Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Knitting Pattern Hunt

In honour of its being Easter, I thought I'd offer up some ideas and patterns for Easter-themed knitting projects. It may not surprise you to learn that there's a dearth of cool Easter-related project ideas. I hosted the Swan family Easter do for ten years straight, and I used to casually browse through a few stores for Easter ornaments every year, thinking that, what with up to 15 people dropping by my place for Easter lunch every year, it might make sense for me to own some decorations. And every year every Easter ornament I ever saw was uniformly hideously tacky. It was all bunnies and chicks and pastels and kitsch, oh my. I always opted to buy a couple of bouquets of fresh flowers and make several floral arrangements instead.

Happily, when it came to researching this post, I was able to find half a dozen pretty patterns for you that I hope you like. Above, of course, is the first pattern I found, which is for Easter eggs. And the pattern is free.

I don't think too many little girls would wrinkle their noses at this prettily dressed bunny. Unless they are trying to relate to it.

Baby bunnie beanie. This is another free pattern. It's wise to get all your parental zoomorphizing impulses out of the way before your children are old enough to understand and protest it.

These are actually almost funky and cool. I'm thinking you could fashion them so as to be opened via a buttoned flap on the bottom, and then you'd be able to them as treat containers for the Easter egg hunt. And the pattern is free.

An Easter dress that a little girl could continue to wear through the spring and summer.

And something for the grownups. This floral top is striking and will make the woman who wears it look dressed to celebrate the coming of spring without turning her into a large scale nursery decoration.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

A Gay Scarf

With the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the legal recognition of gay marriage this week, and given that the Gay Pride parade season only a few months away, you may be looking for a way to show your support for gay rights. If so, rest assured that you can easily knit something gay! The pattern for the pretty, simple, and quick-to-knit Rainbow Pride Scarf shown above is available for free on Ravelry.

Friday, 29 March 2013

If You're Cold, Put On a Sweater

A Belgian natural gas company wanted a commercial that would convey the warmth and comfort that natural gas will bring to your home. How do you do that? Well, what did your mother always tell you? If you're cold, put on a sweater. The commercial is made by TBWA Brussels, directed by Olivier Babinet, and produced by Lovo Films.

Here's a short film about the making of the commercial above. After a month of preparation, a professional crew of over 40 men spent four days and nights shooting this commercial live and in stopmotion with four different cameras.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Knitting Traditions, Spring 2013: A Review

Knitting Traditions is yet another of Interweave's many knitting magazines. It seems to be a special issue under the auspice of their magazine Piecework, which has a special focus on the traditions and history of handiwork. So let's have a look at the reinterpreted historical patterns in Knitting Traditions.

This is the Pucker-Stitch Jumper. It's definitely either vintage or vintage-inspired, and my best guess as to its provenance is that it dates from the thirties or forties. And it is an attractive design, but do be aware that it only comes in one size: tiny! The finished chest measurement is 32 inches.

This is the Myrtle-Leaf Scarf. Very pretty and delicate.

A Vintage Knitted Tie. Women used to knit such silk ties for the men in their lives. I don't know much at all about men's clothes, but I don't know whether this is something a modern man would care to wear. The shape just doesn't look current to me. If you're making this for a man and you're not the man, you'll want to clear the project with him first.

This pattern is called Naomi: An Anna Marie Jensen Doily. I don't know anyone who uses doilies, although this is certainly a beautiful one. This is a common experience for me when drooling over historical patterns: I want to make something for the sake of its beauty and historical interest, but can't come up with a use for it. And so I force myself to move on. There are plenty of patterns out there that are both beautiful and useful.

Jack Frost Baby Cardigan. This isn't a stunning pattern, but it's attractive enough and perfectly practical.

These Waldorf-Inspired Toy Horses are quite cute. I don't know if I'd want to make the rose garlands for these horses as I don't think they add anything.

An Aran for Füles. Classic Aran baby sweater. I don't know what Füles means, and a Google search told me only that it's a Hungarian word meaning "eared; having ears", and that apparently it's the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore's Hungarian name. I don't think that's why this sweater is named what it is, unless those ear sleeves rather than arm sleeves. Füles is also a last name, so the sweater is probably just named after someone in particular. The Google searches writing for this blog send me on!

Olga's Learning Socks. These are Latvian socks. I like the concept of fancy tops on socks; they're a way of getting to wear special socks without falling into a common knitter's pitfall: being a knitter whose proudly worn handmade clothes don't match at all.

Grandmother's Finnish Socks. Pretty tops on these socks. They look kind of shapeless, but then socks always do in photos when they aren't being modelled.

Grandfather's Stockings. I don't know any grandfathers who would wear these stockings. They look like kneesocks for a girl or a woman.

These Nordic Mittens for Baby are quite cute and simple. I'd whip up a matching hat to go with them.

Miniature Sion Bag. This little bag was based on a design from the 14th century. I don't know what use a 14th-century woman would have put it to (it's not like she had a compact and lipstick to stash away), but this looks like a little girl's purse to me.

Ancient Riga Mittens. These Latvian mittens are made in a man's size, and they're very nice in their way, but I don't know how many non-Latvian men would want to wear them.

These Latvian Usinš and Sun Mittens are very colourful and elaborately patterned, and yet there's such order and detail in the pattern that it ends up achieving that perfect balance between richly patterned and loud. Few designers can achieve that; it generally takes centuries for a pattern to evolve to that point.

These Groenlo Mittens are Dutch mittens rather than Latvian. It's amazing how the traditional knitwear designs from the different countries can be so similar, yet have such a distinctively national character.

Moose at Sundown Gloves. These gloves are Norwegian. They're the kind of thing a male knitter might happily make for himself, and a female knitter might actually have a hope of talking even a conservative man into wearing.

An Aran-Stitch Vest. I don't have to qualify my praise for this vest. It's by far the best design in this issue. The care and attention that went into designing this vest really shows; it's the most exquisitely detailed pattern I've seen in awhile. The designer managed to turn the necessary shaping at the hips into a design element. If that high crewneck won't suit you, you could scoop it away by a few inches, or turn it into a v-neck.

An Orenburg Honeycomb Lace Scarf. Simple and classic, if maybe a little on the too-generic side.

This Russian Beret doesn't look very Russian to me, but it is a nice hat. The popcorn stitch and the little tie at the side give it all the visual interest it needs, and yet it's simple enough to go with anything and you'll be able to wear it for years.

Summer Flowers Gossamer Scarf. I love the delicate lacework on this scarf, and also that it's lacy without being open lacework, because open lace is so liable to get snagged.

Elizabeth Jackson's A Stocking. Really plain, basic socks. I actually don't know why anyone would make these. If I invest the time in knitting an item, I want to have something special when I'm done — something that I can't buy readymade, and I am sure I could buy purple kneesocks if I took the trouble to look for them. The day is past when we need to spend our valuable time in making generic, utilitarian items.

These Remembrance Socks look like a pair of socks it would be worth taking the trouble to make.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

There's Such a Thing as Getting Too Into Our Knitting

This is a 1955 knitting ad from McCall's. And yes, it's true that we put a bit of ourselves into every thing we knit: our creativity, skill, time, effort, love, and hopes for the future. But it doesn't necessarily follow that we have to make everything we knit an actual part of ourselves. I hope we can stop short of using yarn for hair, for instance.

Coming up: Look for a review of Interweave's Knitting Traditions Spring 2013 issue tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Mount Everest of Knitting Patterns

A friend of mine recently flipped me a link to a book called Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously, by Adrienne Martini, the story of Martini's year-long effort to knit the Mary Tudor design from Alice Starmore's Tudor Roses, a book of fair isle patterns published in 1998. (ETA: Tudor Roses was out of print at the time of this post but has since been updated and re-released.) Martini calls the Mary Tudor pattern, pictured above on the front cover of Tudor Roses, a "knitter’s Mount Everest, our curse, and our compulsion". It's true that for Martini, this sweater was a personal Mount Everest because it was the most complex and largest-scale project she'd ever undertaken, but I wouldn't describe this pattern as the everyknitter's Mount Everest.

For one thing, the Mount Everest metaphor is more nuanced than Martini may realize. Let's remember that climbing Mount Everest is not considered the pinnacle of human achievement it once was. These days, with the technological advances in climbing gear, it's quite possible for any able-bodied, hardy, and reasonably fit person who has the time and the money to climb it. Mount Everest has been successfully climbed over 5000 times since Sir Edmund Hillary was the first to climb it in 1953, including climbs by one 13-year-old, one 76-year-old, and one blind climber. One person has climbed it 20 times and one couple got married on the summit. One of Sir Edmund Hillary's grandsons climbed it and called his grandfather from the top with his cell phone. Sir Hillary himself never considered climbing Mount Everest to be the most important or worthwhile thing he did in his life, and was appalled by what he saw as contemporary climbers' prioritization of reaching the top over the welfare of other climbers in distress.

When I look at the Mary Tudor design, I don't see a pattern requiring the greatest possible level of knitting skill, or the ultimate achievement in design, or a pattern that must be knitted because it exists, as a "Mount Everest of knitting patterns" designation would seem to imply. What I see is a beautiful and richly patterned design that represents a major time investment, and that I would reshape completely in order to make flattering. Oversized, shapeless sweaters have gone out of style since the nineties, and for excellent reason.

Learning about Martini's book led me to wonder if there was a world's most difficult knitting pattern, and to do a little internet research on the matter. I found discussion questions on Ravelry and some other knitting sites that asked, "What, in your opinion, is the most difficult knitting pattern?", with resulting threads full of links to patterns that were undeniably going to be time consuming, but that otherwise didn't look all that difficult or challenging to me. When I googled the phrases "most difficult knitting pattern" and "hardest knitting pattern", wherever the phrase occurred on the net it was usually followed by another phrase along the lines of "that I have ever attempted" or "that I have tackled so far". And that's very telling.

The truth is that once a knitter gets to a certain level of experience and skill, no pattern looks all that difficult, and knitting patterns simply vary widely in terms of time investment required. Once you've done more advanced knitting techniques such as stranded knitting, cables, fair isle, steeking, entrelac, double knitting, intarsia, lace work, knitting in the round, Swiss darning, knitting smocking, thrumming, etc., the prospect of doing them doesn't faze you any more. And even if you haven't tried all of those techniques (I have not), once you've successfully mastered a significant selection of them, you know you can always learn the others. Just as strangers are friends (or spouses, or employers, or hot pig sex partners, or neighbours, or tax auditors) whom you haven't yet met, knitting patterns simply represent potential uses of your time and possible future possessions/gifts. Once you lose the beginner's fear of the untried and you have enough experience to know what you're committing to, you'll wind up doing a cost and time benefit analysis and conclude, "Ugly, no way!" or "Nice, but not for or on me," or "Nice, and won't take long," or "Beautiful, and will take a lot of time but it'll be worth it," or "Fabulous but too time-intensive; maybe some day...", or "GORGEOUS AND A HUGE TIME SUCK BUT I MUST DO IT ERE I PERISH." There's no Mount Everest of knitting patterns. There are, rather, marathon knitting projects, and it's a marathon you can do at your own pace because no one's clocking you.

I hope that "difficult" knitting patterns ceased, or will cease, to intimidate you fairly early in your knitting experience, and also that you will regard knitting patterns as your servant and not your master. If you've read any of the knitting pattern reviews posts on this blog, you'll know that I suggest tweaks to almost every pattern. I hardly ever knit any pattern exactly as written. There is that rare case when I come across a pattern I consider perfect — perfect in this context meaning "perfect for me/the wearer". If a pattern you love on paper isn't going to work for your figure, colouring, personal aesthetic preferences, lifestyle, climate, or fashion era once knitted, then for heaven's sake change it. Alter it for fit, change the neckline or the silhouette, use three colours instead of twenty or twenty instead of three, substitute cotton for wool or scarlet for gray, or borrow different features of several different patterns to get the look you want.

Designers aren't gods whose every direction must be reverenced and followed to the letter. They make mistakes, there can be a lot of room for improvement in their results, their work can become dated, and in any case they weren't designing especially for you. Unless you are a textile artist making a piece of installation art, you want a finished garment you can wear the hell out of, not something that will sit uselessly in a drawer after you've invested your valuable time and money in it. You can be your own designer, and if you don't feel your skill level is equal to the task of rewriting a pattern to be what you want it to be, ask more experienced knitters for advice, or shelve the project until you're ready to bring it on.

And take a lesson from Adrienne Martini's experience. She spent an entire year of her life making her Mary Tudor sweater in slavish adherence to Starmore's directions, even to the point of resorting to buying the specific yarn required for it on the "black yarn market" because it wasn't being produced any more. With the result that (as I gather from the Amazon reader reviews), she had finished the sweater only to discover the sleeves were too short and that she would never wear it because she didn't like the way she looked in it. Don't let your compulsion to make a project and to reach the summit of completion blind you to more important considerations, such as whether the item you're making will be of any use once you've finished it. In short, have a martini; don't be one.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Knit Simple Spring 2013: A Review

Knit Simple has published their Spring 2013 issue. Let's have a look at the 30 patterns in it.

We begin well! I like this lacy cardigan. It's classic and simple yet distinctive and will flatter most women.

I'll review these together since the same comment applies to both: these are nice but generic lace shawls. You could find something much more striking and interesting if you cared to look further for a pattern, or you could make these and just have a simple little shawl that will serve you well enough.

This is quite an interesting and effective lace scarf.

Another really generic item. I don't think I'd recommend this one. It's so basic as to not even look quite finished.

I don't know why anyone would wear fingerless gloves in spring time. Perhaps the designer of this pair din't know either, and consequently designed them to cover as little of the hands as possible — notice how short they are at the wrists and how they cover just the base of the fingers. These are "barely there" fingerless gloves. And they're fine for what they are, I suppose, but I'd recommend "not there at all" fingerless gloves for spring.

This "textured tank" isn't bad. It's got some visual interest and is a standard-fitting, reasonably flattering item. You'll probably have to wear something underneath though.

Here we have... a tunic-length tank or camisole that you wear over a complete outfit. I'd be inclined to raise the neckline and lengthen the skirt so it could be called a dress. It would look pretty and serve a purpose as a dress. As a tunic camisole it just looks like something made by the model's mother and that the model dutifully worked into a cobbled-together outfit for her Mother's Day appearance at her mother's home. She bought some flowers for her too.

Flattering, serviceable and even rather interesting top. I find the sleeve length a little awkward, but it'll be easy to just make them whatever length you want.

Knit Simple, a scarf stitched together does not a vest make. Not that this is terrible. It's actually fairly wearable, a cute item that could be popped over a little summer dress, but the bottom looks rough and unfinished and needed some finishing detail in order to make this design a success.

Not a bad little lace top.

I keep looking at all that extra width around the body and the wrist and wondering why on earth the designer thought it necessary to put it in. It's going to add to the midsection of anyone who wears it, and "will add to your midsection" is not exactly a selling point for a sweater. Notice how the model is standing, with her legs wide apart, in an effort to balance out the proportions of the sweater. Given that women pretty much never stand that way and you are probably not interested in beginning to do so, I'd recommend changing the lines of this sweater to a standard fit. The lacy detail at the wrist and the ballet neckline will make this sweater look interesting and graceful all on their own.

This isn't bad. Again that's a lot of fullness through the hips, but at least the top is more fitted and the fullness is lower on the body, which makes it skirt-like rather than maternity top-like, and gives it a better silhouette over all. As always... stay away from the empire cut if you're well-endowed.

I'm not crazy about this one but it's not bad either. I like the effect of the ribbed yoke and the garter stitch stripes. I'd fix the dropped shoulders and neaten up the fit somewhat.

I initially thought this mesh top might be crocheted, but it isn't. I'm not a fan of mesh, which always requires layers. And you can get sunburnt right through it. Also this isn't a very flattering shape.

I quite like this tote, with its simple yet eye-catching design. It looks well-constructed and has a good shape. These colours don't work that well together, but you can choose whatever colours you like.

I'm not crazy about this crocheted bag, with its weirdly placed straps and dumpy bucket shape. The old term "sad sack" comes to mind.

I don't like this bag either, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a Canadian who wouldn't be interested in making an American flag anything. It isn't a good shape. It would be awkward to carry this, and you can see the straps are pulling the top out of shape even in this picture.

A cellphone case. It's not bad. The yarn choice isn't great — the crudity of the colour is making the pattern look less polished than it actually is.

This isn't a bad little duffel bag. It looks like the perfect bag for the beach, though I have my doubts as to how it would stand up to anything heavier than a swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, and a trashy novel.

Do you really want to go to all the effort of making this pattern, only to look like you've rolled your yoga mat up in a piece of your grandmother's afghan?

Cute little vest! It's so simple a not-very-experienced knitter could make it for a second or third project, and yet it looks polished.

There are cuter, better-designed bunny hats than this one. Remember: this child model is being paid to look like she likes this.

There are also much better-designed girl's tops. I tend to cringe a little when I see kids in homemade items that are poorly made or poorly designed. It's one thing if you want to go out in the world in your beginner project that you're so proud of, but sending your child off to school in one is a different matter. You don't have that Lord of the Flies-inspired social experiment called recess to worry about. Try to be objective.

Are legwarmers really back for girls? And if they are, shouldn't they actually match something else the girl is wearing?

This is called the "Chanel-Inspired Cardi". I'm pretty sure that if Coco Chanel were to look at this, she'd take one look, let loose with a vehement, Mon Dieu, c'est quoi ça?!?!, and then fire someone. A knitted Chanel-style cardigan isn't a bad concept, but this one with its novelty yarn trim, retina-burning lilac shade and beginner project use of the garter stitch line just looks tacky. I'd like to see a Chanelesque cardigan done in more finished, sophisticated way.

This top is another bad use of novelty yarn. Which, as I keep saying in these reviews, is difficult to employ in design without it degrading the whole piece. The ruffled yarn on the sleeves are just too prominent and visually add to the width of the model's body. It isn't a flattering look at all. It doesn't help that the rest of the top is so squarish.

Another effort to use ruffled yarn, and another bad result. This looks like a piece of trimming ripped off a Rose Bowl parade float. I notice the stylist didn't even try to come up with an outfit that went with it.

Hoo boy. Usually if there's any use to which one can put a novelty yarn and have it work, it's a skinny scarf. But here we have a skinny scarf knitted in Filatura di Crosa's Ibiza, and again it looks like something ripped off a Rose Bowl parade float. Except this time half the trimming stayed attached to the float.

Not crazy about this shrug. Knitwear designs are just not supposed to look like converted afghans. No knitting project should look like an afghan but an afghan.