Episode 11 of the Dark Matter Knits podcast is now up on YouTube! (Sorry, can’t manage iTunes or show notes from here.) http://youtu.be/c70QHqBdVZY
We’re often exhorted to “bind off loosely,” but sometimes that can be hard. Today, I talk about how knitting helped stay calm and loose through some alarming medical news; how I almost completely blew it while having a shawl that I designed test-knit; and how to work Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off without it ruffling at the edges.
Mentioned in this episode:
- My Summer in Angers Shawl pattern will be released on Monday, April 28, on Ravelry. It will be $1 off for the first two weeks of its release! (Please note: the link won’t work until Monday….)
- Colonel Henley (saddle shoulder sweater for men)—just released by Spud & Chloe
- Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles, by Brandy Schillace—the vampire/not vampire YA novels I’m designing a hat pattern for (shown above on my friend’s adorable son, Thomas)
- Little Skein in the Big Wool—Anne’s shop sells the Over the Moon kit and other impeccably crafted kits, bags, and stitch markers for knitters. The kit includes…
- Cooperative Press—the pathbreaking independent publisher for whom I now work part-time
- Receive the Dark Matter Knits monthly email newsletter: exclusive coupon codes, news about patterns and the podcast, and more!
- Our group on Ravelry—come join us for the new “pass it on” project and other fun discussions about fiber crafts.
(There is Laura’s lovely, smiling face!)
This post is part of the Indie Design Gift-a-long blog series. The GAL is going on through the end of December on Ravelry. There are hundreds of participating knit and crochet patterns by many of your favorite indie designers, all perfect for gift knitting. There are games and tons of prizes as well. Come join the fun!
It looks like you and I have both been knitting for many decades. The knitting world has changed so much in the last 15 years or so—what are the most exciting developments for you?
The easy access of knitting-related information is astounding these days. I remember getting a pattern pre-Y2K, and it using an abbreviation that I hadn’t seen before, one that the designer didn’t include in her meager abbreviations list. It took many hours of looking in a huge assortment of knitting books before I was able to track down the meaning: sm = slip marker. Oh! Then “rm” must mean remove marker. Oh. I get it. These days it’s super easy to find answers to almost any knitting question online in just moments. What a time saver!
For many years I didn’t know anyone else who knit. I had to figure out everything myself. At times, I felt like the only knitter left in the world. I worked a lot of overtime back then, knew only a handful of people in town, and the people in the knitting stores I went into were less than welcoming. When I first got online there were just four, yes four, knitting related websites. Can you imagine? The online communities that have grown and evolved from that have served to bring knitters everywhere closer together. I no longer feel so isolated, alone in my passion for playing with my two sticks and a piece string.
What kind of knitters do you picture in your head when you’re designing your patterns?
I design for knitters who want something to keep their interest while knitting, and that provides something that is enjoyable to wear when done … something that can add a bit of interest, charm, or femininity to whatever else they are wearing. I love thinking of women tossing on a beautiful lace scarf with their business suit, wearing a lacy little cardigan with their jeans and T-shirt, or tossing a delicate lace shawl over their shoulders when going out for an evening out with friends.
How would you describe the style of your patterns?
I definitely don’t design for beginners, though at the same time I do try to include information to make the knitting as easy as possible. I add little notes about using markers, shaping, whatever, whenever I think a knitting tip would be helpful, and there’s room for it in the pattern.
For patterns with charts, which is most of them, there is a key on every page where a chart appears that includes the symbols used in the chart(s) on that page. Several years ago I began making my charts with Illustrator, and so the squares in all of the charts in all the patterns I’ve released since then are all the same size. I never re-size a chart to fit a page by shrinking it. I can’t speak for anyone else, but neither I nor my eyes are getting any younger, and I have a very hard time these days reading charts that have been shrunk up to nothing so the whole thing will fit on one page. I realize that some people will still need to have my charts enlarged, but I do try to minimize that.
Which patterns did you enter into the gift-a-long (GAL), and have you been surprised by which designs have gotten the most attention?
I only entered nine patterns in the GAL: Lalique, Raspberries, Birdsfoot Fern, Cirrhosa, Lazy River, Clarine, Clematis, Domus Aurea, and Ione. (All are pictured below—click on the image for links to the individual patterns.)
So far I’ve only seen two projects using any of my patterns in the GAL: one Cirrhosa and one Birdsfoot Fern. This surprises me. I would have thought that more people would have at least started one of my other GAL designs by now. Most of them knit up relatively quickly, especially Ione and Lazy River. Birdsfoot Fern and Cirrhosa are also quicker to knit than one might think. With both of those designs, the lace is knit before the garter stitch shaping section is worked, and the lace rows are quite short: a maximum width of 31 stitches in Cirrhosa and 35 stitches in Birdsfoot Fern. This helps to make the lace portion easier to manage, faster to knit. Once established, the shaping is pretty mindless on both patterns, and so though the rows grow long, it’s all just knitting, so it gets done in no time.
Any particular design(s) that you’ve got in the GAL that you’d like to say more about?
Lalique continues to surprise me. Not only is the sweater all-over lace, but it requires a number of harder techniques: provisional cast on, applied border, grafting, adding beads….
Even relatively new knitters have successfully knit the pattern—a fact that both surprises and delights me. Lalique was released almost three years ago, and has done quite well the entire time, and it was my top seller for the GAL sale in early November.
Today, my blog is the 12th stop on the blog tour for Hitch: Patterns Inspired by the Films of Alfred Hitchcock, edited by Stephannie Tallent. Since I both designed a shawl for this book and also did the page design and layout for the book itself, I thought I’d take you behind the scenes on both parts of the process.
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In addition to my love for designing for men and boys, I also have a penchant for designing garments with unusual constructions. I’ve loved unusually constructed garments ever since I first knit Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Baby Surprise Jacket – an ingenious design that looks like a malformed jellyfish until you perform the origami maneuver at the end that transforms your jellyfish into a perfect little sweater.
When I saw the call for designs for Hitch, I knew this was another perfect opportunity to design against the grain. As a director, Alfred Hitchcock reset all the cinematographic rules, so I wanted my design to be similarly off-kilter.
My direct inspiration came from this iconic movie poster that Saul Bass did for Hitch’s film Vertigo. (Bass also did the poster for West Side Story, The Shining, and many other great films, by the way.)
I decided to translate that wonderful spirograph shape into a two-color shawl. The colors were easy: an orange-red and a light gray, kindly provided by Shibui Yarns. I experimented with several different combinations of stripes and stitch patterns, until I hit upon a simple, two-row, knit-and-purl stripe with yarnovers that fit the bill. The yarnovers run in one direction and the stripes in the other in a way that I thought was quite reminiscent of the original poster.
All that was left was to mimic that dizzying spiral shape. I found that if I cast on a certain number of stitches at the end of every so many rows (more detail available in the pattern, obviously), then the shawl grew outward in an intriguing spiraly way:
In the end, I had a shawl that is simple to knit and did not feel over-designed – but that has maximum graphic impact:
I’ve called it the San Juan Bautista Shawl after the old Spanish mission where Hitch filmed the climactic bell tower scenes. It turns out the bell tower was a complete fabrication created as a movie set – the actual mission’s tower had burned down decades earlier – which I thought was a fitting tribute both to Vertigo‘s own deceptions as well as the fact that this shawl is deceptively simple to knit.
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Once I had finished designing my piece for the book, I had the pleasure of laying out the book for Cooperative Press, where I’m the art director. The editor, Stephannie Tallent, had done an exceptional job of choosing garment designs that complemented each other well, and she had also smartly limited the color palette for the yarns to red, black, gray, and white. Even though more than 25 designers contributed to the book, the collection looks as cohesive as if one designer had done them all.
Our photographer, Nick Murway, specializes in dramatically lit shots, and CP’s editor/publisher, Shannon Okey, selected an elegant vintage wardrobe kindly loaned to us by Deering Vintage. The combined look was very Hitchcock. (By the way, the model pictured above is one of my former students, Marie Draz, who is a brilliant doctoral student in philosophy and just happens to have a classic Grace-Kelly-like beauty.)
It was my lot, then, to pull together all these striking elements into a book. Stephannie and I perused through various Hitchcockian fonts, finally settling on Filmotype Kingston for its elegance and legibility. (The body text is all in Century Schoolbook, a font used frequently in the 1950s.) For the book’s color palette, I of course adhered to the same black-and-white-and-red-all-over look of the garments. The rest of the book design was relatively straightforward, but I did add a few fun elements like using a small Hitchcock silhouette as the icon that you click on in the digital version when you want to return to the table of contents.
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Do check out the 28 other gorgeous patterns in this book. As someone who designs mainly for guys, I should point out that there are some patterns in here for you as well: the Robie Sweater, the Exakta Hat, and the Kentley socks.
And if you enjoyed reading this post, try these others stops on the Hitch blog tour!
9/28/2013: Sunset Cat Designs
10/5/2013: Knitting Kninja
10/8/2013: Knit and Travel
10/9/2013: Knit & Knag Designs
10/10/2013: Wooly Wonka Fibers
10/11/2013: Verdant Gryphon
10/15/2013: Impeccable Knits: Shifting Stitches
10/21/2013: Knitwear Designs by Carolyn Noyes
10/22/2013: Peacefully Knitting
10/23/2013: Dark Matter Knits (You are here! Thanks for stopping by. Come back, won’t you?)
10/24/2013: Turnknit: Dani Berg Designs
10/25/2013: SweetGeorgia Yarns
10/28/2013: doviejay knits
10/29/2013: Triona Designs
10/30/2013: Tactile Fiber Arts
11/2/2013: A B-ewe-tiful Design
11/4/2013: A Knitter’s Life
11/6/2013: Yarn On The House
11/12/2013: Hazel Knits
Let’s check in again on the world of men’s knitting patterns.
(If you missed the first men’s knitting pattern roundup, you can find it here, along with an explanation of what these roundups are about.)
Interweave Press just released a delicious magazine of Harry Potter-themed knits, a full third of which are suitable for men. My favorite of the bunch is Hagrid’s Sweater by Anne Podlesak. Like the other two men’s garments in this collection, this one is beautifully cabled and comes in a good range of sizes (34.5-50.5″ finished chest in this case).
Such a thoughtful use of cabling, including some strategic yarnovers that will keep this pullover from getting pulled off an over-heated body.
But what really sells this for me is the fact that it’s modeled by a bearded, handsome bear of a man. You know how excited we plus-sized women get when we see actual, plus-sized models? Same applies here. Big men like sweaters, too, and it’s great for a change to see how the finished garment would actually look on said big men.
While we’re on the subject of magazines, the new Cast On (Aug-Oct 2013) focuses on men’s designs — 11 patterns in all, including sweaters, vests, socks, hats, and scarves. (Not all of them are listed in Ravelry yet.) I’m particularly fond of this scarf by Jennifer Donze.
Finally, the supremely talented Veera Välimäki (the genius behind the Color Affection Shawl) just published in Finnish the pattern for this well-tailored men’s sweater. In this garment, Veera does what she always does best: takes a few simple elements (basic knit and purl stitches in this case) and combines them in a new, stylish way that is utterly appealing. That neckline is not quite cowl and not quite yoke. And those buttons! An infectious shot of color on what is already a gorgeous neutral backdrop. Those patches of reverse stockinette complement the texture of the hand-dyed yarn. Gorgeous.
Veera’s Ravelry page promises an English translation at a future date.
Oh, and not that he needs any help from me, but in case you haven’t heard, Brooklyn Tweed has recently issued a men’s collection as well. It’s classic and beautiful in the way that all Brooklyn Tweed productions are.
I’ve been gone from here a while, I know. My fingers have been on a mouse more than they’ve been on the needles lately. You see, I started working for this very cool independent publisher nearly a year ago and now I spend most of my time turning other people’s designs into pretty books.
I really, really miss knitting design, and I need to start making more time for it. But I have to say, it’s been fun rediscovering my love of graphic design, too. The last time I did any of that seriously was in 1992 when PageMaker and Quark XPress were the hot software. I actually read the Quark XPress manual cover-to-cover — partly because that’s how much fun I am and also because my boss was whiny about how hard page layout was and I wanted to lord it over her how well I could sling around some text on a screen.
Did you know that I’m secretly petty? Yeah, you probably did. It’s an ill-kept secret.
Anyway, that was a million or maybe just 20 years ago, but software has, ahem, changed a little. Now there’s Adobe InDesign and if I could marry it and make little PDF babies, I would. Creating a book on that software feels like flying after you’ve been riding on a skateboard. With a missing wheel.
I’m sure there are more metaphors I could mix there, but let’s just stop that, shall we? I’ve already grossed you out with the PDF babies.
So now I get really lost in page design and some days I look up and it has gotten dark and I haven’t even made coffee yet. Because I am, as the English like to say, a nutter.
And then, every once in a while, I think, That’s still someone else’s book. And then I think about working on my own and it gives me a little stomachache and I go back to converting someone else’s imperial measurements to metric for a while.
Well, it will come. In addition to being slightly obsessive, I am also the world’s most impatient person — in some ways a paradoxical combination — so I just need to keep telling myself: it’ll come.
Thanks to the internet, and particularly thanks to Ravelry, what was once an exclusive world of knitting and crochet design has now become a republic filled with fresh, new talent.
The possibilities for publishing and publicizing individual patterns have expanded online — not only through Ravelry, but also on Etsy, Craftsy, and a multitude of excellent online knitting magazines like Twist Collective. However, at the same time, the opportunities for print publishing appear to be shrinking. Print publishing is going through very hard times these days, as anyone knows who has followed the fate of newspapers, university presses, and trade publishers.
In other words, as the number of craft designers who want to publish books is expanding, the opportunities for them are in some ways contracting.
I don’t mean to be discouraging, and certainly there are still publishers (like the one that I work for) seeking out innovative ways to navigate the brave new book market. But if you want a chance to get heard when pitching your pattern book idea to a publisher, now more than ever you’re going to have bring your A game.
Having been in the shoes of both author and editor of knitting pattern books, let me offer some advice on how best to pitch a book idea:
- Follow instructions. It’s sad but true that many prospective authors don’t do this. Just like when you’re answering a call for designs from a magazine, you should read whatever guidelines the press offers for proposals and follow them to the letter. If you can’t pay attention to detail when writing a proposal, you’re not going to inspire confidence that you can produce a polished book project.
- Be as specific and concrete as possible. Editors want to know your big vision, but we also want to see that you have already swatched and sketched, and thought through the nitty-gritty details of what your collection will look like, even how it might be styled and photographed.
- Show that you know what the hell you’re doing. Before you pitch a book idea, you should have substantial experience with publishing individual patterns, even if all those patterns are self-published. However, the publisher will be even likelier to think you would be good to work with if you can show that you have already worked with other editors, such as at a knitting magazine. Either way, you should already have a solid, working knowledge of how the design process works from conception to swatching, pattern writing, grading, tech editing, test knitting, and styling and photography.
- Provide a snapshot of your audience and how to reach them. Your job as author does not end when your book is published. No matter how big your publisher is, you will likely be the main engine behind the publicity and marketing for your book. (Get those images of the fully paid book tour junket out of your head. Hardly anybody gets those anymore.) Even at the proposal stage, you should be able to provide a detailed picture of who the audience is for your book. Are there similar, successful books that you can point to that reach a similar audience? Are there related designs on Ravelry that have garnered huge popularity? Do you have a blog — or are there similar blogs — that have loyal followings? Are there clear channels for reaching this audience when publicizing the book? You should have answers to all of these questions ready to hand when pitching your book idea. Be able to demonstrate that there are people out there hungry for what you have to offer.
- Think of creative ways to engage the online world with your book. Publishers are desperate to figure out how to take better advantage of online technology, but most are ridiculously uncreative about how to do it. When thinking about what you can do with your book, be imaginative — as wildly imaginative as possible — about how you could connect your book to online technologies. Could your book be made available digitally, perhaps in app form? Could you use a Kickstarter campaign or similar online tool to help cover some of the upfront costs on your book? (Remember, publishers are strapped for cash these days — you might need to help raise funds to carry out your vision.) Could you create technique videos to go along with your book and post them to YouTube? Could you create a promotional video like this gorgeous one to lure readers into the world of your designs? What else could you dream up that would take your idea beyond the traditional limits of published knitting and crochet designs?
Any other tips to share? Do you have questions?
As often as I can, I look around and marvel at my good fortune. It nestles around me everywhere in the dear family and friends that I have, the basic comforts of life that I try not to take for granted, and the fulfilling work that I have always had the pleasure to do.
Yesterday, the publication of the booklet pictured above reminded yet again of how lucky I am. Prairie Bliss (book 1) is a collection of gorgeous knitted and crocheted patterns by Austin-area designers, commissioned and published by Hill Country Weavers, an equally gorgeous yarn store that has been thriving here for more than 30 years. And I feel very lucky indeed to be a part of it.
With this and several previous design collections, HCW’s owner, Suzanne Middlebrooks, has savvily grabbed the age of internet craft by the horns. Rather than despair at the rise of online commerce, the store has positioned itself both as a physical respite from the internet’s intangibility (Google still can’t help you feel the yarn, I’m afraid) and as a destination for web-savvy customers.
Today’s knitters and crocheters are hungry for well-crafted, independent design that uses well-crafted, independent yarns. These collections go right to the heart of that hunger, using yarns like Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter, MadelineTosh, Sweet Georgia, Habu, and the Fibre Company.
Suzanne has always asked us designers to take our inspiration from both the yarn and Austin’s unusually rich environment (physical and cultural). The photography for these collections (by the very talented Kennedy Berry and Meg Rice) reflects that same heady blend.
One of my favorite designs in the most recent book is the Enchanted Rock cardigan by Jennette Cross. If you haven’t come across Jennie’s finely crafted pieces yet, take a look. You’re going to be seeing a lot more of this brilliant designer, I can guarantee you.
This is one of those garments that is just as beautiful and meticulously made when examined up close as it is when seen through the gauzy lens of great photography. Woman’s got serious talent of both the aesthetic and technical sort.
And then there are the designs that make me want to pick up the crochet hook again, particularly Ana Clerc‘s masterful Prairie Point Skirt. Ana is another one of those women with a brain firing on all 82 cylinders. Watch for some beautiful dye work from her soon, too.
There are so many lovely things to choose from that it’s hard to control myself — you’ll just have to go take a look at all the lusciousness yourself – but I can’t resist showing you Kathy Bateman‘s beautiful knitted child’s dress, Little Honeysuckle, modeled by her insanely cute daughter. I’ve also examined this up close and talked with Kathy about its design and its another ingeniously constructed, fun-to-knit piece.
My own design in the collection, the Blue Sage Shrug, was originally published in a different form, and I love how the new photography and styling has fluffed some fresh air into the garment.
As I say, feeling very lucky to be part of this talented crew. When I think about what inspires me most, it’s the artistry of my fellow designers.
Last month I attended the big summer TNNA convention for the first time. TNNA stands for The National Needlearts Association, which runs quarterly trade shows for the yarn industry. It’s where producers of knitting, crochet, and needlepoint goods go to ply their wares to yarn and craft store owners.
More and more these days, independent designers attend the meeting as well. While I went primarily as an exhibitor (as part of the Cooperative Press crew, I was helping to run that booth), I also got to spend some time wandering the floor as a knitwear designer.
Rather than tell you about all the great people I met and the great goodies I brought home, I thought I might share some lessons that I learned about how best to approach this convention when you’re a designer.
- Above all, learn the etiquette. To paraphrase a bad self-help book, the yarn companies are just not that into you. They love working with independent designers, but they did not spend thousands of dollars to come to Columbus, Ohio, primarily to give you free bags of yarn and talk about your latest design line. They came to sell yarn to store owners. It’s best to visit a booth when it’s not overrun with paying clients, which generally means it’s best to stay through Sunday and Monday of the show if you can; those are much less busy days. Do not interrupt any conversations and do not act like you are entitled to anything. It’s ridiculous in some ways to even have to say these things, but you would be amazed how sometimes designers act like they’re the gravitational center of the universe.
- Bring samples of your work. If you have received yarn support in the last year from any companies that are exhibiting at the show, contact them in advance and ask if they would like you to bring your knitted/crocheted sample for them to display in their booth. Ask, too, if you should bring some means of displaying the garment (e.g., a head form for a hat, or a hanger for a sweater). Label the garment clearly with your and the pattern’s name and your web site. And remember to go pick up your materials at the end of the show! (Ask me why I say this. No, no, I don’t have a hat sample hurtling its way to Uruguay with the folks from Malabrigo. No, silly, I would never be so forgetful.)
- Bring lots of well-designed business cards. I have never traded more business cards in my life than I did at this show. Have at least a couple hundred cards with you. And if you’re a designer, for pete’s sake have well-designed cards. The look of your cards say a lot about your aesthetic eye and your attention to detail. I ordered my cards from Moo; I put my logo and photos of my designs on one side of the card (Moo lets you get a mixed pack, so each card can have a different photo on the front) and on the back of the card, a photo of me and my contact information.
- Go with some planned designs in mind. Many yarn companies will gladly give you yarn to swatch and even design a complete project with, but they will generally do so only if you have a specific project in mind for it. Come prepared with some sketches of planned designs, as well as photographs or samples of past designs.
- Cultivate the underdog. Shibui and Malabrigo have no shortage of designers who want to work with them and they are lovely people to work with. But I found that I had the warmest, longest, most receptive conversations with companies that are more niche-oriented (Buffalo Wool Co.), newer (Juniper Moon Farms), or not as in vogue (Brown Sheep).
- Back off the hard sell and LISTEN. People who work in the yarn industry love to talk about yarn and design, but they also like having human conversations. Show some interest in what’s new with the company and what they want to promote. I got some great inspiration just by asking yarn company reps what they wanted to see designed in their yarns. The Buffalo Wool Company rep that I spoke to, for example, said that while she loved the shawls designed in their yarns, they also needed some utilitarian garments designed for people who work outdoors in the bitter cold (hunters, loggers, etc.). As a designer of men’s garments, my ears pricked right up. I couldn’t wait to get home to sketch.
If you have never visited TNNA or a similar trade show before, I would love to hear any questions that you have — or if you have attended, any further advice you might give.
I plan out these knitting designs of mine with care. I sketch. And I think. And I walk and think. And I mess around with yarn.
And then I actually knit these things I’ve schemed. And they end up looking completely different from what I had intended.
Case in point: my new Prosecco Hat. Here’s what it was supposed to look like. It was going to have a hem at the bottom, and was to have a two-color bubble motif whose color scheme reversed about halfway up the hat.
Neither one of those things worked out exactly. Problem #1: The internal part of the hem would have had to have been ridiculously long in order to play nicely with the color pattern, so it got jettisoned. Now I was stuck on what to do with the brim of the hat. Plain ribbing seemed dull. Corrugated ribbing is lovely but I feel like it’s almost become a cliche for a color-work hat.
I finally found a slip-stitch pattern (what you see on the finished hat above) that gave the brim of the hat some interest without detracting too much from the bubble pattern I’d worked so hard to chart out. Problem #1 solved.
On to problem #2: I was designing this hat for Malabrigo’s Quickies program. Believe me, that part in and of itself is not a problem. They have been great to work with.
The problem was the yarn. Well… no wait, not really the yarn, because the yarn is the luscious new Arroyo, Malabrigo’s sport-weight, superwash merino. It is scrum-diddly-umptious. No, the problem was that the two colors that I chose (VAA and Arco Iris) didn’t quite contrast with each other as much as I thought they would. Changing the two colors mid-way up the hat, so that the foreground color became the background color and vice versa, just made the hat look garbled and confused. Like a cake that you frosted before it cooled off completely.
So the dark green VAA colorway would now stay the background color all the way up the hat. Not quite as much bubblicious fun as I had originally intended, but still, plenty of colorful fizz to go around.
And then there was the photography. As I fall further down the rabbit hole of professional knitwear design, I’ve realized that I need to at least occasionally hire another pro to do my photography. I’m really only reasonably competent with a camera. I’ve got a LOT to learn.
Recently, I learned that a former student, Carlos Barron, had become a professional photographer, and I loved what I was seeing of his work. Mere days before I needed to get the Prosecco Hat pattern to Malabrigo, Carlos and I were finally able to schedule a photo shoot for this hat and a few other goodies.
And that’s when the entire middle column of the country got besieged with 100 tornados. So we had to postpone the shoot, but I still needed photos, and that meant heading for the trusty brick wall on the side of my house — the backdrop for so many of my knitting photos.
My husband took one of the above photos and my seven-year-old son took the other. See if you can guess who took which. (Hint: look at the angles.) They both did a pretty good job, but… well, none of us is Carlos.
In the end, I’m left with a hat that I really like and photos that I may need to replace. Not a bad outcome, all things considered. Just a little agley.