Monday, July 31, 2006

Not so much a post, - more like a sticky note

And sticky is the word. Hot, hot, horrible and hot. I want air conditioning....

Thanks for all the great compliments, on here and by email, on the strapless top. I have to say it's one of my favourites too! Lixie, you should be able to get the yarn at any online store that carries Elle Yarns - I'm not up-to-date on LYS stockists. Mail me if you have problems.

Two really annoying things happened this week. I missed yet another Knitting and Crochet Guild meeting - I'm used to being kept indoors when it's cold, but it seems a bit unfair that I now can't get out when it's too hot, either :)

The other was my surpassing of my previous record-holding piece of clumsiness, ie giving myself a paper-cut on the peel-off backing of a Band-Aid. This time, I broke my tooth. On ice cream.

Stop laughing, it hurts :)

To be more specific, it was Ben & Jerry's Phish Food, and it was a fish-shaped piece of chocolate surrounded by ice cream, but the point remains.

Sometimes I wonder how I manage to breathe and walk at the same time :)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Designing 101

For those of you breathless with anticipation for another chunk of my boring family history, sorry - that will have to be next week. Too hot. Too tired. Also, I want to write about my latest design!

Simply Knitting came out this week, featuring my strapless ribbed top with ribbon detail. They've called it 'Summer Dreams', which I like. The pictures are super, which is very cheering after my breakdown over the poncho picture :)

I originally designed this top with straps, but as the knitting progressed, I realised it was going to hold up on its own and ditched the straps. Now, I have had a lot of compliments about the top this week (squeak!), but also several requests about larger people wanting to use straps. Listen, people - have you seen my photo? I would need not only straps but buttresses. If you want to make straps, make straps. I would always rather my clothes were worn and enjoyed :)

The yarn is Cotton Fields from Elle, whose yarns I love (and no, I'm not on commission!). I'm not a big fan of cotton because of the splittiness and lack of elasticity, but I have to say that this was quite an easy one to work with - not too hard on the hands, drapes nicely, doesn't split too much.

The ribbon is organza, from a website called Craft Online (again, no affiliation, etc). It supplies craft materials for, among other things, wedding favours. That's the section which has the organza ribbon in it. I love the way that the organza is sheer, whch makes the colour more subtle, and also that it has a sheen to it, offsetting the matte surface of the cotton.

Of course, the other exciting thing for me was the interview :) Richard (the Beamish Boy) provided the photo, and the actual interview was done over the phone. Sharon Thomas is very easy to talk to, and had some interesting questions. I think she pulled the bones out of our conversation really well - it made me sound quite coherent!

I'd also like to pop in a few words here about th
e whole design-to-print process, because some readers seem to have odd ideas about how things are done.

The first step is the idea. Either I come up with something, or an editor will request a type of garment. Sometimes they want to highlight a particular yarn, so I get sent some to play with and have to design around that.
Magazines are usually looking to the issue three or four months ahead, so I often find myself knitting heavy jumpers in August and skimpy tops in February!

The design usually evolves over a few days, so I rarely go with my first idea - I let it stew for a little while first. If I haven't been sent a sample ball of the yarn, I order one online.

Next step is swatching. This is essential, because I might find out at this point that the yarn I want doesn't do what I want it to - the fabric comes out too dense, or textured stitches don't look right.

Once I have my swatch, I can write the first draft of the pattern. I start with sketches of the pattern pieces, and then label these with measurements in cm and inches. Magazines prefer cm - I still think in inches :)

I check and recheck all the numbers here, to make sure that everything adds up as it should. It's no good my deciding that a side seam should be 30cm overall if I've already labelled the ribbing as 10cm and the rest of the seam
as 22cm! These measurements also help me work out how much yarn to order.

With these numbers, and my swatch details, I can now write the first draft of the pattern. I usually have to design for about 5 sizes, and the actual garment will be the smallest size.

Once I have a good idea of how much yarn I will need, I request it from the distributors. I have a lot of very helpful contacts with different companies, who appreciate that I need the stuff as soon as possible. I've only once had to wait more than a couple of days for yarn. Of course, this is in their best interest, too - my designs exist to advertise their yarns!

The yarn arrives, and I start work. All this time my subconscious has been muttering away to itself, refining and polishing the design, so it is at this point that I make any final major alterations to the drawings and pattern.

Finally, I start knitting - usually to a deadline. I tweak the written pattern as the garment grows, altering things like the depth of ribbing or the shape of a neckline.

Once the garment is finished, seamed and blocked, I check through my written copy of the pattern to make sure it reads clearly, and then type it up in Word. I have templates for each magazine, as everyone sets their patterns out slightly differently. Then the garment, a sample of the yarn, and a covering letter go off in the post to the Editor, and I email her the pattern and my schematic of the pattern pieces.

I have no more input once the garment has been sent off, and just have to wait until the magazine comes out. Sometimes I will be asked for a few comments on the garment, but not every time.

After the piece has been photographed, it is returned to me, and I store it with my other designs
- meanwhile, it's on to the next one!

The most common questions I seem to get about designing are 'Do you use a computer program?' (nope, just good old pencils, paper and a calculator); 'Do you get the things back once the magazine finishes with them?' (yes, but none of them fits me!); and 'Does the magazine have people who knit your patterns up?' (not the ones I work for, although I think you have that choice with Interweave Knits).

So there you go. Everything you never really wanted to know about my design process.....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Family and Other Knitters - pt 1

Someone asked me recently if I came from a creative background. I didn't think my family was any more creative than normal until I started to think about it.

For example, my great-grandmother on my mother's side was a professional cook. This seems to have been passed on through the family - one of my aunts, the second daughter of my grandmother's six surviving children, was the cook at Harrow School for years. My mother, sister and I are enthusiastic cooks, who love to throw dinner parties, although Mum and I aren't up to the elaborate stuff any more.

Mum makes and decorates great cakes. She can do the traditional royal icing types (my wedding cake, baskets of roses and so on) as well as the Jane Asher type - she does a lovely butterfly.

She's also very good at pickles and preserves, although she deosn't produce as much as she did when we were at home to eat them. I can still smell the eye-watering combination of boiling vinegar and pickling spice from the making of pickled onions :)

My maternal grandmother was a talented dressmaker - just as well, when she had six children to bring up, and a husband who was away at sea more than he was at home. (He retired from sailing a year before my mother was born, when he lost a leg in a wreck.) She not only clothed the family, she took in dressmaking too. Mum can clearly remember her sewing into the small hours, to finish a party dress for the family or an order for someone else.

My maternal grandfather, as I say, was a sailor, and so was proficient at netting and sailmaking. Because of the netting, he also knew how to cast on with the thumb method - something he taught Mum, which she then passed on to me and my sister. He also loved to whittle wood, and carve toy boats, which Mum, her brother and their cousins used to sail on the local pond.

My mother's brother inherited Grandad's abilities with wood, and became a time-served carpenter, making furniture which is still in use in the family. (His wife, although not a blood relative, also deserves a mention - she was a trained tailor and upholsterer, and I remember her work as being amazingly neat and accurate.)

Mum and another of her sisters both trained in the workroom attached to a big upholstery/curtains/loose covers shop in Southampton. It was almost a rite of passage there to have the needle of the sewing machine go through your finger - Mum still has a rough section on the side of one nail, where the needle went in between her nail and her finger, while my aunt had it actually go through the middle of her nail.

Mum was also a great dressmaker, and could be amazingly inventive. After the war, when money was short and clothing was hard to get, she made my brother a pair of shorts and two plaid shirts from my father's old raincoat.

We all had handmade clothes as children, although we didn't always appreciate it! One of my favourite outfits was the sailor top and navy miniskirt she made for my twelfth birthday - I felt like a million dollars in that :)

She was also a prodigious knitter, and loved Fair Isle especially. She used to say that, if we won the Pools, she would sit and knit Fair Isle all day. She was also particularly inventive with her allowance of clothing coupons in the Second World War - she used short lengths of tapestry wool (for which no coupons were needed) for Fair Isle tops, and even knitted her own nylons, complete with seam, from the little cards of nylon darning thread!

(I'm using the past tense here, not because she has died, but because the other family legacy - arthritis - has curtailed a lot of her activities.)

My father, like Mum's brother, was a time-served carpenter, and made some lovely furniture. He could be very inventive - my sister still uses a long, low table which he made from the top of a piano! Although he eventually qualified as a chartered quantity surveyor, he never lost his DIY enthusiasms, and I can never remember anyone else coming to the house to do odd jobs. He's the only man I have ever known who could wallpaper a ceiling....

He also used to make hooked rugs, and could embroider beautifully. He was stuck in quarantine in a military hospital for a whole winter while he was in the Army in WWII (carrying, but not suffering from, diphtheria), and he passed the time by embroidering tray cloths and making a pink elephant for the Sister. He presented it to her when he left, explaining that, when it turned grey, she would know she had had enough to drink!

My brother is creative with words. He has written several series of stories for children, as well as a children's novel and several collections of humorous verse. He can compose long rhyming poems for any family occasion, and we all treasure the poems he has written for each of us!

My sister is a proficient knitter and a wonderful cross-stitcher. She especially used to like the big intarsia picture sweaters of the 80s, and used to add extra sections onto the charts to keep herself interested - more sheep, or more flowers. She made me a wonderful sweater with a country landscape on it - but she thought the back would be boring for her just done plain, so she adapted the chart from the front, and created the same scene by night for the back!

She can make clothes - she's just made a beautiful christening robe for her new granddaughter.

She's been a keen cross stitcher for several years now, and has designed lots of her own works. I particularly like the pair of samplers she made depicting events from the years in which she and her husband were born.

She doesn't knit much now, but I still treasure the memory of waking up one birthday to find that she had knitted an entire wardrobe of beautiful clothes for my Tiny Tears! Come to think of it, I still have the pattern she used :) And I really regret losing the green rabbit she made me....

Like me, she has dabbled in a ot of other things - macrame, plasticraft paperweights, jewellery making, tatting.

Ever since I was little, I've been making things: knitting, crochet (yarn, thread and filet), tatting, cross stitch, embroidery, blackwork, tapestry, bobbin lace, Ruskin lace, spinning, paper crafts, macrame, Fimo modelling, modelling with paper straws, watercolour painting, basketry, dressmaking..... But I keep coming back to knitting and crochet. I guess they're my thing.

Next week: Our amazing neighbour. Have a good one!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Too hot :(

I received my August copy of Knitting magazine yesterday, with my final piece for them in it.

OK, that was terrible sentence construction, but I am too hot and tired to care :)

It's a camisole worked in Louisa Harding Kimono Silk Ribbon, which has to be one of the prettiest yarns I've used recently. I love variegated yarns anyway, because the changing colours keep me amused - yes, I am easily amused! Sometimes variegated yarn has very badly conceived colourways, and sudden changes in colour. This yarn, however, changes subtly from one colour to another, and also has a lovely sheen to it which is not immediately obvious in pictures.

It's also very easy to work with, so long as you don't use mega-sharp needles, as these would tend to pierce the yarn. It slides smoothly along the needle without slipping off the tip, and it's surprisingly stretchy.

No affiliation, by the way - just my own thoughts!

I was also very pleased with the way that the camisole itself was photographed - good front and back shots. It really annoys me when I open knitting magazines and see photographers trying to be arty - sorry, people, but we need good, clear photographs of the garment. No colour filters, no long-distance misty shots, and nothing distracting from the knit.....

OK, that's it for this week. Sorry I'm not at my sparkling best, but I hate heat. And please don't mention 'Doctor Who....'

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Slight error of judgement

Today was the hottest day in rural County Durham so far this summer. So what did I do?

Did I sit under the shower?

Did I go to the leafy, shady forest down the road?

Did I find a spa with a cool jacuzzi?

Nothing so obvious.

I got my whole family together - from Southampton, Luton, York and Durham - and took them to a restaurant with no air-conditioning, to eat a roast dinner.

It says a lot about my family that no one gave in to Heat Rage and tried to disembowel their neighbour with a dessert fork.

We were actually gathered together to celebrate both Richard's 21st and his graduation. We worked out that the last time we were all together, including Richard's paternal grandparents, was at his christening - although the last time my side of the family met up without them was only three years ago, at a joint birthday party for Mum and my brother.

We don't go in for big reunions much :)

Anyhoo, I am hanging on by my last nail, so I think it's time I went and crashed. I may be back next Sunday.....