Sunday, 24 March 2013

This Yarn Bomber's Knitting Needles Have a Political Point

This protestor, photographed outside the White House on March 11, hand-knitted a pie chart representing the allocation of the U.S. budget. It pains me to have to say this, but the pie chart's proportions aren't accurate: the U.S. spends about 20% of its total yearly budget on defense (plus another 3.5% on benefits to veterans), not more than half, as this chart indicates. And aesthetically, the execution of this project could have been better. But as a concept, this yarn bombing idea is kick ass, and this knitter made it happen and displayed it in front of the White House, instead of say, typing uselessly about it on some knitting blog.

But wait! There's more! This knitter also made herself an "Occupy Grandparents" afghan and a "Stop XL" hat that is likely a statement of opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

I'm almost afraid to ask what she'd do with a cowl and fingerless glove design.

Photos via Jennifer Bendery.

Coming up: Look for the Knit Simple Spring 2013 review tomorrow morning!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Last Knit

This is Kutoja: The Last Knit, an animated short about the perils of knitting obsession, as written, directed and animated by Laura Neuvonen. Please put down your knitting long enough to enjoy this video so you don't miss any of it.

Oh never mind, who am I kidding....

Friday, 22 March 2013

Knitty Spring/Summer 2013: A Review

Let's have a look at Knitty's Spring/Summer 2013 issue.

Pretty if generic Foliolum lace scarf.

The Nori is another lace scarf, but this time with a more distinctive texture. The designer compares it to algae. I can see it.

Another scarf, this time with a quite original construction. It's called the Steps Shawl, but it reminds me of piano keys. It doesn't really do it for me, but it's not unattractive either, and it does draw the eye.

The Lunatic Fringe Shawl. The blurb for this pattern calls it "eccentric and non-conforming", but it looks pretty run-of-the-mill to me.

The Aven Shawl. I must admit this shawl is eyecatching. Partly because of the gorgeous colours of the yarn, but the ruffled texture is beautiful too. But we are going to see something other than an array of shawls and scarves in this issue, right Knitty? I don't think I can review eighteen scarves without getting a little slaphappy.

Here we have Grey Gardens, which is... an entrelac turban. I'm sorry, but this just looks too hippy dippy for me. Wear this and you've taken the first slide down a slippery slope that will lead to you becoming someone's weird aunt whose idea of the perfect wedding gift for her niece and nephew-in-law is a earthworm farm starter kit and a copy of The Comprehensive Guide to Tantric Sex.

The Easy as Pie Blanket. Oh, I love this pattern. As a matter of fact, I had already shared it on The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done's Facebook page. It's strikingly original in concept and beautifully executed. It isn't easy to make an all-garter stitch project look like anything other than a beginner project, but occasionally a really talented designer takes up the gauntlet (or the lace-patterned fingerless glove, as it were) and does it. I also like to see that this designer has designed a baby blanket in the bright colours that babies like and that are the best for helping to develop their tiny brains, instead of the usual pastels. Babies don't even like yellow.

I am not sure about the Daphne tank. It's high-impact, of course, but maybe not all that flattering — it looks to me like it's making the model's upper body look chopped up and stocky. The colour combination isn't really helping. Contrasting shades of the same colour never look all that attractive together — they fight each other like rival siblings.

The Buttonbox pattern is really good. It's a classic, and yet you feel you haven't seen the exact same pattern a thousand times before because it has an interesting texture and a collar that sits just a little bit differently than any other shawl collar.

The Etherial tank looks to have accomplished what the Daphne tank set out to do without trying half so hard. It's fitted and shows some skin in an elegant, and restrained fashion, rather than in a "everything's in the window, COME LOOK" kind of way. You will probably want to wear something under it, which I find a bit problematic in summer wear when even one layer often feels like too much, but at least it looks good layered over a simple cami tank.

The Gardenias pullover looks like what happened when the designer needed a way to use up the I-cord and a knitted flower she had sitting around and decided she'd add them to the top she'd just made that needed something. And this top did indeed need something, but not I-cord and a knitted flower.

The Shore thing tank is a competent design. It's pretty and fits well and is flattering. Of course, again, who really wants to wear a second layer in summer? It looks okay over the tank shown here, but not so much over the long-sleeved t-shirt in the other pictures on the linked pattern page.

The Dressy sock is quite a pleasing lacy sock pattern, but please do me a favour and don't wear them as they're styled here. Socks simply do not belong with floral dresses and t-strap shoes, regardless of how Knitty names the pattern or styles the picture. The kind of person who will wear this look will also wear entrelac turbans, and I've told you where that will take you.

Love the Slipstream sock pattern — the designer made an intricate pattern look organic — and am relieved to see they're being worn just as one would wear such socks, with jeans.

Not crazy about these Sunberry socklets. I suspect the design is fine, but I am being put off the colours which work but which I don't happen to care for personally, and by the length of the sock. I find bobby-length socks tend to lead to some shoe vs. heel friction issues by the end of the day. Ow.

This Child's Sock is Franklin Habit's re-creation of a pattern from Beeton's Book of Needlework, published in 1870. This is a pattern to look at more as an artefact of knitting history than to actually make. Even Habit admits it wasn't really worth the effort it took to rewrite the pattern, the original being so badly written that, as he puts it,

As you reach the bitter end, you can almost hear the anonymous designer thinking, "Screw it. My corset is killing me, the gin is calling, and it's time to go home." Her instructions give the impression of having been written in haste, without a second thought, maybe after she'd removed the corset and emptied the gin bottle.

Then to the materials list, he adds this note,

You can theoretically get three pairs of these out of one pair of skeins, if you have a lot of little children you hate.

Sometimes I think Franklin Habit owns the whole "funny knitting writing" niche and the rest of us who are trying to do anything along the same lines might as well close up our laptops and get a real job.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

All Poufed Up

Back in 2007/2008, Netherlands artist and designer Christien Meindertsma (who brainstormed and coordinated the 500 sweaters flash mob) designed and created these poufs for Design Within Reach, knitting each one by hand using hand-felted yarn and giant needles. The poufs cost $800 to $1,600 each, which won't seem unreasonable when you consider the amount of work involved. However, we knitters happily have another option than laying out over a thousand dollars on what is essentially a large floor pillow: we can make them ourselves. Ravelry has a number of pouf patterns available.

The poufs look like the perfect thing for a small child to sit on, and in the right space these poufs could look fun and warm and even whimsical, like the lemon above. I found some others that looked like various other fruits and included stems, but I'm not sure you'll want to go that way and risk getting, say, a pumpkin stem wedged in the last place you ever wanted a pumpkin stem wedged.

Coming up: Look for the Knitty Spring/Summer 2013 review tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Yarn, Go Sit In the Corner and Think About What You Are!

Franklin Habit, the blogger responsible for The Panopticon and for the 2009 Guys With Yarn calendar, has created a Tumblr for yarnshaming. You know what yarn he'll shame: that yarn that looked nice in the store, but that let you down by immediately pilling horribly, or shrinking, or making you break out in a rash, or collecting every human and pet hair within a block, or being full of splices, or turning out to be a bad dye lot, or having hand-dyed colours that looked so beautiful in the skein but knitted up like some horrible seventies afghan, or that you never bought at all but have because someone gave it to you and the person keeps asking what you're going to do with it.

I remember two yarns in particular I'd like to shame. There was a pale ice green chenille yarn that looked luscious and soft on the ball but that turned out to be basically thread covered in fuzz. I could easily break it with just my hands. I couldn't do any ravelling out of stitches at all without it showing (the fuzz would get wadded up leaving bare segments of thread), and since it broke so easily the things I made with it were soon full of runs. The store where I bought it only stocked it for a short time since no one who tried it would work with it twice. As one of the sales women told me coyly, "The customers who bought it come back in to the store using certain words to describe it." I can't remember the brand name but it doesn't matter as I don't think it's even in production any more.

The other yarn I hated working with was Mary Maxim's Mellowspun. I bought some several years ago to make a sweater for a friend's little boy. I’d never used it before, and was initially impressed with the beautiful shades it came in and how lovely it felt to work with. And it's bargain priced. But damn, did it ever collect HAIR. My hair, my cat Trlby’s hair, my neighbour’s dog hair from three doors down the street. I'd never seen anything like it. I was constantly ripping hairs out of it as I worked on it. I washed it when I was done and still had to pick out more hair after it came out of the dryer. Never again. And I think I'm going to go through my stash soon and weed out any yarn that I really don't like. Life is too short and knitting time too limited to waste on bad yarn.

If you've got any bad yarn stories, feel free to share them in the comments!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Reviewing Reviews for Body Policing

The regular post for today, a review of knit.wear's Spring 2013 issue, led to my having a very enlightening Twitter conversation with one of this blog's readers. Her Twitter handle is Bunny Knuckles, so I'll call her that. Bunny Knuckles told me she enjoyed my blog but what she called "the CONSTANT body policing" in my pattern reviews had made her decide she needed to stop following it.

Well, I was taken aback, and I tweeted back that I was surprised that she considered me to be body policing, that I expected knitting designs to flatter the figures they go on regardless of what those figures are like. Or words to that effect that fit into the 140 character limit. (I hate Twitter. It's not only the ugliest social media venue on the net — it's like reading code — it's next to impossible to have a coherent and intelligent conversation on it.)

But then I had another look at the review, and found to my horror that Bunny Knuckles had been right. I had essentially told my readers that one particular design, a snug, short, knitted dress, was only for young, svelte women. And I found some other comments that I thought were definitely over the line. So I got back to Bunny Knuckles, saying I thought she had a point and that I had done a hasty edit of some of my comments.

Let me be clear here. When I write knitting magazine reviews, I feel it's part of my job description as a reviewer to help knitters assess whether the patterns will flatter their particular looks. I also write from the standpoint that, regardless of what your proportions are, you deserve a wardrobe that make you look your very best. And if this is true of clothes you buy at the mall with your hard-earned dollars, it's all the more true of clothes you're going to spend not only money but a considerable amount of your valuable time and effort making.

But, you see, my task is a problematic one. The fact is, no one looks good in every style, no matter what his or her figure is like. If I'm to provide honest and helpful guidance on choosing flattering styles, sometimes I do need to say categorically that style X will not suit figure Y. It can be difficult to say that without sounding like I'm shaming people for having figure Y, even though I didn't mean that at all and instead intended to suggest that figure Ys thumb their noses at the unflattering style X and go look for a good design in style Z, which will look fabulous on them.

As much as I want to give knitters useful advice about what will look good on them, to help them choose styles that work best on their figures without making them feel that their figures are the problem, it's a fine line, and it upsets me to think that despite my best efforts it's one I'm probably going to cross occasionally. In the case of that snug, short dress design, for instance, what I should have said originally, and what I have edited my comments to say, is that if the wearer-to-be won't feel comfortable in something so snug and short, to just make the dress a few inches longer and a few inches looser. There are specific styles that simply won't ever work on specific figures (don't even get me started on how an empire cut looks over my D cups), but there are also going to be many more cases in which a design only needs a little tweaking to be perfectly wearable for most people. I need to do a better job at distinguishing between the two. I need to be clearer that I'm critiquing the knitting patterns, not people's bodies. I'm also trying to use more gender inclusive language, but that's another conversation to be had on a day when I don't already have a headache.

So I propose that my contract with my readers will be this: that I will be more vigilant about not crossing the line into body policing, and you are welcome to let me know, via comments on this blog, email, messages or wall posts on The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done's Facebook page, or in a Twitter conversation, when you think I haven't succeeded. I'll do my best to respond promptly and will edit my blog posts if I think you're right.

And then we can get back to ridiculing and critiquing the knitting patterns, because, hoo boy, that's one snark flag we can let fly.

Knit.Wear Spring 2013: A Review

Interweave's knit.wear Spring 2013 issue is out! Let's have a look at its patterns.

I very much like this tank. Great graphic pattern on this design.

Well, this back-buttoned sweater is something different. I like the texture and I can't say this design is unflattering from the front. The back view is perhaps a different story. It does put the butt on display, so you may want to give this design a pass if you don't want that.

With a thick waistband that will thicken your midsection, overfull, dowdy lines and a generally drab air, this is a skirt that can be said to do it all, because it will simultaneously bulk you up, frump you up, and depress you into finding solace in the nearest box of doughnuts. Not that I'm anti-doughnut.

This dress is really a remarkable design. It has good lines and the stretchy diamond stitch pattern is so fabulous I want to see it used throughout in an entire knitwear collection. If you wouldn't feel comfortable in something this snug and short, make it a little longer and looser.

This cardigan sits badly when the model is sitting and when she's standing, has a back that looks like it was pieced by a eight-year-old, and in general has all the style of a cleaning rag. Was this thing intended to go with the skirt and the accompanying doughnut binge above?

I must admit this "overlay vest" has a certain modern, minimalist appeal and isn't unflattering, but it looks for all the world like some kind of body bandage. You could probably save yourself the knitting time and just sew one out of surgical gauze from the drugstore.

I have a bias against asymmetrical styles that I'm trying to overcome, and I'm proud of myself for being able to honestly say that I think the right side of this sleeveless top looks good. It's the left side of the neckline that I have a problem with. Leaving that extra inch of the left side front unconnected to anything makes it look unfinished, or like it's coming apart. I'd shape the left front shoulder to match the corresponding back shoulder. Or more likely make a collar for it to match the one on the right. Oops, guess I'm not actually making all that much progress in setting aside my asymmetrical bias.

This oversized sweater isn't going to be the most flattering item, but it does drape well, and sometimes you do want to just throw something on and be comfortable. With its asymmetrical hem, side-to-side construction, and crocheted hem, it manages to achieve a certain interesting texture and polish. It looks pretty good when viewed straight on and with the model standing straight up, and that's a crucial test of clothing design.

This short-sleeved pullover will do nothing for the figures of most women.

This is the story of a tank top that wanted to grow up to be a dress, got stymied, and settled for an unhappy life as a tunic, with a sad-looking abbreviated skirt that hangs badly. The moral of the story is "knit another pattern".

I bet I was never Aesop in any of my former lives.

The blurb for this design says, "dropped stitches create striking details in this light cardigan." "Striking" in this context meaning "it's going to strike everyone that your sweater is coming apart/has been partially eaten by rats, and they'll be forever telling you so." And it's going to catch on everything constantly. I suppose this concept is post-modern and cutting edge and all that, but I can't stand to go about in a piece of clothing that needs even the tiniest repair job, and in the words of the totally not post-modern and unhip Hall & Oates....

I'm usually not a fan of the open front or partially buttoned cardigan, but I rather like this one. Maybe this issue of knit.wear is wearing me down and practically anything would look good at this point. No, I think I sincerely like this. It's a smart little cardigan. It hangs well, has waist shaping in the back, and has good, even crisp, lines. You won't be able to wear it open, but then... it is open. And I learned one advantage to this style from looking at Ravelry project pictures: this style can be good for maternity wear, because it lets your stomach do whatever it needs to do.

I can't be that worn down, because I don't like this top-buttoned cardigan. It's frumpy. If this sweater were buttoned all the way down, this model would look exactly like a painfully shy and awkward pre-makeover character in some eighties teen movie, and whose first act of rebellion against her fuddy-duddy, overprotective parents would be to pick out some wild, funky outfit in the nearest thrift shop, leaving her sweater wadded up on the change room floor. Omitting two-thirds of the buttons hasn't really changed that.

I wanted to like this vest. It looks pretty good on the cover, the lace is nice, and it offers the wearer a chance to show off a great shawl pin. I speak as someone who has a beautiful shawl pin languishing away in a drawer. But the vest hangs so badly in the back, as though it were both too big and too short, that it ruins the overall appeal for me. And even on the cover the one shoulder we can see isn't sitting right.

Pretty lace shawl.

If this skirt can bulk up this probably very slim model's waistline this much, just think what it can do for yours! A drawstring waistband wasn't a good idea here, and the overall shape isn't flattering either.

Not a bad cowl. It lies gracefully and the texture is interesting. I don't know who will wear cowls in the spring and summer, but hey, not here to judge. No, wait, I am here to judge.

Another lace shawl. The texture is pretty, but the length is maybe a little awkward. Shawls are actually a little tricky to wear — it can be difficult to get the proportions just right for the wearer.

Nice top. It's got clean, flattering lines, and it's striking yet something you'll be able to wear a lot. I don't like the brown and yellow colourway, but this could be done in any colours you want. Including brown and yellow if that's what you like.

Nice simple pullover. I like the concept of using three gradient shades of the same colour. It's an easy yet sophisticated colour scheme that anyone can put together in the wearer-to-be's favourite colour.

I'm trying to be open-minded about this "I-cord cowl". Yes, not everyone is as conservative as I am, yes, sometimes contemporary designs like this can totally work on the right person with the right outfit. But I still can't really fathom why anyone would want to go all to the trouble of making what is essentially a pile of rope for her to hang around her neck for an "of-the-moment" look when, with probably significantly less time investment, she could make a beautiful textured cowl that she could wear for years.

Sleek and striking tank that will knit up quickly and easily.

This striped top looks to me like the offspring of a marriage of convenience between a good concept and a mediocre execution. These stripes should look sharply graphic and visually effective instead of looking like they just don't match. The front doesn't hang all that well either.

Cute striped hat. Of course you can probably find a pattern almost exactly like this for free on Ravelry, or adapt a similar free pattern to make a hat exactly like this.

I quite like this little knitted t-shirt. Colourblocking is actually difficult to do properly, and using the existing the existing seams of a garment to define the colour fields is a good direction to go in. In this case the designer has not only used those seams but played with them by making the back extend to the front of the design in order to create both a sleeve and a colour block. It's really ingenious and effective. It's a hallmark of good design when a very simple design like this one looks so polished and striking.