DMK Podcast Episode 16: Yarn Memory

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WATCH NOW: http://www.podcastgarden.com/episode/ep-16-yarn-memory_27200

Yarn has a memory: memory of what it once was, what you’ve knit it into, and even where you bought it. Today’s discussion focuses on several kinds of memories tied up in yarn: I review SilverSpun yarn, talk about my trip to Arkansas Fiberarts Extravaganza, and marvel at the incredible gift given to me by the now-defunct Yarn Harvest company.

For the technique segment at the end, I talk about how to get a skein of yarn back into near-mint condition if you’ve already knit with it, need to frog it, and want to knit with it again.

Mentioned in this episode:

Boys’ knitting roundup #5

Time to check in with what’s new and awesome in the world of boys’ knitting patterns!


My jaw dropped when I spotted this sweater from Danish designer Nanna Gudmand-Høyer.

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This design is appropriately named Robotto, and the pattern is available for free in English, Danish, and German (Ravelry link). Sizes are 6–12. The colorwork is so brilliantly designed, and I love the designer’s suggestion to have the wearer help you pick out the colors. For best results, just make sure to choose a set of colors that ranges from pretty dark to very light.


If Robotto looks a little (or a lot) past your current knitting skill set, check out Lori Versaci’s Basic Kid Pattern.

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Sized for 2–14 year olds (there’s also a separate baby pattern), this classic crew neck comes with instructions for either a pullover or cardigan version. Imagine how much use you could get out of this one pattern! The shaping is simple (modified drop shoulders look good on kids but are easy to knit), and I know from firsthand experience how well-written Lori’s patterns are. If you’ve not tried knitting a sweater before, what better way to start than with a smaller canvas!


If it’s still warm where you are (it’ll be 102 degrees here today) or if your kid isn’t so much into sweaters, why not check into some cool new crocheted toys? Megan Kreiner’s new book Bathtime Buddies is a riot of original sea creatures and people (Ravelry link). If you’ve not done any/much crocheting before, these fun and simple animals would make the perfect way to cut your teeth.

How about this sweet-faced otter trying to break open a clam? Or a swarm of jellyfish?

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There are 20 patterns in all (narwhal, manatee, octopus, lobsters deep-sea diver…) that perfectly straddle that line between realism and cuteness. The book even comes with a digital download so you can view it on your tablet or computer.


And let’s not leave out the older guys—for you, I’d point out a new handsome scarf-shaped shawl, Descent into Madness, by Josh Ryks.

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So many knitters love making these sideways shawls—they knit up quickly and you can use up all of that luscious hand-dyed skein—and it’s great to see one modeled here by a young man to make visually clear just how gender-spanning this style of shawl really is.

This looks like a really fun knit, as you can see from this closeup of the varied stitch patterns, knit with two coordinating colors of fingering-weight yarn. The pattern is available either for individual sale or as part of a collection of three geometric shawls.

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Finally, I can’t resist mentioning that I’ve got a six-pattern collection for boys coming out very soon from Cooperative Press—September 15, to be specific. It’s a comic book and pattern collection in one: the comic-book storyline designed to entice your favorite kid into DESPERATELY wanting the hand knits. (Because we all know what a tough sell that can be sometimes.) The book will be available both in PDF-only (for $9.95) and paperback + PDF (for $15.95). I’ll let you know when the preorder page goes up!

Here’s a photo from the book that I haven’t released yet…

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Shown here are the three pieces in the kung fu uniform (gi): the jacket, pants, and belt, all knit in Berroco Vintage. My son, Liam, did the modeling for the book, and he couldn’t have been a better sport. It’s rarely very cold here in Texas, so he got a bit toasty shooting this, but never broke a sweat, as it were. I love his tough-guy expressions in some of these shots, too.

DMK Podcast, episode 1!

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Exciting news to share with you today: I have started a video podcast! Episodes will appear every other week and will have more of a reflective / essay-style format, and include lots of learning opportunities. (The inveterate teacher in me will NOT be repressed.)

Come listen here on the blog.

iTunes feed also available.

Men’s knitting pattern roundup #1

If you’ve stumbled across my blog, then it’s no doubt because you are searching for men’s knitting patterns — and you’ve probably also noticed that they can be hard to find.

If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know I sympathize … and that I frequently write knitting patterns for men myself.

The patterns are out there, so I thought it might be time to do a little curating of my own — bringing you weekly roundups of some of my favorite patterns for men that I’ve found around the interwebs.

I’ll favor new patterns, but will probably include some older patterns each time as well. Your tastes may not be the same as mine, and my reach is not perfect, so please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments.

(I’ll also start doing a weekly boys’ pattern roundup — stay tuned for that in a few days.)

Let’s get started, shall we?

First up are the fabulous Rock Strata fingerless mitts by young, up-and-coming designer Josh Ryks ($6 on Ravelry):

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The unusual shaping in these great-looking mitts is created modularly — easy to execute but much more fun than your average brown mitt. I always say that the biggest challenge with designing men’s knitwear is to create something wearable while still providing the knitter with something fun to make. Josh’s design hits that sweet spot perfectly.

If you’re looking for more graphic accessories for men like this, check out Josh’s other designs as well.

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If you’re looking to get a headstart on sweater season, check out this beauty from Kirsten Johnstone:

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This design, Sankai Man ($8 on Kirsten’s website), is worked in the luscious yarn Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. The designer’s architectural training shows itself in this sweater’s impeccable construction. Don’t you just love that yoke? (The pattern also comes in boys’ and women’s versions.)

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And finally for this week, I can’t resist including a shawl. We largely have popular knitwear designer Stephen West to thank for making the geometric shawl a cool menswear piece. So while the Nangou shawl by Melanie Berg (€3.90 or about $5 on Ravelry) may be modeled by a woman in the photos, I can readily picture this on a man as well, especially worn scarf-like as it is in the photographs. These simple, classic knits can be a real pleasure.

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Prairie knit companion

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Teaching kids to knit: what I learned this week

I got to teach a kids-and-parents knitting class this week and the whole experience was so interesting that I had to tell you about it.

For many (perhaps even most) knitting teachers, the idea of teaching 5-8 year olds how to knit is a total nightmare. Talk about a chaotic, twitchy group of people who might not have wanted to come in the first place — not quite the ideal audience for a class where you’ve got to sit still and do intricate things with your hands for 90 minutes.

But somehow I found the challenge exciting. When the LYS where I do most of my teaching asked me to do a class for parents with children too young to take the store’s independent fiber camp, I jumped at the chance.

As it turned out, this first time around I had two kids — a good small number to use as guinea pigs. They were both seven, one boy and one girl. The former came with his mom and the latter with her grandmother. Both adults already knew at least a bit about how to knit, so I didn’t have to worry about teaching them much. Plus, they were able to help out when their kid was struggling.

Here are my take-away lessons from this experience, which I’ll use to improve my August class.

  1. Keep it short. Next time I’ll make each session one hour long. Either that, or I’ll need to incorporate a very different yarn-related activity into the 90 minutes. Sitting and concentrating on a difficult task for more than an hour is trying for kids this age. On the second day, even the more patient kid moaned a half-hour into class, “We have a whole hour left?! Unnngggghhh!” And she was enjoying it.
  2. Change it up. The little boy who took the class was really struggling with knitting — to the point where he just kept melting onto the floor in defiant embarrassment. So I had to think fast and come up with something else for him to try. How about finger knitting? He liked that and busily made a bracelet for himself, so I brought a crochet hook to the second class and showed him how he could make the same chains using a hook. His face lit up. Bingo. One of my mottos has always been to go with a plan and be willing to change it. That approach is especially important with kids.
    Next time I do the class I’ll also get them up and moving about more. I might take a page from Melanie Falick’s ingenious Kids Knitting book and teach them to dye yarn with Koolaid. I was also thinking I might figure out some way to dramatize the making of a knit stitch, having each kid play the role of a stitch. Still working on that one….
  3. Don’t take their comments or behavior personally. Kids are brutally honest — most have little filter between their reptile brain and their mouths. You can choose to be bothered by this, or you can decide (even if it’s only for the 90 minutes you’re teaching the class) that it’s refreshing. Kids let you know right away when they’re bored. Or frustrated. Or tired. Respond to their honesty with a light sense of humor and a willingness to change, and you will have them in the palm of your hand. When the little girl moaned about how long we had left in class, I could have gotten really upset (jeez, I spent so long planning this — how could she be so rude?!), but I knew she was just tired. So I said, lightheartedly, as her grandmother looked mortified, “I know you’re tired, sweetie. Why don’t we take a break, maybe have a snack, and then try something new?” So we took the break, she had a little food, we learned how to purl, and she perked right up. (“Look, grandma — my knitting looks different now!”)

I’m teaching the class again in August — it’s full to the brim this time (four kids and four adults) — so I’ll report back on how it went.

 

TNNA: Travel tips for the new designer

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.