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.

Yarn support: that’s the way to do it

ImageRarely have I encountered a business relationship that’s as kind and respectful as that between knitting designer and yarn company. When you design a sweater, yarn companies typically provide gratis the yarn that you need to knit the sample – which in and of itself is a pretty sweet deal. But on top of that, I have had universally good experiences dealing with yarn companies, from Malabrigo to Cascade to Berroco to KnitPicks. (Stacey, who runs KnitPicks’ Independent Designer Program, is a particular standout.) All have responded quickly and courteously and have even offered great ideas.

Even so, few can compare to Yarns of Italy, a relatively new yarn distributor that develops and purchases yarns in Italy and then sells them in the US for great prices. They have been selling on Etsy for a while, but more recently decided to go more big time. If you have been to TNNA in the last year or so, you have probably seen them.

In fact, to fill out their TNNA booth, the company held a design competition not long ago, asking designers to create something with each of their yarn lines. I was lucky enough to get to do the design for their Volute line, a gorgeous cotton-acrylic blend. (And let me tell you: gorgeous and cotton-acrylic blend are not phrases I typically put together.) The zippered cardigan above, called Velluto, is what I came up with.

All along the way, Kim (one of YOI’s owners, and the creative director) was a delight to work with. She has a whip-smart sense of humor and an easy manner, but is also very professional at all those times where that’s needed.

During the most recent TNNA, Kim even posted a photo of their friend, a handsome Sicilian gentleman, wearing my sweater. In all, I got the overwhelming message that these people love good design and want to do whatever they can to support it.

And then yesterday, I was looking at their just-launched web site, and saw that they had named one of the colorways in their Innamorata line after me! Innamorata is a luscious merino that comes in two weights and a gorgeous palette. Each color is named for a woman that the YOI owners like, and I got to be on the list! In fact, I’m light gray, since that’s the color of the sweater I designed for them. It is such a lovely and generous gesture. (My mother immediately ordered a sweater’s worth, of course. 🙂 )

You’ll definitely see me designing more with their yarns….

Martha wrap

Now here’s one that has been in the works for a while.

I completed this design, called the Martha Wrap, back in October, and it has finally appeared in print! This is my first knitting design to appear in a magazine — to be specific, the inaugural issue of UK-based Knit magazine (formerly Yarn Forward).

This is also my first design for women. Getting the fit right on a women’s sweater is a lot more challenging than getting the fit right on a boys’ or men’s sweater. Women tend to like their sweaters more fitted, so you have to get the shaping just right. Plus, this magazine requires all designs be sized for 30-50″ bust sizes, so that just ups the challenge.

The sweater looks pretty good on the model that the magazine chose, though I have to say it looked even better on the very kind college student who let me fit this sample on her. (No photographic evidence, unfortunately.) If you have a fuller chest or broad shoulders — or both, this is definitely the sweater for you.

The main idea behind this sweater was to feature handspun yarn. When I first thought up the idea for this wrap, I had just taken a class on spinning and dyeing from Martha Owen at the John C. Campbell Folk School. (Yes, the wrap is named after her — I loved her class, and her.) It takes so long to hand-dye and hand-spin yarn. I wondered how I could make the most out of the precious, small amount that I got after hours and hours and hours of dyeing and spinning.

I have always liked sweaters with oversized, overlong cuffs, so that was my starting point. Then I thought of the collar that becomes a belt. The rest of the sweater needed to be in a different yarn, and I liked the idea of a strong contrast in weight and color. So I chose a sock yarn and a simple lace pattern to help break up the monotony of doing a whole sweater in fingering weight.

The magazine — ahem — chose the colors. Not my choice. I think my next move is to make one of these for myself in colors that I like. I’m thinking a semisolid mustard yellow for the main color and a handspun that has lots of earthy fall colors.

Rodeo Kid pattern available

It’s finally ready! I got some expert help with the technical editing and some photos, so I can now put my Rodeo Kid pattern up for sale.

I hope you enjoy the pattern. It includes a lot of unusual but useful techniques that can build the skills of an intermediate knitter.

Here’s my adorable friend, Cole, modeling it for us. The link to purchase the pattern (for $5) is below the photo.

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Photo: Jorge Reyes (http://jreyesphoto.zenfolio.com)

Rodeo Kid

It’s done! I have finished the prototype for my first-ever original knitting design! I still have some work to do to get the pattern ready for sale, including getting a tech editor to look it over and getting a kid friend to model the sweater for better photos. But I couldn’t resist showing you some provisional photos of the project.

The photo at left shows my favorite detail on the jacket: the ribbon-lined button band. In order to get the look of those western-shirt pearlized snaps, you just have to use pearlized snaps, but over time, snapping and unsnapping those little buggers was bound to stretch the button bands out of shape. So I lined the bands with some ribbon that I bought on Etsy. Isn’t it perfect?

One down-side: it was a bit of a struggle to get the snaps clamped through the thick layers of moss stitch + ribbon, but it worked out beautifully in the end.

At right is the full garment. The fronts and backs are knit all in one piece up to the armholes, then separately from there. The bottom is hemmed so that the jacket will hang straight. The shoulders are finished with short-row shaping and a three-needle bind off.

The set-in sleeves are picked up at the armhole and knit down to the cuff, which is also finished off with little pearl snaps. If you have been reading previous blog spots, you know what a bear that was for me to figure out, but I’m glad I kept beavering away at it. Well, mainly I’m glad I found Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ genius solution to the problem.

I’m about to hit up Ravelry for a technical editor. I’m not quite sure what to offer as payment, but I’m thinking $50 or the equivalent in yarn stash will get it a good once-over?

I also need to find a suitable two-year-old model so that I can put better photos on the pattern. I love the mossy chartreuse color that I chose for the prototype, but it doesn’t suit every kid’s complexion. I know several really cute but pasty little kids who would look positively ghastly in this color. But I think our friend Cole might be just the ticket. His mama’s Italian and he’s got gorgeous, long, curly black hair and big, brown eyes. We’re going for dreamy, hip, Austin cowboy here, not Kenny Chesney.

Speaking of which, get your @sses out and vote, people. Yeehaw!