Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Inspired

I'm still riding this high from Meg Swansen's Knitting camp last month and I have to say that some of the most exciting, inspiring parts about the weekend other than simply listening to Meg Swansen and Amy Detjen talk were the tables and tables full of sweaters designed and knitted by Elizabeth Zimmermann and Meg Swansen.


This was just one of three walls lined with their work. I spent quite a bit of time looking at these pieces - studying the shaping, looking at floats, figuring out how they were constructed, checking out the steeks and buttonholes... it was such a treat to be able to not only look at these pieces, but pick them up, unfold them, turn them inside out, really study them to your heart's content. What a pleasure!

As soon as I got home I immediately began the process of designing my own Meg Swansen-inspired sweater. It is going to be a long journey as there are still perhaps 5 or 6 more swatches I would like to knit, but here are my first two "Swatch Caps."


I should mention that these are unblocked because if we waited for that to happen then this blog post might never be published. This first cap was knitted to practice the technique of Twined Knitting, where you knit from both ends of the same ball of yarn and alternate them every stitch, always bringing one over the other so that they twist together on the inside of the fabric. I've never done twined knitting before and it was slow going to start, but I LOVE the resulting fabric. Wonderfully dense, with an elasticity that bounces back so quickly you'd think it were made of rubber. This is one of those techniques that I have been meaning to try for years and after camp ended, I just thought "No time like the present!" Traditionally Twined Knitting (or Tv√•√§ndsstickning) is done with Z-plied yarn and both strands held in the right hand, one strand always being brought over the other to complete a stitch. "Z-plied" refers to the direction the yarn was twisted and I can guarantee you that 99.9% of the yarn in your stash is not spun in this direction. If you want the traditional stuff, you can get it here from Nancy Bush. I have a bunch in my stash. It's beautiful. But I digress... My cap was knitted with a regular S-plied yarn, Rauma Strikkegarn, and I held both strands in my LEFT hand and always carried one strand under the other to twist them. Why? Because that's what felt comfortable. You can see that the technique can give you a very deeply textured knit/purl pattern that I have fallen so in love with.


Cap two was also knitted with Rauma Strikkegarn (can you guess what yarn I'm going to use to knit my final sweater?) but this time using the more common stranded technique of always carrying one color over the other to prevent them from twisting on the back of the fabric. Both of these caps were meant to check gauge, so I simply chose a stitch pattern I liked and took off. The finished sweater will combine both twined knitting and stranded colorwork, but not with either of the patterns seen above. I still have quite a bit of playing to do, modifying the techniques involved to attempt to match gauge between the two. As it stands, on the same needle size twined knitting is giving me 7sts/inch and stranded colorwork is giving me 6sts/inch. It shouldn't be too hard to find some middle ground.

I finally allowed myself to sit down and work on a project for myself because I finished a GIANT commission that had been bogging me down for quite a while.


Let me tell you right now, if anybody else wants an XXL Norwegian sweater, you're going to have to knit it yourself because this one near did me in. But I'm rather proud, because I only cried once while knitting it.


And it was when I thought I was done knitting. I sewed one shoulder together, was preparing to cut the neck steeks and discovered that they weren't centered. The entire neck hole was in the wrong place. I almost lost it at that point, but thank god I hadn't cut those steeks open yet. I had to rip back 5 hours (because clearly that's how we track our knitting progress on things like this) and do the top of the yoke over again. But now I can do my final happy dance because the sweater is done, blocked, and shipped off to its owner for good.



Which is excellent because I have a pile of five sweaters here with my name on them all in various stages of finishing and dang it, I will be wearing them this fall! Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

One Year Later

I bet you didn't expect to see me here, did you?

I've been thinking about bringing this blog back for a while now and I looked today to see when the last time I wrote anything was and wouldn't you know... it was exactly one year ago today. I suppose it's only appropriate, then, to write today with a brief update about everything that has been going on.

I feel like this has been one loooong year, full of countless days, weeks, months that I found myself saying "I just need to get to the end of this week/month and things will be better." And things haven't been terrible, they have just been busy. And stressful.

Since I last wrote, I have stopped taking on commission work from designers, which was a hard decision to make, but I was so bogged down with knitting that this winter I had to make a rule for myself: No knitting after 2am or before 6am. I called it my 2/6 Rule and yes, it really was necessary. And yes, it did only guarantee me four hours of sleep a night. And no, I do not function well with only four hours of sleep.

So I decided that this year, 2015, would be the year that I put myself first and start being a little more selfish both in my knitting and in my everyday life. Well... here we are in July and I still have to break out that 2/6 Rule every once in a while, but I'm working on it, and I think I've made progress in the past couple of weeks.

Last August I left my job with the Minnesota Orchestra to begin working full time at the yarn shop, where I am now working as the assistant manager. It really is a wonderful gig and I'm enjoying it immensely, but I've also taken on the role of "Chief Finisher" (I made that up.) What happens is that a customer will bring in a project that they want finished - be it blocking, seaming, weaving in ends, sewing on buttons, installing a zipper, or flat out knitting half a garment. And whenever those projects come in, they go home with me to be taken care of. So I replaced knitting for designers with spending my evenings blocking sweater pieces, sewing seams, and attempting to salvage poorly knit sweaters for customers. It really is about as tedious as it sounds and for most of the past 12 months, in conjunction with knitting samples for display at the shop, my personal knitting time has dwindled down to nothing. Well, I am slowly attempting to take my evenings back for my own personal use and I'm hopeful that this time it will stick (with the help of a fellow coworker who so graciously offered to help with the finishing work.)

About two months ago I moved again. That makes about 10 times in the past 10 years and I will tell you that I am SO crazy sick of packing up my life, living out of boxes, and not being able to settle in anywhere. But this new place feels like home to me, and even though chances are it won't be more than a year or two that I live here, this time I'm settling in. I've unpacked, I've hung art on the walls, I've taken my knitting books out of their boxes that they have been confined to for years. And for me the best part is that I no longer have a roommate. I no longer have a roommate with two cats. Oh dear readers, how wonderful it is to be able to block sweaters on my living room floor instead of under my bed with the door shut. How nice it feels to be able to leave my knitting on the couch when I go to bed. It really is making a world of difference in that I can simply come home and relax however I want, wherever I want, whenever I want. I am definitely taking advantage of having my own place. (And it's the most charming little place you've ever seen. I'll have to show you pictures in a future post.)

So I think that sums up most of the major life points since last I wrote - I left one job, started another one full time, I moved... So now let's talk a little bit more about knitting.

Here's the truth: For months now I have been completely burnt out. Cranking out sweater after sweater after sweater, repeatedly explaining the different between worsted and "fingerling" yarn for eight hours a day and then going home to sew sweaters together for people who have never heard of a spit splice, a selvedge stitch, or the importance of gauge. It was driving me absolutely insane. But then, last weekend, I had a breath of fresh air. I got to attend Meg Swansen's Knitting Camp in Wisconsin!

Ohhhh lord I had no idea how desperately I needed that. And honestly, I was a bit of a grump when I got there, but that quickly changed. To be surrounded by a roomful of other knitters who had not only heard about swatching, but who actually DO swatch. REPEATEDLY. And they block their swatches, and knit with real wool and don't care if they have to wash it by hand or if it's "scratchy" and they understand the importance of a clean ssk decrease line. It was knitting therapy, I'm here to tell you.

I have been an Elizabeth Zimmermann fan since I first began knitting about eight years ago, having picked up a copy of The Knitting Workshop as one of my first knitting books. I was always so inspired by her work, her designs, her philosophy on knitting and on life, on the way she didn't hold your hand, but gave you the information you needed to go out and explore the world of knitting on your own. Just incredible. And I'm ashamed to say that I had forgotten about all of that. Knitting had become my job, and I had become over the years purely a product knitter. I never stopped to think whether or not I was enjoying it, because who cares? I had a deadline to meet. Customers would ask "what do you like to make?" and I would stop and think, and then skirt around the question by simply saying "well, I make a lot of sweaters." But what do I like to make? What a novel idea.

This past weekend with Meg Swansen (Elizabeth Zimmermann's daughter) rekindled that spark that I had as a new knitter, staying up until 2am knitting not because I had to, but because I simply couldn't put it down! Knitting a project because I wanted to try out a new technique, a new stitch pattern, a new yarn, or a new construction. Back then it wasn't about the finished result, it was about the process. I had forgotten that knitting, for me, used to be an act of enjoyment, of leisure, of relaxation and not a catalyst for stress, sleep deprivation, and injury. I didn't care whether I was making something fashionable, or popular, or impeccably flawless. I cared that I was making something that I thought was cool, was fun, was interesting, or was functional. Well, Knitting Camp reminded me of all the reasons why knitting is my passion, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend.

I have already started swatching for some new designs sparked by the creative energy at camp and I am so excited to to be excited about knitting again!

Maybe I should leave this post at that. I'm excited about knitting again! And as a result, I hope to revive this blog so that I can once again share my excitement with all of you. It'll be a fun ride, I promise. Stay tuned!