Thursday, March 31, 2011

Not “Where are They Now?” but “What Did They Inspire?” (2KCBWDAY4)

There is no doubt that since 2009 I have been on a creative path. Fiber pursuits, painting, writing and photography have all played an integral part in my life these past few years. While I have crafted, and will continue to craft, items for charity, I’m not certain of their impact and, quite frankly, I like it that way. I believe in letting those knit and crochet items go freely, so that they can be and do whatever it is they were meant to be and do.

There has been a definite link between my fiber efforts and other disciplines. It started in 2009 when, after taking a Tunisian crochet course at Stitches West, I went back home and created a bed cover from my stash.

At the same time, I was exploring painting in a more disciplined manner, having picked up paint brushes for the first time in 2007. A direct result of the Tunisian bed cover I crafted were these two paintings (and there’s a third, a portion of which is visible in the bed cover pic, but I have no decent photo of it):

Those three paintings were a culmination of my individual study of blocks in acrylics, and would have never happened had the crochet inspiration not existed.

The second visual I created related to fiber was a banner and badge for a Ravelry group – the Knitter’s Coffee Swap. The group was looking for new visuals, and a member had a good idea but no artistic skills to execute it. I really liked the idea, sent her a message, one thing led to another, and we created the following together – her idea, my execution in acrylic on canvas, with words digitally added later:

While I haven’t been around the group’s page in a while, it was still being used the last time I checked.

Finally, I like history (and have taught 20th Century U.S. history). I’ve written one article on the history of crochet in the U.S. at the turn of the century for Crochet Insider. I have recently finished another for Crochet Insider, due to be published by the end of the week (the editor/designer, Dora Ohrenstein, publishes quarterly so is pushing for April 1st). Not only will the article spawn my first pattern (fingers and toes crossed!), but it also led me to create a few mixed media pieces, one of which is below:

Not only am I thrilled that Dora is committed to publishing these types of crochet articles, but doubly pleased that the artwork received a warm reception. I can’t know their future impact, but I send them out there much like the charity items, free (within the bounds of law!) to do and be whatever they will.

We are smack dab in the middle of the second annual Knitting and Crochet Blogging Week. What do you hope your fiber creations have inspired or will in future inspire? Definitely let me know in the comments section below and remember – only three days left of this wonderful, wild and woolly Internet madness!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Organized? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Organized (2KCBWDAY3)

Alright. It’s day three of the second annual Knitting and Crochet Blogging week, and it’s now happening: I’m rebelling. Yup. You got it. Yarn and “organization” should not be in the same sentence. There. I wrote it.

Now, if you didn’t see my Monday post, just look above and you’ll see another shot of my stash … sort of. I was embarrassed Monday to reveal that I had actually omitted a few skeins of yarn. Of course, that was Monday. Now it’s Wednesday, and my normally very organized mind has had some time to ponder Monday’s minor embarrassment.

I’m no longer embarrassed. Here’s why.

I am a word person. I love all things words – books, blogs, lists, you name it. I have lists for all my crafty stuff. I made a list last year of those projects I wanted to make. I made yet another list at the beginning of last year for the shawls I wanted to make. Of course, what actually sprang from my crafty hands had very little resemblance to those two lists (which did not even really look like each other). I have a new list for this year:

As you can see – I’ve made exactly one thing on January and February’s list. I have a few more that I’m about to start – but it’s now almost April. And of course, the yarn stash and the lists are supposed to be tied to each other. That makes sense, right?

Well, it’s not the fact that I missed a few skeins of yarn in the above photo that’s the issue. No, I’ve been relying on a system that bites – that’s the issue.

So, while the project list still exists (as well as my blog, my Ravelry project pages and digital library) say goodbye to yarn organization. There will be no organized buckets of yarn, complete with alphabetized indices sitting neatly on a hard drive, just waiting to be printed and gazed upon. Color-coordinated? Nah. By weight? Not happening. Nope. No siree Bob. Because as I was snapping the stash photos, I actually remembered I had two other skeins I should have included.

And there’s the rub – it’s not about the words when it comes to yarn, for me it’s about the tactile and the visual. I know exactly what I have, in my head, because I’ve seen it and touched it and experienced it and it’s a permanent part of my memory. No other organization is needed.

Watch as my hands wipe against each other in a very self-satisfied manner.

I’d love to hear whether or not you’re in the no-organization camp. Please leave me a comment, and enjoy all of the great blogging energy that is the second annual Knitting and Crochet Blogging Week.  And, hey, let’s have fun out there on the ‘net.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Skill, Design … and the Voie de Vie Questionnaire (2KCBWDAY2)

While I’ve recently written about my creative process, I’ve not really dwelled on my crafting skills. There is no doubt, however, that 2010 saw my crochet and, to a lesser extent, knitting skills go through the roof.

I’ve always considered myself a better crocheter than knitter. Don’t really know why, but I just always have. There is no doubt that crafting 10 shawls last year for Ravelry’s 10 shawls in 2010 challenge took my crochet skills to the next level. Creating crochet lace, using beads, matching the right yarn with the right pattern, getting to know designers’ patterns inside and out, presenting my FOs in an appealing way, all came as a result of my participation in the challenge. It gave me the confidence to tackle other advanced and non-traditional techniques, including Tunisian crochet.

One particular designer has been one of my most vocal supporters, and I’ve watched her over the last year create some of the most beautiful crochet shawls out there – Sharon Hernes Silverman. I’m currently working on one of her designs, the Moonmist shawl, which I know at this time last year I probably never would have attempted. It’s got it all: skinny yarn, a big crochet hook, an intricate pattern with advanced stitches. It’s also a very fun design. So, instead of reading my blather about skills, I thought you might appreciate an inside look at one of the most talented and gracious designers around (and, psst, she’s nominated for several Flamie awards for her designs as well as her latest book) – so here’s the second installment of the Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire:

The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire
With Crochet Designer Sharon Hernes Silverman

Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to design crochet garments and accessories?

I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981 with a major in English and minors in chemistry and biology. My first job was in science publishing, then I moved into technical writing, then corporate communications. In 1987 my freelance article about area wineries was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. That was the beginning of my travel writing career! Two months later I quit my job at Du Pont and became a full-time freelance writer focused on travel, publishing hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and several guidebooks and for three years I was the country inn columnist for Maryland Magazine.

On the crafting side, I've always liked to make things. Over the years I've done a lot of yarn arts including needlepoint, counted cross-stitch, rug hooking, a little bit of knitting, and of course, crocheting. One of my early crafting memories is accidentally sewing a cross-stitch pillowcase to my pants leg.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to become a crochet designer?

After I finished writing the Brandywine Valley guidebook, the editors at Stackpole Books wanted me to do another guide, but my boys were young then (now they are 17 and 15), and we couldn't come up with a destination that would fit with my family schedule. Stackpole had just started a "Basic" how-to craft series, and the editor asked, "Can you do anything?" When I told him that I love to crochet, my transition to crochet designer began.

For that first book, Basic Crocheting, I designed some of the patterns myself and purchased a few from other designers. The sweater pattern I commissioned just didn't work—it was far too complicated to be "basic" and far too uncomfortable to wear (all very tight single crochet). Even though I had never designed a sweater, I took a deep breath and said, "Okay, Sharon, you can do this." I picked a wavy chevron stitch pattern, worked out the math for several sizes, and was very happy with the resulting sweater pattern. That gave me the confidence to think of myself as a designer and I have never looked back.

Purple Rain Tunisian crochet
scarf, my interpretation of a
Sharon Hernes Silverman pattern

Can you describe your personal crochet design philosophy?

On the clothing side, I strive to create garments that fit well, pair yarn and stitch patterns harmoniously, are fun to make, and look beautifully hand-crafted (rather than "home-made"). With the amazing fibers available today, and the way crochet has advanced, there is no excuse for shapeless, boxy garments that use rivers of double crochet—we had enough of that with vests back in the 1970s! Tunisian crochet stitches provide an excellent alternative, since the stitches are connected to each other horizontally as well as row by row—it's not all loopy. I love the many looks of Tunisian fabrics.

For home decor, I love to design pillows and blankets that give a room an instant lift. I favor clean lines and natural materials; my home has an uncluttered Japanese aesthetic, and my crochet work is consistent with that.

No matter what I'm designing, I like to experiment with yarn—I'll try anything as long as it doesn't shed. You'll notice that my designs specify some mass-produced products and some hand-dyed fibers at a variety of price points. It's nice to have the opportunity to try things out, and to introduce my readers to new products.

The beginning of my Moonmist Shawl, a recent
Sharon Hernes Silverman shawl pattern

I think my real strength is in the way I write patterns. My background as a technical writer probably helps. Too many times I have attempted to crochet something using a published pattern, only to find the instructions unclear. Just as bad, sometimes a pattern is technically correct, but not helpful. I like to provide a road map so crocheters know where they're going, and how they will get there. Otherwise it's like someone dropped you in a car and yelled, "Drive!" You may get where you're going, but you have no idea what to expect along the way. It's unsettling.

I'm also a big proponent of including technique photos so crocheters know exactly what I mean: "put the hook here, not there." I want everyone to have a great experience when they make a Sharon Silverman project.

What is your greatest crochet (or design) memory?

Being invited to appear on three episodes of HGTV's "Uncommon Threads" with my friends Julianne Eisele and Naomi Ramos.

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

Coco Chanel, because of the way she revolutionized 20th-century fashion with simplicity and clean lines; Jane Slicer-Smith, because her knit miters are incredible and I would love to have her explain their construction so I could apply that to crochet projects; and Rita Weiss, past president of the Crochet Guild of America, to hear about her vast experience and her insights into the future of crochet.

Pencil or knife grip?


It’s your last object to design (or make). What is it, and what fiber do you use?

A Tunisian crochet blanket in Plymouth Royal Llama silk with an intarsia heart and the words "I love you" so my family can cuddle up and have nice memories of me.

What trait do you most admire in designers?

Their energy! Designers are always thinking about fibers, patterns, construction...dealing with editors and deadlines...working out the math for multiple sizes...frogging when things don't turn out right...helping each other with questions...preparing patterns for publication...and doing the hundred other things that come with the territory. Sometimes I wonder when my colleagues sleep! I deeply appreciate the warm welcome I have received from the design community, and I am inspired by their tireless creativity.

What trait do you most detest in designers?

The arrogant way some of them write patterns. Sometimes I think that they assume everyone is as fluent with a technique as they are, and they don't really care about taking the time to provide some helpful information. This especially pains me when the designs are brilliant and beautiful, yet the patterns are unfriendly. What a waste.

You are recommending a design gift in response to a friend’s inquiry. Other than your own designs (which, as everyone knows, are quite beautiful!), what would you recommend?

Anything designed by Kim Guzman.

My sincere thank you to Sharon for answering my questionnaire. You can learn more about Sharon and her designs from her website, and more about the Flamies here.

Finally, I hope each of you has a favorite designer who has supported your crafting efforts. If so, let me know in the comments section below ... and happy Day 2 of the second annual Knitting and Crochet Blogging Week!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Yarns ... Sort Of

Unless Madame Defarge had as varied a stash as mine (which I highly suspect she did not), I could never write a tale of merely two yarns, and I have very little desire to write about yarns that were so scratchy, they literally made my fingers sore. (Note: the finished projects made of those scratchy, hurtful yarns are relegated either to being used under my feet, or as bedding for my pet. Since George Bailey hasn’t complained, that’s all I’m going to say about that.)

In terms of yarn weights, I’m currently loving both ends of the spectrum. Fingering and lace weight yarns, in all different fiber types, appeal to me, since I am on a shawl jag. Having made ten shawls last year, I am on a path to finish eleven this year. Clearly, I love skinny yarns.

At the other end of the weight spectrum, I am just starting to explore bulky and super bulky fibers. I’ve just completed a project using one: Butternut Woolen's hand-dyed super bulky.

I must say, this was one quick, fun project. Completed in an afternoon, it yielded a big satisfaction bang for very little fiber yardage (and crafty effort) buck. I’ve worn it simply around the neck and shoulders, with my version of a shawl pin (a chop stick) inserted in the front, to nice compliments. It’s also super light weight yet very warm – the perfect accessory for in-between seasons.

However, for anyone who wants some fiber adventure, I really must urge that you check out all of the selections at Habu Textiles.

I bought the above sample recently at a weekend fiber festival and I can tell you that I spent oodles of time at the Habu booth. I definitely experienced textile overload. There is no raw material, it seems, that can’t be turned into yarn – stainless steel, paper, and an extract from the pineapple plant are a few of the more exotic raw materials Habu uses – with great results. An added bonus: the packaging is unique and is an integral part of the fiber designing and buying experience. Given the recent, horrible events in Japan, it somehow makes me feel good to currently refer to anything Japanese with such good karma. 

I must admit to one small, embarrassing thing: I did not get all of my stash into the photos. There will be more on this minor embarrassment later in the week. However, part of today’s tale has to include the fact that there are yarns shown that I haven’t yet worked with, so some of my best fiber experiences are still to be discovered. Oh happy me!

I wish you satisfying reading on this, the first day of the second annual Knitting and Crochet Blogging Week. May some of your best fiber tales be discovered. Definitely feel free to tell me of any you've already had in the comments section below.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday

This week I thought I would provide a slightly different fiber perspective - the one from my camera lens.

If any of you didn't know, I love my camera. I love fiber and textiles. I love taking photos of my fiber and textiles. Pretty simple, eh?

As a result of an inspiring exchange during last summer, I did some quick furniture rearranging and I now have a fiber still-life in my living room. It changes constantly, reflecting whatever current projects I'm working on or have planned. This first series of photos is of the still-life, several weeks ago. I was exploring perspective and light, but you'll get that pretty quickly once you see the photos.

And now, two from the other side:

These next two photos were taken on a late autumn afternoon. I really enjoyed all the sunlight, even if it did slightly wash out the shawl colors:

Finally, I leave you with a study of green fiber (a mohair blend and a strand of kidsilk held together) and it's crochet hook:

Happy fiber arts Friday! Definitely check out Andrea's blog and see what everyone else is up to this week.

Oh, and have a superfiberfragilistic weekend. I'll be blogging every day next week as part of the second annual Knitting and Crochet Blogging Week - where you just might see a new F.O. ... or two.

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blogging Excitement

I must admit, I'm completely enjoying my blog at the moment. I've always loved to write, and this has provided me such a wonderful way to combine all of the things that make me happy - writing, textiles, books, painting, design, creativity, photography (oh, and the occassional side trip to cooking land). It's also providing me a vehicle to interact with other creative people. What more can a crafty gal ask for?

Well ... since I've mentioned it ... everyone will be getting a lot more of the above during next week's second annual Knitting and Crochet Blog Week. Yep - seven uninterrupted days of blogging heaven. I am so looking forward to it - my own blogging, as well as reading other crafty blogs. I also admit to having a few neat things up my sleeve for the event, so I do hope everyone will tune in.

Even though I've linked to Eskimimi's blog above, I'm also going to provide the tagging information here. For those who would like to join in the blog reading experience, these tags will provide a quick, easy way for you to search each day to find all of the participating blog entries. 

So, for instance, let's say you want to start searching bright and early next Monday morning. Just open up a Google search screen, plop in Monday's tag (the tag for day 1 of the event), and up should pop all of the blog entries for Monday's topic. Then, start readingIt's that simple.

The participation guidelines have been translated into a few different languages, so this truly will be an international event. Oh yeah. Thanks, Eskimimi! 

Definitely feel free to leave me comments or questions ... and definitely get ready for some good, blog-reading fun come next Monday. See you then (if not before, of course).


Friday, March 18, 2011

Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday

This week is brought to you by mittens central.

A little while back, while running errands (which I usually do on foot because I love to walk), I lost one of my favorite mittens. I loved these mittens. They weren’t hand-made, but they were thick and the warmest mittens I’d ever owned. I was so dejected when I realized I had lost one, because I knew I would never find it. I was certain that, by the time I'd realized I was down one mitten, some car had already dragged it under its tire to an untimely death.

So, crafty person that I am, I made myself a new pair of mittens. Welcome to the world my Woolly Mammoths:
These are my interpretation of Lyn Robinson’s Friendship Mittens pattern. I’ve crocheted them using an H hook with one strand of Noro Kureyon and one strand of mohair held double throughout. The pattern is written so that one can customize the cuff length and upper portion (past the thumb opening) to better fit one’s hand. I did just that … as well as shortening the thumb just slightly. They fit me so well, and I love their rustic look and feel.

However, since this is the second pair of mittens I’ve made in less than a month, I thought some comparisons were in order:

As I had previously written about my Fuzzy Little Luxury, my red mittens are shockingly red. There’s nothing rustic about them – they are embroidered, so delicate in one sense, yet bold in another. They were knit from the cuff up, on straight needles, with a seam to sew at the end. (Knitting them flat helps with the ability to embroider them). The thumb is knit as you go. It might be my current reticence to fudge with knit directions (since I’m still learning techniques left and right), but I do wish I would have shortened both the thumbs and the upper portions of these mittens. Nevertheless, they will go perfectly with one of my winter coats – which is red – and I absolutely love them.

My Woolly Mammoths are also super, but for very different reasons. They will definitely become my workhorse mittens. The ones I reach for again and again during any winter season. Even though I used one fiber that is traditionally chock-full of color, the other fiber - the mohair - in these mittens is the color of cafĂ© au lait. As a result, they are almost neutral, which is great for wearing them with almost any other color. I also love their cables and slightly stubby look – they’re long enough in the cuff to keep my wrists warm (forget about that annoying gap
between mitten and coat edge!), yet short enough in the thumb and upper area to be comfortable. Additionally, the thumb is crafted after the rest of the mitten is complete - another good way to ensure good thumb fit. They were also quick to work up -taking me two days – surpassing all previous personal speed records. Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed customizing them for my hands – it gave me a feeling of real craft mastery. Doesn’t take much for me, I guess.

Let me leave you with photos of my finished Inspira Cowl. Talk about pride – oohhhh weeeee am I proud of this:

Have a great, crafty weekend!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Around a Town #4

This latest installment isn't around only one town, per se ... but there is one thing, a phenomenon really, linking all of these photos together. I've tried to make it a little more difficult this time around, since I've previously provided some big clues.

Looking forward to your guesses!