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Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Month three: Chianti

Time keeps zipping along and we are already at the third month of the Pairings Yarn Club. It’s been such a wonderful project and this month, I was particularly excited to see the interplay between yarn, dyeing and pattern. We started with a lovely laceweight blend of merino, angora, tencel and cashmere. Brooke suggested we riff off the theme Chianti, so I opted for a semi-solid color that captured some of the richness of a bold Italian wine: not quite maroon, not quite deep pink, not quite purple.

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Brooke picked an Italian lace pattern and whipped up a gorgeous cowl pattern:

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and then in a daring move, I opted for a red-headed model (the gorgeous Wallis):

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The cowl can be worn doubled

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or as a single loop,

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and is such a perfect blend of pattern and yarn.

We’re working now on the last month’s project, but if you’re sorry you missed the fun, don’t worry: we’ll be doing a brand-new round of the club sometime after the New Year. We’ll make sure there are plenty of chances for you to sign up once we open up registration later this fall. And if you’re interested, one of the prizes in my Summer Search raffle (which will go live in a day or two) is a free membership to the next round of the club.

Salute!


Monday, September 15th, 2014

I’m krazy for Kirkwood

You probably heard me talking about my teaching trip to Kirkwood Knittery, outside of St. Louis, MO. Kirkwood Knittery is owned by my friends Brooke Nico and Robyn Schrager, and is an absolutely delightful place to spend a weekend.

kirkwood shop

Although I grumbled a bit about having to be at the airport early enough to make a 7:00 a.m. flight on Friday, the upside was that we had plenty of time to play before the first formal event at the shop (which didn’t start until 5). So I got to have lunch with Brooke and her mom; check in to the hotel and rest a little bit; and then wander around the shop looking at all the lovely yarns, patterns, books and projects. I especially loved the antique spinning wheel and swift that were displayed atop the cabinets, as well as the terrific oil painting of a man shearing a sheep — how cool is that?

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I did bring some yarn with me,

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including a special batch of some laceweight yarn that I dyed with Missouri native plants in mind, since Joan, who works at the shop, is such an amazing gardener. I’m pretty sure she created the display in this planter outside the shop.

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See?

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I never take enough photos, and Friday night’s wine tasting/knit-in was so much fun, I completely forgot! Many kind people asked me to sign my book, and we had a terrific time getting to know each other.

Saturday was a whirlwind of activity: First thing in the morning, I taught a class, then in the afternoon, we did a hands-on dyeing tutorial. I talked a little bit about the process of dyeing and the nature of handpainted yarns, and then, because Kirkwood Knittery is big enough to have sinks and dedicated classroom space, everyone who signed up was able to handdye one or two skeins of sock yarn, with me coaching.

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All my students had great success with their skeins:

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including Brooke’s adorable daughter, who assisted us and dyed her own gorgeous blue skein.

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I loved hanging out at the Knittery and spending time with the great people who are part of its community of crafters, and I hope I get to schedule another trip there in the spring. Brooke and I also had some time to catch up, and to plot some future projects (we’ll be vending at VK Live in Chicago in late October)….


Monday, September 8th, 2014

Summer Search raffle is coming!

A quick heads-up: my annual Summer Search raffle, to benefit the wonderful nonprofit organization that helps mentor at-risk urban kids so that they finish high school successfully and go on to college, will be going live in a week or so. Right now, I’m humbly asking anyone who’d like to donate a prize to contact me by leaving a comment below. I will contact you to get specifics. You can learn more about Summer Search by checking out their website here; my raffle benefits the Philadelphia office, which is providing especially crucial services given the devastating cuts to the public school system in recent years.

Thanks in advance for your support.


Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Heads up: Bartram in the hizzy!*

I just this moment returned from dropping off a freshly-dyed batch of yarns at Loop. There are some skeins of handdyed Francesca and Hannah

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and close to twenty skeins of Bartram, the beautiful, softly-spun merino single that I am dyeing exclusively for Loop! Look at some of the lovely colors I created.

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In fact, you might want to pop on over there, pick up a skein of Bartram and a matching skein of Mad Tosh Merino Lite and make Overbrook, the beautiful shawl pattern by Philly’s own Erika Flory.

Overbrook 3 copy

It’s tremendously gratifying when a talented designer like Erika is inspired to create something beautiful out of yarn I dyed.

I just saw Olan there (I love him so much!) and I bet he would be happy to help you pick some coordinating colorways….

*The street slang is so 2011 by the time it makes it to my neck of the woods.


Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Spinners: You need this book

Several years ago, at one yarn show or another, I met a gorgeous redhead named Beth Smith. I didn’t realize it at the time, because she was so funny and humble and warm, but Beth is a goddess of spinning. She’s had her hand on more sheep than James Herriott — taking tangled, grassy, greasy fresh-shorn fleeces and seemingly effortlessly turning them into beautiful yarn. This is as close to magic as it gets these days.

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I am absolutely delighted, then, to give you a look at Beth’s brand-new book, The Spinner’s Book of Fleece: A Breed-by-Breed Guide to Choosing and Spinning the Perfect Fiber for Every Purpose (Storey Publishing; MSRP $29.95).

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I have long been fascinated with different breeds of sheep. Think about how many breeds of, say, dogs there are: schnauzers, dachsunds, corgis, poodles, German shepherds, cocker spaniels….and think about how drastically different their coats are. It’s the same with sheep. Some have curly hair, some have straight; some have fine hair, some have coarse; fleeces come in different colors and thicknesses; and they are suitable for different kinds of projects. What is so wonderful about this book is that it walks you through the most commonly encountered breeds of sheep (and probably some you’ll never be lucky enough to encounter) and explains all about the individual characteristics of that breed’s fleece.

You will see gorgeous photographs of the breed to help you identify it. You will learn about the background of the breed and its history (did you know that some common sheep breeds were created relatively recently by crossbreeding?). You will learn how to wash its fleece. You will learn techniques for how to spin it so to its best advantage, and the types of projects that the resulting yarn will be suited for. If you’ve thought to yourself, “I’d really love to find a yarn of XXX breed with XX plies that would be perfect for knitting a XXX but I can’t find it anywhere!” despair no more, for Beth Smith will show you how to spin the yarn of your dreams.

Maybe you think I am exaggerating.

Maybe you think this woman cannot tell you all that you need to know about spinning the yarn of your dreams.

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Here is a look at the table of contents.

First chapter — about raw fleece, including storing it and tools.
Chapter 2 — how to buy a fleece, including info on pests like evil moths.
Chapter 3 — considerations for spinning yarn for knitting vs crochet vs weaving; singles vs. plies; finishing your yarn
Chapter 4 — fine breeds, including merino, polypay (admit it, you’ve never heard of the polypay breed), corriedale and cormo
Chapter 5 — longwools, including romney, wensleydale, lincoln, bluefaced leicester
Chapter 6 — down breeds, including suffolk, southdown, dorset and black welsh mountain; drumcarding and handcarding
Chapter 7 — multicoat breeds, including karakul, shetland, icelandic and scottish blackface
Chapter 8 — other breeds: jacob, tunis, california red

There are lots of tips and tricks sprinkled throughout. There are many clear photos of sheep, fleece, locks, tools, yarn and all the other important things that are discussed in the text. You’ll get ideas for making your spinning technique more comfortable. There are specific methods for how to wash fleeces (hint: don’t throw them in the washing machine with a glug of Tide). Just getting a chance to study the samples that Beth has spun is worth the price of admission for people who are serious about yarn.

beth book page

If you ever dismissed the notion of spinning with a particular breed’s wool because the breed is known as a “meat breed” or you’ve been told that the resulting wool “will only be good for rugs,” Beth will convince you otherwise. And I suspect that whether you’re an accomplished spinner or a brand-new one, you’ll learn many things from this book.

You can purchase a copy from Beth directly (and get her to autograph it) at her website; or use the link above to get hard or kindle copy via Amazon.

Your spinning will never be the same.

Photos used for review purposes with permission, and are copyright 2014 Storey Publishing; I received a free PDF copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.


Friday, August 29th, 2014

A new yarn (and free shipping this weekend)

A while back, I had a fingering-weight yarn in my Black Bunny Fibers shop that was a marl — different-colored plies twisted around each other. Each ply took the dye in a slightly different shade of the same color, giving a funky barbershop-style effect. Not everyone likes the marled look, but it’s fun to play with and I got some really lovely effects with it. Alas, that base was discontinued. Recently, however, I discovered a new fingering-weight yarn with a similar (although much subtler) effect, and I dyed some skeins of it to see what it was like.

Behold Fairview:

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alp candy

It’s a two-ply yarn, with one ply of baby alpaca and one of merino. The marled effect is much subtler than the previous base yarn I was using, and I really like the subtlety of it, which looks terrific whether the yarn is a semisolid or a multicolor.

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There are about eight or nine skeins in my Art Fire shop right now: you can see them here.

I try really hard to be disciplined about not dipping into my own inventory too much — although it can be very tempting! — but I made an exception for Fairview since it felt so soft and looked so intriguing.

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I’m hoping to have a cowl pattern up and running soon…but in the meantime, check out Fairview and if you’re tempted, use the code FAIRVIEW for free shipping. (It’ll work on any order in the shop for the next five days — I’m easy that way.)


Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Coming events….and a FO

Maybe I’ve been in denial lately about how quickly summer is winding down and autumn is edging in. So it probably makes sense for me to announce some of the events that I’ll be attending over the course of the next few months.

September 12-13: Kirkwood Knittery, St. Louis, MO

I am so excited to see Kirkwood Knittery, the shop of my friends Brooke Nico and Robyn Schrager. I’ll be there the weekend of September 12-13. Friday night, I’ll be signing copies of Sock Yarn Studio at a “Sip Sip Knit” meet-n-greet, and Saturday, I’ll be teaching so check out the Kirkwood blog for details if you live in the St. Louis area.

October 9-12 is Stitches East, in Hartford, Connecticut! I’ll be teaching at Stitches East! Four classes, including some new-to-East ones. Go here to sign up.

And Brooke and I will be finishing up the month of October with VK Live: Chicago, once again at the storied Palmer House Hotel. I’ll be teaching Yarn Substitution and giving a one-hour lecture on handpainted yarns, plus we’ll be vending all weekend at the VK Marketplace. I’m working on some new yarns, kits and patterns for the show, so that will be worth checking out. Details are here.

I’ve updated the “Events” page on my website, and I’ll try to keep it updated on a regular basis. I may be adding a few appearances here and there, so check back from time to time for the most recent information.

In other news, I’ve got a new FO to show you: a quilt. This is a very special one that I made for a friend. I started with the backing fabric, which I’d picked especially for her:

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Then I cut blocks from a variety of fabrics, using the colors in the backing fabric as a rough theme.

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(This was the best part, because I looked for fabrics that reminded me of Bridget. Cats, dogs, teacups, books…..)

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It was also fun to lay out the blocks and play with different arrangements, although part of the fun of a scrap quilt like this is the randomness.

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I machine quilted horizontal lines following the rough outline of the blocks, and opted for a bright turquoise print binding.

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Ta-da!
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Thank you to my trusty quilt-holding assistant, Boy Twin, for his help.

I had so much fun making this one, partly because the colors and fabrics were so cheerful and bright, but mostly because I knew that the recipient, whom I dearly love, needed a lift and would enjoy snuggling up in it.

Even if she is a bit of a Grinch.

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Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Fall Preview: Rowan Magazine 56

Because my ancestors spent centuries drinking vodka by the chilly shores of the Baltic Sea, I am not a summer person. My pasty Polish skin always burns, I don’t particularly like to swim, and the heat makes me cranky. That means it is not an exaggeration to say that my favorite thing about summer is the release each July of the new Rowan Magazine.

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And sweet mother of mercy, is this a good one!

Y’all remember how this works, right? Patterns are organized into two “stories” with a theme, plus an “Essentials” section with pared-down styling. And there are always interesting articles, designer profiles and previews of other Rowan design collections and yarns.

The first grouping of patterns, called Wilderness, was inspired by the beautiful and dramatic landscapes of Scotland — with an emphasis on techniques and motifs found in Scottish textiles, like plaid, cables and fair isle patterns. Marie Wallin gets us started with an interesting blend of cables and stranded knitting — cables on the body of the sweater and stranded motifs on the sleeves, all in a blend of green and gold and orange tweedy colors.

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Lisa Richardson explores the same concept — body of sweater knit in one pattern, sleeves in a different one — but she opts for plaid on the body of the sweater and small cabling down the sleeves.

Ashie, by Lisa Richardson

I have to say, that whatever Marie Wallin is smoking, I WANT SOME. Because the gorgeous patterns keep coming…..

Moraig is knit in Fine Tweed, with bands of patterning and some plain rows in between — a good project for someone new to stranded knitting, as the plain rows give the knitter some breathing room in between stranded rows.

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This stunning men’s cardigan in knit in Cocoon, with bold cables and a garter ridge background:

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This woman’s sweater features stranded motifs on the yoke and sholders, then allover cable patterning on the lower sleeves and body, both using a diamond shape so that it all ties together:

Ness, Marie Wallin

And check out this divine checkerboard knit with color-morphing stripes:

Scaven, Marie Wallin

Yowsa, that’s a lot of amazing design work from one person! Of course, there is no shortage of talent on the Rowan design team, and you know of my platonic crush on Martin Storey,

who designed this exquisite cabled sweater in Felted Tweed Aran:

Fergus, Martin Storey

Storey also designed this stunning coat — I love the way black is used for the background color instead of cream or beige:

Roan, Martin Storey

and this sweater that uses checkerboard-type stranded motif while alternating contrast colors:

Ordie, Martin Storey

Amazing as always, Mr. Storey.

Lisa Richardson’s cape uses an very interesting stitch pattern, with muted but beautiful color choices:

Brack, Lisa Richardson

and Richardson’s Heilen top is a wonderful melding of colors and motifs — love it!

Heilen, Lisa Richardson
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Vibe Ulrik’s Laide is lovely, too, and its quieter color scheme is a nice contrast to some of the brighter garments.

Laide, Vibe Ulrik

I really enjoyed seeing how the colors of each garment were carefully coordinated with the background (shot in Scotland), sometimes contrasting, other times picking up colors in the beautiful natural setting.

It’s particularly fun to go from the Wilderness story, inspired by very traditional textiles, to the Craft story, which takes inspiration from more modern design elements, the Bauhaus and Arts/Crafts movements. You’ll still find plenty of color and patterning, though, like Galina Carroll’s Franziska

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I like the colorwork motifs, which are a little different, more modern-looking, and the colors are beautifully chosen.

Marie Wallin’s Angelika

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and Sarah Hatton’s hazy mohair Birgit both use simple graphic motifs but add plenty of oomph with their color choices.

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It’s really fascinating to see colorwork done with slipped stitches and non-Fair Isle motifs. Karolin, by Lisa Richardson, is intricate and lovely:

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The use of mohair-blend yarns along with wool yarns reminds me a bit of Bohus-style sweaters — love it.

Gemma Atkinson’s Isolde wrap mixes stitch patterns with stripes and other tribal motifs:

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and Gisela, also by Atkinson, shows off an eye-catching quill pattern.

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Embroidery embellishes Elsa,

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Returning to more graphic-style motifs, Kaffe Fassett designed two striking sweaters, Katja

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and Tanja.

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Lisa Richardson’s jacket Ulrika features a terrific use of Fine Art handpainted yarn, harnessing the way the yarn pools to create vertical stripes.

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Last is the Essentials feature, with pared-down styling to focus on shapes and fit. This Magazine’s version of Essentials shows both oversized and slim silhouettes (HOW CAN BOTH BE IN???),

But since fashion trends are dictated by the runways, I guess this fall, we’ll be seeing both silhouettes.

For example, Julia Frank’s Song tunic, in a clever v-lace mesh, has a slim fit (especially for tunics, which often are made with more ease),

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whereas Grace Melville’s Rhyme features very wide sleeves, giving a dolman or batwing feel;

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Vibe Ulrik’s Muse is described as a “slim crew,” with texture knit in Kidsilk Haze;

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and Sarah Hatton’s mohair Stanza features a boatneck with trim 3/4 sleeves.

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(And we all know how I feel about Sarah Hatton…..)

Martin Storey taunts me with Verse, which looks so much like the “shaker” sweaters from Limited that we 80s gals wore over tights in college….

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Lisa Richardson’s lace tunic is worn as a very cute dress,

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and Marie Wallin’s Lyric features a subtle but arresting textured design.

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Articles include a feature on Sanquhar glove making; a look at knitting during the First World War; a fiber profile of alpaca; and a quick primer on two-handed fair isle technique. Rowan members can get access to additional patterns through the Knit Rowan website, too.

In a knitting world where dumbed-down seems to be the big thing, it’s such a pleasure to see beautiful designs using techniques like stranded knitting, cables, slip stitches, and to see how the masters of knitting design combine color and texture to create gorgeous garments. Rowan 56 is a winner, and I shall drool over the patterns within for a long time.


Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Re-entry

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably remember that like true Philadelphians, each summer we go “downa shore.” Our preferred New Jersey beach town is Cape May. When we first started going to the beach, my kids looked like this:

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Now they look like this.

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Sometimes my mom gets wistful about the kids getting older; she says things like “They are getting so big! It’s such a shame!” and while I understand how sweet little kids are and miss many things about when my kids were younger, I can’t feel sad about them growing up when they are such great people. This past week we had an amazing time together. Seeing them start to morph into adults — smart, kind, well-adjusted adults — fills me with pride. And it’s wonderful to spend time with people who are funny, bright and interesting.

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I feel fortunate to have these beach weeks with them, and with my husband, who works terribly hard most of the year. (In fact, the worst part of our vacation was missing Boris and Charcoal! although my lovely father-in-law did a great job of boarding them.)

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It’s nice to be home, too, and now things are starting to rev up in anticipation of the coming fall. (It’s not that far away, you know!)

But for now, we’ll enjoy these last, lingering days of summer.

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