Monday, June 30, 2008

When Your Head it Keeps on Spinnin'


Wow, that was a lot of information to try and absorb in a weekend! The photo above illustrates how scrambled my brain was by Sunday evening--I think that I stopped being able to register different colors at all for an hour or so. I actually dreamt about swatching last night, which I'm pretty sure was a first for me. In other words, this is probably the most inspiring knitting class that I've ever taken. I'm not really the kind of person who tries to knit meaning into projects (though I try not to knit hate into them), but I really loved the idea of starting with a photograph for design inspiration and translating the colors (in some cases very loosely) into a traditional(-ish) Fair Isle design. I'm still trying to sort all of this out in my brain (and am second-guessing my photo color-correcting abilities, too), and I'm hoping that writing it all out will help. This is a much longer post than usual as a result. If I'm missing anything, let me know. If I'm way too wordy, just skim.

I apologize in advance that I have very little to share about the work that other people did in class--it felt like we were moving too fast to take photos most of the time. There were some amazing color combinations and swatches--watching everyone move through the process was extremely valuable.

Part I: Inspiration and Initial Color Selection

Janine has some great photos (and a much more concise explanation) of this stage here.

My starting point was this photo that I took when I was in Venice in May--it's also in the upper right hand corner of the photo above. I love the colors of the water in Venice, and the blue of the sky, and the colors of the buildings. Plus, there are smaller bits of red, brown, green, and white--in other words, there's plenty to work from.

The first step was to pick out a ton of colors (from Janine's T-O-N-s of yarn) representing colors in the photo but in many different values. Then you arrange them in value order, without regard to hue, split them in half, and "speed swatch" them together. Value is really tricky for me, especially when trying to decide, for instance, where a deep green goes compared to a deep yellow. It's something to practice, but in the meantime a trick is to look at colors in black and white to see the differences. Here's my speed swatch, both in color and in black and white:

Speed Swatch

I started swatching darkest to lightest, and moving towards the middle. Very festive, isn't it? Almost like Kaffe Fassett's Circus Tents quilt, was my first reaction. I accidentally zigged when I should have zagged, and instead of having a "mistake" in my swatch, I just kept on zigging and zagging. This makes it a little tougher to see the individual lines, especially once the values get closer to the middle. I can see in the black and white version where there are abrupt value changes, though.

Part of what I know about color I stole from my former roommate E___ who is a graphic designer with a great eye for color, and most of the rest of what I know comes from quilting, where I'm generally looking for sharp value changes or minimal value changes with a small bit of contrast for "pop". Fair Isle is about very gradual value changes, or progressions of even value changes, which is a different skill altogether (at least for me).

I seriously hated this swatch when I first knit it (even if I do like some parts of it), but it is starting to grow on me. It was interesting to hear other people in the class say that they liked different parts of it than I do. If I did it again I would change the way I ordered the colors, so that I was matching darkest to middle and working towards middle to lightest, instead of starting with the highest contrast. And I'd lose some of the peachier shades, maybe. And it would be the perfectest color swatch in the world, on first try--I just know it would.

Part 2: Refine Colors, Select Motifs, and Swatch Some More

I'm not going to go into how I selected motifs, or where they came from, because honestly I didn't document my sources well enough. I basically started with an all-over pattern with motifs inside diamond shaped frames that fit together. I selected the motifs from several different books, and charted out a couple on my own. I wanted to try one that reflected the cross-shaped windows on the building in my inspiration photo, but otherwise wasn't trying to be literal at all about the motifs. I started with a swatch of just one of the five motifs I ended up with, one that had a pretty solid center. I was going for a heavier weight center, which as it turns out was a mistake:

Motif Swatch #1

See how my "startle color" in the middle of the motif looks like just a line? That's not the effect I was going for. Also, you can see in the black and white photo that there isn't much value difference between the greens and the blues in the lower part of the photo. Don't even get me started on how I skipped a pattern line, and didn't realize it until the next day. I decided to throw out some of the lighter greens, and add it some darker greens. Before starting another swatch (which I knew needed to be much bigger), I made a tiny speed swatch:

Tiny Speed Swatch

There's still some value muddiness at the bottom of the swatch, but I'm much happier overall. The grey fit in value-wise, but I didn't like the hue change from blue to grey, so I selected another light blue to use instead. In the evening, I charted out the motifs in Excel, and made some changes that I thought would help with that whole "yellow line" issue. I've started my large swatch, but am less than half-way through it so it's a little early for me to pass judgement upon it. This is how it looks so far:


Much better, yes? I'm a little concerned that now I have a red line issue to worry about, but until I have a whole swatch that I can look at from 10 feet away, I'm not going to make any changes. I did order full skeins of all 10 or 11 colors in the swatch last night as soon as I got home from class, but that's not a real committment. Right now, I'm not thinking that this type of allover motif is something that I would wear as a sweater, but I might like to try it as a pillow cover or some other small project. Again, it's really too early to tell--this is not a project that's going to move forward quickly.

I'll talk about the last part of the class (steeks & sweater design) more in another post. All of this talking about the class is both reminding me how tired I am, and has got my fingers itching to continue the swatch. Plus, I've got a too-tight cast-off to pick out on the Smooshy socks, and some ice cream to eat. It's been H-O-T here!

Friday, June 27, 2008

If You're Trying to Paint a Picture But You're Not Sure What Colors Belong


I'm taking a "Design Your Own Fair Isle" class this weekend taught by Janine Bajus, and after Day 1 my brain is about ready to explode. Not in a bad way, in a "WOW" way. Today's class focused on color, and our first exercise was the value swatches above. What I learned from this exercise is that I can distinguish between dark and light values pretty well, but I have no concept about what's in the middle. My swatch is the blue one at the bottom of the frame. See the sharp line between the third and fourth colors? That's my "area of opportunity". It's not my only area of opportunity, unfortunately!

We also swatched a ton of colors inspired by photos that we picked out--28 or 29 colors in my case, two at a time. Some of the combinations in my swatch look good, and some look scratch-your-eyes-out terrible. Overall, the colors are not cohesive in the swatch, and even though the colors all relate to and work in the photo, some / many of them will have to go. Getting the color right is definitely going to be a challenge, in a good way, and working through Janine's design process is really, really interesting.

Tomorrow we focus on motifs, so tonight I'm looking through books of patterns--I'm looking forward to the next steps (even though it means getting up really early for a Saturday).

Monday, June 23, 2008

When the Sun Comes Out The World's Gonna Go Crazy

Quilt Shop Hop Haul

Have I mentioned that Spring may have finally arrived, just in time for Summer? On Saturday Mom and I went to six or seven quilt stores, and it was really nice to see the sun around here for a change. Most of the fabrics I bought are very spring / summery, too, even after it clouded up on Sunday. I bought patterns all over, some Amy Butler fat quarters in Chehalis, some Amy Butler yardage in a couple of other places, a Swell Jellyroll in Bothell, and some really cute Japanese piggy and frog fabrics in Bellevue. There were a few things that I was specifically looking for that I didn't find, but I did see a lot of great new fabrics and had a delicious meal at Burgerville. I can't stress enough how much Burgerville plays into my desire to Quilt Shop Hop--the closest one is also close to Sisters, one of my favorite stores on the Hop.

So what to sew first? I'm thinking about a small needle roll or soft folder to hold the tips of my Knitpicks options. I love the needles, but I don't like the binder at all. Hmmm. . . piggys or frogs? Or dachshunds, for that matter?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

He Gave Us the Wine to Taste It


It feels like a long time since I jumped on a KAL--at least a KAL with a beginning, a little structure, and an end. Maybe that's why I've got more than a few unfinished projects? Some open-ended KALs that I've yet to finish include the Bee Fields Shawl, and the Bird in Hand Mittens, just to name two. These two KALs were/are open-ended, and yet both projects have been hibernating for months now. Maybe a little deadline knitting is in order, just so that I'll finish something! I missed the sign ups for Summer of Socks, completely blew off Project Spectrum, and haven't started a new sock for a Ravelry Sockdown since January. I've been a regular knit-blogging slacker, but the Loopy Ewe Dream in Color Baby KAL has changed all that, at least for now. There's a specified yarn (DIC Baby, obviously), and a deadline (October 1), but other than that it's pretty free-form.

I cast on Juno Regina in Baby on Saturday, and even after eight hours of driving from quilt store to quilt store the pattern made perfect sense. The charts are many, and they look as if they get tougher in about 8 more rows, but so far so good. The color, In Vino Veritas, is very rich, and ranges from a dark burgundy to a wine-y purple depending on the light. It looks awfully purple in the photo above (taken in natural PNW sunlight), doesn't it? I don't think it really looks that purple, in real life, but we'll see. This yarn / pattern also works for the Red KAL (Rav Link) in the Loopy Ewe group.

About the yarn. . .I've been knitting away on my Smooshy Socks that use Dream in Color's Smooshy yarn for months now (they should be done fairly soon), and I couldn't be happier with the yarn. It is, as the name implies, very Smooshy, but knitting up to a nice firm sock fabric. The color changes are very subtle, with no pooling or striping, which works well with the pattern I'm using. I think that Baby is just a lighter version of Smooshy, but I'm not sure yet whether I like it as well. I'm a little concerned that the Baby is going to be on the itchy side, but right now my hands are very dried out from knitting the cotton washcloth, and everything feels a little rough on them.

At the end of the week, I'll be moving from lace to fair isle, so I'm hoping to make a lot of progress this week. On Friday, I start a three-day class on Fair Isle knitting taught by Janine Bajus, and I'm starting to get excited about it--although really I should be preparing my supplies, and unpacking my bag from Stanford and putting away my new fabric, and what-not. Hmm. Better get on that.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Insert Stevie Nicks Lace Quote Here


I missed the Seattle LYS Tour this year, but I did pick up the Renaissance Yarns project last week. Its a very cute lace washcloth (Rav Link) made from Sublime Organic Cotton dk. This yarn feels as good as it looks, with a suitably "organic" palette. It's a very quick knit (I'm just finishing the border), and assuming that I finish this one, there will be more on the way. I'm thinking that a few of these in coordinating colors might be a nice gift for a recent college grad, who is moving to her first apartment soon. If she doesn't want to use it as a people washcloth, she can always try it out on dishes. Yes, it does pain me to say that.

This weekend is the Western Washington Quilt Shop Hop, and I made it to eight stores today. That sounds like a lot more than it is, really--I basically covered the shops between my office and home, and then went to Puyallup and Tacoma. Up until earlier this week, I was planning to be out of town, but those plans fell through so I'll spent at least a portion of the weekend shop hopping. I'm trying to develop a quick plan of attack, because otherwise I'll end up with nothing but a sore butt from driving all weekend. Or I'll end up with a bunch of fabric that I may never use, and frankly I already have plenty of that. Here's where I went at lunch (I didn't take photos of any of the others--too much rushing around!):


This is Carriage Country Quilts, and it's close to my office so I pop in there occasionally on non-Shop Hop Days.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Like a Blister in the Sun

Burned Knees

How is it that a hot day in the bleachers watching my former charge A__ graduate and listening to this lady resulted in no visible effect on my legs' Seattle tan, with the exception of two burned knees?

It's been a loooong couple of weeks. Fun, but loooong. Must recuperate through knitting (and/or napping)!

p.s. Note that the skirt above is one of the two cotton skirts that I made earlier this spring, and I wore the second one to the graduation. I love the pattern--it's Amy Butler's Barcelona Skirt, the plain A-line version. It does cover the knees while sitting, which is the other baffling part of having two burned knees.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I Followed You Big River, When You Called


I've been making good progress on the Autumn Lace Scarf and the Smooshy Socks in the last week (when I've had a little time to knit), but all those tiny, intricate stitches have been kind of getting to me. The scarf requires a lot of focus, and the socks are on tiny needles, and I've been thinking about how nice it would be to actually finish a project. So when Liz posted about starting Fantine (Rav Link), I started thinking about making one too. I picked up the pattern and the yarn (Rowan Big Wool) yesterday, and I'm already about 25% done. Very gratifying!
I used this yarn for a last minute Christmas gift this past year, and although I'm not a huge fan of chunky yarn I liked working with it. It's chunky but very light, and I think that this shade of gray will be very versitile. The pattern is cute, but I'm not sure if it's going to look very good on me (at least in the short term). It could be a train-wreck, but with such a small investment of time I'm willing to give it a try. For the time being, I'm planning to do the 3/4 length sleeves, and I started with the scoop neck rather than the Mandarin Collar. I might give the cap sleeves a try, though!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

3 is a Magic Number


So if you're having a party today for your 3rd birthday, and I'm invited to your party, I have a couple of things to say:

  • The photo above is your gift. It's a pattern from Melly & Me that I picked up at the sewing expo, and I used fabric on-hand to make. The name of the pattern is Sangsang, but you can name this doll whatever you like!
  • Who taught you to get on the internet, anyway? Seriously, my blog may be a little too adult for you, as it involves many controversial topics and deep debates about the issues of the day. Oh, wait, no it doesn't--you're probably fine, since you don't read yet. Right?

This is a cute pattern, I made the smaller sized doll. After getting it a little damp this morning photographing it amongst the strawberry plants, I decided that it was a little on the plain side, so I added a rick-rack belt.


Much better, I think! Happy Birthday, J____!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Leaves Were Falling Just Like Embers


There seems to be no shortage of song lyrics that include the words "Leaf" or "Leaves", which is a good thing--I've picked up the Autumn Lace Scarf after a long hiatus. I picked up a few other older projects to test out again, but this is the one that felt best. It's not super complicated (I was able to pick it right back up) but it does require a bit of attention. The pattern is from Evelyn Clark's website, and as with many of her patterns, it's written for a variety of yarn weights. Since I'm using fine yarn, I added a repeat of the main pattern--I like the look of three big leaves better than two, too. I was surprised to see that there are only a handful of these scarves in progress on Ravelry, but it's sort of nice to not be the 1 millionth person to knit something for a change. Monkey Socks, I'm looking at you!

I have a new set of Pattern Tamers that are really great for keeping track of where I am on the chart. They're basically two strips of magnet that are covered with ribbon that you snap onto the chart to keep your place. Does that description make any sense at all? I can't be sure, so here's a photo:


I love the bee ribbon, and I love that the magnet holds very well, and that I don't need a board to hold it--it makes it much easier to carry.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Ahhh, Vienna

Vienna Photos

Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's also the city that was my temporary home for most of 2001, and ever since reluctantly leaving I've wanted to go back. After seeing it again, I really regret not managing to get back sooner. My German is much worse (though resurfaced admirably during a critical moment), the dollar is unbearably weak, and my favorite local hangout has closed, but Vienna was wonderful. The highlight was, of course, the wedding that I'd travelled all that way for, but a close second was sipping beer with S___ and the bride on the night before we left in one of our old haunts. It just felt really good to be back!

The changes that I saw in Vienna were really all for the good (except the closing of the Cult Brau, of course)--new train stations, a facelift at the Prater, a fancy new airport train, and no smoking in most restaurants. I also noticed that the Hooters that made me a little embarassed to be an American every time I saw it has either moved or closed. Yeah! The Viennese seemed a lot friendlier (and more English-speaking) than I remember, especially when S___'s "shortcut" to our old neighborhood failed to pan out as expected. As soon as we asked one person for directions, there were at least three people who discussed the problem, and watched out for us on the tram so that we got to where we were going. I should note that from my perspective as a then-Bostonian, the Viennese seemed very similar to the Bostonians when I lived there. Not unfriendly, but pretty straightforward and unlikely to make a lot of small talk during superficial interactions. So when I say that people were in general friendlier, I don't want to imply that I didn't think they were friendly enough before. I was just a little surprised when I was going to my crack of dawn train to the airport, and a couple of the construction guys having breakfast asked me where I was going, as if they were really interested.

Thanks to S___'s superstar status as a travelling businessman, we had a very nice room at the Wien Mitte Hilton, which made getting around (and getting coffee) very easy. We were close to all of the major attractions, and managed to hit a fair number of them--see photographic evidence above. We also revisited some favorite restaurants. The Chinese restaurant that was around the corner from our building coincidentally moved downtown, a few blocks from the hotel. They've taken my beloved "Nummer 41" off of the menu, but the dish that I had was similar and delicious. We had lunch at Centimeter, which used to serve food in Axes and Shovels, but now they seem to only have plates. Or maybe they only bring out the heavy dishes at dinnertime? I would say that the non-wedding culinary highlight, though, was coffee at Demel's. Oh, how I miss the coffeeshops of Vienna--most weekends I'd hit a new coffeeshop to study.

Enough stream-of-consciousness rambling about Vienna. I have a feeeling that it won't be seven more years before I go back!