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.