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.

Don’t you step on my Blue Sage Shrug

Recently, one of my favorite knitting designers, Teva Durham, asked her fellow designers what kind of Myers-Briggs personality they had, and how that personality type appeared in their design work. While I’m skeptical about how much any such test can reveal about each of our complex characters, I do think there’s some value in thinking about how in broad terms we can act according to type. There is such a thing as thinking we’re too unique.

In response to Teva’s question, I chimed in that I tend to take an engineers’ approach to knitting design. More than anything, I love a structural challenge: some way of building up a garment that hasn’t been tried, that perfect marriage of stitch pattern and garment shape, the kind of schematic that makes you want to pick up your needles and give it a try.

My latest pattern is a perfect case in point. This is called the Blue Sage Shrug, and it’s available now through Ravelry and Hill Country Weavers. This garment has two features that satisfy my inner engineer: fingerless mitts for cuffs and a lace pattern that automatically creates a shoulder cap.

First, the mitts: I have long coveted this shirt my friend Eileen wears. (Well, I have long coveted many things in Eileen’s wardrobe, but let’s just stick with the shirt, shall we?) It has a little reinforced hole near the bottom of the sleeve so that you can stick your thumbs through. For someone who is both fidgety and constantly having to tug at their sleeves, this seemed like genius to me. So I wanted to build it into a sweater design. Easy as pie: you just make the sleeves longer, knit the first 6″ or so in a contrast color to highlight the effect, and add what is basically a large buttonhole about an inch into knitting the sleeve.

The shoulder shaping was trickier and — initially, at least — accidental. On this shrug, I wanted all of the increases on the sleeves to be hidden inside the lace. (As they say about climbing mountains: Why? Because it’s there.) I tried this out and noticed that in this feather-and-fan lace pattern, those increases tend to heighten the vertical arch of the lace as much as they widen the sleeves. At first I thought this would kill the increases-in-the-lace idea, but then I saw how much that heightened lace arch looked like a shoulder and voila: the sleeve not only widens toward the top of the arm, but also makes a kind of natural cap for the shoulder.

Now, if I could just figure out the engineering feat that would make this garment look good on me.

Sneaky way to get your pattern in Interweave Knits

Someday I would love to have one of my designs appear in Interweave Knits, and in fact, I just mailed my first submission to them last week.

For now, though, I am enjoying the fact that a design of mine already does appear in their pages. It’s in an ad on p. 25 of their new “Weekend” issue.

That’s my shrug down there in the corner, knit in the delectable Madelinetosh Tosh DK. The entire collection is stunning, and includes about ten patterns. Hill Country Weavers strikes again!

I’ll post some more photos and information once the pattern is available – it’s still undergoing a little post-production work….