Archive for the 'Designing woman' Category

Are you working on something new?

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Well, yes and no.

As it happens, my new job (well, it’s not really a new job, just a different position in the same old job) looks like it’s going to afford me lots of knitting time.  Of course, the knitting needs to be smallish, portable, and somewhat mindless.  And what fits that description better than socks, I ask you?  Well, nothing, that’s what.  So it seems that I’m going to get lots of socks made this year.

I am virtually finished with the soldier socks.  The second one just needs a bindoff, and then both need to have the ends worked in.

soldier socks

After I finish these, I plan on starting a pair for my friend H., whom I have promised a pair of socks for winter.  (Practically as soon as I told him that, he started asking me, “How are my socks coming?”)  Of course, they will be in subdued and masculine colors, appropriate to his manly pride.  (See here and here.)  Fortunately, I did not have to go through the entire and dreaded “interview” for the proposed socks, just gave him two balls of yarn from which to choose.

In the “something new” category, I have been playing around again with some ribbon yarn with which I have played around before.  (That sounds a little kinky, doesn’t it?  Well, I’ll just let you think whatever you want…)  After much trial and error, I have settled on a simple garter rib pattern with V-neck shaping.

sweater swatch

This is just a swatch, although I realize that it does actually look like a little sweater front.  (“Little” being the operative word there.)  I’m envisioning this as a somewhat fitted, short-sleeve sweater with raglan shoulder shaping.  Minimal finishing–just a self-finishing neckline which you can see in the photo above.

For those of you who might be wondering, no, I never have finished Rumpelstiltskin.  It is sitting on my couch in a wad, reproaching me silently every time I look at it.  So I don’t look at it.

I am coming along with projects in my new house, including my stated goal of decorating  with my vast supply of yarn and fiber.

basket of fiber

basket of fiber

I’m running out of baskets.  Time to a) hit up the garage sales again and/or b) get creative.  Do you think it would be in poor taste to just put giant wads of unspun fiber all around the house?

Marquise Gauntlets

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

As Ellen said, I have had a pattern published at elann!

Marquise gauntlet

I designed these gauntlets last fall with elann’s Peruvian Highland Wool.  In fact, I spent the first day of school (the day of all the useless teachers’ meetings) drawing and designing the cable pattern.  I was supposed to be listening to people talk about “Professional Learning Communities.”  I think, on the whole, that I got more out of the day than most people did.

The gauntlets are pretty cool, if I do say so myself, and most everyone who sees them wants a pair, including Harvey.  (I do have a pair in the works for him, they just need to be finished.)  Well, except men, that is, who in general just don’t seem to get the point.  Oh, well.  You can’t please everyone all the time.

Marquise gauntlet with cat

So, if you’d like a pair yourself, just jet on over to elann and print out the pattern.

Marquise gauntlets

P.S.  Although these really are great in elann’s wool, and it does come in almost any color your heart might desire, and it’s really inexpensive, I do have to admit to you that this pattern is also a great way to use some of your stash.  It only uses about 300 yards of wool, and if you don’t have that much, you can shorten them.  And dare I say that they would make perfect Christmas gifts?

That sweater from “The Holiday”

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

You know the one I’m talking about.  The white cabled one that Cameron Diaz wore in the charming little cottage in England.

It’s time for me to clear up a little misconception that seems to have arisen, all unbidden, on the knitting-blog world and taken on a nasty little life of its own.

sweater sketches

Now, it’s true that I did watch that movie.  I did see that sweater.  I was intrigued by that sweater, and I did make a sketch of that sweater in my sketchbook (see above).

But I never, ever, intended to copy that sweater verbatim, as it were, and create a replica of it.  In fact, I believe my exact words were:  “Lots of good inspiration there.”  (Emphasis mine and new.)

Nor did I ever intend to create a pattern for that sweater and publish it here on the blog or elsewhere.

Why?  Because that sweater is someone else’s design, and for me, there’s really no excitement or pleasure in the exact duplication of someone else’s design.

I have a whole notebook full of pictures of garments I’ve torn out of magazines and catalogs, and another notebook slowly filling up with sketches of sweaters and garments from movies and TV shows.  In every case, I chose those garments for one or more details that I find intriguing or creative.  I look at those pictures and sketches for inspiration, for new ways of thinking about garments, for a jump-start to my own creativity.

I try to look at it in this way:  “What specifically is it about this design that I find interesting or creative?  Are there details here that could be used in my knitwear, and how could I make that work?” 

I attempt to look hard at the details of others’ designs and think about not only how to use those details in my own way, but also what it is about those details that catches my imagination.  Sometimes that process can lead me far away from the original source, as I attempt to reconcile the inspiration with the medium.  

Now, that is not to say that there is anything wrong or bad in looking at that sweater from “The Holiday” and wanting to duplicate it.  It’s just that it simply doesn’t interest me.

And another thing!  I hate the idea of good, intelligent knitters sitting around waiting for someone else to provide them with a pattern, when I know very well that you’re all quite capable of knitting that sweater or any other sweater that might strike your fancy. 

Here’s how I would go about it:

1.  Check out from the library or buy one of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s knitting books.  Read it and take it to heart!  Remember, if you want it, you can knit it!  You do not have to be a slave to already-written patterns.

2.  Take a good, hard look at the sweater in the movie.  Rent the DVD and pause it in the scenes with the sweater.  Write down your observations and make some sketches.  Ask yourself:  “What is it that I’m really drawn to about this sweater?  Is it the front band/collar?  The cabling?  The shaping on the back?  The length?  Some combination of these elements or all of these elements?  Could I make my life easier by making a version of the sweater using some of those elements instead of all of them?”  (And, just as an aside, the sweater might be more flattering to you without all those elements.  I’m fairly certain it would be to me–I’m no Cameron Diaz.)

3.  Buy a ball or two of good wool in a natural white and start swatching.

4.  Take your measurements, get out your calculator, and crunch some numbers.

5.  Start knitting!  Measure as you go, and if you don’t like what you’re getting, rip it out and start over.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, that’s really is all there is to it.

Think of it this way:  this is probably the one area in life where you can take a risk without endangering yourself or anyone else in any way.  

If you want it, you can knit it.  Brace up, little friend. 

The week’s notes

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

1.  Harvey and I have been watching Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (from Netflix, naturally) over the last week or so.  I must say, I had friends who loved this show when it was actually on TV, and I scoffed and shook my head at them.  But no more!  Now I see the appeal.  Thanks, Harve.

2.  I’m about to get to the first corner with the edging on Rumpelstiltskin.

Rumpelstiltskin 6-13-07 

It’s a long haul down those long sides, let me tell you.  And another one still to go!  Just keep knitting, just keep knitting…

3.  That cone of cashmere blend yarn is a fabulous prize.  In case any of you have forgotten, here’s what I made from my cone of the self-same yarn.

Handsome Triangle shawl

The Handsome Triangle shawl from Victorian Lace Today.  The cone that Ellen gave me had more than enough yarn on it to make the shawl with a whole extra repeat of the main pattern and that ruffled edging.  With a little bit left over for security’s sake.

4.  I have indeed been working on a cabled swatch based on the cream-colored sweater that Cameron Diaz wore in The Holiday.  Except that mine is red.

red cable swatch 

It’s early stages yet, but the plan is for that center cable to split into a v-neck in front and split in the back (like the sweater in the movie) for visual interest/shaping.  Oh, and it will be a pullover, not a cardigan.

5.  Harvey and I hit up the thrift stores in St. Joe today, and found some great bargains.  Sometimes you can get really lucky, you know?  What we were in search of was an old but still serviceable saucepan that we could use for popping popcorn (because I am one of the few people left in this country who make popcorn in a pan with oil instead of in the microwave–it’s lots cheaper that way and makes a girl feel like she’s actually cooking), which we found along with several other things.  For example, I found a perfect little shot glass–just one!–which I guess is really all you need when you live alone, as I do now. (Except when Harvey is with me, and I wouldn’t be doing shots with him anyway, now would I?)  I also found a very cool pair of elastic-waist rayon pants in a batik-like print.  Apartment pants, my sister-in-law would call them.  And now that I live in an apartment (for the time being, anyway) I can really use those kind of pants.

6.  I’m starting to get a little nervous about packing for the trip to CA.  Oh, not the clothes.  Clothes are just clothes, after all.  No, no.  The knitting.  What knitting should I bring?  Should I bring Rumpel?  I could get lots of edging knitted on the plane.  Or maybe the pink baby blanket I started a month ago?  Perhaps I should start a new pair of socks; that’s always good travel knitting.  Of course, I’ll have to bring more than one project, since it would be unthinkable to finish the one project you brought on a trip and then have nothing to knit!  In fact, I can’t imagine the horrid feeling of getting on the plane for the return trip without something to knit.  Or, more accurately, I can indeed imagine that desperate, sinking feeling.  Don’t want to go there.

See you all in California!

The Holiday

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Yesterday I watched The Holiday, a sweet but rather predictable movie starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, and Jude Law (always easy on the eyes, if nothing else).

In the end, I was more interested in the knitwear the main characters wore than I was in the storyline.  (Although, if truth be told, I didn’t miss much by losing focus on the plot for a little while in favor of figuring out the sweaters.)

As a matter of fact, I had to load up the movie again this morning and do some selective forwarding, reversing, and pausing in order to get some sketches of those sweaters.  Lots of good inspiration there.

sweater sketches

sweater sketches

I was particularly interested in this cabled sweater, worn by Cameron Diaz.

sweater sketches

It has some very clever shaping on the back, which both moves the cables around in a flattering way and provides some waist shaping.  Very cool.

Also, it has a striking attached shawl collar/buttonband which is one large, bold cable.  Then that cable is repeated in a smaller incarnation on the fronts and back.  The wheels in my head are turning…

I myself have been having my own little holiday–hanging out at my parents’ house and dogsitting while they’re away for a long weekend.  I get to hang out with their bassett hound, Izzy.  (Or as Harvey tells people, “Izzapoo.”  Her full given name is Isabella Maria.)

Izzy                                           “Aren’t I sweet?  How could anyone not love me?”

She is very sweet, and it’s a good thing, too, because she is also very spoiled.  My mother fixes her oatmeal every morning, and she has her own couch.  I think she’s been a little unhappy this weekend with the lack of breakfast oatmeal.  Yesterday, when I went upstairs in their house (where she cannot go because of the steepness of the stairs) to write my post, she got mad and started pulling yarn and knitting out of my knitting bag.  I guess she showed me.  (Well, I suppose she really did, since today I brought her over to my place to write this post, where I can keep an eye on her.)

You will all be happy to know that I have been working diligently on Rumpelstiltskin, and I am almost finished with the main body of the shawl.  Just 2 1/2 more repeats to go, and then I’ll start the edging.

Rumpel 6-4-07

Rumpelstiltskin 6-4-07

(That’s my parents’ couch that Rumpel is reclining on.)

Two and half weeks to go.  Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

Oh, and one more thing.  I forgot to picture this yesterday in the roll call of my garage sale finds.

silver pitcher

An Oneida silver pitcher.  $5.  Pretty, huh?

Close, but no…sock

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

There’s a lot going on in my life right now, so my knitting has been suffering a bit.  Nevertheless, I did knit a few rounds this evening on the second Cherry Tree Hill sock,

Cherry Tree Hill socks 

bringing it almost up to the point at which I can start decreasing for the toe.

Cherry Tree Hill socks

It’s supposed to turn off cold for the next few days, so if I could actually finish these, I might have a chance to wear them during winter’s last gasp.  (Or perhaps you could say during the first chill days of spring.  April is the cruelest month, after all.)

I’ve also managed to knit a few more rows of my green cotton cables and lace swatch:

cable and lace swatch                                          (Seen here looking very romantic in the candlelight.)

You can see at the top that I separated the two sides as though for a v-neck opening.  I’m decreasing on either side of the cables so that the cables will run up the sides of the opening and the stitches in the body of the swatch/sweater would be eaten up by the decreases.  I’m thinking that the raglan line should have a cable running up the center as well, with the decreases on either side of it.

Deb commented on the larger cable on the left-hand side, asking about how I might incorporate it into the design.  Actually, I’ve pretty much given up on that cable in this design.  Originally, I had envisioned it running up the center of the front and back, but as I worked on it I realized that it was just too busy for the rest of the sweater that I had in mind. 

This is a problem that I often run into when designing–knowing when to stop.  I have a tendency to think that the more details and motifs you include, the better.  Really, the reverse is often true:  knowing what to cut out so as to reduce your design to just the essentials, and letting those essentials carry the piece.  Then include the little details of good craftmanship that elevate the “homemade” to the “handmade.”

Yup, that’s the goal.  Plus, I need to finish those socks for the coming chill.

Spring Assessment

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

At this time of year, those of us who work in the public school system face the dreaded “spring assessment.”  Back in my day, standardized tests given in the spring were called “achievement tests.”  Remember those?  We got a booklet and a sheet with lots and lots of little circles on it, and we proceeded to go through and answer the questions, filling in the bubbles with a #2 pencil.  We were cautioned to fill in the circles darkly and completely (don’t skip any questions!), so that the machine that graded the thing could read it.  And you’d best not write in that test booklet, either!–because it was going to be reused the next year.

Well, not anymore.

Now, not only do the kids get to write in the test booklet, a good portion of the questions require written essay-type answers, which must be graded by someone.  (Which sort of begs the question–if these things are being graded by real live people, how much of an objective yardstick can they be?  But I digress….) 

The test “security” is a whole topic unto itself:  As a teacher, you must never be alone with any of the tests.  You must not even crack open a test booklet before you set it in front of the students.  Never leave tests in your classroom unattended (like to, say, go to the bathroom) without locking the door.  Only approved district employees can be in the room when the tests are given.  The testing window must be strictly adhered to.

I won’t even get into the whole issue of these tests being used to “grade” schools and assess teachers’ abilities.  No Child Left Behind!

As I’ve thought about the “spring assessment,” it occurred to me that I’m wrestling with my own very different kind of spring assessment this year:

Why do I experience so much sadness and depression?

Can my marriage be put back together? 

Why do I feel that I have to please everyone else at my own expense?

What is it that I’m working toward?

What is it that I want to do with my life?

If only these questions could be answered neatly in a test booklet!  The one answer that always speaks clearly is this:  I want to design knitwear for handknitters.  So.  There it is.

With that end in mind, I started a new cables-and-lace swatch out of a mercerized sportweight cotton.

cables and lace swatch

I’m envisioning a summer sweater with raglan sleeves, a low v-neck with a self-finishing neckline, and perhaps elbow-length sleeves.

You don’t have to know all the answers to start moving forward.  Just answer the ones you can, and do your best on the others.

Sound the retreat! Part deux

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

My fourth and last class over the weekend at the Fiber Retreat was a three-hour class on Sunday morning with the lovely and talented Melissa Leapman,

Melissa Leapman 

entitled Full-Fashioned and Fabulous.  Although purportedly a class about fully-fashioned decreases and how to use them in your knitting, this workshop was really all about design and how to make your knitting fit and flatter.  As such, I found it very inspiring.

We got to see several of Melissa’s beautiful sweaters up close and personal, like this one from Hot Knits,

sweater from Hot Knits 

one of my favorite knitting pattern books.  I have actually made two sweaters out of this book, largely as written, which is of course rare for me.  One of those sweaters is the one pictured above, although I didn’t make it in the prescribed yarn, because (let’s face it) I never do.

We learned all about using matching decreases to shape sweaters, and how to place them in from the edge of the pieces to create flattering lines.  Several of the sweaters she showed us had self-finishing necklines that utilized fully-fashioned decreases, and we knit several small swatches to practice this technique on different knit fabrics:  cables, lace, and texture.


Melissa also showed us two sweaters that she had designed (including the red one above) that utilize fully-fashioned decreases and increases as a design element–moving cables or ribs around on the fabric to create flattering design lines.


Very inspiring and thought-provoking for a nascent designer like myself.

In all, I got some really great stuff out of this class, as well as the three spinning classes I took at the retreat.

Plus, I got to chat a bit with my friend Shelda.

Sarah & Shelda                              Seen here wearing her beautiful cotton shoulder shawl (or is that a shawlette, Shelda?) with beaded fringe.

Anybody up for next year?

Derelict truck, we hardly knew ye

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

In spite of the fact that the weather in the Boston area makes you feel like you’ve accidentally walked onto the set of Blade Runner, I am pleased to be back home.

I had a wonderful time in Vancouver, Berkeley, and Missouri, but it is nice to be back here Chez Mad Dog once again!

I even have a finished object to show for my time away:
Please simply ignore the hair-don’t I am sporting here. I obviously had a visit from the Hair Fairy earlier in the day. Actually, I also look a little simple in this photo, don’t I? Well, I assure you that I’m smarter than I look here. Which admittedly isn’t saying much.

In my absence, interesting developments had occurred Chez Mad Dog. For instance, my winter Interweave had arrived. Whoo hoo!:
Pictured here with a delightful ceramic doo-hickey that my father-in-law gave me while I was in California. I’m not sure what it is, but I like it very much. Thank you, Jeff!

And, in a completely unprecedented occurrence, Shelley and Zeno were being more or less filial in their comportment toward one another:
And the lion shall lie down with the lamb…

If you’d turn on the heat, fool, we wouldn’t have to sit this close together. Whaddya think this is, July?

Don’t imagine, however, that Zeno has changed one iota since I last saw him. No sirree.
When you die, I’m gonna gnaw off your ears.

He gave me a look when I got home on Sunday night, a look that said, “Oh, you’re back? I had been hoping that you had drowned.”

I’ll never understand why we habour this charmless creature.

We also have new upstairs neighbors, which comes as rather a shock since that apartment has been unoccupied for eighteen months. Why? Take a gander at the “before” pictures of our apartment, extrapolate, and you got yer answer.

I met the primary tenant, whose name is Anya, and she seems like a lovely person, a person furthermore intent upon improving the general appearance of the property. She has already insisted that she will strong-arm cajole Mr. Lee into getting rid of the derelict truck.
Picture 1.png

Many are the times that I myself have threatened to have the derelict truck towed away and dumped into the Charles River or to dismantle it piece by piece with my bare hands and put its parts out over a period of weeks for the garbage collectors, and yet I find the newly-probable prospect of its demise a strangely melancholy thought.

I’ve grown accustomed to its rusting, hulking presence outside my office window and the way that the cat will sit on its hood for hours meowing at me. I’ve come to admire the way that snow drifts into its cab through a broken window during the winter storms. The way the extra tires in the back are steadily decomposing as the weeks, months, and years pass. The way that upstanding, decent neighbors stop and shake their heads in horror and disbelief at this rotting vehicle that has been in the driveway for a decade.

It’s hard to imagine Chez Mad Dog without its characteristic derelict truck. So much of the romance will be taken from us! It is a derelict truck, yes, but it’s our derelict truck.

Perversely, I am unsettled by Anya’s take-charge attitude about getting rid of my busted-down truck. I mean, who does she think she is?

To just come in here and start talking big about getting rid of a perfectly useless truck that is an eyesore and probably a petrochemical hazard and that is furthermore sinking into the driveway slowly and inexorably?

I mean, really.

But seriously, I was sort of planning to use that truck for storing excess stash. You know, if it came to that. And it will come to that, dear friends. This you know as well as I. What, after all, is a LYS job for if not for mad, exuberant stashing?

Yet clearly, under this new regime, the derelict truck’s days are numbered. The truck we had to push will soon be no more. I will have to think of alternate stash annexes around the house. I will be forced to bid my defunct truck a tearful farewell and enter the sanitized world of people who do not harbour decomposing vehicles on their property.

Rest in peace, Derelict Truck. May we meet again in that great junkyard in the sky.

Wildflowers Scarf, 100% Free!

Friday, November 10th, 2006

First, by popular demand, I have written up the pattern for the Wildflowers Scarf:

You may find it for free right here! It will also soon be available on the sidebar under “Free Patterns.”

For the origins of this scarf, here’s the backstory. It came out of a moment of weakness, you see.

Sarah and I, now reunited in Missouri, will be announcing the contest winners tomorrow. So stay tuned!

Meanwhile, we are about to enjoy a rare family dinner during which we will enjoy spaghetti with meatballs, retell all the old stories, and continue to wrangle my mother’s bassett hound.
Ain’t that right, Izzy?

Bon appétit!