Friday, September 18, 2009

KnittySpin and Idylium Patterns

This week my first article and pattern were published on KnittySpin. Read all about ancient ways to process a Shetland Fleece and then make mittens with yarn spun from your fiber.

I have also opened my Etsy store. My first pattern for Idylium is available for purchase there. I hope you'll stop by and check it out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

In Praise of Test Knitters

Every business has people who work behind the scenes, largely invisible but vital. In the world of knitting patterns, test knitters and tech editors are just such people. They take my designs, knit them, proof read them, and clean them up so that when the pattern gets to your hands it is easy to understand and free (I hope) from mistakes.

When you were in school, did you ever have to do that exercise where you write instructions to tell a Martian how to tie his shoes or make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I had to do it in tenth grade. Our teacher decided to have each student read another student's instructions for tying a shoe and follow each of the steps in front of the class. My instructions fared pretty well right up to the point that James Flynn got to the line, "draw half of the folded right shoe lace through the ensuing loop in the left shoe lace."

James looked up and stared right at me across the classroom. "Ensuing?" he said. "If I can't tie a shoe lace how the heck am I supposed to know what ensuing means?"

Writing a knitting pattern is a little like writing shoelace instructions. Unlike the hypothetical Martian, most knitters don't need to have the concept of "yarn" and "knitting needles" explained in the directions. On the other hand, each of us brings our own experience and learning style to our craft and so as I up my patterns, I try to use the most standard terms and clearest instructions for the project. Nevertheless, the occasional "Ensuing Error" slips by to be caught by my invaluable test knitters.

Test knitters knit each pattern from the written directions, just as they are written. Sometimes, if I have omitted a key detail, they get some very funny results. Process knitters all, they will spend hours (occasionally days) knitting a pattern checking it line by line. Though their efforts, I remember to specify whether those slipped stitches had the yarn in front or back or help me explain more clearly how to attach a lace edging to a shawl.

So let's raise our glasses to four wonderful ladies: Cyndi and Wendy, Betty and Michelle, soldiers in the trenches of knitting patterns, without whose help Fiber Tree Designs would not exist.

Walking Meditations
It has been unseasonably cool in Iowa this summer. I missed most of July because I was traveling, but have been able to get out more this month. The late August color scheme for the woods along our bike path is gold and green. Fields of all sorts of yellow flowers bloom in the shade of the trees.

One day this week, I went out for my walk especially early while the dew was still on the grass and I caught some local "knitters" at work. All across the fields, the local fairies (or spiders if you prefer) had laid out nature's original circular lace shawls to block and be decorated with dew beads. The delicate craftsmanship gives me something to aspire to.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

For the past three months, the Fiber Tree blog has been sadly neglected. Perhaps my training in history has taught me at some deep level to write about things that have already happened rather than about events as they occur. Perhaps some things just happen too quickly to write about at the time.

Over the summer, I traveled to four different states, sent in pattern and article submissions to KnittySpin, Interweave Knits, and Knitter's Magazine, developed five patterns for self-publication, and discovered Idyillium.

This is particularly a red letter summer for two reasons.

#1: Pattern and Article to Appear in Autumn KnittySpin
In June, an article that I wrote about processing Shetland fleeces and an accompanying pattern for using Shetland wool to make wrist warmers were accepted for the autumn edition of the online magazine KnittySpin. The article was inspired by an 18th century monograph on wool from the Shetland Islands. It is amazing how similar some aspects of handspinning are after three hundred years. The article and pattern will be published online during the first week in September. You will be able to view it here in a few weeks: For the moment you an check out their current summer edition which has some really good patterns and articles.

In the process of researching Shetland sheep, I had the opportunity to visit my friend Carol's farm and see her three Shetland ewes. They will made great models for the article.

#2: Idyillium and Leah
Every year since I was five, my family has spent at least a week in Bar Harbor, ME. We hiked in Acadia National Park, played with cobble beach stones along the shore, and wandered through town in the evening. This year, I discovered a brand new shop called Idyillium.

It's window looked like a museum display of textiles and textile-making tools. It was full of handcrafted knitwear, rugs, weavings, and its own brand of organic, made-in-Maine yarn.

Best of all it had owner Leah Estell, who grew up in Maine and has just moved back to the East Coast from several years working in the artisan store scene in San Francisco. Her family owns and operates Starcroft Fiber Mills, a "micro-mill" that spins wool from sheep living wild on Nash Island off the coast of Maine. The fiber is hand-fed into the spinning mill and hand dyed by her mother in a glorious range of semi-solid colors.

I bought some of the lobster yarn and took it straight back to my hotel room to swatch. The story of the island sheep and the deep red of the Lobster Bake colorway conjured up images of the net in lobster traps and lobster buoys. Two days later, I was back at Idyillium to show Leah my Lobster Net Wrist Warmers. She was so impressed that she invited me to design patterns for her shop.

This week I mailed the first print copies of the Lobster Net Wrist Warmers to Idyillium. So far, my plans for the Nash Island Yarn collection also include a scarf matching the wrist warmers and a simpler scarf and wrist warmer set. The Lobster Net Wrist Warmers, along with several of my other patterns, will be available for sale online by the end of this month. More patterns will be added over the next several moths as well.

Walking Meditations
As busy as this summer has been, I had a hard time finding a quiet moment to walk and meditate. One exception to this was the week that I spent in Hiawassee, GA at my husband's family reunion. We took several notable walks and I even remembered to bring my camera on a few of them.

When I was growing up in Atlanta, my family and I went hiking in the North Georgia mountains almost every weekend. My father collected pictures of waterfalls and we would drive immense distances over dubious roads and hike miles of trail for a good shot. Since I have moved to the Midwest, waterfalls have been few and far between, so I stocked up on memories this trip.

Amicalola Falls State Park

Helton Falls

Vogel State Park

Friday, May 8, 2009

Frogs and Frogging

I mark the coming of spring in the upper Midwest with great joy. Our winters are long and cold and bleak. They have their own beauty, of course, but by April, spring is welcome. Some mark the beginning of spring by the first crocuses or the song of the first red wing black bird. For me, spring comes when the frogs in the marshes start singing.

I fell in love with frog song during my first spring in Michigan. Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, I had little opportunity to hear it. The watershed around the city is quite polluted and each year there are fewer and fewer amphibians of all kinds. I almost didn't recognize it when I first heard it in Michigan. Eight springs later, the first frog song marks a turning point in my year.

The frogs have been singing here in Iowa for almost two months now, and this week I saw my first frog, or rather toad, of the season. This week my car needed a new water pump and as I sat at the mechanics waiting for it to be ready, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. A small brown toad had hopped up on the path next to the glass door of the shop and sat there waiting patiently. He sat still while I photographed him and while other customers came in and out. He was still waiting when I left with my car. I guess maybe his car was in the shop too.

Which brings me to "frogging". When knitters make a mistake in their work and need to re-knit it, they "r-r-r-ip it, r-r-rip it". A lot of design work calls for frogging unsuccessful swatches and designs that didn't quite go as planned. As a process knitter I don't mind ripping out since reworking a design or modifying a swatch provides scope for creativity. Sometimes though, one can have two much of a good thing.

I finished my Triform Lace Shawl this week only to discover, as I was adding the edging, that one side of the shawl had four more stitches than the other. And so I will "r-r-rip it, r-r-rip it." Before I do, I thought I would share a picture of it. At least the colors worked out well.

The shawl pattern uses one skein of Cascade Heritage Sock Yarn and one skein of Noro Kureyon in a simple zig-zag lace pattern and will soon be available for sale. If only I had checked my stitch count a little more often I would be a little closer to publishing the finished pattern.

Walking Meditations
I have always enjoyed looking into mossy cracks between rocks. As a child of Norwegian ancestory, I imagined that they were the hidden doorways of troll caves. Even as an adult there is something mysterious about tiny passages into the rocks. I wonder who lives in here?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shetland Lace and Persian Manuscripts

In her excellent book, Creating Original Hand-Knitted Lace, Margaret Stove writes that new patterns can be developed by tweaking currently available lace patterns into the shapes that we desire. As I discovered recently, sometimes even minor modifications can make all the difference.

I needed some inspiration in designing a gift for a friend, so I turned to my bookshelf. Looking through a book of images from illuminated manuscripts, I came across a series of plates from Hamzanama (The Adventures of Hamza). This Persian classic was produced in Lahore in present day Pakistan sometime in the 16th century. In the background of each illustration, the artist filled in the space with a myriad of geometric and organic shapes that cried out to be made into lace. (You can see some of the folio pages on Wikipedia.)

I sketched some of my favorite motifs to see how they behaved as stand-alone patterns.

Sketch in hand, I looked through Barbara Walker's Treasuries of Knitting for lace patterns that reflected this Persian aesthetic. I particularly admired the hexagon and six pointed star patterns. The Shetland Twins lace pattern provided a good starting point for hexagonal lace. (Walker, First Treasury of Knitting) With that pattern in mind, I experiemented with a variety of ways to fill in the hexagons, including both traditional Shetland patterns and my own variations.
I picked two variations that I felt were most successful and arranged them in three staggered rows. Aligned this way, the empty spaces tessellate to create a star pattern like those found in Hamzanama. Shetland lace as Persian art.

Walking Meditations
Warm sunny weather and drizzly weekends have brought the wildflowers out. At present, my little corner of the woods seems to be specializing in white and purple. The violets have been out for several days. Part of the woods is almost blanketed with them.

City girl that I am, this spring is my first experience with Dutchman's Britches. Each of the flowers hangs in a row on a single stem, reminding me of small children dressed up with bunny ears for an Easter parade.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Fiber Tree Sprouts

A New Career for a New Decade

For my thirtieth birthday, I decided to give myself a career change. I have loved fiber arts since I was a child and I have been actively designing my own knitting patterns for several years. This spring I decided to take a leap of faith, leave my 8-5 job, move with my husband to a new state, and try to make my living as a full-time fiber artist.

Enter Fiber Tree Designs.

The natural world inspires me with its colors and its textures. Texture in particular draws my eye and shapes my knitware designs. Over the next year if all goes well, my nature-inspired patterns will become available both online and in local yarn stores.

Keep a look out for what's next.

Walking Meditations
I am fortunate to have moved to Coralville, IA this spring. To those of us raised on the East Coast, Iowa does not get the credit it deserves for its the gentle beauty of its landscape. However, within a five minute walk of my studio, is a bike path, part of a network of more almost 20 miles of trails that runs from North Liberty through Iowa City. My little corner of green belt runs along the bluffs over Clear Creek and is alive with bird and frog song and carpeted with wild flowers. It offers endless inspiration for the fiber artist and for the soul.

Tree branch lace. So many possibilities.