Friday, June 27, 2014

How to Become a Professional Knitter

That's the name of Robin Hunter's blog: How to Become a Professional Knitter. Every week she posts an interview with people in the knitting industry. And guess who is featured this week?


To read the interview and find out my deepest, darkest secrets*, click here.

Robin Hunter is a prolific knitter, designer, and teacher who is active in the knitting community. You can find her on Ravelry or on Patternfish.

*Not really. But you can read about my designs, inspirations and goals!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

France in photos

On a lighter note, here's a couple of my favorite photos from our long-ago trip to France. Perhaps in a later post I'll show some of the fantastic chateaux we visited in the Loire Valley.

Part of a church in Mont St. Michel, an island monastary from the 8th century.

We missed our cats while on vacation.
A different view of the Eiffel tower at dusk.
The Royal Chapel at Versailles.
Edited to add one more:

Looking down from the Arc de Triomphe at the traffic in the roundabout.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day: 70th Anniversary

Juno Beach, France
I realize this is a bit off-topic for a fiber-related blog. But ever since my husband and I spent 3 weeks in France back in 2003, touring historic WW1 and WW2 battle sites, D-Day has had extra meaning to me.

It truly was the trip of a lifetime. We both studied history in university, with a focus on 20th century events.  We began our trip by heading north out of Paris, then north-west to Dunkirk, Dieppe and south down the coast to Le Havre.

We timed it so that we arrived in Caen on June 3rd. We spent the day of the 3rd visiting some of the D-Day beaches, with a focus on Juno Beach, where the Canadian troops landed. It was also the day before the grand opening of the Juno Beach Center, the Canadian museum honoring the troops who served.
D-day beach, France

By chance, we arrived in time to witness parts of the rehearsal for the opening ceremony for the next day. We were also fortunate enough to snap a photo of the donor plaque with our name on it, as we'd pledged a donation to support the building of the Juno Beach Center.

Words can't convey the experience of being there. Standing witness to the sights, sounds and emotions and trying to imagine what it like all those decades ago when young men served their countries, sacrificing themselves for a larger goal.

D-day beach, France
What also made an impression, was all the Canadian, American and British flags being flown in towns and villages across the country-side. The locals are still truly grateful for the sacrifices made and show their appreciation by commemorating these historic events. 

Ceremony marking D-Day in a village by one of the beaches

Each year, in Sainte-Mère-Église they
re-enact the paratrooper who got caught on the church spire. The paratrooper hung there for hours, pretending to be dead before being captured by German troops. There's actually a mannequin attached to the parachute.
Parade on D-Day in villages near one of the beaches.

One of the bunkers on the beach. I can't imagine attempting to land and attack here.
View from inside the bunker.

Pegasus bridge: a key objective in the early hours of the invasion.

Juno Beach

Preparing for the Juno Beach Centre, opening ceremonies.

Rehearsing: Juno Beach Centre, opening ceremonies

Many veterans attended.

As well as those currently serving. (current at time of our visit - 2003)

Memorial/Donor plaques


Paying tribute.
To the beach.

Utah Beach.

Utah Beach.


To the Allied troops who liberated Europe.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Miracle!

Surely a sign of the upcoming apocalypse or, on a more positive note, a miracle of some sort. I've actually spun and plied some roving in the same month in which I purchased it!

Navajo plying: color transition
Back at the beginning of May, I went to Maryland Sheep and Wool and battled the crowded Fiber Optic Yarns booth to pick up some merino/silk blend gradient roving. I selected a lovely blue gradient, going from a very light sky blue progressing to a midnight blue-black. A stunning red to black gradient also leaped into my bag.

A weeks ago, I started spinning the blue gradient. After a couple of color changes, I got smart and worked out a system for managing the color transitions. I tried to break the braid apart into 12-18" pieces in a spot where the colors changed. Then, after separating out the larger piece of roving into smaller, more manageable strips, I began spinning the tips of each strip where the already spun color was. When I hit the next color, I stopped and went to the next strip of roving. That gave me a nicer color transition.

I was focused on spinning fine singles, but not cobweb thin. I wanted to end up at a decent fingering-ish weight yarn after plying. I'd already decided to Navajo ply to maintain the color transitions. I'm not a big fan of barber-poling handspun. I also focused on not including a lot of twist in my singles. Previously, I've tended to over-twist my singles resulting in those little pigtailing sections. Consistency was my watch word.

In what felt like record time, I was ready to ply. In the past, I've had my singles snap on me at thin spots. This time, I was pleased to get through plying with only 1 breakage. Noticeable improvement is always encouraging!

Final transition to light blue.
I really enjoyed watching the color changes. I kept my treadling slow and steady and moved my hands deliberately, trying to keep the yarn plying in a consistent manner.

Surprisingly (or not), the plying took several hours which I managed with only 1 break to answer the door.

I really love my Woolee Winder for enabling me to focus on spinning instead of moving my yarn manually along the bobbin. The only 'issue' was that I didn't get to see the color transitions progress up the bobbin. Each color gets covered up by the new color. But I won't complain!

I decided to let the plied yarn rest on the bobbin for 24 hrs - more because I forgot to skein it before going to bed than due to any patience on my part.

On Sunday I wound it onto my niddy noddy, valiantly attempted to keep track of how many times I wrapped it so I could estimate yardage.
On the niddy noddy, waiting for a bath

I'm pretty sure it's around 260 yards of 3 ply yarn. And doesn't it look darn pretty wound up like that?

I've also learned to not wind it so tightly on the niddy noddy. Makes it much easier to remove the yarn.

Here it is, waiting for its bath:

I'm extremely proud of this skein. It turned out very well balanced, with very few pig tail corkscrews. I think it needs to be a shawl.

I'm looking forward to spinning up my other Fiber Optic braid and seeing the red to black transition.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mystery of the Blue Train

I don't usually post about a design until it's ready to be released. But I'm really excited about this one for several reasons. It's going to be hard to squish all the back story onto the pattern page on Ravelry, so I thought I'd dedicate a blog post to the story of these socks.
There is a distinct left and right foot,
with the Train pattern running down the
outer front of the sock.

Blue Train, as I'll call these socks for short, was inspired by the Agatha Christie novel The Mystery of the Blue Train. It's going to be the fifth of six in my Hercule Poirot design series.

I was browsing through my stitch dictionaries and flagging photos which caught my eye. Then I went back and tried to find commonalities and that 'spark' of inspiration.

I love the look of twisted stitches, so the motif which became the front of the sock naturally caught my eye. It reminded me of train tracks, which got my imagination churning away. A number of Christie's novels involve train journeys, so these titles naturally started coming to mind. In addition to train tracks, the 'parallelogram' shapes made me think of the sleeper compartments on trains, with the twisted stitches representing the passengers (and the bobbles in the original motif being the passengers' heads).

Okay, so I had a train story. But what else? I didn't want to simply create a sock with a motif taken straight out of a book. I wanted to make it more 'mine'. But it had to make sense. It couldn't just be "more" without making sense to the design and intent of the overall Poirot series.

Back of the sock.
Strands of a jeweled necklace.
Looking back over the motifs I'd tagged with a sticky note, one seemed to stand out. It had cables - bringing it in line with what I'd picked out for the front of the sock. Ditto the twisted stitches.

To top it all off, it made me think of the strands of a jeweled necklace. All the pieces slid into place and I had "The Mystery of the Blue Train" in which the famous ruby necklace, "Heart of Fire" is stolen and its owner murdered on her way to the French Riviera. The Blue Train was the name of the regular train which brought the English elite down to the French Riviera.

I set about tweaking the motifs, adjusting a few things here and there. I wanted this design to accommodate several official sizes as well as being totally customizable for anyone who wanted to adjust it for their personal foot size. I decided to put the stitch patterns on a stocking stitch background - that would make the total number of stitches very customizable. Not every design I document is 100% customizable (it depends on the stitch counts), but I really do want (and expect) people to be able to customize them if they need to.

5 stitch nupp option.
The original stitch patterns called for bobbles as the passengers' heads. But from browsing Ravelry forums I realize that not everyone likes bobbles. Plus, I didn't want bobbles on my socks. So I experimented with a 5 stitch nupp. It didn't add as much bulk, which was good. But something was missing (and I recalled many Ravelry posts bemoaning the difficulty of doing nupps).

One morning, as I was getting ready for the day, I was thinking about the design and pondering bobble/nupp alternatives. Then it hit me - beads! Giving knitters the choice of a nupp or adding a bead would be perfect! I'm all about choice/modifications in my designs. Plus, the beads would align perfectly with the whole jewelry robbery theme. To maintain a sense of balance (and belabour the jewelry analogy) I added beads to the cabled necklace pattern on the back of the sock.

The reason I'm so pleased with the bead idea is the fact that I am not a bead person when it comes to knitting. I've done one or two beaded shawls, and I think they look lovely. But it's not a natural choice for me. So in a small way, the very idea represented a moment of growth for me as a designer.

The cables themselves are a bit unusual and may seem intimidating when you look at the sheer variety of cables in the pattern's stitch definitions. But they're all variations of 1/2 and 2/1 cables. The variations are the result of knitting each of the 3 cable stitches either through the back of the loop, purling them, or just plain knitting them - it all depends on the flow of the overall pattern. If you know how to read your knitting and can read a chart, it will quickly make sense to you. Being able to read the charts isn't a necessity though. Just take your time with the different cables and it'll come together.

So there you have it - the story behind "The Mystery of the Blue Train" socks. They're in test knit now and should be released in mid-late June. As usual, they'll be available in toe up and cuff down, in 3 sizes. Beads, nupps or neither as you prefer.
Side view

Inside view.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Just a quickie

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. But I did go to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival (MDSW) in West Friendship, Maryland this past weekend. My brain is still reeling, trying to process all the new experiences and new acquaintances.

If you've never been to MDSW, it's like Rhinebeck but in the Spring. And if you've never been to either - image a massive Fair/Festival devoted to sheep, wool, yarn, spinning, knitting, crochet, crafts and yummy foods. With 40-50,000 of your closest fibery friends. It was 2 days of total immersion in the fiber arts.

Like I said - I'm still trying to process it all into coherent thoughts. Photos of my MDSW purchases in future posts!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stunning Color Work

I've been very remiss in posting regularly over the past month. It's been a steady stream of test knits, sample knitting and pattern prep.

But yesterday one of my test knitters posted her photos of my most recent pattern: Intertwined Mitts. The pattern isn't specifically written for color work, but after seeing some stunning color work cable projects on Ravelry, I threw out the challenge to my test knitters.

The original pattern used indigodragonfly's CaribouBaa in the colorway "Daleks Don't Give out Pink Slips".

Photo copyright Maureen Foulds

And boy howdy, did HomeSpunLife ever deliver! Check out her gorgeous photos:

Photo copyright HomeSpunLife

Photo copyright HomeSpunLife
Photo copyright HomeSpunLife

Photo copyright HomeSpunLife