Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Twelve Days of George Bailey: Day 1

I am going to take some intermittent time off from blogging between now and the end of the year (although I'll still be checking in from time to time). However, I am leaving everyone with some kitty eye candy: the best of George Bailey from 2011. He's a good, furry purr monster, and I don't make him a focal point ... so seeing him front and center for a little while is something I hope will make you smile.

Feel free to post how you would caption the photo in the comments - you never know what you might receive for something exceptionally witty.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

If It's Not Made By Now ...

... then it might well be Bah! Humbug! time for those last minute gifts.

I hope this Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday finds each of you in fine, calm spirits. I'm pleased - I got all of the gifts I wanted to complete finished. There might be one or two more I make, but not because anyone is expecting one. I will probably send out a few extra gifts next week ... just because. Why should the presents stop?

While several of my gifts I can't share with you until the recipients receive them, I can share one - my most recent shawl. Made from the Flamenco Flair crocheted shawl pattern (from the Vogue Knitting on the Go! series for crocheted shawls), this was an easy and quick gift, with great bang for the crafting buck. Add in some sunshine for picture taking, and this is the result:

I'm not certain why this shawl doesn't get more play, especially since it's perfect for beginning crochet lace makers. I used up the remaining Misti Alpaca Lace in my stash, and I will definitely get more. I loved this yarn! (Ok, I just love alpaca yarn, what can I say?)

I also have samples of my latest pattern to share with you:

These little jewels for your napkins - Les Bijoux Sur La Table Napkin Rings - can be made in no time flat, and they sparkle and shine something fierce. The pattern is free (consider it another gift from me to everyone) and will be downloadable both from my site here (the patterns page) as well as Ravelry.

I hope everyone checks in with Andrea's blog  ... and I'm wishing each of you great food, good conversation, and an expanding heart of joy this upcoming holiday weekend.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Biology, Good Yak Energy and Frustrating Socks This Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday

50 bumblebees recreated by Hannah Haworth using laceweight
Malabrigo yarn. Original bumblebee pattern by the artist
and available for purchase on Ravelry. Photo by Hannah Haworth,
used with kind permission.
Well everyone, I've got three hand-crafted holiday presents in the bag, three more to go. While I'll have photos (and another pattern to share) next week, I thought we'd all like a bit of a break from holidaze madness. I've got just the thing: how about the latest installment in the Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire? This time I asked Hannah Haworth, scupltor, knitter extraordinaire, artist, and all-around creative pixie to give the questionnaire a go. I think her answers will make you smile. At minimum, I have found a kindred sock spirit.

The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire
With Artist Hannah Haworth 

Hannah Haworth. Photo used with kind permission
of the artist.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to create knit art pieces?

I was born in Birnam, Scotland but I lived most of my childhood (3-12) in south east Asia, predominantly with a tribal community in the Philippines. I think this is probably where I got into making things, I would do a lot of beading with the local women there.  I think having that super close connection with the land also influenced my work deeply. When I returned to Scotland I was a teenager and didn’t craft, I was still awkwardly settling into my own skin, and that seemed to take up all my time! It wasn’t until I was at Art College in Edinburgh that I took up knitting.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to become an artist?

There wasn’t that big aha moment, it was kind of gradual. I wanted to do biology for years… but ended up doing art instead as creativity was something that came naturally. I think the whole biology thing was because of my big love and interest in animals, but I’ve found more ‘me’ ways of pursuing that.

White Noise, hanging from the ceiling at Vogue
Knitting Live, New York, January 2011.
Please describe your personal artistic philosophy?

I'm not sure how to answer this! What I believe in, in terms of my art? I try my best to find my inspiration at the source, for instance, when I created White Noise, I wanted the whole piece to be channeled by beluga whales themselves and arctic tradition, and my emotional response to that, rather than any cultural commentaries about whales or something I had seen made by another artist. I need it to be as personal as can be. Other than that, I endeavor to use all natural materials and keep it local too when possible.

What is your greatest knit (or design) memory?

I really got a kick out of learning traditional Scottish colour work. I remember learning that and having to incorporate it into every project for a while after. I still think it's amazing, especially doing my own charts and making little motifs, its like drawing but with yarn, in a very organized fashion, and the rich history behind it makes it supremely fascinating to me. I’m trying hard to love cables, I love how they look and the amazing things you can do with them. But they can be tedious for me. I’m currently making my dad some ‘effing socks’ to match his kilt for Christmas, they are very intricate Celtic knot-work in lace weight and they were supposed to be finished for him to wear to my wedding, well, that was a wee while ago now…

If you could have dinner with any three artists, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

I would have to eat with Frida Kahlo, she was my favorite artist when I was little! And she had many animals too, as well as an embarrassingly large collection of dresses – I think we would get on.

Joseph Beuys I’ve always admired. His work is so raw and so wild, and he seems so too, and he would definitely be invited if he were to bring his coyote. I have a feeling I would crush on him pretty hard!

My third is Bjork. She is so beyond cool and has a great sense of aesthetic and humor too. I think she would be interesting in combination with the other two. I could just sit there and listen to them talk.

Continental or European?

Euro, baby!!

It’s your last project to create. What is it, and what fiber do you use?

I would make a life size yak maybe, and use yak fiber and maybe a yak skull underneath. And I would keep him around, yaks have such an incredible energy to them, very calming and very strange. I've been working with a herd for the last year and I am sad to be leaving them, this way I would always have the essence of one with me.

More knit animals from the artist Hannah Haworth,
on display at Vogue Knitting Live, New York, this
past January.
What trait do you most admire in artists/designers?

The good ones have a great way of looking at things, they can pick out the strangest thing, and it will become beautiful - just looking at it through their eyes, in their hands.

What trait do you most detest in artists/designers?

It’s a little too easy to get a big ego, and that tends to encourage rudeness – which I find intolerable.

You are recommending an artistic gift in response to a friend’s inquiry. What would you recommend?

Well that would depend on the person in question, but I feel like it's hard to go wrong with a drop spindle and some camel fiber.


Thanks so much, Hannah! Her current work can be seen at Union Gallery, Edinburgh as part of the "Winter Wonderland" exhibition through January 24, 2012. You can also check out her daily artistic adventures at her website.

Now do buzz on over to Andrea's blog to see how everyone else is holding up just one week before the big day.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On All Things Foggy This Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday

When shutters work hard in fog.
What an amazingly busy week it's been. It is, of course, that time of year. However, things got just a little more hairy when the Pacific Northwest was fogged in for two days straight. And a freezing fog at that. Not only could one not see the hand right in front of them, they could barely walk or drive in certain places because the roads were slippery. A bad mix I tell you. Bad. I saw two instances of elderly mishaps during my travels this week - one needed a medic call. Let's be careful out there, everyone!

The fog did not help my camera's shutter one little iota. In order to get this week's finished object photographed, my poor shutter was working in single-digit speed. Needless to say, absent a tripod, some of my shots were less than crystal clear. Arthouse affect - that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Nevertheless, my Canon still performed well under foggy pressure, and I am proud to show you the FO for my latest pattern, my La Vitre scarf. My first knit pattern, I'm proud of this silky soft scarf, complete with beads at each end for just the right amount of weight and bling. Using one skein of Wonder Why Gal's Alpaca the Way it Should Be (thanks, Andrea!), this is a perfect little pattern for whipping up a last minute gift or two.

Named after one of the French words for window or glass, this super-easy one row pattern came to me when I least expected it - in the middle of working up a crochet swatch during the summer. That's the way with creativity sometimes: you have one idea being worked out, and inspiration hits. Keep that inspiration notebook handy at all times.

This pattern is available exclusively through the Wonder Why Alpaca Farm until the end of the year. It's free with a purchase of Super Fine Airy alpaca/silk yarn, and Andrea's hand-dyed some gorgeous holiday colors (roving as well). This sample is the cranberry; the burgundy also looks good enough to drink. Hmmm, come to think of it, after this week, a glass of burgundy sounds wonderful. Sign me up.

I hope everyone else isn't in a holiday fog - check back with Andrea's blog to see what holiday cheer everyone else is putting forth this week.

Super Fine Airy alpaca/silk blend
hand-dyed in cranberry. In a sunnier moment.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And the Great Juggling Act Begins

Sneaky peak of next week's FO. I'm
further along now than when I
snapped this photo.
December has barely begun, yet I feel the bite of deadline pressure already. I'm not certain how I'm going to get it all done, but somehow I will find a way. And I don't have children - those that do deserve Hall of Parental Fame induction at this time of year.

So, along this theme, I have two FOs and one recipe to share with everyone this Friday ... along with the sneaky peak of next week's FO (they're coming fast and furiously folks, just like the deadlines).

My first completed project is my Gourdy Shawl, so named because of its awesome pumpkin color. From a Pierrot pattern (this one, to be exact), I held two strands of alpaca laceweight together to achieve this wonderful fallish color. (Alpaca with a Twist Fino and Misti Alpaca Lace Canada - I knew you were going to ask.)

Additionally, I added some size 6 Japanese silver-lined seed beads in a light peach color on the edging for a little bling, as well as some weight:

This is my second FO this year from a Pierrot pattern, and I couldn't be happier with the result. They are very well charted ... so much so, in fact, that I didn't need any other direction.

My next FO is also the end result of the recipe I have for everyone. As I stated a few weeks back in my review of Crochet Stitches Visual Encyclopedia, I said to watch for projects inspired by the book. Here's the first one, and just in time for me to send it (along with other hand-crafted goodies) to Appalachian Outreach. They specifically asked for 36" square lapghans to keep the elderly warm, so:

The Crochet Stitches  36-inch 'Ghan Recipe

Ingredients (my choices in this 'ghan are to the right):

1 Crochet Stitches Visual Encyclopedia by Robyn Chachula, from which you will choose:

1 or more  motifs                                                            Posy in the Granny, p. 173
1 motif joining method                                                     Chain Space Seam, p. 242
1 stitch pattern                                                               Rocking, p. 7
1 edging pattern                                                             Mari Cluster Edging, p. 261

approx. 450 grams of worsted weight yarn, at least 250 grams of which should be one color
1 U.S. size H/5.00 mm hook

Construction Set-up:

1. Make a sample motif to determine the finished dimension, given your yarn.

2. Swatch, using your main color, in the stitch pattern that you've chosen. It doesn't need to be blocked, but knowing how many stitches/rows per inch will be useful as you create your 'ghan.

3. Swatch a sample of your chosen edging. This row/inch measurement will also be needed later in 'ghan construction.

'Ghan Construction:

1. Create 16 motifs (or any number that will yield a square - 4 [2x2], 9 [3x3], 25 [5x5]).

Note: This is the part of the project that can be a great stash-buster - I used up bits of Lion Brand Wool-ease, Cascade 220 Superwash and Noro Kureyon from previous projects.

2. Once you have all of your motifs made, join them using the joining method you've chosen. A nice treat to yourself: weave in your ends, to this point, now. Once completed, celebrate with hot chocolate (or beverage of choice).

3. Using your chosen stitch pattern, determine how many foundational single crochet stitches you will need on each side of your motif square. (Stitch multiples are provided for each stitch pattern in the book.) Then, with your main color, join just after any corner with a slip stitch. Ch 1, then work a row of single crochet around entire motif block, working three in each corner. Join with a slip stitch in beginning ch 1, and your foundation row is complete.

4. Start working your chosen stitch pattern around the motif block. This is where your swatch work will come in handy. The number of rounds to be completed will be determined by the amount of inches of the stitch pattern you will need: 36 inches - (the measurement of your motif block + the measurement of your edging swatch) divided by 2.

Example from my 'ghan (in inches): 36 - (23 + 1.5 twice [edging doubled]) = 10 = 5" of
                                                                              2                                 2

stitch pattern, or 10 rounds of rocking stitch, since I was getting 2 rows per inch when I swatched.

5. Once you have completed your required number of stitch pattern rounds, work one row of single crochet around, working three single crochet in each corner. This is the set-up round for your border.

Note: This set-up row is where you need to make any adjustments in stitch number to ensure your border will work up without a hitch.

6. Work your border of choice.

7. Weave in final amount of ends.

8. Lightly block your 'ghan. My unblocked 'ghan was 33" square, and paying particular attention to my middle motifs when blocking made a world of difference. In fact, I pinned my middle motif block first, getting it to be square, and then I pinned the outer edge.

9. Once done, enjoy more beverages of choice.

Definitely don't hide under any rocks - get on over to Andrea's blog and see what other deadlines loom this holiday season!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Not Black Friday - Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday!

Gorgeous Wonder Why handspun alpaca
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I must admit, it's my favorite holiday of the year. I love everything about it  - the cooking, the eating, the parade, the dog show (go Bernese Mountain dog! It won it's group, but didn't win best in show, drat), everything - except those darn Black Friday commercials. Everyone, skip Black Friday and go directly to Small Business Saturday. Just one person's opinion.

In the meantime, I'm working on several projects which are slated to be completed by the end of next week, including a shrug and a stole. I'm also working on a new sweater (ha!) - it's a testy knit for Shannon Okey (of knitgrrl fame) during NaKniSweMo (November is National Knit a Sweater Month). It's sideways constructed, and here's a shot of my swatch (yup, people, I actually did the swatchy thing):

That's a Louisa Harding yarn - Thalia. I love the color and the slight bling, and am really disappointed that it's discontinued. I've got a bunch of it in my stash ... but once's it's gone, it's gone.

I must also share some wonderful handspun that Andrea sent to me. It's a thank you for the shawl I made her earlier in the year. This is just an amazing skein of worsted weight alpaca handspun:

The colorway? Sticks and stones. Aptly named. And it's soft and oh-so-squoishy. I'm marinating on what it wants to become - but I'm thinking of using it together with a skein of cream-colored worsted from France and working up a scarf. I'm open to suggestions on pattern. Between the two skeins, I've probably got about 475 yards.

And, finally, get a load of my latest swap gift - this colorway is entitled Orion's Nebula - I love that!

The two skeinlets on the left are also great colorways. Nic, my swappy partner, said they were for hexi puffs, but I've got other ideas. Don't I always?

Thanks so much, Andrea and Nicole - I love my skein of handspun and the Orion's Nebula! There's a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day weekend, so definitely check back with Andrea's blog to see what's on everyone else's thanks-giving list.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's Book Review Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday

Posey in the Granny Square, my sample from
Robyn Chachula's Crochet Stitches Visual Encyclopedia
Hello everyone, and welcome to this week's books-o-rama. Unlike some reviewers, I actually paid for my books (!), and so patiently waited until they arrived. (I'm certain the authors and publishers are happy about the payment thingy. :) )

First up: Sarah London's Granny Square Love (North Light Books)Australian crocheters seem to have a particular fondness for the granny square (I follow two Aussie granny square designer/bloggers - see my blog roll to the right), and Sarah's book does not disappoint. While geared for a beginning crochet audience (and the wonderful visual granny square tutorial at the beginning of the book will get any crochet newbie up to granny-good speed), the strength of the book rests clearly on Sarah's commanding use of color. This is a grand and glorious explosion of color! If you're into tans and beige, this might not be your cup of tea. However, if you love color and are looking for inspiration (whether or not a crocheter), I'd recommend adding this to your library.

Best use of the granny square goes to Sarah's wonderful pillow designs. There are several, in several sizes, and all of them wonderful. No wonder they grace the book's cover. Most original use of the granny square has to be the granny-covered headboard. Sarah has a particular aesthetic (think romantic English flowers meets groovy 60s) and within that parameter the headboard just works. She also has a great way with the camera, and almost all of the photos show off the designs to their best advantage. One minor hiccup: the placemat photos. There isn't really one that shows it off completely, although the toast looks great, and the requisite Vegemite jar is prominantly displayed.

The pattern directions are both written and charted, using U.S. crochet terms. They are clear and very easy to follow. Additionally, Sarah doesn't really stray too far from the traditional granny square - another plus for new crocheters. Her strength is color, color, color. And in that regard, this is a hands-down winner.

The second review: Robyn Chachula's Crochet Stitches Visual Encyclopedia (Wiley Publishing). Every designer worth their designing salt has several stitch reference books in their personal library, and I am no different. I purposely didn't read any advance press on this book, because I wanted a clean, clear book palate from which to review, although I will say that it was the strength of the author's designing chops that led me to make the purchase. Robyn has a fun, fresh design style, and I like her engineering approach to design (break everything into component parts and then put them back together again).

I was pleasantly surprised with the comprehensive array of stitch patterns across a broad spectrum of crochet techniques included in this encyclopedia. Chachula did her homework and successfully compiled a wide range of stitches not found in other stitch guides. Good on her. The cable stitch section is simply wonderful; the Tunisian stitch patterns section of the book is pure joy (to someone who loves her tunisian crochet hooks). My favorite chapters are 7 and 8 - square and hexagonal granny squares, and flower, snowflake and joining motifs, respectively. It is from these chapters that I worked up the sample (pictured at the top of the post). Even on my scanner bed, the strength of Chachula's motif work shines bright. She brings an almost Venetian lace quality to many of the square motif designs. I find them superb.

While I see the need for an edgings chapter in such a guide, I found the one here so-so. I guess I am spoiled on every other edging attempt in the post-Edie Eckman Around the Corner Crochet Borders world. I wish, instead, some attention might have been spent on hairpin lace.

My biggest beefs with this book are more technical/publishing in nature. Initially, the motif I worked up has a mistake in the written directions. However, the pattern chart set me straight (and all designs are written and charted in this book). While each row of a chart is numbered and in different colors, these charts are not for the faint of heart. They were created for the intermediate/advanced crocheter in mind - and one comfortable with reading charts.

I also found the layout of the book rather blah and lacking in pizazz. The design photos were rather perfunctory and there was far too much white space on most pages (which could have been put to much better use). Again, using Around the Corner Crochet Borders as an example, Eckman's book is half the page size (quite literally), yet each border photo takes up almost an entire page in vivid detail. Not so with Chachula's work, which is really a shame.

Additionally, Crochet Stitches actually feels like an encyclopedia. Wiley's publishing forte is in the technical/text book arena, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Yet I am.  This is also the same Wiley Publishing that put forth Fiber Gathering. A quick comparison of the cover pretty much makes my point:

Overall, I am excited about the design possibilities of Crochet Stitches. Like Nicky Epstein's Block by Block (reviewed here), my creative, designing juices are already flowing. Stay tuned for future projects inspired by this book. Just don't expect a lot of visual bells and whistles should you decide to add this to your personal library.

Ok - now head on over to Andrea's blog for a look-see at what everyone else is whistling about this Fiber Arts Friday. And if we don't meet in the blogosphere again until next Friday, have an awesome Thanksgiving (for every U.S. reader). I can't wait for leftovers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Art? Craft? Semantics?

Are you an artist?

Do you consider what you create art?

In the classroom, I always received positive answers to these questions from my students. We all aspire to be artists, don't we? The art vs. craft "distinction," however, exists. This is especially true when it comes to fiber - both the product and where one purchases it. To underscore this dichotomy, during a recent trip to my local crafty store's yarn section (where those who buy their yarn only from an LYS or indie producer wouldn't be caught dead), I found a Soho Publishing series of knit and crochet booklets entitled "Get Crafty" that I have not see anywhere else. This, from the same people that bring you Vogue Knitting.

I've had a fascination with this subject for quite some time (for some tangential thoughts, feel free to go here and here), and I'm going to run a series of posts on it between now and the end of the year, including some history on craft. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. What is art? What is craft? Are you an artist? If so, why and if not, why not?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Good, The True and the Beautiful

A sneaky peek at a portion of my
Yarns of Italy design submission.
Never fear, my design vision is far
clearer than this enlargement.
 So, I received word yesterday that a design I had submitted for a Yarns of Italy competition has been accepted! Happy? Me? Yes!!!! There were a few fine details to smooth over, but I am pleased (and just a little honored) with how it all worked out.

The submission/acceptance process is not always so mutually agreeable. As much as I want my designs to be accepted and published (as every designer does, I'm quite certain), it doesn't mean that I must accept all of the terms all of the time. Especially if I feel I'm getting a little too much smoke blown in my face. I have retracted design submissions. This doesn't please me, but I think it's important to be true to myself, and if I feel (with evidence to back up that feeling, of course) that I'm being sent up a lazy river (or to that bridge to nowhere), I will absolutely listen to my gut and not think twice about the decision.

Fortunately, I've had far more positive interactions than negative. I get to play with fiber I truly enjoy, and create beauty and good (at least my version of those concepts). I get to decide who I want to associate with - which is why I have so loved my Friday Fiber Arts adventures. I have always believed that how we make others feel is what drives how we act. Making another feel included and appreciated and valuable, done with authenticity, will always lead to good things. Manipulation ... not so much.

Which leads me (the good, the true and the beautiful - not the manipulative) to speak a little more about the spindle and fiber I received a few weeks back. I had swapped with someone earlier in the year, and it was a very pleasant exchange, and afterward we went our respective fiber ways. However, since I hadn't heard from the swap mate in a while, I got in touch with her. I also discovered she was trying to clear away some things she no longer used or needed. The spindle, which has a few small dings in it from being dropped, seemed a perfect first spindle on which to learn my hand-spinning technique (since I know I'm gonnna drop that thing at least once). Well, communications ensued and we decided another swap was in order. I was overwhelmed when I received such wonderful fiber to play with as well as the spindle! And, I saved the best for now - she included a note written on a card that needed to be put together:

Check that out. We're not talking mere pop-up card, but one with actual creation instructions, with pieces to insert and interlock. I had so much fun putting this card together, and am thrilled with the thought put into the entire package. I'm in the process of getting a package together for her, and I'm pleased to bits to be doing so. (BTW, I'd love to hear what helped each of you as you learned to spin.)

I thank everyone (and especially Andrea!) for being such great fiber mates all of these past Fiber Arts Fridays. Please check back with Andrea's blog, and make certain to take the time to enjoy all the wonderful creativity this group displays each week. Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. to that, my friends!

Friday, November 4, 2011

O Color!

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

In deep, jewel-like purple, eventually to become a shrug:

In shiny lavender mohair, to keep my coffee warm:

In shades of wheat and pumpkin, a stole in the making:

And, finally, in gorgeous fiber that accompanied my new (used) spindle.

O color, how do I love thee? A whole heck of a lot.

Make certain to check back with Andrea's blog to see what everyone else is waxing poetic about on this Fiber Arts Friday.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pattern Excitement This Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday

Ok everyone - I am beyond excited this week. Another two of my patterns (!) have finally been published - by the yarn company that commissioned them, Premier Yarns. These two patterns were submitted way back in July, and were part of the Deborah Norville fashion show at Vogue Knitting Live in Los Angeles this past September. Without further ado, I present La Poétique Beret and Infinity Scarf set:

I am so thrilled with how these patterns worked up! They were crafted with Premier Fashion Jeweltones, a roughly 57/40 acrylic/wool blend, with paillettes for bling (which show up really well in the beret photos). Additionally, I really liked how this heavy fingering/sport weight yarn blocked - the resulting fabric was warm with nice drape, as you can see in the infinity scarf.

I also learned a few things about photographing FOs on live humans as opposed to inanimate objects. Sometimes the natural approach yields intriguing results - and sometimes the photographer just needs to stop moving. I am very pleased with my impromptu models - thanks so much, Alex and Jessica! (And I suspect they can be booked for your next photo shoot - just send me an email!)

Both patterns are free and available for download both at the Premier Yarns website and on Ravelry.

Woot! Again - I am so thrilled! Now definitely check back with Andrea's blog to see what's got everyone else all thrilled on this pre-Halloween Fiber Arts Friday.