Saturday, December 19, 2015

Indie Gift-A-Long Designer Interview - Amy van de Laar of Baroque Purls

                                                    (photo copyright Amy van de Laar)

The Indie Gift-A-Long is still going strong! While the sale at the beginning is a fantastic way to both add to your pattern library and discover some new designers, the KAL/CAL feature of the Indie Gift-A-Long is probably even more important for many knitters. I love that it goes right to New Year's Eve, which should help all of us hopelessly overcommitted knitters to both finish their gifts for others and have company to get going on projects that result from holiday gifts we receive. I may have dropped a few hints of that sort, but for the moment I'm still trying to get done with the 2 projects I've signed up for in the KALs in the Indie GAL group.

                                                      (photo copyright Amy van de Laar)

To wrap up the GAL, today I have an interview with the designer of one of those projects, Amy van de Laar of Baroque Purls. A few weeks ago, I published this review of Amy's Paper Snowflake Hat pattern. While I got going on that project, Amy was kind enough to answer a few questions from me about her work, inspiration, and recreational knitting. There was an excellent interview with Amy during last year's GAL here , which I recommend you start with to learn more. Her explanation of how she chose the name "Baroque Purls"in that interview was particularly interesting to me. Amy describes herself as a "pattern designer, singer, and early music geek" on her blog Baroque Purls. It's a very enjoyable read, with great posts about her diverse sources of inspiration, patterns, and life. So many of the photos are so full of joy you will just have to smile yourself. (never mind all the beautiful knitting photos!) The photo above is of Amy's latest designs, the Rose Jam Hat and Mitts, which are available individually or as a set. Trying not to repeat the questions asked by other interviewers, I kept the questions fairly short, so please do follow the links above! Without further ado...

(BP= Baroque Purls aka Amy, RBK = RocketBoy Knits aka me)

RBK: Would you say you have any strong influences that are new this year? Along those lines, do you see any influence of Baroque music on your designs? I can see that for someone really immersed in that music there could be a certain structure or rhythm that might seep into the visual world...
BP: I've been more inspired by historical art and design lately, and I have some designs at the planning stage which are based on decorated Baroque instruments. Some of the old violins and viols had beautiful inlaid, carved or painted designs which could be translated into colourwork or cable motifs. I don't know that any of the music itself has snuck into my knitting, but my taste for complicated things covers both realms!

RBKDo you have a tool or a book that you find indispensable?
BP: The 3 mm crochet hook that always lives by my side when I knit has saved my bacon on many, many occasions. While I can pick up dropped stitches and fix errors with just my needles, I find the hook much easier and less precarious.

RBKDo you have a favorite place (or type of place) to be while working on new designs?
BP: I usually sit cross-legged on my bed, and spread out my draft charts, laptop, and yarn around me. One day I'd like to have enough space for a dedicated craft area, with a comfy chair, table, and shelves nearby, but this will do for now.

RBK: Is there anything you can share about new design challenges or goals you hope to take up in 2016? Anything you are particularly looking forward to trying out?
BP: I'd like to get through some of my favorite design ideas which have been on the backburner while I've prioritised others, for example, the musical-instrument-inspired designs I mentioned I'd also like to design more shawls, which I love to knit!

RBK: If you have any time for recreational knitting, what do you gravitate toward? Are you working on projects from anybody else's patterns for the GAL?
BP: These days I gravitate toward garments for my just-for-me knitting, because I have some gaps in my wardrobe that need filling. I've nearly finished a Stephen West cardie, and I have a Laura Aylor tee half-done as well. For the GAL I'm making quicker knits for gifts - I've made a good start on a Preserving Life Cowl, and I also plan to make an Elektrocute cowl, a pair of Fightin' Words mitts, and a Warren hat (all for gifts). We'll see how far I get through my list!

Thanks so much to Amy for answering my questions, and for her lovely designs. Photos of my Paper Snowflake Hat soon, I promise! In the meantime, wishing everybody a Happy New Year and happy knitting!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Indie Gift-A-Long continues! Pattern Review: Hogmanay Shawl by Jen Lucas

In my (not so humble) opinion, a great gift knitting project needs to have that wonderful combination of being engaging for the knitter without requiring obsessive focus, but special enough to make the recipient say, "Wow!" For a real hat trick, it should help the knitter use up some stash. It's alchemy, really. The Hogmanay shawl by Jen Lucas is one of my new favorites in this category. To start with, I know very few women who could not use a new accessory to liven up their wardrobe choices every now and then. (myself included!) This lovely shawl is knit on the bias in fingering weight yarn. The pattern calls for 400 yards, which means that one skein of many hand-dyed yarns is all you need. The shawl shown here is knit in Mountain Colors Bearfoot. The lace pattern has a great rhythm to it, which makes the knitting really enjoyable and meditative. The long diagonal lines that run from the beginning point to the bind-off edge are almost like built-in lifelines that make it easy to remember where to start again when you've had to take a break. After a few repeats were complete I found that I could just glance at the chart for the beginning of each Right Side row and follow intuitively from there. This quality makes it a good traveling project, as well - easy to carry along anywhere, easy to keep track of. Mine has been everywhere in its short life - the theater, work, school field-trip, meetings, coffee with friends. I also love that you can just keep on knitting and make the shawl bigger without any extra math if you have more yarn than is called for. I feel very optimistic that I may even finish it by New Year's Eve if not by Christmas...(if I can control my compulsive startitis!)

I'll post photos of Hogmanay and my Paper Snowflake hat soon! In the meantime, happy knitting!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Indie Gift-A-Long project: Paper Snowflake!

(photo credit and copyright, Amy van de Laar)

It seems very fitting to be writing about knitting a snowflake hat on a night when people in mostly snow-less Seattle are having a bit of freak-out about the possibility of snow overnight. It is very likely that the only snow that will happen is right here in my living room in the form of this impossibly cute and clever hat. First things first - the pattern is Paper Snowflake, by Amy van de Laar of Baroque Purls, and you can get your own copy here. Even better, this pattern is part of Baroque Purls's bundle for the Indie Gift-A-Long 2015, so you can get a 25% discount on it using the coupon code giftalong2015 on Ravelry until 11:59 US EST 11/27. (this coming Friday).

I first fell in love with this pattern about this time last year, when it came out.  It's part of an e-book available on Ravelry called Paper Hats, all based on fun things many of us grew up doing by folding and cutting paper - crowns, PLANES!, hearts, boats, and my favorite, snowflakes. Here at RocketBoy Knits Mission Control, there is a serious ongoing multigenerational obsession with origami, paper planes, and paper snowflakes, so clearly this was a match made in heaven. What a fantastic idea for a series of patterns. Truly, I wish I'd thought of it myself, but am even happier that Amy got there first. The pattern is extremely well written and clear, and completely addictive! Since I started this pattern yesterday I have hardly been able to put it down. I can't remember the last time I said, "Oh...just one more row, and then I will..." so often with one project.

But all of that is just swooning. Why do I like this pattern so much? Apart from the ingenuity and beauty of the design, the pattern is written to cover 5 different sizes from baby to Adult Large. There are 3 size-specific graphs to cover all sizes for both the main part of the hat and the decrease sections AND fully written out directions for those who do not care for graphs. Also, the pattern layout allows the knitter to only print the pages relevant to the size they wish to knit. Best of all, the instructions for how to do the tiny cables that outline the snowflake without ever touching a cable needle are fantastic. I've mostly done this with slightly different technique, but am now a convert to the way Amy recommends doing the cables. As with any new technique, if you've never tried it before a bit of practice on some scrap yarn never hurts. But if you have done this before, I urge you to try it according to the instructions in the pattern.

I'll have a photo of my project tomorrow, and a quick interview with Amy very soon. In the meantime, happy knitting and hope you're having fun with the Gift-A-Long!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ending 2015 with a bang... (not with a whimper)

Well ok, during those last couple of weeks before Knit Fit a person with very sharp hearing might have occasionally heard a little bit of whimpering coming from my direction...but only a little.

First of all, I have to say a HUGE thank you to all the wonderful knitters who stopped into my booth at Knit Fit! The conversations were wonderful, and the amount of positive feedback I got was truly priceless. I think we all like to be told we are headed in the right direction every once in a while, whatever the endeavour may be. During the many years I worked in LYS's, I deeply valued the chance to hear what a wide range of knitters loved and hated. Last weekend reminded me how much I have missed that. Now that I'm figuring out how to take my show on the road, I'm hoping to arrange some trunk shows at LYS's in the Northwest. Stay tuned for details...

Now that Knit Fit is over, I'm focusing on the Indie Gift-A-Long on Ravelry. If you haven't heard of it, you should really go check it out! Until 11:59 US EST on 11/27 there are more than 300 independent designers offering a selection of their patterns for sale at a 25% discount using the coupon code giftalong2015. But the fun isn't over when the coupon code expires - there are KAL's and CAL's grouped around pattern categories to help you stay on top of your holiday gift knitting and prizes of all sorts to be won. The easiest way to get all the information is to go to the Indie Gift-A-Long group here. There are pages for the list of participating designers, the AMAZING pinterest boards that the team has set up by pattern category, and much more. Personally, I'll be knitting and reviewing Paper Snowflakes by Amy van de Laar/Baroque Purls, and Hogmanay by Jen Lucas. Short interviews with each of them are coming too. Getting to know such talented designers better is definitely one of my favorite aspects of the Indie GAL. So go forth, treat yourself to some new patterns while getting your gifts made, and have fun. If you have to travel for the holiday this week, I wish you no transportation complications and lots of knitting time along the way!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Brinnon Hat

Coming soon! I'll be adding more photos to this post over the next few days while this pattern gets one more look from the editor. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Recreational knitting, usable work space and other mythical creatures...

"Is that one of yours?" was the question my wonderful husband (aka Rocket Chef) used to ask about every knitting project during the years when I was trying to build up my confidence as a designer. When the answer was no, he would make some sort of scowly face and ask me why I was knitting something I hadn't designed. (and justifiably so, I should add here...) Over the last few years, though, I find that pretty much all of my knitting time is actually taken up with swatching, prototyping and models for my own designs. What I now label as "recreational knitting" is now mostly confined to the little bit of traveling we do since I don't find cars and planes to be the best places for "work knitting". Also football games and waiting at the bus stop with Rocket Boy 2 are strictly for simple knitting that does not require a lot of attention or focus. (In 2014, I knit 5 pairs of socks while waiting with or for him!) This is, on the whole, a good change for me so I'm definitely not complaining here. But I think all of us need at least a little of that recreational variety. Creativity may like to find you hard at work, but sometimes she whispers in your ear while you're just clicking away through that completely plain pair of socks or garter stitch scarf, too. My current project is pictured above: a Tom Baker 4th Doctor style scarf. Rocket Boy 1 has been asking for this item for a while, and it's the only hand-knit thing he's likely to wear now that he is a teenager. This one will not be 18 feet long like the original, in case any Whovians are reading this and wondering. It's been fun so far - the colors change just often enough to keep me on my toes. And, if anyone is wondering, I got the bag from Hazel Knits and they have more here.

The downside of managing to stay focused on knitting my own designs is that I have an absurd number of recreational projects stashed. For years the pile of projects that I'm just sure I'll get to any minute has lived by the couch in our living room, seeming to grow magically and occasionally avalanching. The need for a new desk and better work space has finally forced me to reckon with the fact that I just don't get them done as fast as I used to. I packed them all away except for one basket full, with a solemn oath that I will not put anything in the basket until I have completely emptied it out. The process was painful, but as soon as it was done I felt an absurd level of relief. Here's the basket - doesn't it look manageable? ;-) OK, there's also a sweater in progress that doesn't fit in the basket... I'll check back in this time next year just to hold myself accountable.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Indie Gift-a-Long Designer Interview - Cassie Castillo

As part of this year's Indie Gift-a-Long, I have been lucky enough to get a chance to interview a designer whose work I love - Cassie Castillo! I first became aware of Cassie's work when I found the Aster Vest on Ravelry. The construction is so intriguing... The next design to catch my eye was the Morrison Cardigan from the Fall 2011 Knitscene. This one design encapsulates one of the things I love throughout Cassie's designs: interesting construction and the juxtaposition of lace panels with stripes. I highly recommend Cassie's website Azalea & Rosebud Knits for a full look at Cassie's biography, patterns and blog. Her Ravelry designer page with complete portfolio of patterns is here. Cassie is shown above modeling her latest design, Sunshine & Rain Henley. Personally, if I still had time to knit a gift before the holidays, it would be Cassie's Esna Cowl, which came out while I was writing this.

At just 210 yards for the project, you can get one for you and one for a friend out of a single skein of many sock yarns... While you're dreaming about which project to make first, here's my interview with Cassie:

Jennifer Chase-Rappaport: We both had patterns in the same issue of Knitscene that involved pictures of animals that seem to be anomalies in both our portfolios. Mine (Huntress Shawl) involved a funny story of Lisa Shroyer asking me to step WAY outside my comfort zone. Does your Nocturnal Pullover have an interesting story that might be worth telling here?
Cassie Castillo: I am frequently asked about that owl design, so I’m happy to share the backstory. I remember one of the themes for that particular issue was about animals. At that time I was still working in the fashion industry, so I was seeing owls on pretty much a daily basis, and thought it would be fun to make some sort of knitted motif with an owl. I had been reading the book “Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace” by Margaret Stove, and felt brave enough to try designing my own lace design. I found a photo of an owl on Google and opened it up on Photoshop, then laid over it a grid based on how many stitches and rows I wanted the motif to be. Then I filled in an outline with little circles to represent the yarnovers and added in the decreases. I made my best guesses in a few places, then knitted up a sample to see how it looked. My first owl was really long and skinny! There was lots of trial and error involved, and it was really a lot of work for a design that might not have even been published, but I am really glad that Lisa liked it enough to include it in the magazine.

JC-R: After reading your blog, I am really impressed with the amount of adventurous (by my standards) sewing that you do. Do your sewing and knitting influence each other or stay completely separate?
CC: I wish that they did! My wardrobe would be much more cohesive if I had some sort of method to my crafting madness. Mostly I just sew whatever I can’t find in the store, and about 90% of it is dresses. I prefer to wear vintage-style dresses and have my hem fall just above my knees. I bought a coverstitch machine a few months ago and I’m still learning how to use it. Once I feel comfortable with it, I plan on making all my t-shirts. I suppose t-shirts will match fabulously with all the sweaters I knit!

JC-R: You have a pretty full schedule of designing for both publications and your own line of patterns. Do you have any “recreational”(i.e. designed by someone else) projects on the needles right now? If so, what and/or what types of projects do you like best?
CC: I typically only knit for my work, so using someone else’s pattern would be a really guilty pleasure. Every time I get a new knitting magazine in the mail I drool over all the beautiful designs and add them to my queue anyway. Maybe when I’m old and gray I’ll get to knit some of them! Since I can’t seem to really separate ‘work knitting’ and ‘fun knitting’ I usually use my fun crafting time for sewing.

JC-R: Do you have a favorite type of yarn to work with? (either generally in fiber or texture, etc. or in specific)
CC: I’m so boring, I tend to gravitate towards smooth wool yarns. After using the amazingly soft and squishy Malabrigo Rios, I think I want to live the rest of my life in merino wool. But by using the same type of worsted weight wools over and over, I have quite a collection of leftovers that allow me to create my colorful stash-buster designs. I can tell you that the kind of yarns I usually dread working with is pure cotton. I find it is really hard on my wrists, and I’ve had a few experiences where several of my fingers went numb. Switching to bamboo needles has helped quite a bit, but if anyone has any more advice, I’d love to hear it! Whenever I work on a warm weather design for a magazine, I keep my fingers crossed and hope that if they send me a cotton yarn it will be blended with another fiber.

JC-R: Are there any books and/or tools that you can’t live without? There are a few books I always refer back to for my designing:
CC: “The Principles of Knitting” by June Hemmons Hiatt. This is a massive textbook-sized encyclopedia of knitting techniques. If it’s not in this book, it probably doesn’t exist. “Knitwear Design Workshop” by Shirley Paden. Some of the math calculations in this book still boggle my brain, but for me there is still a lot of good information on styling. I usually refer back to the information about shaping sleeve caps. “Knitting Patterns Book 250” by Hitomi Shida. Although I can’t read Japanese, this is my most favorite stitch dictionary for really unusual and unique stitch patterns. They are all charted clearly, and it isn’t too difficult to figure out most of the symbols.

JC-R: Do you have some current sources of inspiration or influence you think will be informing your upcoming designs?
CC: I’m always inspired by vintage clothes. Most of my Pinterest feed and pins involve vintage clothing. It is usually the small details that jump out at me, like pockets and collars that you don’t see anymore in mass-produced clothing. “I Love Lucy” is my favorite TV show, and quite often I study all the beautiful clothes Lucille Ball got to wear.

JC-R: Any plans or projects for the near future that you’re able to share?
CC: I wish I could say I was really organized and had all my designs planned out for 2015, but I mostly design as I go. I guess I have a hard time scheduling months in advance because publishing with magazines is so unpredictable. You know as well as I do how hard it is to send your proposals and wait, wait, wait to see if it is accepted or rejected. Then if it is accepted, you make your sample and pattern and wait another six months before it is published. I have a corkboard with little pencil sketches of all the design ideas that I really love, and whenever I am not working on a project for a magazine I try to work on one of those. But there are far more sketches than I will ever get to make, and I’m constantly coming up with new ideas.