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Dear Santa,

I already have everything I could possibly want. Please make someone else’s dreams come true this Christmas.

Love,

Dixie

Louisa

July was a big month, as it turns out. I got the weekend holiday I needed so much, I worked more hours in the shop than usual, I caught and defeated a Death Cold, and I met one of the brightest stars in the knitting sky, Louisa Harding. If you’re a knitter, you may know her from yarn labels. You might have seen her books or compilations. You may have opinions about her distributor, or on her yarns, or the distinctly (possibly stereotypically) feminine slant of her designs. It’s tricky gauging someone by a yarn label, though, and I was extremely lucky to get the opportunity to meet and hang out with her when she came to the shop to give a workshop.

Sari Ribbon

When we approached Louisa about the possibility of doing a workshop, she had things all figured out already. It would be a full day workshop, the fees would include yarn (always a plus!), and the project would allow people to explore creativity in wool and sample a bunch of yarns all at the same time. She arranged for sample garments to be sent to us ahead of time, so the students could try things on and see what the designs look like in person rather than having to guess from photos in the books. We also got a preview of the new books and yarns for autumn/winter, inspiring several of us in the shop to get started on new cardigans and tops.

I didn’t get to participate in the workshop, but the few bits I got to see were well planned and carefully thought out. She started by encouraging students to look at the sample garments, then followed that with yarn selection for the bag project. This required the students to wind some of the yarns into balls from the hanks they’re usually sold as, giving everyone the opportunity to chat and interact with each other. By the time everyone settled down to knit, people had gotten the jitters out and were ready to focus.

The workshop project is a simple bag using five different yarns. Louisa encouraged students to choose colour and gauge combinations outside of their comfort zones, resulting in beautiful little works of art.

Louisa Harding bag

I selected my yarns after everyone else, picking over the leftovers during lulls in the shop downstairs, so I didn’t get as adventurous as some. I did end up working with the new colours of Sari Ribbon and Willow Tweed, as well as a bit of the new autumn/winter yarn Rosetti that I ordinarily would have avoided. (I’m not really a fan of chunky yarns.) The bag was simple to knit and enjoyable as it gave me plenty of opportunity to sample the yarns and see how they worked up.

Also, I love the bag. Desperately.

Bag closeup

I think the workshop encouraged students to think more ambitiously about colour and texture, and to experiment more boldly. It also gave us the opportunity to make something relatively impractical, simply for the joy of playing with colour and texture. Lots of us focus on practical projects which might be well crafted and beautiful, but not as recklessly fun as this little bag.

After the workshop, Louisa hosted a meet & greet and talk that was free to everyone. Lots of regulars in the shop and local S&B groups showed up, and despite the blistering heat people managed to enjoy themselves. Louisa talked about starting her own yarn line, how the process works, and the elements she highlights in her designs and yarn choices. She describes herself as “a woman designing for women,” and how this plays out in her choice of colour, yarn, shape, and size. For example, many of her designs feature 3/4 length sleeves. Why? Women wear bracelets and watches, and it’s nice to show them off. Simple as that.

The day made me think about the yarn industry, what moves and shakes it, and how the people involved make the choices they do. It inspired me to give certain yarns a chance where I previously would have dismissed them. And it gave me the opportunity, through an awesome sneak peek at some of Louisa’s new and currently unreleased books, to cast on for a new cardigan.

Willow Tweed

Using Willow Tweed.

Quick thoughts

“Knitting is really good for your mental health — despite the moments when you think that it’s the opposite. It’s a great way to practice being successful, tackle problems without fearing terrible consequences, and watch yourself getting things done. Seeing these things on a small scale, like with knitting, can help you see them in the rest of your life.”

— Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka the Yarn Harlot

I like how she uses the phrase practice being successful. Because I am clearly out of practice.

Malabrigo Monday

Today is a bank holiday in Ireland, which means I’m not in work. Despite all this leisure time, this is just a quickie post since I’m hard at work doing last minute flat cleaning for my impending visitors.

Every time the shop gets a shipment of Malabrigo I find a new colour that I simply must have for my own. The last delivery included a colourway I’d witnessed in lace and worsted but not in sock, Stonechat:

Malabrigo Sock in Stonechat

Dye lots can vary significantly with Malabrigo, to the point where you might think you’re looking at two different colourways when comparing skeins from different shipments. Sometimes there will be more yellow or less green in the mix. I’ve noticed this variation with Stonechat even between the lace and the worsted.

The second skein I got was a new colourway for me, Persia:

Malabrigo Sock in Persia

It’s a nice calm blue with brown and gold accents. This would make a nice little cardigan, once I get around to it. I think I’ll use one of my Malabrigo sock skeins for a cardigan, but it’s not yet clear which one it’ll be.

PS: The wedding was awesome. I didn’t wear the blue top, even though it came out fine after a little alteration. The shrug looked fantastic, and I also got to wear a crocheted choker I’d had lying around for years but never found an outfit it looked good with.

PPS: Many of the Ravelry links I include in my posts can be viewed by people who aren’t logged in to Ravelry. If the URL starts with “ravel.me,” that means it’s a project I’ve flagged for sharing outside of Ravelry. Most pattern links don’t have that option, so I usually add a warning like (Rav link) for something that you shouldn’t bother clicking on if you’re not a Raveler.

Treacherous Noro

In some ways, I am living the dream. I work in my LYS, surrounded by luscious fibres in every colour of the rainbow. I am given free reign to devise patterns, match ideas with fibres and colours, display things so they look awesome, and knit until my fingers fall off. It’s the kind of thing knitters dream of, and I am still bowled over by how lucky I am.

There are drawbacks, however. The proximity of bales of Noro is a real issue.

Kureyon

I have a Noro problem. There are so many reasons to dislike Noro. It costs a fortune. It’s single-ply. It’s kind of scratchy. It often has bits of straw or whatever in it. (One of my favourite comments about the Silk Garden range was, “I’d like it if it had a little more of the silk and a little less of the garden.”) It sometimes goes thick and thin which makes tensioning awkward and drives beginners round the bend. And there’s always one colour in every colourway that just looks awful. Some knitters cut and join the yarn just to avoid that one colour.

I know all these things, and yet the siren song of Noro pulls me in every single time. I have made an entire Klaralund (Rav link), two scarves, a hat (which I can’t wear because it’s Kureyon and it’s too scratchy), matching fingerless gloves (which have been replaced by softer ones), and a beret (which got stolen, boo). I have a beautiful Noro entrelac scarf that was given to me last summer, and I have wool set aside for yet another Noro scarf and a Baby Surprise Jacket (Rav link).

This is all despite the fact that every time I knit with the stuff I note the drawbacks. The way that the wool in the ball doesn’t give much of a clue as to what the whole colourway looks like. The one or two colours in every ball that I hate. The ridiculous cost. Every time I think “This one will be my last. I am done with Noro.” Then I head in to work and stare at this all day:

More Kureyon

Is it any wonder my resolve wears down?

The artifice in art

I’ve been in choirs for most of my life, and the director I’ve spent the most time with was (luckily for me) probably the best. When directing a choir full of exhausted scientists towards the end of a term, she would point out that in order to make the songs we didn’t like sound good we would have to pretend to love them. Disliking a song tends to make a choir sound dull, so we needed to pretend to be into the music even for pieces we didn’t like or couldn’t relate to.

She used U2 as an example. “It’s been how many years?” she asked us. “Do you really think Bono still hasn’t found what he’s looking for?” The same point came up over and over, but that was always my favourite example. The idea was that art usually involves some faking. Some bending of the truth to make a point. I don’t consider myself an artist, but I do think about art in the course of what I do these days.

I’m slogging away on the blue tank top, and it looks like I’ll finish on time barring disaster like repetitive strain or a really nasty gauge surprise. I’ve thought a lot about clothes as I knit: how they fit, how they’re put together, what lines I should accentuate and which I should play down, and how best to achieve that with knitted fabric. Then comes figuring out how to make that happen through the craft: can I incorporate something clever to make the knitting easier or more interesting or elegant? After that comes the math. There is nothing fake about math. It is necessary to bring the fake beauty of the art into reality as a flattering garment, and oddly enough I find myself engrossed every time I attack the math parts of a knitted piece.

That’s the craft, not the art. And that’s where I am now, calculating armhole depth and hoping my calculations are good ones. If this works, this top (and others like it?) might become a wardrobe staple. And that would be awesome.

Just another Manos Monday

I have two yarn cakes of Manos Silk Blend sitting on my desk. I remain amazed that I own them, and that they are so beautiful.

Manos Silky, yum

They will be a Captiva when they grow up.

Instant gratification

Hats are great.

Red Hat

I knitted this as a command performance for a friend, who wanted a red hat. It took me a while to deal with the fact that she wanted a basic beanie rather than a floppy hat or a wild hat or some otherwise interesting hat, but once I came to terms with the idea I managed to finish this pretty quickly.

I teach knitting to “beginners,” and we always start with a scarf. Scarves are traditional starting projects, and although this opinion hasn’t stopped me, I think it’s a really bad idea. A scarf is a huge piece of fabric. It uses a lot of yarn, requires a lot of stitches, and can be incredibly boring. This is great if you’ve decided to take up knitting as a Zen kind of meditation exercise, but about half the people who come to me wanting to learn have very specific desires for finished knitted objects. I still teach scarves because a basic scarf is the simplest item to construct, and the most likely to be used. (Yes, a dishcloth is easier to make. But fewer knitters have knock-down, drag-out fights about the utility of knitted dishcloths.) But a hat is almost as easy, and goes a lot faster. I teach them as second projects, to introduce knitting in the round.

Yes, I could direct students to make a hat flat, then seam it. This went really, crazily wrong once and I still bear the scars. So it’s scarves first, then hats. Luckily it’s possible to get a respectable scarf out of three balls of chunky wool, which doesn’t take long to knit up. Then we can get on to the hats, which is where beginners can really shine. A hat knitted in the round is easy, introduces basic decreases, offers a chance to learn basic pattern reading, and can be done in a couple nights. Perfect.

Polygamous knitting

The black lace shrug is proceeding quite nicely, thank you. Despite my madness induced break, I’ve been steadily working, a few stitches here and there when I can fit them in, and have made excellent progress. One arm is done, blocked, and I’ve even tried it on to make sure it fits. It does. The second arm is past the elbow. Happily, I am a standard issue human and have only the two regulation arms, which means I don’t have far to go.

I am also working on a sock.

Sock in progress

Sometimes things just aren’t right for lace knitting. I knit while I teach, but the experience is better for everyone if I knit something I don’t have to look at or concentrate on. Same with gaming. Sometimes I break those rules, but every time I do I am reminded in one way or another that it’s a bad idea and I should stick to my sock projects when multitasking.

These socks are part of my Black Socks 2010 Collection. A year ago (so Zappo’s has reminded me) I bought a pair of shoes unlike anything I have ever worn. I’m not a shoe person. I own three pair: dress shoes, gym shoes, and everyday shoes. This is my everyday pair, and they’ve done an excellent job so far. The catch was that I’d been wearing boots for a long, long time and therefore unconcerned with the colour of my socks. Since all my socks are my handknits, most of them are riotously coloured. These shoes reveal my socks, which matters to me when I’m pretending to be a normal person. So I needed black socks. I ordered a tonne of black sock yarn from The Loopy Ewe the week before I moved here and spent the summer making black socks.

All those socks are too much alike, and a pain in the neck to sort in the laundry. So this summer I’m going to make plain black socks with a stripe around the toe made of some leftover coloured yarn. The socks appear black when I wear them in the Real World, but they’re easy to match.

It also gives me something simple to work on when I have other things to pay attention to. They are toe-up, so I can’t tune out during the heel, but I hope to have a standard toe-up heel-flap heel memorized by the end of this adventure.

A sudden malaise

I have two pieces of deadline knitting and a stack of commissions making me jumpy and preventing me from having fun at social occasions. So what did I spend my evening last night making? A tea cosy.

Tea Cosy

Not because I need a tea cosy, mind you. My largest teapot (a 4-cup that valiantly fills the role of a much larger pot) has a cosy already. My smallest teapot is just a one-cup deal, and a cosy would be a little ridiculous. It’s not the ridiculosity that stops me, I think, but the fact that it’s one of those pots that sits on top of a little matching teacup and I wouldn’t want to get fuzz in the cup. My middle-sized teapot, the one I bought in a fit of self pity last summer, is too cute for a cosy.

This cosy doesn’t even fit any of those teapots. It’s built for a 6-cup teapot, which means it probably would have fit the white teapot I left behind in the US. (I do not mourn it; don’t get the wrong idea. It was a means to an end, and not worth shipping over.) So I brought it to the shop and got the shop teapot to model it. It doesn’t fit the shop pot quite right either, but it’s still really cute.

I think the thing that got to me was the stitch pattern, a simple mistake rib. The execution disappointed me a little, so I might rewrite it with fewer shenanigans and make it available through the shop. It’s the tea cosy everyone wants, a good, thick, comfortable looking cosy with no bells or whistles. It goes on, it keeps the tea warm, and it looks like it might be good for a hug on a bleak, dark winter’s day.

Why did this come over me the night of the warmest day of the year in Dublin? The world may never know. But the world may get another tea cosy pattern out of it.