Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Darned Good Question

Someone posted a question to the blog, wondering if anyone taking the Lady E class has to buy the book. Darned good question! And one I ought to have covered yesterday, before I got off on my rant about patterns and how they are written today. What we say is that you have to have access to a copy of the book.

What that actually means is that one either needs to buy the book, or borrow it from the library. If you borrow it from the library, you can make a 'working copy' of the pattern. You may have a friend who will loan the book to you.

Because of copyright laws - which as a designer and a writer I have great respect for - we cannot make copies of the pattern for you. Friends cannot make copies for you.

Why, you might wonder, should you buy a book for one pattern? Oh, my. Wait til you see this book. It is filled with gorgeous patterns that will challenge you to try new techniques on quick projects. Cables, Fair Isle, Lace, Free-form knitting, Intarsia, Beaded knitting. Shawls, shrugs, scarves knit sideways. A cape. This book is the knitting version of Lay's potato chips, I defy you to knit just one thing from this book, and no more. You can't do it. It is my go-to book for quick gifts.

And, right now I am almost finished collecting the yarn for the Color on Color Scarf. This little free-form beauty requires 48 different colors of Paternayan needlepoint wool - which I have been buying a bit at a time at The West. I have lusted after this thing for the past two years, at least, and was delighted to learn this fall that The West carries the yarn.

Anyway, I blither on. The answer is Yes, and No. No, you don't need to buy the book, you can borrow it from the library. But yes, you will want to have your own copy once you peek inside.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Lady Eleanor Entrelac Stole

Every time I wear this shawl I get compliments. Strangers - knitters or not - stop me on the street or in shops. The pattern comes from the Interweave Knits publication, Scarf Style and is designed by Kathleen Power Johnson. Beginning on Saturday, January 6th, from 10-12, I'll be teaching a workshop on this project at Kiwi Knitting.

This will be the third time I've taught Lady E, as she is affectionately known, and each time I fall in love with her all over again. Every session, in a class of 4 - 5 students, every knitter is making her with a completely different colorway, and each one is absolutely gorgeous. I've seen her in everything from sandy tans mixed with muted greys, to tropical turquoise mixed with peach. Blacks with oranges and blues, and deep reds, pinks and burgundys. And they are all beautiful.

The pattern is fairly easy to follow, once you get the hang of knitting entrelac. Although the pattern is not written this way (and I think it should be) the whole trick to knitting any entrelac pattern is to learn to knit backwards, and so that is how I start the workshop. It takes about ten minutes at most to not only learn this neat trick, but to become completely comfortable with it. I also add a crochet cast-on and slip-stitch edge so that all the exposed edges are uniform. And I may as well confess here that while I'm at it, I have changed the increases she uses on the left side triangle so that they are more elegant than the workhorse, ugly, over-used K1f&b.

Do any of these small changes make the pattern more difficult to knit? Not really, and in the case of the backwards knitting, it certainly makes the project a lot easier to knit, and this is why entrelac is classically done this way. By the time one knits roughly 300 little entrelac squares, you are really, really glad that you don't have to flip this shawl over every 8 sts.

The other changes - the slipped stitch edge with a crochet cast-on, and the Lifted increase in place of the K1f&b - are simple changes that everyone should be able to make with any pattern that requires them. Any time I am making a project that will not be seamed, such as a scarf, a shawl, the edge of a button band or collar, I slip the edge sts. This makes the project look much more finished than the usual raggedy stockinette stitch edge. In the case of a scarf or a shawl, all 4 of your edges should match, because all four of your edges are going to be seen. A lifted increase is quick and easy to learn, and allows your new sts to make an elegant entrance into your piece. They just spring up out of nowhere.

I believe that many knitting patterns written right now are 'dumbed down' to the lowest common knitting denominator, so that the newest of knitters feels comfortable trying the pattern out. While it isn't a bad thing to attract the newer knitters to a pattern or idea, I do think it is a bad thing to simplify techniques and patterns down to the point where the knitter doesn't have to actually employ her brain. To my way of thinking, it doesn't do the new knitter any favors to not challenge them with new techniques and methods that they haven't been exposed to in the past. Everyone nowadays has a handy knitting reference book, or access to the internet, or a handy knitting Guru who can get you going on a new cast-on, some new increases.

Do some research! Take some time on your own to sit down with a knitting reference and a pair of needles with worsted weight yarn, and try out the ideas and techniques in the book. That way, when you come across a new pattern that you want to try, you know how to do the techniques they are using in the pattern, or you know how to improve the techniques they chose for the pattern.

This is is why I prefer to teach project classes rather than just technique classes. There is so much more to working a project than simply following the pattern. You should be able to look at the pattern, say to yourself, I have no idea why they would choose to do it that way when if I do this instead it will give me a much nicer result - and make those changes yourself. I look at written patterns as a starting-off point, a suggestion. Then I take them and refine them before starting my project (and often as I go along!).

Challenge yourself. Exersize your brain. Learn new tricks. And come knit Lady Eleanor with us!

Anytime you are working on a pattern that you have questions about, or have hit a snag in your knitting, remember that I am available on Friday mornings from 10 -12 as Knit Dr. This is free to you. If your problem is more thorny or time consuming, contact me for a private lesson. Private lessons can be one or more hours long, and it gives you the one-on-one help that you may need. I have several students that just do ongoing private lessons to improve their knitting skills and knowledge through a variety of projects that they are working on.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Winter Days, A Reminder, Some Changes

Down here in the desert Southwest we don't get to enjoy many gloomy winter days. If any of you are reading from colder climes, I don't imagine you have a lot of sympathy for us. I grew up in upstate NY, and so I expect winter to be grey and cold and gloomy, and I have to confess that I still miss that. Although I don't know if I could face single-digit temps again. Almost 30 years ago, when I first left the Northeast I moved to the San Francisco Bay area at the beginning of winter. I remember waking up one morning and stumbling into the shower half awake, and there being that particular quality to the morning light that you only get when there has been a fresh snow. I ran to the window to look out, only to find a depressing view of palm trees.

On the other hand, I don't like to be cold (sadly, I really, really don't like to be hot, either), and so I guess that makes me perfectly suited to be a knitter. For several years my husband and I had a business called Luna Aromatics, and we handmade true Aromatherapy soaps, candles, etc, and sold them at the farmer's market. I enjoyed sitting there for a few hours and watching the world walk by, talking with our customers and knitting up a storm. Now, if it was warm weather, people would look at me as though I was out of my mind, why the heck would someone knit in the desert? I actually had more than one person, visiting from out of town, get downright angry with me!

My revenge was always those cold winter days when the temps as I left the house at 7 a.m. would be in the low 20s with a brisk wind blowing off of the snow on the mountains, and I would be there just as snug as can be in my flannel-lined jeans, wool socks, hat, gloves, scarf, sweater, etc. You can take a girl out of the mountains, but she still knows how to layer to keep warm. DH would be similarly equipped. Our fellow market stallers would be freezing their bottoms off, and there were always those winter tourists wandering around freezing in shorts and a borrowed jacket, because they didn't think we actually had cold days down here. Remember: He who laughs last, laughs best.

As you can see, my Noro Entrelac socks are finished, and I am looking forward to doing another pair. I keep vacillating as to which pattern to use next - an all-over entrelac, or these wonderful Rainbow socks done in short rows. At the moment the Rainbow socks are ahead in the race, but it will be a few weeks before I start those. Right now I am working on finishing up one project that got started last fall and put aside while I worked first on the ASJ, then on Holiday gift knitting, and then on class sample knitting. I also started a gift project for someone, and I will show you that next week.

We had some excitement here at the shop and on the blog last week. One of our customers called to tell us that we were linked to in Yarn Harlot's blog. The blog entry was about afterthought heels in socks, and she briefly mentioned afterthought pockets, linking to my blog entry here about how to work an afterthought pocket. What a great way to end the year! Yarn Harlot reads our blog!!!! How cool is that? Not only does she read it, she uses it as a reference. Now if you know anything about Yarn Harlot, you know that as Yarn Harlot goes, so goes the knitting world, and we got about 1800 hits here in the last week. Many thanks to YH for the compliment.

And I want to remind you about the Felting Workshop meeting on Wednesday morning from 10-12. You may see the time in the class schedule as being 1-3, but changes in my teaching schedule have made it necessary for us to move the workshop to the morning. Monica Durazo and I lead the workshop. I'm great on the mechanics of how to make something work, but Monica will blow you away with her ability to embellish anything in an instant. I am always in awe of what she can come up with. The workshop cost is $5, and that fee is redeemable in purchases at the time of the class. Come see us, bring anything to work on that you want, and sit and chat, or have us help you solve your problems.

Finally, I will not be teaching any shop classes for the spring quarter. I have become really, really busy with private lessons, and am booked up into early February at this point. I am also planning on writing a book on knitting, and so I want to have the flexibility to schedule writing time into my week. I'll still be playing Knit Dr. on Friday mornings from 10-12 because I love that too much to give it up.

Also, our beloved Marianne will be out of town til the end of January, when we look forward to having her back with us again. If you are signed up for any of her January classes, or thinking of signing up for one, check with Lynn at the shop to see how that particular class will be handled.

Hope you all have a wonderful New Year ahead of you, filled with everything you need.