 2: if you visit the Sylvia Woods Harp Center website, you'll find a new category of products: Craft Pattern PDFs! Three of my patterns are now available there: Octavia's Garlands Lace Shawl, Octavia's Armwarmers, and Harpstrings Double-Knit Scarf. For those of you who like to cross-stitch (or if you know someone who does), Sylvia also has PDF patterns by Amy Clough of Bonnie Thistle Designs. Her amazing patterns show different types of harps from around the world - Celtic, Irish, Scottish, English, Welsh, and Egyptian. Check them out - they're pretty!

Inca Glory, $6.95 at Patternfish