Friday, 31 May 2013


Funny or Die brings us a tale starring actors Robert Costanzo and John Capodice, who are vetting a new kid for their organization. Is he ready for the big time? Did he bring the right goods to the table?

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Knitscene Accessories 2013: A Review

Knitscene has produced an accessories issue that will be on sale June 4. And here, before you buy, is the review.

The Mustang Mittens pattern does seem like a good way to showcase a self-striping yarn. They do look rather big and clumsy to me, but maybe that's because they're shown against a light, warm weather outfit instead of the heavy coat mittens are normally paired with.

The Back Road Scarf looks rather like a very narrow afghan to me. But I'm probably being too hard on it — I think I would like better if the colour scheme was more appealing to me.

I very much like the Eloen Cowl. It has great detail and looks good worn around the neck or pulled up over the head. It should be warm. And that's pretty much the entire job description of a cowl.

The Morgantown Hat is cute and serviceable, though it does have a rather unfortunate resemblance to a mixing bowl, albeit a chi-chi mixing bowl of the kind you'd see featured in some decorating magazine. I like that it's so carefully finished on top.

The Corvus Shawl is the kind of shawl you knit because it will keep you warm rather than because it'll look good over some silk halter dress at an evening wedding. Make this in a colour to go with your winter coat and it should do a decent job of keeping your neck and chest warm, and look good doing it, because it wraps well. It will be a little small to look right worn just draped over your shoulders unless you're very tiny.

At first glance, I didn't like the Icelandic Star Cowl at all, but as I studied it I realized it was actually a decent design that for some reason has been saddled with terrible styling. A sharply graphic design with such a modern shape looks ludicrous over a white petticoat, and don't even get me started on how I feel about those floral tights. The colourway could be better as well. Put this over a jeans and a t-shirt or a simple dress in coordinating colours, and it will look fine.

The Amperes Hat is a cute, wearable hat with an interesting triangular panel construction.

The Zed Scarf is graphic in a really fun, lively way; it forces you to notice it. Make this in your favourite colours and it will give all those cold gray winter days a little zip.

The Resistance Shawl is another appealing graphic piece, quieter than the Zed Scarf just above, but also with a little more sophistication. And it's another piece that will be worn with a coat for warmth. Little shawls like this are best worn scarf-style, as they are too skimpy to look good as shoulder shawls.

The Transistor Hat is cute enough for casual wear. Looks like a good way to use up those odds and ends of yarn too.

The Frequency Cowl has an inventive modular design, but its shape is unfortunate. These tube style cowls never sit attractively around the neck, but are usually stiff and awkward looking, unless the yarn and texture is soft enough to let it like in graceful folds. There's probably a reason this model isn't letting the cowl just sit around her neck in any of the front view pictures for this design.

The Riga Bonnet is cute in its way, but you might have to be either one of the March girls in production of Little Women or the indie/hipster/Bohemian type in real life to carry it off. I'm mentally trying it on a procession of all my female friends and family members at the moment, and I haven't come to anyone yet on whom it wouldn't look absurd.

The San Cristóbal Shawl is attractive and well-designed, but I keep thinking if it were just a bit bigger it would be an afghan. Shoulder shawls shouldn't look like they belong on a couch.

Speaking of proportions, the Avesta Shawl is just right for wearing draped over the shoulders. I like the ruffled edging, and I like the touch of lace that makes it pretty without leaving it susceptible to catching on everything that comes within four feet of the wearer. Nice work!

The Rosita Hat and Rosita Mittens are a really cute set for women who like pretty, girlish designs. I have no problem thinking of a few women I know who would love this hat and mittens.

The Thisbe Cap has a touch of vintage style to it — these little back-of-the-head caps, were last in style in the late 1930s and the 1940s. And I see Knitscene has pinned this model's long hair up in an appoximation of that forties look (i.e., the hair is flat around the top of the head and flares out to curls on the sides and back of the head). But as soon as I saw this design I thought, this cap is not going to stay on, and sure enough there's a bobby pin visible in the picture, holding it in place. It would drive me crazy to have to pin my hat in place or feel it constantly slipping away, and I don't know how it would look with a modern hairstyle, but if you feel up to dealing with these challenges, go for it.

The Valois Shawl has a beautiful lace pattern, but I am not sure about the shape of it, which looks as though it might be a little awkward.

The Rukkilill Mitts design is one of those that, while objectively successful as a design, will only appeal to those who like a touch of the quaintly girlish in their wardrobes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Not every pattern will appeal to every demographic.

Quite like the Cuphea Socks, which are just frilly and lacy enough to be feminine and pretty and will suit even an understated wardrobe without making the wearer feel like she's sporting Edwardian petticoats on her feet.


Not really a fan of the Preternatural Hat, which looks like it's splitting open and painfully birthing a new alien hat design. Given the name, this was probably the intended effect... but there's a reason The X-Files was never known for its style setting. NOT X-FILES-IST.

And the Preternatural Hat is followed by the Preternatural Mitts. Can't say I like them any better; if anything, I prefer the hat. But maybe I'm just out of my ken here. Perhaps SciFi conventions tend to be chilly and these are the perfect accessories for them.

The Chicago Scarf is a nice, classic crocheted scarf pattern that almost any woman will be able to work into her wardrobe.

The A Sign of Affection Hat has one earflap. I don't think I quite understand the name, or the concept. Is there a sign of affection on the one ear, such as a hickey (query: can ears get hickeys?) and is that why it needs to be covered? Is the wearer of this hat so constantly having her ears nibbled that she only needs to protect the other from the cold? I am but a simple and single reviewer and do not understand. All I can think when I look at this design is that the asymmetry would drive me crazy, that I don't find the hat particularly flattering, and that this is not a hat that has ever visited Toronto in the winter. It probably winters in some little love nest in New Orleans.

The Arnodda Socks are for those who've run out of leather jackets or body parts to pierce. I kid. I actually like this idea, which could look really cute on someone with a slightly punk or rock style. As long as whatever part of the stud is on the inside of the sock doesn't scratch or chafe the leg it touches, because ow.

The So Faux Cowl is another tube-shaped cowl and the first couple of pictures showed the model pulling on it, which had me worried, but in this picture we see it's allowed to lie still, and that it does so fairly gracefully. Not a bad pattern for those who love the faux animal skin print look.

The Pink Squish hat is cute and wearable. I like the cabled edging — so much more interesting visually than the usual ribbing.

The Bow Slouch Hat is so cute it made me smile to look at it. If the bow looks a little large for your tastes, you can make it smaller or make it look smaller by making it in darker, less obtrusive colour.

The Vaudeville Shawl wouldn't be for everyone, but would work on a woman with a very modern dress sense.

I would like to see more Fascinator patterns. They're trendy now, because of the fact that Kate Middleton looks so cute in them, but this may be the first knitting pattern I've seen for one in a magazine. That said, I don't particularly care for this one. It looks like a random tangle of heavy I-cord pinned to this model's hair.

I hope the Stagger Cowl is long enough to easily loop twice around the wearer's head, because worn single it doesn't sit all that well. It looks a bit like a flat tire hung around this model's neck.

The Bow and Arrow Hat looks like a good concept that didn't get the execution it should have gotten. The overall hat style is sleek and carefully finished, but added side detail shapes are too nondescript. They should have either been a recognizable shape or, if left abstract, had more visual interest.

I've often said in these reviews that shawls should not look like afghans. The Cimarron Shawl is definitely veering into afghan territory with its ripple pattern, although at least it looks like a very nice afghan.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Richard Rutt Collection

If you love vintage patterns, do I have vintage patterns for you. The University of Southampton's Winchester School of Art has put the Richard Rutt collection of antique knitting books online. Who was Richard Rutt? Well, he was one of those people who can't get interested in anything without pursuing it to some esoteric height of knowledge and landmark level of accomplishment. When he was an Anglican missionary to South Korea for twenty years, he became a founder of what is now considered Korean studies, authoring a number of books on Korea and its culture, among them the co-authored encyclopedia Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary. He became fascinated by classical Chinese and published a translation of a challenging ancient Chinese work, The Book of Changes. When spending some of the later years of his life in Cornwall he learned the Cornish language in order to celebrate weddings in Cornish. He rose within the Anglican church to become a bishop. Late in life Rutt converted to Roman Catholicism, and was soon ordained as a priest, then a Prelate of Honour, with the title of Monsignor, and also an honorary canon of Plymouth Cathedral. I won't list all his accomplishments here, but the Wikipedia entry for Richard Rutt makes for an interesting read.

Richard Rutt also had a passionate interest in knitting, and true to form he couldn't just, you know, make a scarf while he was watching TV like the rest of us. He authored a history of the craft entitled A History of Hand Knitting, published in 1987, which is still in print. Rutt was involved with the Knitting & Crochet Guild from the time of its founding in 1978 and was its president at the time of his death in 2011. He also collected antique knitting books and booklets. And now you can see the Richard Rutt Collection collection of 66 antique knitting books dating from 1838 to 1914, which might just make your rumpled collection of Vogue Knitting back issues look much less impressive than you thought.

All sixty-six volumes are online in their entirety and may be viewed in high quality PDFs and printed off for use as you like. You may find them more interesting from a historical and knitting geek perspective than from a practical one. As I discussed during a recent post on Victorian knitting patterns, a lot of nineteenth century patterns can be difficult to follow because they don't include information such as stitch gauge or yardage amounts. Some of the books, such as the 1838 second edition of The Ladies Knitting & Netting Book, by Mrs. Annesley "the Compiler", the cover of which is pictured above, don't have a single illustration in them, which means the end result of your work may surprise you, and not pleasantly.

Moreover many of the patterns won't be wearable by modern standards. You probably aren't going to want to wear the ladies' silk opera cloak above even if you are a woman who regularly attends the opera. But other patterns are useable still. Baby clothing hasn't changed much in the last century or two, and neither have scarves, gloves, hats, shawls, drawstring purses, men's waistcoats (the ladies' equivalent will require either a substantial rewrite or a corset), or socks. At any rate the collection promises the knitting history and vintage knitting pattern lover many a happy hour of browsing. Vintage knitting patterns don't get much more vintage than this.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Luceting: I-cord's Older, Stronger and Possibly Cooler Cousin

If you need cord to finish off a knitted project such as a drawstring bag (or the perfect, period-accurate take-along project for when you're headed off to a Renaissance Faire), one option is to learn luceting. The technique for lucet cording dates back to the Viking and medieval periods, is fairly easy to learn (it may take a few cords before you get the tension down), and only requires a single tool, such as the one shown above, available from Stitch Diva Studios.

This video from Stitch Diva Studios will show you how to make a basic lucet cord. Once you are comfortable with the technique, it's possible to move on to adding beads to the cord, and even to making your own jewelry. Ziggy Rytka has written a book and a DVD on advanced luceting that are available from The Lucet Co.

When shopping for a lucet fork, you'll find it's possible to get styles ranging from the very simple and functional to quite decorative, such as the ones above, which are offered by Wooden Knitting.

This one from Grizzly Mountain Arts was too beautiful not to include, though it seems to be a one-of-a-kind piece made back in 2009 and that was sold on eBay, so if you want one like it you're probably out of luck unless you can either carve wood or know a woodcarver who can be talked or bribed into making you one. I do wonder whether a lucet fork needs a handle as it seems to me it would easiest and most comfortable to use if it had one, but there are plenty of both handless and handled lucet forks available for sale on the web, so it's plainly not absolutely necessary. It does look as though the handle is useful when it comes to making a very long cord, as the cord produced can be tidily wrapped around the handle.

This lucet fork is definitely not available for sale, being "a whalebone line-winder incised with the figure of a bird" Viking artifact from north Norway. Those Vikings certainly knew how to make cord.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Knitting With Paint

You probably think that the image above is a photo of a detail from a knitted item, but it's not. It's an oil painting. Yes, seriously. Brazilian artist Rogerio Degaki, whose pop art often references formative stages in life, created a series of these paintings, born from childhood memories of being made to wear handmade sweaters that he didn't like lest he hurt the feelings of his mother and aunts who had knitted the sweaters for him. He decided he'd create some knitted patterns he would have liked to wear as a child, and then, because he's not a knitter, render them in paint. And how on earth does he do that? "The surface is divided into rows and columns, in which I distribute the 'knitting stitches,' according to the image I want to paint," Degaki says. "From there, I overlap up to six color layers to compose the background, the stitches and the brightness of wool. It's a bit mathematical and repetitive, but definitely worth it."

You can read more about Degaki's work on My Modern Met and see the rest of this series, as well as his other work, on his web site.

Much as I admire Degaki's paintings, the back story left me wincing. I can only hope the many children upon whom I have foisted knitted items don't feel the same way about the things I have made for them. I don't exactly want to walk into an art gallery someday and see some knitted-related childhood traumas that I induced writ large.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Blocking Board Blueprint

Over the last year or so I've been making a concerted effort to improve my knitting skills. I learned to knit as a child and once I got to a certain skill level as a teenager, I just stayed there. I thought I was an expert knitter because I could easily make patterns designated as expert level, but I wasn't. My projects did turn out quite well, but there was room for improvement, especially in the finishing details. I only knew one way to cast on and one way to cast off, there were a lot of techniques I had never tried at all, I didn't know how to seam a garment properly, and I'd never blocked a sweater (I did press the seams). Besides improving in all these areas, I'd also like to acquire some design skills. I do freely alter patterns to suit my needs and tastes, and I have made sweaters without patterns, but it was all pretty basic stuff and I've never written a pattern. I'd like to learn to design more complex knitwear to a professional standard so some of the designs I have in my head can become a reality.

Towards all these ends, I recently decided I would get myself a blocking board and start blocking my work. An ironing board can be used for blocking, but it isn't big enough to work for anything but small projects. You can use a mattress, but who wants the bother of unmaking and remaking the bed before and after, to say nothing of having the bed out of commission for a few days at a time? You can use towels on a table, but those towels are going to shift about and make the task difficult, and again you won't be able to use the table for a day. A special purpose blocking board was what I wanted.

I priced blocking boards and found one of the size I wanted would cost something like $90(USD) plus shipping and probably duty, so I decided to make one for much less, and did. In case anyone would like a tutorial on how to make one for themselves, here's how I did it.

Items required for this project:

• a sheet of plywood in whatever size you like
• enough 1/2"–1" thick foam padding to cover the surface area of the plywood
• a piece of gingham fabric six inches longer and six inches wider than the plywood
• glue
• scissors
• a tape measure
• an upholstery stapler and staples
• a hammer, screwdriver and pair of grips to deal with the staples that won't cooperate
• a sewing machine and thread (optional)

I bought this 30" x 48" sheet of plywood from Home Depot for $12.42 (CDN). I would have preferred it to be about 30" x 60" but I would have had to buy a huge sheet of plywood and had it cut down, which meant it would be much more expensive with a lot of wastage, and so I settled for this size. It will do. I should be able to fit the pieces for a sweater for me on it, or do a dress or a coat if I want to, though I'll have to block those pieces separately.

Then I went to Fabricland and bought foam padding and a 1.25 metre length of green gingham. It would probably be better to get a sheet of foam for this project, but the day I was at Fabricland they had packages of four 1" chair seat foam squares on sale, while the sheet foam would have cost quite a bit more. It being spring, the gingham was also on sale. A gingham or checked fabric is the best thing for a homemade blocking board, because it gives you a grid to work on and does a lot of the measuring for you. Total cost of the foam and gingham was $16.22 (CDN).

I placed the foam squares on the board and cut two of them to fit, then I glued them down and left them to dry for a day or so.

I cut my gingham fabric to size, leaving a 3" margin all around. I also took an extra five minutes to overcast the edges of the fabric on my sewing machine to be sure there would be no fraying, but that's not necessary. As you can see here I've folded the edges under to make the back look neater, and that should prevent and/or hide any fraying.

I placed the fabric on the board as straight as I could, stapled the four corners from underneath, and then flipped the board over to staple the rest securely. Some of the staples were cantankerous things that wouldn't go in properly, so that's when I either pulled them out with vice grips and tried again with new staples, or hammered them the rest of the way in.

The finished board. You can see the lines where the foam squares meet — they weren't exactly precision cut to 1" — even though I tried mixing and matching them to get them to be level. But it won't affect the efficacy of the board, so whatever. The gingham isn't lined up to be perfectly straight either, but there's no need for architectural precision as we're not exactly designing a basilica here.

I'll be placing the board across the stair railing like this whenever I want to use it. It's the perfect place for it: it's at a good height to work on and it won't be in my way while the pieces dry.

The blocking board put to use for the first time. I invested in three packs of 40 rust-proof stainless steel pins for the purpose, but ran out when I blocked this child's sweater, so looks like I could use another two or three packs. When the board isn't in use, I store it on its edge behind the cupboard you see in the background.

The total cost of the board was $28.64(CDN), though I am not counting the cost of the glue, thread, staples and other equipment I already owned. The gingham and fabric should last a fairly long time, and when they do wear out can be replaced and the plywood reused. With an hour's work I saved myself close to $100, so I'm pleased.

This seemed rather too easy a project to really require a tutorial, but given that I'm running a knitting blog it seemed too on point not to share, so I wrote it up in the hope that it'll be of use and interest to some people.