Monday, April 29, 2013

How Swatches Lie or We lie to Ourselves

I hear it all the time "swatches lie". Unfortunately I think the real problem is that we lie to ourselves. We are in a big hurry, we are excited and we have to start the project now. We forget how differently we all produce fabric. I show two swatches at the beginning of every class I teach to remind students of just how much our work varies from knitter to knitter. You can see them here. We all have differences in knitting technique, how we tension the yarn, and how we form our stitches.

Then we introduce different yarns to the equation. Many experienced knitters have commented to me how standards are changing. Yarns labelled as DK could be closer to worsted or sport weight. More ball bands give ranges of gauge instead of a single number as was more likely in the past.

The photos above show two different yarns that knit to the same gauge. One is 100% wool the other has some silk and cotton blended with the wool. The first photo is before blocking, the second shows both after blocking. Do you see how very different they are? Notice that they do block out to the same size.

Recently my tech editor was checking measurements on a shawl. I measured  the shawl immediately after blocking it and noted the details in the pattern. She remeasured about two weeks later after I had already worn the shawl. Guess what? The measurements are a little smaller now. This is not a problem for a shawl but it can be on a garment.

Swatching Tips

  • Use the same needles on the swatch as on the project. 
  • The needle material and type can affect gauge. I've read that in general, sticky needles like wood, bamboo or plastic will give you the shortest stitches, and slippery metal will give you stitches that appear a little more stretched out. This will impact your row gauge.
  • Swatch in the round for knitting in the round. Most knitters have gauge differences between knitting and purling. Knitting in the round may mean no purling, therefore different gauge.  
  • Let your swatch rest before measuring.
  • Hang it up if the yarn is a fibre that has drape like bamboo or silk.
  • Know that the same yarn in a different colour may knit to a different gauge.  
  • Check the gauge of different stitches in a single pattern. I work with two sample knitters who both have discovered they may match my gauge on one stitch pattern and not another. We have had to adjust stitch counts or needle sizes to correct this variation.  
  • Consider the fabric you are creating. Is it too stiff or too floppy? Will you like that in the finished project?
  • Launder the swatch according to the instructions on the ball band. Block it. You do want to know what will happen when you wash your project.

Friday, April 26, 2013

An Interview with Ann McCauley

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Ann here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Creativity is among the very most interesting things in life to me.  I feel inspiration is pretty much everywhere, when we’re open to experiencing it.  Consistent sources for me include, but are not limited to – yarn, color, texture or stitch patterns with their endless possibilities of combinations; line and shape; or becoming very quiet and still, going within – any of these elements can be the inspiration point. I believe the creative process can be highly variable. At times, I have had that flash when I may see every detail of a new design.  And I’ve also experienced painstakingly swatching to the length of a scarf, but it’s a jumble of stitches without finished order that I have to see and allow to inform me. I greatly enjoy watching a design evolve. Often that initial inspiration or direction is followed by research or experimentation. It’s a very visual process that leads to the very technical process of writing and sizing the pattern.

What is your favorite knitting technique?
My niche as a knitter is primarily women’s sweaters worked in smooth yarn, solid color and texture with an occasional skirt, dress or tunic thrown in.  I love the invisible seaming from the right side of a garment.  Seams give definition, structural integrity, body and fit to a garment.  I know of no reason to avoid them.  Look at the fine dress makers. Look at couture clothing.

How did you determine your size range?
Usually, it is 4 – 7 sizes, determined by where a design is published.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look at fashion magazines to be aware of trends.  I look at designs online only as time permits.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I think we’re in the information age.  I think online publishing of patterns allows for more explanation than print does.  If a pattern gives more information than a knitter needs, an experienced knitter will jump past information they already know.  If a pattern gives information that a less experienced knitter needs, chances are they are going to learn something and have a better experience and result.  Let’s face it, knitting patterns have been written in some cryptic or general styles in past eras.  I have some knitting publications from each decade back to the 1900’s and it’s hard to believe how recently patterns were published without schematics.  I like being able to include information in a pattern that helps to ensure a better result and if that means explaining a blocking detail that enhances the finished garment, for example, then that’s something I want those making it to know. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do it all myself.  It’s one of my favorite parts and I love process.  I feel I can make better decisions as a designer if I knit a piece myself.  Possibilities occur that I may not have been able to see otherwise.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Honestly, no.  Although I do ask myself quite frequently, what’s next?  It was a surprise to me to become a knitting author.  I had been designing the sweaters that I wanted to wear.  I have no formal training in this field, I had never written a book, and I submitted to one publisher.  I studied knitting books and magazines.  I had an internal sense that I would write a book one day, but did not know what type of book.

Do you have a mentor?
I feel that Barbara Walker is my mentor in the knitting world.  Without her stitch collections, I don’t know that I would have started to design sweaters.  I love her respect of history and use of original names of stitch patterns.  It is unusual for me to have a mentor I have never met, spent time with, studied with, etc.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No again, one thing has led to another and I have followed what it’s led to.  For example, Martingale & Company sent my first book, The Pleasures of Knitting: Timeless Feminine Sweaters, to Knitty Gritty and that led to me filming Delightful Details for them.  After doing a second book, Together or Separate: Knitting the New Twinset, with Martingale, I realized that I needed to focus on single designs for awhile.  Two years ago, I met Jared Flood when we were both teaching at Yarnover in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area which led to having designs in his Wool People Collections.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I think the Internet is changing the knitting world daily in ways we are still discovering.  Look how quickly Craftsy has altered the accessibility of knitting classes.  It’s been a huge door opener for independents in the field.

Do you use a tech editor?
Oh yes!  There are a very few exceptions when something is of an extremely simple nature.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Eat well, sleep well, listen to the body, exercise, remembering to live in the present.

How do you deal with criticism?
Listen, reflect, respond.  Ask questions.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I like variety in my work life so knitting is not my sole support.  I enjoy a blend of working at home and away from home. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
It’s the same advice I would give to someone in any career – do what you love.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One Year Ago......

I occasionally go back and read my own posts. It's interesting to see what I was thinking and writing about in the past. Sometimes I've learned new things that I want to write about now or my perspective on a topic has changed. 

Last April I wrote this post on the concept of time and how it can be different for knitters. Later I read two fascinating books on the concept of time. The first was The Time Paradox. It is about the psychology of time, how it effects individuals and cultures. The second was 168 Hours, about how to get the most out of the time available to us.

I also wrote about knitters and how they choose a project here. In that post I was looking at challenge vs. practicality. The following month I wrote about how challenge and learning has maintained my interest in knitting more than any other artistic pursuit.

I discussed concepts of good fit here. I teach these concepts in several of my classes on garments, fitting and pattern drafting.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Knitted Boyfriend

Buzzfeed has a quirky little video created by artist Noortje je de Keijzer posted. You can find it here. My husband showed me the video before I read the article and the first thing I noticed was that "the Girl's" knitting style looked very awkward. It turns out that the artist's mother and grandmother knitted the initial prototype. The final version was created by knitwear designer Sarena Huizinga  on an industrial knitting machine. The video maker is quoted as explaining this was "Partly because of practical reasons, and partly because I found it an exciting idea that a knitted man could just come out of a machine in one piece in a very short time, as if he was being born!"

I posted here on the same topic some time ago when I first realized that in installation artwork the knitting is frequently not created by the artist. So link on over, see the video and let me know what you think.

Friday, April 19, 2013

An Interview with......Amy Herzog

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Amy here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Primarily I find my inspiration in fashion--not just the runway stuff, but on the people around me, in the clothes I like to wear, in silhouettes and other style features of vintage clothing. My passion for knitting is really just one aspect of my passion for clothing, so that’s where I concentrate my efforts.

Of course, within the realm of fashion the sources of inspiration are endless! I’m often drawn to subtle, tailored elements of an item of clothing--a pleat here, some texture there, highlighting (or creating) a particular figure silhouette. But I just as often go wild over fabric, color, necklines, you name it! 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Hands-down, it’s creating three-dimensional fabric by shaping the interior of knitting pieces. I think the process of creating a knit fabric is so freeing, and so different from the techniques used in sewing. It’s exciting to create fabric shaped like us!

How did you determine your size range?
It’s extremely important to me that all women be able to find a size that works for them in my patterns. Since I recommend choosing a size based on the upper torso or high bust, I’ve found that a size range between 30’’ and 54’’ has worked for everyone I’ve come across online and in my classes. (And of course I give other guidance on how to size up the rest of the sweater, should the knitter need it!)

Please tell us about your book and the design philosophy behind the patterns included.
The book is definitely, first and foremost, an exploration of my passion for sweaters we all love to wear. It encourages everyone to stop obsessing over the numbers and focus on their body’s shape instead, steps the reader through the ways clothing changes our shape’s appearance, and then presents patterns designed to highlight the beautiful features of every figure. I include clear guidance on how to determine what modifications your body will actually need, and instructions for doing so. Best of all, the book features 9 (gorgeous!) women of all different shapes and sizes--petite and tall, curvy and straight, busty and not.

The patterns are a little different than what you might expect in a typical ‘pattern collection’ knitting book. They’re all designed to be very easy to modify for a perfect fit, and blend well into a wardrobe for decades to come. So they’re a little simpler, a little more understated, a little more classic than some of my other designs. These are the sweaters you use your very best yarn for, and wear with pride for the rest of your life.            

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
My online time is actually somewhat limited, but I definitely try to keep up with where the industry is going. (I succeed better at some times than others, for sure!) We all have our own take on design (and life!), so I’m not overly concerned about being influenced by others’ work. It can be nice when we’re inspiring one another!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Well, I wasn’t aware of a ‘controversy’, per se, but I have noticed the change in knitting patterns over the past few years. I actually think it represents something quite exciting--if knitters are calling for patterns with clearer and more basic instructions, it seems to me that new people are coming into knitting. And that means new sweaters in the world! And that rocks.

That said, I think it’s totally appropriate and fair game for an individual designer to write patterns aimed at a more experienced and/or adventurous knitter--just as there are tons of different sewing book styles, and tons of different cookbook/recipe styles, so too is there room for all kinds of knitting patterns.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I worked with a sample knitter for a couple of samples in the book (and used her again just recently, to knit book sweaters customized for me) but generally prefer to do as much of it myself as I possibly can. The knitting is one of the major parts that I love, so I’m reluctant to give it up.

Do you have a mentor?
Not a single mentor, no. But one of the lovely things about this field is that everyone is quite open and friendly, so I’ve taken valuable advice from and learned at the feet of many wonderful women. I feel blessed in that way.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Simply put, my business wouldn’t exist without it!

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, always, and I feel strongly about the importance of a good tech editor.

No matter how experienced you are (or how great your math is), sometimes it takes another set of eyes to notice when things might not be clearly explained, or catch that one small mistake. We’re very good at seeing what we expect to see on the page. Tech editors are the designer’s secret weapon for seeing what’s actually on the page, instead. They’re invaluable.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Well... ...if by that, you mean “how do you get yourself to put down the knitting every once in awhile?” I don’t. I’ve been knitting for years explicitly because I can do it anywhere. I’m such a fidgety person, having knitting along for the ride keeps me present and focused on the wonderful time we’re having!

But if you mean the larger, how do I maintain my ability to unplug from the business aspect of things and focus on the rest of my life... I certainly have hard days on this score, but I tend to be a fairly happy, engaged, calm kind of person. One thing my life has taught me so far is that you need to jump on the joy when you have it--and the stress you’re carrying around is probably not worth it. So when it’s time to let work, go, I just let it go.

How do you deal with criticism?
I try to learn from it--understand where the person is coming from, what their frustration was, what I did to contribute to that frustration. You can never please everyone... ...but unless we learn from our mistakes, we never grow. So I try to learn from them.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
This is a really interesting question given the many different places people come to designing from, and interesting time for me in particular to tackle this topic! When I began to designing, it was a way for me to achieve some creative expression without leaving the job I love (my day job is in computer security research).

As the original Fit to Flatter tutorials led to workshops, those workshops grew, and I started really trying to dovetail my designs to the extremely wonderful experience of connecting women with clothing that makes them feel great... ...I realized this was much, much more important to me than a hobby-focused add-on to my primary career. The reception to my book so far is making that realization even more compelling. That said, I do love my day job and have over 15 years invested in it so far, so... ...I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not really sure. :) Check back in a year?

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I think the single biggest piece of advice I can give is this: Think hard and long about whether you want to turn what is now a fun hobby into a profession.

If you decide you do, then think about the parts you love, and what you might be able to do to keep them. Everyone working in this field has the ability to create their own happy fiber profile based on their interests--but it’s hard to do if you aren’t honest with yourself about which parts you love, and which you merely tolerate.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Classes at the DKC Frolic

There is still room in a number of classes for the DKC frolic. 

Please note that online pre-registration ends on Friday, April 19, 2013. After tomorrow registrations will be processed at the Frolic on Saturday April 27th.

You can find class details listed here. Just scan down the page to the class description and teacher bio links.

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

YarnOver SleepOver Retreat

I'm back at home after a whirlwind weekend. The retreat my Pro-Knitters group ran was most definitely a great success. We as organizers all had a great time. The attendees were all very friendly and enthusiastic. The teachers were taking classes as well as teaching them. I taught two and took two. I can highly recommend both Mary Pat's and Deb's class. Many students told me how much they enjoyed the other classes. Class details are listed here. We'll be working on new ones for next year. You can see comments from attendees here. The photos below were all taken by Jenn.



Mary Pat

Jenn and Trish

Deb, Carol and Robin


Trish, Jenn and Julia


Donna and Laura