Saturday, January 24, 2015

Additive and Subtractive

I've been working on a skirt this week using some lovely wool fabric my mother and great-aunts had, and it's been going very well.  This morning I set in my invisible zipper (my first zipper set into woven fabric - gasp!), and I'm pleased at the results.  I guess reading sewing blogs for 3 years means you pick up something!

But it's got me thinking about the differences between sewing and knit/crochet - and this morning I finally hit on why I've not quite ever taken to sewing the same way that I do knitting.

It's all about the addition and subtraction.

You see, when I took my two sculpture classes my senior year of college, I generally liked the types of sculpture that were additive; that is, I liked things that started from nothing and I added material, shaping it along the way.  I liked things like clay, wax-work, and plaster.

Plaster sculpting was perhaps my very favorite medium, because it was additive as well as subtractive.  Plaster bonds to itself very well, and after you add plaster to already existing plaster, and it sets - it's like one whole piece of plaster.  You can then chip away at the material you added, for further shaping purposes.

Activities like woodwork were harder, because you had to plan things out ahead of time.  With the exception of wood glue, the place where you fasten wood together will always be weaker than the rest of the wood.  Places where you use things like nails, joints, or staples will always be weaker than the original whole thing.

Sewing is like wood: the seam is nearly always the place where a garment wears out.  It's also a subtractive craft, to me.  Each time you shape a piece of cloth, you start by a large piece and you gradually cut stuff away to shape it (using darts, for example).  You might add more fabric, but there will always be a join.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that when I started doing sewing crafts, I started with quilting, which is much more of an additive activity.

Crochet and knitting, on the other hand, both start with nothing, and you add more and more stitches to make the thing.  If you mess up with crochet or knitting, you can pull your work out and start again (it's a pain, but you can do it).

Whereas sewing, if you make a mistake with your cutting... well, you've just ruined that piece of fabric.

Do you do any other crafts other than knit or crochet?  Do you think of them as additive or subtractive?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pictures from Atlantic Beach

As promised, some of the shots from Atlantic Beach.  The light the one evening was stunning!

In other news, I've been doing a little bit of sewing... one of my goals this year was to try and learn how to sew some basic skirts - both because I figure they're pretty forgiving, and because I know I'm not so very good about reading directions - and I figure I can't fall too far astray with some circle skirts or other items.  We'll see how it goes!

Do you have any sewing experience?  What do you like sewing?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Crocheting and Atlantic Beach, repeat

Cameraphone Pic
Mr. Turtle's parents have a tradition of going to Atlantic Beach in the off season.  This weekend we're with them again, and I keep having moments of déjà vu.  Not quite a year ago, I was at Atlantic Beach with Michael's family.  And again, I'm working on a crochet project for Annie's, though their quite different.

I finished the main part of the crochet project about an hour ago, and while I still have to weave in the ends, the beach is calling to me.  This morning we woke to have the sky looking dark and ominous, but the rain cleared by lunchtime and I'm ready for a walk.

I promise, some better photos when I return home and have the powerful computer so I can download the pictures.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Papa Turtle and the hunt for "Flawless Knit Repair"

This is a little bit of a story about my parents... specifically, my father.  I've talked before about how supportive my parents have been of my choice of career, housing me when I went to Rhinebeck, and in the case of my mother, attending the event.

My mother, having needlework as a common language (her sewing, and me... well, everything), sometimes understands what I do in practical terms a little more.  My father on the other hand, understands the business side of being self employed a little more, being a numbers man.  He's the guy who first taught me how to use an Excel worksheet, and taught me how to setup my Outlook when I got to college.

You should also know, before I proceed anymore, that my father loves the hunt of a good bargain.  He collects Matchbox and Hotwheels cars, and every antique store, Toys 'R Us, and flea market is an opportunity to find something interesting.

So about six months back, I mention that I wish I had something to display my knits on that was a little more... professional than my Duct Tape Dress Form.  Sometime like some feet forms, a head, and perhaps another mannequin (because 2 just isn't enough).  Rather quickly, my father finds the perfect torso mannequin, from a woman who had just reduced the price.

The next month and a half Dad starts emailing me mannequin heads.  We cannot find a good one.  Some are too realistic, and look creepy.  Some of them are simply too beat up.  Then, one weekend, I get a call from my parents.  They are on a hunt for a copy of Piecework Magazine, the one where my design is on the cover.  They're at a local yarn store, and the woman has beautiful glass heads on display.  Do I like them?

I look at the picture.  Yes, I tell my parents.  They're beautiful!  Are they for sale?

No, but my father is on the hunt.  He's seen what I mean, and those are perfect.

Need I tell you what I got for Christmas?

Well, all this time I've also been searching for a book, called Flawless Knit Repair by a woman named Rena Crockett.  (I know how to do knit repair.  I wanted to see how this woman did it, and if we did anything different... but that's another story.)  This book is like Sasquatch.  Published in 1998, there's a review in a back copy of Piecework, mentioning that you can write to her and send a check plus shipping, and she'll send you a copy.  Someone says they once saw a copy. Kate Atherly references the book in a Knitty Article.  It's cited in The Principles of Knitting.  But nobody, nobody carries it.  It went out of print a few years later, and it has been a small, self-published print run, in the era of   Then, I find one copy - on Amazon for nearly $100.  It's by all reports a 20 page book - I'm not paying that much for it.

So I go online, finding old listings for the book on outdated websites for stores and call them up - by any chance do they still have the book in stock?

Not a chance.

I've started calling up libraries in the area of the place where you could write to the Author to request a copy, hoping that someone might be willing to even copy the pages of this out of print book - no luck.  I'm getting to the point where I'm going to start creepily messaging people on Ravelry who have mentioned the book, asking if they have a copy.

And then, it occurs to mention to my father that I'm looking for the book.

"Rena Crockett," I tell him, "Flawless Knit Repair."  "Just in case you happen to see it at a flea market or something."

Well, I'll tell you what my father found.  Last week, an Ebay listing came up, from a woman somewhere in Maine.

And you know what I have in my hot, precious hands right now?

Thanks, dad.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

First Snowfall!


This morning I awoke to a familiar hue of light - grey and still.  There's a nearly indescribable quality on mornings after a snowfall, as the bluish/whitish light from the clouds is reflected off of the snow, sneaking through blinds and curtains.  When I lived in New York and Massachusetts, it was fairly common (as every week brings multiple snowfalls, some big some small), but now that we live outside of Richmond, any snowfall is a much rarer event.

And this snowfall was made more special because it's the very first snowfall of the year - seemingly apropo of my blog post two days ago.

All I can say about the Annie's Project is it involves this really big ball of
rags. Peake keeps trying to figure out how to steal it.
Earlier this week I bought myself some maple syrup (overpriced and... I'll be a little snobby - not as good of quality as the stuff I'm used to), as I was feeling a hankering.  Sugaring season is at least a month away, but I was feeling the need.  There's nothing like the taste of sweetening your tea with maple syrup, or putting it in yogurt, or drizzling it over oatmeal like I did this morning.

Today is a day for tucking in and getting crafting done.  Unlike many around me, I don't have a snow day today, but I can at least allow myself to do the fun parts of my job: like plugging away on the project I'm doing for Annie's Crochet!, or working on the sample for the class I'm teaching at Fibre Space in two weekends.  It's a day for a big pot of tea, and soup at lunchtime.

I've also been working on a bunch of repair work lately, which has been satisfying.  I really love doing repair work, and I'm working this year on documenting my process a little bit more.  Part of that is taking pictures, like this one:

Repair work on a cardigan in lace weight single-ply yarn.  I can't even imagine knitting it.

Last two tidbits: I sent out my last newsletter last Friday, talking about teaching dates.  If you don't subscribe, you can do it on the website with the little tab to the left.  It's a good way to keep track of what's going on.

I've also been a lot more active on Twitter lately.  If you're interested in seeing a bit more of my behind-the-scenes process, you should follow me on twitter.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Very Last First Time

Somehow it's become the middle of January, and I'm not quite sure how that happened!  It's cold and rainy out today (as it seems to the the majority of the winter in the South), and it's got me thinking
about a winter-themed book I loved as a child.

The book is not my own; I perhaps only read it a handful of times, as my first grade teacher had the book in her library.  But the concept and drawings stamped themselves on my memory.  The book is called Very Last First Time and is the story about a young Inuit girl named Eva.  Eva and her mother are going to the ocean.  They live in an area where the top of the ocean freezes during the winter, and at low tide a person can go under the ice and collect muscles and other seafood for eating.  This is her first time going under the ice alone.

Very Last First Time is a story full of wonder as Eva and the reader see wondrous and strange sights below the ice become something happens, and Eva must problem solve to get safely to her mother.

I love this story for so many reasons: it's the story of an adult allowing a child independence so they can explore and problem solve themselves.  It's a story of a very different way of life, and of things many people might not get to experience.  And it's a story of first times and last times - and how things will never quite be like the very first time you do something, when it is all wondrous and new.

That tension between first and last times is why the story has stuck in my mind all these years (that, and the idea of being able to go beneath the surface of the ocean), and why I still think about it today.

So much of my work is helping people with their first times: their first time knitting, or crocheting, or learning a new skill.  I get to watch people's faces light up with wonder as they master their first time, and as their first time transforms into their seventh and twelfth and twentieth, and the things which once were new become familiar.

This year is looking to be the year of many firsts - some I'll be able to talk about soon, and some which will have to stay in my back pocket for a few more months.

Do you have a favorite book from childhood?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

4 Ways to Warm Up Your Socks

Like many people in the US today, I'm huddled indoors trying to stay away from the oppressive cold.  Now, living in VA, I know I don't have it nearly as bad as my family that live up north.  Still, generally houses up north are better insulated than the lovely old home Mr. Turtle and I rent.  This morning, despite the heater's efforts, I couldn't get the upstairs above 62 degrees.  Now, with the space heater running and the sun finally shining in the front windows, I've gotten the upstairs to a balmy 68 degrees.  I'm still wearing a hat and long underwear today, though.  And my warmest pair of handknit socks.

Which brings me to a question an old friend and student, Holly, wrote to me just yesterday.  She asked,

I've knitted a few pairs of socks and really enjoy the technique. When I've worn them, they don't keep my feet warm. My feet are cold all the time. I've spoken to other sock knitters and no one seems to have an answer or solution for me. In order for me to wear my lovely hand knitted socks, I have to still wear a "commercial cotton" sock under them and I think that defeats the purpose of making and wearing the hand knitted socks.

I thought this was an interesting question, because I have a mild form of Raynaud's, which means I have to be diligent about keeping my hands and feet warm.  I know exactly what Holly means when only one pair of socks is not enough!

(As a side note, I'm not up to addressing issues of hand/feet being cold for reasons other than the socks not being up to the job.  If you have circulation issues, or simply have sweaty feet [damp=cold], I can't help you.  When I went winter camping, we had a good rule: if you're cold when you go into your sleeping bag, all you're going to do is be cold in your sleeping bag.  The bag insulates you, which means any cold that's in the bag with you?  Will stay there.  Same things with hands/feet.  If you put cold feet into a pair of socks, they're still going to be cold.)

I thought it would be helpful to outline and expand my reply to Holly.

When it comes to hand-knit socks being warm enough, there's a few different strategies and things I would look at to determine the cause of the socks being too cold.

1. First, I would check the gauge of the sock.  A lot of patterns are written for a sock to be made in sock weight yarn at 8-8.5 sts per inch (sts/in).  For me, that is much too loose of gauge with a sock weight yarn.  Normally, with sock weight yarn, I'm working my socks at 9.25-10 sts/in, depending on how lofty the yarn is.  Socks that are knit at a tighter gauge hold of to wear and tear longer.  More importantly, they close the "holes" between the stitches, keeping the cold on the outside and the warm on the inside.  If you somehow can't reach a dense gauge in sock weight yarn (which for some people can be hard), think about sizing up the yarn you're using.  Which brings me to my next point....

2. Look at using a denser gauge yarn - that is, a heavier weight.  Sometimes sock weight yarn isn't thick enough to insulate your feet.  When it's wintertime, many people wear thicker socks - so it doesn't hurt to have some thicker handknit socks too.  Mr. Turtle's two favorite pairs of handknit socks are made in a superwash wool and nylon blend.  One of them is made with a DK weight yarn, the other is made with a light worsted yarn.  Both of them are closer to hiking socks than anything else.  Thicker yarn means the fabric will be thicker, which means there's a larger layer between you and the world.  It insulates you more.

3. Speaking of insulation, take a look at what the yarns the socks you are making are made of.  I've talked before about how important fiber content in yarn is to the finished project, and this is especially true when you need something warm. You may want to look at yarns that have some cashmere, mohair, angora or mohair blended with them.  The 5-15% of a warmer fiber can make a big difference.  I love Mountain Color’s Bearfoot, which has 60 % Wash wool, 25% Mohair, 15% Nylon.  I think it’s the perfect blend of warm and durable – the nylon and the mohair make a big difference.  My mother, when I made a pair, put them on and went “Oh, they’re warm.”  She kept those, I made another pair for myself.  Often, warmer fibers like those stated above can be a bit more delicate (with the exception of some mohairs), so make sure there's some nylon blended in, both for durability and to prevent felting.

4. My final solution would be to look at the type of patterns you work on your socks.  Lacework, obviously, is going to be less warm.  You're adding holes to the work!  Stranded colorwork (or some slip stitch patterns), are your best bet for a warmer fabric.  Stranded colorwork makes two layers of fabric: the stockinette layer, and the layer that’s in the back, where the yarns are floating.  If you keep the floats short (under ½”), you can get a very dense fabric.  You sacrifice some flexibility, but the socks end up being quite a bit warmer.

Love socks? Check out my sock patterns on Ravelry!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Marlinspike Seamanship - A Sailor's Craft

Marlinspike. [mar-lin-spyk] noun: the tool utilized by a sailor to manipulate rope for splicing ropes and working out touch knots.

Marlinspike seamanship is a catch-phrase for a level of proficiency a sailor has achieved in knowing their knots, splices, and uses of various lines, traditionally on a sailing vessel.  By utilizing these techniques, skilled sailors are able to transcend the operational use of their lines, and generate beautiful knotwork that can be both functional and art.

With a strong sailing background, marlinspike seamanship was a craft in which I have dabbled in on and off for many years now.  While nowhere near the level of proficiency of experts in the craft like Des Pawson, I've crafted a variety of items like door mats/block mats, and smaller knick knack crafts.  As an art, I've found that this type of use of rope is in many ways similar to that of crochet: the marlinspike is akin to a crochet hook, and you only have one running piece of line while you're creating the item.  Unlike crochet, however, many of these ropework patters are planned out from start to finish before you even start, as they are worked from the end of the rope, in a way more like weaving as the rope is threaded over and under and around itself.

As a craft which as been around in its' traditional form for centuries, there are any number of resources available to the budding seaman, from the lore of weathered sailors on vessels in a marina, to countless websites available in the craft.  There are also a good number of well written books that are worth checking our or purchasing as well.  Two that I highly recommend are written by Harvey Garrett Smith: The Marlinspike Sailor and The Arts of the Sailor: Knotting, Spicing and Ropework.  In Sailor, Smith provides plenty of detailed, full-page diagrams for complicated knots, splices, and patterns, and easily outlines the movements of the sometimes plethora of lines that are required to turn a jumbled mass of hemp into a beautiful finished product.  In Arts, Smith weaves a tale of how practical elements of knotwork on a sailing vessel because the decorative elements we see today, interspersing the story with diagrams, tips, and patterns for making some of the items he refers to.

Not commonly thought of in the fiber arts community, marlinspike seamanship is an age-old tradition with many parallels in history to it's more domestic peers of knit, crochet, and weaving.  Certainly a facet of crafting worth exploring for it's own beauty.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Last Pattern of the New Year; Sneak Peek at 2015 Suprpries

Lights Burn Blue

As the last days are rolling out of this year, I've got one last pattern to celebrate the New Year.  Lights Burn Blue is a mitten pattern with a buttoned cuff.  Wear the cuff up to keep out the cold, or wear it
down for a more fashionable statement.
Lights Burn Blue

Lights Burn Blue, and it's sister pattern, Rosemary & Bay, are two patterns that are a collaboration between two of my favorite craft-related companies. (Also, both named after lines in Shakespeare, to keep with my naming scheme.)  Both patterns are worked with Dragonfly Fibers' Traveller yarn, and both feature ceramic buttons from My Garage Art.  I'm a big believer in supporting other small businesses, and I believe very strongly in supporting businesses that have quality products.  Dragonfly Fibers makes beautiful yarn in stunning combinations, and My Garage Art makes gorgeous buttons.  Every time I go on their website, I find another set of buttons I just have to have.

Which brings me to an exciting thing I'll be offering in the New Year: kits, featuring coordinating Dragonfly Fibers Yarns and My Garage Art buttons, to make Rosemary & Bay dresses or Lights Burn Blue patterns.

Now, the kits won't be coming out on the very first day of New Year: I have a website that is also getting an overhaul.  But I will be offering them in a few different venues, which will be announced!
Rosemary & Bay

Keep tuned, as I'll be posting some pictures of the gorgeous buttons in the upcoming days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Just in Time - a personal pair of socks.

Today the weather is grey and foggy - it is not raining, but it is close.  I'm supposed to get a bike ride in, because I'm not sure what the rest of the week will bring, and I'm doing everything in my power to avoid it - including the final edits on Lights Burn Blue, the last pattern I'll be releasing in this year.  All I have left is the yardage calculations, which I hate.

Yardage calculations are hard. Overestimate, and people are unhappy because they didn't use the extra ball. Underestimate, and it's really bad.  And hitting it just right - well, there's a reason that yardage estimates are normally prefaced with, approximately or about... because it's really hard to get right.  How long of a tail do you use? How much wiggle room do you build in?

This time around, I'm working with a new-to-me tech editor, who has been great.  She's super detail oriented, which is good. Sometimes I can let the details slide.  In the moment, the little details drive me bonkers. But it's the same reason my good editors in college drove me crazy - because they cared enough to sweat the details.  Which are important, when people are going to be working your patterns.

On a more personal front, last night I got back from knit night (where I showed off my finished socks).  I finished the socks while we ran our party on Saturday, and in a fit of productivity, wove in the ends quickly, so I could slip them on.  I've named them Just in Time, as I made them out of Father Time yarn that was in my stash.  In a sprint to the end of the year, I'm trying to work through a bit of my stash yarn in limited colorways, as it's not suited to design in... because it isn't widely available.  I have a bunch of Three Irish Girls from many years ago in my stash, so I'm working through that.

I used Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato Heel, which I've only ever worked on samples to teach from.  I didn't want to work the heel over 1/3 of the stitches like the pattern calls for, (because I didn't want to do the math to figure out how to make that work in pattern), so instead I made a mini gusset, adding 10 sts, which brought my sole count up so that I ended up working the heel over 2 sts shy of 2/3 the total sts.  I worked 3 wedges, and I like how they look.  It seems to work well. It's a bit less "huggy" in the heel than I'm used to, but that's because the heel added a bit more length to the sock than I was expecting.  It may also be because I added a gusset and Cat didn't call for one.  I don't regret adding the gusset, but I might make the heel a bit less deep next time.  I'm thinking the first time I wash them they might "tighten up" a bit, which I wouldn't be upset about.  May run them through the dryer once to tighten them up.  Not quite sure.

The stitch pattern is a simple k1, sl 1 in front every 3rd row, and ofset by one.  It's quickly becoming my go-to pattern for my own personal socks, the same pattern I used for Crayon Box (you remember, the socks that were beautiful, then bled all over, and now I have a rather ambivalent relationship with, but still wear anyway?  Yeah, those).  Which probably means I need to get around to writing them up as a pattern.  They're simple enough that I keep wondering if it'd be a good idea to write them up with different heel styles, which would be fun, but a lot of work.  And every time I decide that I'll just keep them in my own personal stash.

Anyway, the pattern creates a bit of waffle-like texture, which remind me of the texture of my long underwear, and thus, make me think that the pattern has special warming properties.  I actually think that they are warm because of the content of the yarn, but still, I like them.

If you do like the pattern, let me know in the comments!  I'd be much more likely to write this one up (and work it in a more sell-able yarn), if I knew there was interest, and perhaps some test knitters.

And in case I don't get another blog post in before Christmas, Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate.

I'll be having the family over, so it will be wonderful chaos.
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