Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jane Austen Knits 2014

By the time you read this, I'll be a few days into a delightful week away. And I mean AWAY. I'm at a retreat. The kind where you go on a long hike in the morning and do yoga in the afternoon. Have a massage. Eat healthy, vegan food. Sounds great right? I haven't even gotten to the best part. There is no internet. No phones either. I am completely off the grid for a week. If you see a white Samsung S4 walking around looking lost and forlorn, be kind to it. It misses me. 

In the meantime, I thought I'd show you our pattern in the latest  Jane Austen Knits series from Interweave. 

These are the Almost Pretty Stockings from Hannah Poon. If you ask me, I'd say they are full-on pretty rather than almost pretty, but I'm not the desinger. That'd be Hannah Poon. They are shown here in 21ns Powder Blue. I really love the instep treatment. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

137 DeKoven Street

Do you know what that address is famous for? Legend has it that on Sept. 26, 1871, in the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street, Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern and the city of Chicago burned. We are a resourceful bunch and within days, we were rebuilding and getting back to business as usual.

With Vogue Knitting Live gracing our fair city once again, we partnered with the lovelies at Windy Knitty to design a colorway that embraced this piece of lore. In the past, we've done colors honoring both Potter and Bertha Palmer, the visionaries behind the Palmer House (and where the event is held).

Mandy came by the studio a few weeks back and we had a super morning playing in the dyepots. We embraced the reds and oranges of fire as well at the licks of blue and the pops of gold. At the end of the day, I think we did pretty good.

Then we thought you'd want something do with your pretty string, so we got together with Margaret Kendall and she created Rise from the Ashes.

This killer cowl is mosaic stitch worked in the round. It's a fabulous way to show off a high contrast multicolor. It's one of those patterns that make it look like you are a colorwork genius when in fact you are just cleverly slipping stitches. Smoke and mirrors. I love it when I can look fancier than I really am.

You'll be able to find it at Windy Knitty's booth, 102-104, at VK Live this weekend.We only dyed 50 hanks of this colorway on Solemate and burned the recipe afterward. So, when it's gone, it's gone.  You better act fact!

For a little bit more fun, Windy Knitty is doing a giveaway over on their blog. Even if you don't want to enter, (yeah, right) Mandy did a super job of talking about the fire and the history of the fire and the Palmer House. It's a good read. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

That Damn Phone

Over the past couple of weeks I've had to go to several meetings. One was with TNNA's board of directors and the other was with a company that's super high tech.

At the TNNA meeting, people stayed plugged in. We all kept our phones nearby and checked them periodically. (There was even one person who apparently hasn't learned how to silence the ringer.) There were times when things had to be repeated because someone was distracted by their phone. Or even out of the room because they were taking a call.

At the other meeting, there wasn't a phone in sight. Keep in mind that it was a half day meeting that stretched into an off site lunch. Nobody had a phone at lunch and nobody checked in during the walk to and from the restaurant. Instead, we talked to one another.

I thought it was pretty interesting that the high tech crowd stayed unplugged. It seemed almost counterintuitive.  I can say without a doubt that we got way more done. I also felt like it created a more respectful environment. I think that's key. We all respected each other's time and opinions. We weren't listening with only half an ear because we were checking email. (Or Facebook.) Everyone gave their full attention.

I need to keep this experience in mind. I'm as bad as the next person about sneaking a peek at the phone to see if there's anything I need to attend to. But the thing is, there isn't much in my life that can't wait until the next break.

Let's be honest, those true emergencies are so very few and far between that we probably shouldn't default to the common denominator of checking our phones every few minutes. It signals to those around you that you think that the extraordinarily remote possibility of a crisis is more important than what they have to say. That's not fair.

I could go on about the same sorts of transgressions in all of our personal lives. How many of us are guilty of bringing our phones along and setting them on the table at a restaurant during dinner with friends? (I am sheepishly raising my hand.)

I know I got more done when I wasn't as plugged in. And I was a better companion. Wow, I just thought about what I just wrote. More productive and a better friend. Work and personal life can both get better just that quickly.

So I'm going to try and disconnect more. Not panic if I leave my phone on the dresser in the morning. I have both a computer and a phone on my desk. People can reach me. I am not so important that stuff can't wait an hour or eight.

With any luck, when I start showing others they deserve, they will show me the same in return.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brioche Chic

Brioche Chic by Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark just arrived and my fingers instantly began itching to cast on a new project.

Of course I'd heard of Brioche, but I'd never used the technique myself. Frankly, I was always a little afraid of it. But once I sat down with the book and spent a little time fiddling around, I got the hang of things pretty quickly. And the fabric it produces was super squishy and yummy. Now I'm just trying to decide which project to cast on first.

We're featured in a couple of patterns in the book. First up is the Basic Brioche Scarf. Clearly, this would be a great starting point, but I often jump in with both feet rather than start at the beginning.

This is shown in 55ns Butterscotch Shepherd Worsted. Only two skeins for this warmer.

Next up is the Basic Brioche Cowl. This is your single skein go-to project. Again, Shepherd Worsted in 56ns Fjord. 

I know they say these are "basic", but I have to disagree. They look anything but basic, even though they are simple to create. Either one of these would be a great way to dip your toes into this killer technique. 

I thought it would be fun to do a little Q&A with Mercedes. I've known her for a long time and wanted to pick her brain about how she ended up becoming the Brioche Queen. 

* First things first. What's the pet situation in your household these days?

Chris (my husband) and I have three furry roommates these days: Leelu, a boxer/pit mix; Midget, our b&w 17 year old diabetic doyenne of a cat; and Barnum, a year-old long-haired tuxedo cat. Barnum drives Midget nuts, Leelu acts like she doesn't know the cats are really there.

* You've been doing lots of brioche lately. Tell me what it is about brioche that has so captured yourimagination.

I first discovered brioche knitting when Interweave Knits published an article by Nancy Marchant about two color brioche. Two-color brioche is graphic and visually stunning; it's what draws many knitters to learn the technique. Once I learned the basics, I put it aside for a long time as other responsibilities took precedent, until Nancy published an entire book about the brioche stitch several years later. I started swatching brioche again, playing with different yarns and color combinations, and was completely hooked at that point. The range of texture and color effects is just mind-boggling, and the finished fabric feels so satisfyingly squishy and lush.

* Creatively, what was the most challenging project for you in the book? Why?

Most of the projects presented a few technical challenges here and there, but the most challenging by far were the Cabled Funnelneck and its companion piece, the Men's Cabled Crewneck. Both sweaters are knit entirely in brioche, where most other garments in the book only use brioche for part of a project, paired with other simpler stitches. Working both sweaters from hem to neck in brioche stitch, along with the cabled brioche panels that decorate the sweater fronts, took a lot of patience and attention to detail, but I think the finished pieces were totally worth the extra effort.

* Do you have a favorite?

So hard to pick! They're all my babies, in a way. I am itching to cast on and knit myself both the Leaf-motif Raglan and the Reversible Infinity Scarf. The book samples are tempting, but knowing me, if I wore one I'd spill coffee on it!

*Is there such a thing as a typical day in your design life?

Ha! No, pretty much never. Some days are frantic knitting, some days are all email, some are a ton of math. Most days I fit in an assortment of tasks that suit whatever my energy level and focus are on that day. I try to avoid working weekends, but sometimes have to in order to meet deadlines.

* Where do you go for inspiration? Is there somewhere special that helps you get past the inevitable creativity blocks?

Usually if I'm really stuck, I try to walk away from the problem and focus on something else for a while, often non-knitting related. I'll goof off on Pinterest, doodle, paint, read (I'm on a poetry kick lately), clean the apartment, anything to let me brain wander off-task for a bit. Usually my better ideas come to me when I'm not looking for them, so I keep a notebook or sketchbook with me all the time, and snap photos of unlikely things with my phone that germinate into new ideas.

*You've owned a yarn shop, hand-dyed yarn and now you're a world class designer. What's up next?

More design! I have a bunch of ideas percolating for both brioche and regular knitting projects. Also, more teaching, mainly brioche knitting classes at yarn shops and events like Interweave Yarn Fest in Colorado this April. I love seeing the "a-ha moments" when my students begin to really understand brioche knitting,and their enthusiasm keeps things fresh for me when teaching familiar material.

Thanks Mercedes!

Let's make things a little more interesting. Besides being a fabulous type of knitting, brioche is also a lovely French pastry. Leave a message telling us what your go-to French nosh is by Friday at noon CDT and we'll play the random number game.