Friday, June 29, 2012

Where Are The FOs, Anyway?

My smaller version of The Double Treble Burst Square
I really have been working on projects - I just haven't taken any photos of the finished objects. Next week you'll see. Really.

In the meantime, I've started another set of blocks that will become a lap blanket for donation to Appalachian outreach.  Even unblocked and scanned on my scanner, these blocks are very cool. This is acrylic and bamboo yarns that I had in stash - they will make a soft, warm, and colorful donation that's easy care.

Believe it or not, that's all I've got on this Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday ... so definitely check in with Andrea's blog - I'n certain others have far more productive posts this week.

And celebrate your U.S. independence next week - make something!

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Little Research

This design will get produced, just
not by who initially said yes ...
I wrote this blog entry way back in November about a design that was supposed to receive yarn and marketing support from Yarns of Italy. At the time I was incredibly excited about it - even though the support was in the future, and we both knew the yarn hadn't yet been manufactured and delivered to the this side of the Atlantic.

Well, fast forward to March of this year. Yarns of Italy informed me that they hadn't yet received the yarn, didn't know when it would be delivered, didn't really have a suitable alternative, and had decided to scrap their original plans of marketing support for the design. Disappointed was I. However, I actually was equally disappointed in myself - I knew all of the facts, and I took a leap of faith. Ok, so much for that.

In March, I proposed a salvo that I was thought was incredibly gracious and very easy to say yes to - please provide me with some swatching yarn. I was still swatching for projects for the fall (although, admittedly, that was wrapping up fairly quickly), and swatching with the yarn might afford both of us some beneficial opportunities. Yarns of Italy was on board.

Well, I never received any swatching yarn, and of course chose other yarns for things that will be published by others later this year. Disappointed again was I. This time, definitely not with myself.

However, I tried one more time - I contacted Yarns of Italy, told them I had a design in mind, and would they want to support it with providing yarns that are already in their warehouse? I once again was told yes, and my YOI contact passed along the request to the person now handling all designer requests. That's happened. Still no response. Disappointed am I? No. This is par for the course. I just thought I'd give it one, last try.

I bring this up because while I wish I had been treated differently, it's symptomatic of a much deeper issue. YOI is a small company, and if I'm going to be completely fair (why do I always feel the need for fairness?) I can see their need to keep a tight reign on the marketing budget. However, the craft numbers tell a story that should lead people in the industry to a different set of actions.

Both The National Needle Arts Associates (TNNA) and The Craft and Hobby Association have conducted surveys and published their respective results. While Doris Chan has written about her analysis of the data, (and yes, the survey methodologies are like apples and oranges), there are some irrefutable truths:

 * there are more households crocheting than knitting;
 * 58% of the crocheters TNNA surveyed spend between $201 and $800 on their
   craft in a year;
 * one of the two most-requested "fresh and new" products TNNA
   respondents indicated were crochet patterns (with cross-stitch being the
   other most requested); and
 * crocheters spend equally or just slightly more than their knitting counterparts on
   patterns and books.
One of the fresh cardi designs from VK's
special crochet edition

Seeing how the recent Vogue Knitting crochet special edition has flown off the shelves, the last two points aren't a big surprise. It's also no surprise that fresh patterns sell yarn. Given all of this, you'd think YOI would have acted differently. Oh well.

There are some yarn companies that recognize the above, know that crocheters have many purchasing options, and speak directly to crocheters (as well as knitters!) with great yarns at affordable prices underscored by great design. Garnstudio/Drops Design has an amazing selection of yarn and an equally amazing pattern database; KnitPicks also has an excellent line of yarns and their IDP (independent designer program) supports both designers and designs. Those are just two of several.

So I put it to you dear reader: what are your favorite yarn lines? What do you crave in patterns? What myths or stereotypes does the above information shatter?

Friday, June 22, 2012

An Open Letter from Blankets and Squares

My chippy granny squares, donated to Sarah London's efforts
last year after the Australian floods
Dear Denise:

It's been kind of a tough week for us.

First, early in the week, a fellow designer downplayed one of our cousins, the ripple blanket, by indicating that it's only made by crafters with limited stitch skills who "are content to buy their yarn from big box stores." These same limited crafters also only want to make granny squares, according to the commenter - like that was a bad thing.

Then, we were completely devalued and humiliated when that Mr. Hirsch and his sub-par writing abilities decided to call out the Ravelympic's afghan marathon event (among others) as akin to putting down the efforts of U.S. Olympic athletes.

My pinwheelie blanket from a
Lisa Naskrent design
Talk about a denigrating week.

Now I know that both parties have apologized and apologized. But even the apologies sounded hollow and only meant to appease. Clearly these individuals do not quite understand that it's how we make others feel that's so important.

Of course, if there was ever a group of fine finished objects that know how to make a person feel good, it surely would be us. Whether ripple or granny square, knit or crochet, there's nothing like a handmade blanket to wrap someone in warmth. We look great in pretty much any room in the house, take to machine washing like fish to water (assuming we're made from the appropriate fiber) and bloom in the washing/drying process (although that high heat setting can be difficult on us).
George Bailey curled up on my
NYOBE Water Round blanket,
made from blocks exchanged
with other Ravelry crafters

We also provide a great canvas for fiber artists to hone their craft. Motifs are one of the best ways to learn intarsia, practice cables, explore color combinations, even hone finishing skills.

Can there also be any doubt that a blanket given to someone in need is one of the most powerful ways to say you care?

We do all of this while looking great no matter where we're thrown. And then we patiently wait for you to wrap up in us, and that's when we get to perform the best task of all - keeping you warm, from neck to toe. Heck, even cats everywhere know the best place to curl up is in our unfolded heap on the chair or couch.

My Mod-on-Mod Frenchtravaganza
from a Lisa Shobhana Mason design

We're just darn amazing.

We each want to thank you Denise for providing such a great interior that lets us shine, for valuing us by the books you have in your library with our great designs, and for treating us with the respect that all your handmade things deserve. We will always keep you warm and loved.

With all of our fibery beings -

Mod on Mod Frenchtravaganza
Pinwheelie Blanket
Chippy Granny Squares (donated to charity)
NYOBE Water Round Blanket

Your stable of hard-working, handmade blankets and blocks

Check in over at Andrea's blog to find out what everyone else is loving on this Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday.

Another view of some of the blocks from my NYOBE Water Round
blanket (water-themed because of the color of yarns chosen)

Monday, June 18, 2012

On Music, Design as Self-Discovery, and Overrated Questions

It's always such a treat for me to publish answers to my Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire - designers are all so unique, that no matter how many times I ask a question, I always receive such varied and intriguing answers. And in this next installment, the same holds true: Dora Ohrenstein, who's been designing crochet garments and accessories for many years, provides insight as well as takes me to task on the question of crochet hook grip.  No matter; I am pleased and honored to present the latest installment in the Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire series with crochet designer Dora Ohrenstein.

Cover of Custom Crocheted Sweaters,
Ohrenstein's 2012 book
The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire
with crochet designer Dora Ohrenstein

    Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to design crochet garments and accessories? 
I was a professional singer for thirty years.  My biggest “claim to fame” is that I was the solo vocalist of the Philip Glass Ensemble for 10 years – great gig!  I also had my own touring production called Urban Diva which was presented in about a dozen US venues and in Europe, and became a solo recording. In addition, I’ve been teaching singing at the college level for the last 15 years

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

When Jean Leinhauser approached me  at a CGOA conference and said she wanted to buy the top I was wearing! 

Please describe your personal crochet design philosophy?

Several ideas are always present in my mind when designing: make something beautiful, using the best yarn and stitch for the project. The latter may sound simple, but often it’s not – I swatch A LOT with different yarns and stitches.  If it’s a garment: something versatile and really wearable. Too many crochet garments don’t really fit with today’s fashions, so I strive to make wearables that I can imagine being worn with jeans, or to work. I hope I achieved this in my recent book Custom Crocheted Sweaters!  In my designs, I want to suggest new ways of seeing certain stitches, or design elements, to introduce something special and different to crochet. I’m also always challenging myself to learn something new. 

Eleganza Raglan from
Custom Crocheted Sweaters
What is your greatest crochet (or design) memory?

It’s hard for me to pinpoint one, but I would say that some of my most pleasurable moments have been talking about crochet with my dear friend Vashti Braha.  I’ve had the privilege of visiting her in Florida and we’ve spent days in non-stop talk about crochet, designing, crochet history, the way it’s done in the US and abroad, and our dreams for crochet’s future.

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

Well, I have been incredibly lucky: I’ve had dinner with many of the designers I admire most! Doris Chan, Kristen Omdahl, Lisa Gentry, Teva Durham, Lily Chin. Mostly because we all attend TNNA. I’ve also spent time with non-US designers,  including the amazing Ukrainian designer Antonina Kuznetsova.  I visited her in Kiev in 2010, along with another wonderful crocheter Maire Treanor from Ireland.  We had a fantastic week together, and visited the offices of Duplet magazine, where we saw more incredible Ukrainian crochet.  Another marvelous designer I’ve met and spent several hours with is Yoko Hatta, one of Japan’s leading designers – her work has been featured a lot lately by the people at Vogue.  She is a knitter and crocheter, and her stuff is exquisite.

Lacy Tunic from the recent
Vogue Knitting Special Crochet issue.
Pencil or knife grip?

Knife.  But I think this topic is overrated.  What I wish would be more frequently discussed is tension, especially how to loosen it.  It’s a pity that many crocheters feel stuck with whatever tension they used when first starting to crochet.Tight tension is very limiting and can cause pain eventually.  What I advocate is flexible tension, and I don’t think it’s difficult to learn. For some reason it’s taboo to discuss the crochet hold as a technique -- rather, people want to be reassured that however they do it is fine.  But there are some ways of maneuvering that are a lot more efficient than others, and if we had clearer guidelines in our crochet world, perhaps more people would strive for it.

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

I’m currently working on two designs for publication, one with Malabrigo lace, one with Euroflax Kidlin, both yarns I love.

What trait do you most admire in designers?

My version of Ohrenstein's Juliette Shawl,
a design from one of her previous
books, Creating Crochet Fabric.
Originality. I also admire designers who have a strong signature to their style.

What trait do you most detest in designers?

I don’t think there’s anything where I would use such a strong word as detest, but  I do wonder at the number of designs which seem to be just another version of the latest trendy idea in crochet.  I guess people are just trying to sell patterns, and who can blame them, but for me, crochet is a pathway of discovery, not rehashing.  I guess this stems from my background in the arts – I have a permanent craving for creative challenges!

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?

Thanks so much for the compliment Denise! I think crochet hats and scarves make great gifts, because they are so practical, easy to make, and not necessarily costly.  My recommendation is to ask the giftee what color they like, and to think about the styles they wear and how your gift will fit in with it. Maybe even show the person some pictures so they can show you what they like.

My sincere thank you to Dora for taking the time to answer my questionnaire. Both Custom Crocheted Sweaters and Creating Crochet Fabric are invaluable additions to any home library.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Anyone for a little British Wool?

South Kensington, where I had mashed peas for the first time (that I
can recall - there's no telling what I ate as a wee infant), summer 2000.
Recently, a writer friend of mine commented in correspond-ence that he was excited for all of the cultural events involved in or around the London 2012 Summer Olympic games (he'll be traveling to London just after the games end). At the time, I couldn't have agreed more.

Now, however, I absolutely can agree more. Why? Because it was just recently announced that as part of the opening ceremonies, 30 sheep and 3 sheepdogs will be included. It's a nod to the British countryside, in case you were looking for the link between sheep and the Games' opening ceremonies.

Of course, we fiber lovers need no excuse for this sheepy inclusion. However, it gets even better - Woolsack, an initiative to promote British wool's use and history, is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. For everyone who might not be aware (of which I was one until just recently), a woolsack is an actual cushion, covered in red cloth, and is a part of the physical chair of the Lord Speaker in the British House of Lords.

And now for the gateau's icing: Jane (aka JaneKAL on Ravelry) has been and continues to be one of the people spearheading the effort to hand knit and crochet cushions for each and every one of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes! Yes, every athlete competing in both games has an opportunity to receive a handmade cushion (using sourced British wool of course) as one of their remembrances of participating in London this summer. My mind boggles at how much coordination and planning is involved in this undertaking. Oh.My.Bob.

If anyone would like to make a cushion, definitely contact Jane directly on Ravelry, or check out her Ravelry Woolsack group to learn all of the details. Additionally, if you either are an athlete or know an athlete participating in the 2012 Olympics or Paralympics who would like to receive a cushion, follow the directions at this link. Basically, once a group contacts Woolsack, they can start the process of getting each of that group's athletes a hand crafted cushion.

A circus of another sort - summer, 2000.
How cool is that?

Now, if only those London Olympic organizers would include a few alpacas in the opening ceremonies ...

Don't forget to check in at Andrea's blog to see what other cool, yet mind-boggling fiber adventures people are getting into on this Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Anyone for an Online Book Launch?

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I'm co-captaining a Ravelympics team for Cooperative Press. A group of designers and CP fans are gearing up to knit and crochet all manner of patterns from Cooperative Press-published books.

By the time of the games' opening ceremonies, we'll have several more titles from which to choose. Cooperative Press, the indie publisher that can, continues it's 2012 publishing frenzy with the first four titles in its Fresh Designs series. Knit scarves, shawls, womens' sweaters and designs for men are slated for release - and there's going to be an online launch party! It's the afternoon of Saturday, 6/30, and it's free, but you'll need an event ticket, so go here to get yours.

I'm excited about this for a few reasons - this series has been in the making for at least the last year, so seeing the fruits of Cooperative Press and the designers' hard work will be a real thrill. I also want to support my fellow designers ... and maybe I'll spot a design or two that I might like to craft during Ravelympics.

And if any of you are looking for a Ravelympics team, and want to get in on the Cooperative Press wonderful madness, there's still plenty of time to join the team. You know prizes will be involved.

Now make certain you check in at Andrea's blog to see what other prizes everyone has been working on this Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday.

Floating Together, a canvas I created in 2009 while I
was exploring squares

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Swatching, Gut, and The London Summer of Love

One of my La Poetique swatch photos
I am not usually a big fan of testing the waters. Usually, I like approaching things head-on, full speed ahead. If mistakes are made, they can be corrected; in many instances, mistakes lead to other meaningful insights. Good you say.

Formalized education (I'm talking the classroom now) should be a mistake-approved zone. Where else should one be able to take the time to work out chinks than in a classroom? Yet, education makes us more afraid of failure, because we've placed so much on and into it. Not so good, you may say.

So then, one starts to test the waters in all aspects of life. One asks "What if?" way too often. One just starts to watch and investigate, but not really engage. It's a fairly quick path to a detached way of being in the world.

So what does all this have to do with swatching you ask? I have never been a big fan of swatching. I pretty much didn't see the point. I would just start projects, and if I didn't like how they were working out, I'd frog and start over again. Mistakes were made. Lessons were learned. Personal philosophy safely in tact.

However, I have become a complete convert to swatching. Actual swatching, and not just the detached process of going through the 4" x 4" motions. Yes, I'm definitely testing the waters ... but it still doesn't mean I don't learn things along the way. In many instances, swatching for Project A has led directly to the idea for Project B. And if Project A's swatch turns into a happy failure, well, so be it. As the blues song goes "Ain't nobody's business but mine."

Of course, a swatch is just that: a test. Things can and often do change once one is full throttle into the project's design. Fiber, and it's many lovely inconsistencies, can make a design morph pretty quickly. (For a more in-depth look at fiber and it's quirks, read this Doris Chan recent blog entry.) And that's just one of myriad factors that can impact a final design.

That's where gut comes into play. Education (of all varieties) informs gut, at least mine. I don't want to ever stop informing or listening to it. To do so would take the me out of my designs.

So I'll happily and mindfully swatch. And engage my gut. Read any and all life metaphors into that as you wish.

In the meantime, London has kicked off it's
2012 Summer of Love  (my characterization)
with a diamond jubilee bash that saw all manner of gut engagement. It will be no different in late July, when she hosts the summer Olympics. For fiber enthusiasts who wish to go for fiber gold, Ravelry's third Ravelympics event is well into the planning stages. Teams are forming left and right (like, two pages worth of team rosters at last look). No detachment for me: I'm co-captaining one team and a member of two others (one as team mascot, go figure). There will be a swatching event. You knew there would be.

Too bad there isn't a crap shoot event. Now that would be perfect.

One of the Ravelry
images from the 2010
Winter Games. Bob
is looking fine in his
winter finery.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Little Film Gris

If you get the opportunity, I'd definitely recommend you rent Le Deuxiรจme Souffle. Translated as "second wind," it's really a study of someone on his last leg. This film is filled with atmosphere, great French scenery, and very cool 60s clothing and cars. Even though it clocks in at 2 hours, 24 minutes, I was hooked from the minimalistic, opening sequence. It's billed as a gangster film, but the violence is (a) not so much, and (b) not the real focus. Director Jean-Pierre Melville (one of the most well-known of French film directors) explores the process leading up to and immediately following the actions of Gu, the protagonist. In the end, a game of petanque leads to Gu's undoing.

Watch this example of film gris and decide for yourself.


It's appropriate on this British Jubilee weekend that American audiences got to watch royalty of a different sort last evening - portions of Adele's concert taped at the Royal Albert Hall. Visit NBC's web page to read its blurb - but grab a video of it. Simply fantastic.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Another Year Comes To An End

What you say? Another year? But it's only June 1st!

Well ... it's the start of another year for a Ravelry chal- lenge group of which I've been a part (including modding this past year) - 52 projects in 52 weeks. The challenge year runs June 1 - May 31, so we've just completed our challenge for 2011-2012. The goal: to have no more than 4 works in play at any one time, and to continue to complete something every week.

While I haven't been too faithful in only having four things on the needles/hooks at one time, or in getting at least one project done a week, I have nevertheless been very productive this past year. I did manage to complete 35 projects (that I can talk about!), including several firsts:

* several self-published pattern releases,
* several patterns published by others,
* my first completed shrug,
* my first completed top-down crocheted cardigan, and
* I made my very own yarn swift!

I also managed to complete 10 of my 35 projects from stash, and lots from publications I own, which continues to be a personal goal.

There is no doubt that last year's big highlight was having my La Poetique beret and infinity scarf included in the Premier Yarns fashion show at VK Live in Los Angeles. As the days get longer and the summer solstice is almost upon us, the longest day definitely inspires me as much as the shortest one in December; this year in particular because there's still so much to look forward to and new challenges to tackle.

It's also intriguing to look at the lion's share of last year's projects in mosaic. What an array of textures and materials and project types - although the colors are not quite so varied. I do love my reds, creams and greens. I am surprised at my lack of black and brown - those two colors were once such a staple in my wardrobe. Not anymore, it seems.

I hope you'll check in over at Andrea's blog to see what's inspiring everyone else, and do feel free to leave me a comment and let me know how your projects are stacking up so far this year.

And have a great first weekend in June!