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….

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.

Summer: the best and the worst of times to play with yarn

When you think summertime knitting… oh wait, perhaps you do not think of summertime knitting at all. Perhaps you think that those two words really should sit about two seasons apart from each other. After all, who wants a pile of wool — or even cotton — in their lap when it’s hot enough out to roast a chicken?

We die-hard knitters have long known that small projects like socks and hats can sustain us through the long, hot summer of our discontent. Recently, for example, I finished up two pairs of these sweet little baby legwarmers for a friend who just had twins.

See that? Sweet. And when you’re knitting these, they never even come close to touching your lap.

Heat aside, though, summer to me is the time to knit because I am a college professor, and while summer does not mean non-stop vacation fun time, it does mean a more relaxed work schedule.

Speaking of which, I have an update on my work situation for the coming year. Some of you already know this, but I will be going to part-time status at Southwestern next year, and may be doing that indefinitely for a while. I thought I might have to leave completely, but this is ideal: I get to continue teaching some (I’ll teach a full load each fall, but won’t teach in the spring), but also get eight months out of each year to work on knitting design.

Here’s what I’ve got in the works right now as far as my own designs:

  • a kids’ robot sweater that actually lights up (sweeeeeeet!)
  • a women’s tweed jacket with some funk to it
  • a women’s lace shrug knit up in Madeline Tosh’s gorgeous DK-weight merino
  • a booklet of kids’ kung fu-related patterns
  • instructions for my popular Langstroth sweater, this time in men’s sizes

What do you have planned for summer knitting?

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.