DMK Podcast Episode 29: More Behind-the-Scenes Design

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Episode 29: More Behind-the-Scenes Design

WATCH NOW: http://www.podcastgarden.com/episode/ep-29-more-behind-the-scenes-design_44828

Today we spend some more time looking behind the scenes at how knitting designs are made. I review the new PatternGenius app (by the same cool developers who made knitCompanion), and talk about what I learned from organizing the photo shoot for the book Defarge Does Shakespeare.

[Correction: I discovered after recording that in PatternGenius there are lots of other cables in the free version of the app—the cables are much more customizable than they at first appear.]

The technique segment gives some tips for how to approach charts when they’re worked back and forth and you find reading the wrong side confusing.

Mentioned in this episode:

  • Giveaways:
  • What I’m knitting
    • Honey Cowl pattern by Antonia Shankland; I’m knitting it in White Bear Fibers Sport, Mother Earth colorway
  • KAL: Bloccare Cap (March 1–April 15, 2015)
    • information about the pattern available on the Knit Picks site and on Ravelry (pattern available as individual download or as part of a 26-pattern collection)
  • PatternGenius: charting app for your iPad
  • Defarge Does Shakespeare, edited by Heather Ordover (available in digital and print format from Cooperative Press)
  • Our group on Ravelry—come join us for fun discussions about fiber crafts and to enter for giveaways.
  • Receive the Dark Matter Knits monthly email newsletter: exclusive coupon codes, news about patterns and the podcast, and more!
  • If you’d like to make a donation to the podcast (which helps immensely with hosting fees and prize mailing costs), you can do so using the button below:Donate Button

Boys’ knitting roundup #4

Time for another roundup of recently published boys’ knitting patterns! This time around, we’re looking for some color to cheer those of you stuck in week bazillion of gray, cold weather. (As I type this, it’s 75 degrees here in Texas. Before you shoot daggers out of your eyes, remember that you can have your own moment of Schadenfreude when we here in TX have had our 40th straight week of 100+ degree temperatures.)

ImageFirst up, a design to keep your eye out for: the Benjamin pullover by Gabrielle Danskknit. The pattern is currently being tested, but will be released next month. Wouldn’t this be a fun use for some leftover bits of colorful worsted yarn? Maybe even some leftover bits of handspun?

ImageThe pattern will come in an impressive range of sizes, from newborn up to 12 years—and the simple, charming quality of the design can easily support that kind of size range. The garment is worked top-down, so there’s very little seaming—just the kind of quick knit you might be looking for as spring hovers around the corner.

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ImageI know that technically this is a knitting roundup, but I couldn’t resist including the great-looking, crocheted Zigzag Spiral hat by A la Sascha. This design also comes in a wide range of sizes, from newborn to adult large, but I can see this appealing particularly to boys aged about 9–18.

This is the kind of hat that just might get your son to pick up the crochet hook himself. I know my three 20-something nephews would all want to make this.

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ImageSome boys are not particularly keen to wear knitted items, but would love to play with something that you knit for them. Polar Pete by Cilla Webb is an absolutely charming (and ridiculously inexpensive) pattern for a knitted bear that has a complete wardrobe of hoodie, overalls, and boots. He even has his own fishing pole and fish to catch! The shaping of the face, body, and clothing have some really nice attention to detail.

This would be an ideal gift for a younger boy (say, around 4–7 years old), but I’m pretty sure my nine-year-old would also covet this hard.

Men’s knitting roundup #3

Time for our regular check-in with men’s knitwear patterns…

First up: one of those patterns that make you blink twice and say to yourself, “Is this pattern really free?!” The Simply Harika hat and mitten set by Renee Burton is a stunning piece of colorwork in a fascinating Turkish-meets-Estonian style.

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The pattern page on Ravelry includes so many wonderful color combinations that you could easily find an idea to suit the wearer. The pattern includes many other options for customizing your hat, including instructions for two different weights of yarn (fingering and sport). If you’re inclined to start holiday gift knitting early, this would make an excellent candidate.

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For the man of more subdued tastes, the Lakewood scarf by Katy Osterwald would make an excellent choice. The combination of subtly variegated yarn and stitch pattern here is so richly handsome. And knit up in the lush superwash Malabrigo Rios, this would be a garment that is both easy to care for and luscious to wear.

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And finally, holy guacamole do I love this new sweater, Inge, from Italian designer Silvia Mancin-Stranalana. (The pattern is available in English and Italian.)

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Knit up in Cascade Ecological Wool (which usually works up somewhere between an Aran and a bulky gauge), this would make a relatively fast project, even with the men’s sizing and turtleneck. If I lived in a colder climate, I would be casting this on RIGHT NOW. The shape and styling of this pullover would be flattering on many different body shapes and sizes.

 

Hamlet the Knitwear Designer: A soliloquy on whether to publish one’s knitting patterns in summer

To publish, or not to publish, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of hottest summer,
Or to raise Addis against a sea of knitwear designs,
And by hording increase their fortune? To haunt, to stalk,
No more; and by a delayed release date to say we end
The heart-ache of no Ravelry sales, and the thousand natural shocks
That a neglected blog is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To purl, to chart;
To chart, perchance to grade – ay, there’s the rub:
For in that spreadsheet what errors may come,
When we have shuffled off this spring weather,
Must give us pause – there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long instructions.

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.

Go go, indie publishing!

Social media have amazing powers. While I agree that it’s going too far to call the democratic revolutions in the Middle East “Twitter-made,” it’s undeniable that Twitter took a deep-seated desire for more accountable government and focused it quickly and inexorably in the same direction.

Since at least the arrival of Knitty and Ravelry, a similar — though admittedly less profound — effect has been going on in the world of knitting and crochet. Where once the world of knitting and crochet design was ruled by a few presses and designers, there are now more than 25,000 designers registered on Ravelry alone.

Please understand that I do not consider Interweave Press the Hosni Mubarak of knitting. From what I can tell at this distance, there is nothing dictatorial about Interweave. Nor do I think that the democratization of knitting and crochet design comes without some price. Among the patterns that are available on Ravelry, the quality control is far from consistent. Many patterns are laden with errors, unclear instructions, and poor photography.

But I consider this a small price to pay for the amazing bumper crop of independent designers that have emerged in the past decade. Many of my personal favorites — Marnie Maclean, Kirsten Kapur, and Kate Oates, just to name a few — rarely if ever publish their designs in the mainstream craft press.

I say all of this to you now because of a new project that I’m really excited about: Shannon Okey, who has made a name for herself as an all-around knitting entrepreneur, is about to launch a series of 10 pattern books called Fresh Designs through her own independent Cooperative Press. Each book focuses on a theme — I have a design in the Kids book, for example, but there are also books on women’s garments, mittens, toys, men’s designs, home decor, and so on.

Shannon already has the funding to make the series happen, but decided to seek support through Kickstarter so that the e-book options could be that much better. You can see the amazing result above: in the mere five days since the project went up on Kickstarter, 72 people have pledged a total of nearly $4,000, which puts the project 4/5 of the way to the initial goal.

It’s quite a testament to how much the knitting community believes in the power of independent design and publishing. Click on the Kickstarter link in the previous paragraph, and you can see why this particular iteration of independent publishing has garnered so much support: the projects, the photography, the styling, and the overall design sensibility are luscious.

There are great rewards for joining the support group — come check it out!

I know what boys like… I think

Boys. Why are they so hard to knit for?

Several years ago, I set foot into the thickets of knitwear design, armed only with this Machete of Truthiness: namely, my belief that boys have more adventurous, unexplored tastes in knitwear than we give them credit for.

Now that my Machete of Truthiness has been blunted on the Cruel Realities of the Marketplace, I can feel my confidence waning. Patterns for boys — and for men — just don’t sell very well. I could assume that it’s just my own patterns that don’t do very well, but I know from talking to more established designers that I’m not alone.

Here’s my latest boys’ sweater pattern, Baird, made for KnitPicks’ Independent Designer Program and also available on Ravelry. My lovely test knitter gushed about the pattern in a most ingratiating way and I was so pleased with myself.

Aaaaaand… a month after the pattern’s release I have sold precisely zero copies.

See that fake smile my son has on his face? This is right after telling me, “I actually like this one, Mom,” and right before never wearing it again.

I tell you all of this not to initiate a pity party, but because experiences like this have taught me a lesson. Maybe I have been going about this the wrong way. Maybe the key to designing knits for boys is not to figure out how to “trick” them into wearing kid versions of the garments that we adults like to knit and wear. Maybe the key is to remember that boys are people with their own child interests that overlap very little with the concerns of adult fashion.

What if, in other words, I thought about what boys want — want to play with, want to have in their hands, want in their lives — and figure out how to knit it?

Grown women — and many girls — have been taught to obsess about their clothes. But most boys and men have not. In fact, they are taught to feign as little interest in clothing as possible. This means that those of us who knit and design for men and boys have largely taken the safe route of providing utilitarian clothing. Because guys still need to dress — it’s just that many of them don’t want to have to think about it too hard.*

But clothes are just one corner of the world that knitting can produce. Knitting can make costumes and toys and hiding places and modes of transportation.

It’s time for a big think. And then some sketching.

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* Of course I know that not all men are this way, and I loves me some fashion maven man. But most men are not that, and if you’re designing you have to take that into account.

Sheltered: Introducing Modern Tartan

c Meg Kelly 2010

Hello, all. I hope you are each encased in human and yarny love today. Here in Austin, it’s 55 degrees and pouring rain, but tomorrow we’re headed to Baltimore from a more traditional winter wonderland.

I got an extra Christmas present this year: today, Hill Country Weavers released its pattern line featuring Shelter yarn: and the men’s sweater pictured above is my contribution. Hill Country Weavers is the big local yarn store here in Austin, and is one of nine flagship stores carrying Shelter, the beautiful new yarn designed by Jared Flood, aka Brooklyn Tweed.

Jared, of course, has his own beautiful line of patterns for his yarn. A group of designers here in Austin decided to try our own hand at the yarn, seeing what it would do under an Austin influence, thanks to some prompting from HCW’s owner, Suzanne Middlebrooks. The whole pattern line is gorgeous — and gorgeously photographed.

c Meg Rice 2010

This men’s pullover, called Modern Tartan, looks complicated, but is actually quite simple to knit. Not just simple, but also fun, since you start at the top and knit down, leaving very little seaming. You do have to cut a little — that zippered neck there comes from a steek that you cut down from the collar. But do not fear the steek, dear knitter — especially when the steek is to be cut into such a lovely, sticky wool like this one. This yarn wants to hang onto itself like so much velcro.

There is another way that the yarn and design marry well together: Shelter is so lofty in its construction that the sweater stays quite light — a good feature for the average hot-blooded male.

Design-wise, the trickiest thing to figure out on this sweater was how to make the raglan increases play nicely with the stranded color work. I finally landed on an easy explanation for how to do the increases that I think makes the final product look much more polished.

c Meg Kelly 2010

If a men’s sweater in five different colors of Shelter is too spendy for you, there are certainly viable alternatives. The wool you use needs to be worsted-weight, pretty sheepy (no super-softy, drapey wools), and relatively light. Berroco’s Blackstone Tweed or – even cheaper – Shepherd’s Wool from Stonehedge Fiber Mill would be great alternate choices.

Really, most classic worsted-weight wools would work — like Cascade 220 (ooh, I’d love to see this in a bunch of their tweed colors) — but just be advised that those heavier wools would make a warmer sweater. Seriously warm and toasty might be just the sort of thing you’re looking for right now.

Merry Christmas, and warmest wishes to everyone, whether this is your holiday or no.

Midlife crisis averted

It’s big announcement time. I am leaving my job as a tenured, salaried, health-benefitted full professor at a charming liberal arts college to begin a full-time career as a knitter.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

No, actually, I’m not kidding. As of May 2011, I’ll be on leave from Southwestern and I doubt that I will be returning.

The nervousness you hear in my voice is what “disbelief at my own audacity” sounds like. Yes, I’m actually doing it — that thing that just about every crafting blogger says that they want to do but quite reasonably balks at after assessing the very considerable risks. And I could not be happier. Happy but nervous. I repeat this again, nervously, but you know what? I like happy but nervous. It reminds me of that delicious feeling that you get before going out on stage to perform in a play. You could fail so so miserably and so so publicly — but without that risk how else could you get that electric goosepimply feeling?

To cut to the chase: what will I be doing to support myself? Or, to put a finer point on it, what will I be doing to meet my goal of earning at least half what I have as a professor? Mainly working at Hill Country Weavers, a venerable yarn store that has been an Austin institution for 30 years. It’s a great place to work for all kinds of reasons, not least that it has an inspiringly creative and engaging clientele, more kinds of yarn than you thought it was possible to fit in a Victorian bungalow, and an amazing location on Austin’s quirky South Congress Avenue.

I have lots of additional schemes in mind, many of which I have already begun: designing my own knitwear, teaching knitting classes, freelance writing, podcasting…. It’s all very exciting. In fact, it made me a little sad the other day to realize how many years it had been since I had had that feeling.

It’s funny, you know: for over a decade now, I have been mentoring college students who are making their way out into the world of work. There are these things that I tell them over and over again, such as:

  • “People will keep asking you what you are going to do with the rest of your life. You don’t have to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. You just have to have a plan for the next few years.”
  • “What can you do with a major in history? Put it in a nice frame and hang it on the wall. And then use what you have learned in all of your classes and go get the most amazing job you can find.”

I have other stock speeches that I’ve built up over time, but it’s struck me in recent months how much I need to heed my own words in these two. Yes, I spent six years in graduate school and then the typical harrowing time on the academic job market trying to get one of the handful of jobs available. Yes, I worked my butt off to earn tenure. And you know what? I don’t regret any of it. I learned so much from being a teacher and a scholar. But I have entered a phase in my life where I need something more tactile. In short, I can’t let the fact that I’ve worked so hard to get to this place in my academic career keep me from pursuing my passions in this new direction.

It has been even harder for me to heed my own advice about planning for the future. I’m the kind of person who needs to know what’s next. Not just tomorrow but a decade from now. The trait has stood me in good stead in a lot of ways, but I have decided that I also could stand to relax that impulse a little. I don’t have to know exactly where all this is heading. I just need a good plan for now, and then we’ll just have to see.

It feels good to release this news out to you all in the world, some of whom are very good friends, some of whom have become dear to me through the magic of online connection, and some of whom are complete strangers. Each step like this makes my decision feel that much more official, and it’s like all my internal organs suddenly got a bit more buoyant. I think I have been putting off this more public announcement (and thus my lack of blogging lately), but in the end, you can’t fight buoyancy.