27 January 2012

Maybe it's a weekly blog.

I'd like to get back in the daily swing of things, but for the moment daily activities include knitting like a fiend, shepherding children to/from school, feeding the family, and doing laundry. I will fold blogging back in there at some point. Maybe even with photographs (I received a new lens from my parents for Christmas but for some reason am intimidated by it, even though I put it on my wish list and am really excited to have it and all - just need time to get to know it, I guess).

So, we left off with swatching. When my swatches aren't lie-y lying liars, they are extremely helpful. Heck, even when they do lie, they're helpful. I know most of the time I'd just like to dive in on knitting the PROJECT, but we all know the heartbreak that can ensue. Plus, when I'm designing, the swatch is the cornerstone of the design.

After the swatch comes the math. Luckily for me, it's basic math, which my parents would quickly point out has always been one of my strengths. Once we got to imaginary numbers, I quit, but I'm seriously quick on the basics. Usually, I calculate the cast-on number for my key size, whether that's me or the size I've contracted to produce for the sample. For now, most of my designs are bottom-up, so I start with the hem. Since, in addition to working from the hem, I prefer working in the round, I figure out the start of the sleeve right away and usually cast on a sleeve first. That way I finish one sleeve right away, while I'm "full of prance" as Elizabeth Zimmermann said. Plus, I won't end up on sleeve island or suffer from second sleeve syndrome (cousin to the dreaded second sock syndrome or SSS).

I know some designers who write up the entire pattern before they knit a stitch (aside from the swatch), but I prefer starting with some calculations, then take notes as I go. Sometimes the design happens on the needles. Oftentimes I'm still working out an idea (usually a crazy, I should be able to do this with knitted fabric kind of idea, like adding ribbing for shaping in Turn of the Glass). As a designer I'm most interested in manipulating the knitted fabric to do what I want it to do, or what I think it should be able to do. And exploring the brilliant engineering that EZ pioneered (if you're interested, you should check out her Knitting Workshop). An Aran for Frederick came about because I was curious to see how cables would work into her hybrid yoke idea.

Once I've successfully finished the piece, I consult all the notes I've taken, mostly in my Moleskine notebooks, and write up the pattern for the size I've knit, leaving spots for the other sizes. And then it's time for the spreadsheet! I'm no Excel power user, but I manage to get my OpenOffice spreadsheets to calculate everything for the various sizes. Usually, I have rough numbers to start and then I massage them to make things smooth for all you knitters. For instance, I will have to adjust the number of stitches between cables, but not too much or it will start to look like a different sweater. I started out looking at Marnie's amazing spreadsheets (that woman really knows how to make Excel do her bidding!), though I ended up creating my own since hers was for a sweater knit in pieces.

When I'm massaging those numbers, I refer to the brilliant chart Ysolda compiled for different sizes [link], which has been extremely helpful. Grading patterns is a challenge. You don't just add an inch or two all around in all directions for each size. You do have to finesse it. I've also built a lot of checks into my spreadsheets, converting stitch counts back into measurements to make sure we haven't veered into crazytown.

And the really cool thing I've figured out sort of how to do is calculate yardage requirements. I was really worried about doing this when I started designing sweaters. It seemed like it would just be guesswork. It is a somewhat inexact science, since knitters take up yarn into stitches at different rates, but still. I keep careful track of how much yarn I use in the sample, then use the spreadsheet to come up with some calculations as to how many stitches went into the whole piece. I always make these a little generous, so you have a cushion. Plus, I wouldn't want to calculate each and every stitch, especially with shaping in some garments. Anyway, I was very excited when I figured out that part of designing and grading.

Happily, all this crazy spreadsheet work has, thus far, meant that my patterns are pretty clean as far as my numbers go. Of course, after it's all written up, it goes off to my tech editor to make sure things are correct.

20 January 2012

Swatches are lie-y, lying liars

I think the title says it all, don't you? Looks like I am not halfway through the current OTN project. Sigh. Never mind that I swatched a good-sized swatch, washed it, let it dry (sometimes, having patience on that is difficult), and measured carefully. It seems I should have measured larger samples, especially for the stitch gauge, in this instance. I usually measure in a few places on the swatch, but I think this time it would have been better to measure over a greater area rather than double-check my measurements over smaller areas. Lesson learned. And now shared.

18 January 2012

This is not a monthly blog.

Goodness gracious, where have I been? I haven't posted since ... December 19th?! Apparently, I've been busy. Last-minute Christmas knitting (bears for the girls and one of their cousins, hats + mittens + felted balls for the other cousins, scarf for Mom, as-yet-unfinished hat for Dad, and trying to design a cap for my sister), baking and candy making, and three weeks of kid wrangling, including over the East River and through the air to the grandmothers' houses. Life would be easier if Penelope's preschool calendar was in sync with Isobel's and Stephen's.

Penelope's bear
Penelope's Christmas bear (Isobel's needs minor surgery before her photo shoot)
Amidst all that I agreed to a design for Knitscene (yay!) and have been talking with the editor of the now semi-annual Jane Austen Knits (double yay that a one-time idea has turned into a regular publication) to do some projects for that. So, on my plate I've got one done, except for some last-minute calculations, one half-way through the process both in knitting and pattern, and one that's just a sketch and a swatch. Being a designer keeps one pretty busy!

On Sunday, before visiting the Marketplace at Vogue Knitting Live, we went swimming with some friends and their kids, and the missus asked me how exactly one goes about designing a sweater. So I thought I'd write a little bit about my process here. Of course, it's different for every designer, and it's not even the same every time for me. But here goes...

Inspiration comes in different forms. Sometimes I'm inspired by a call for submissions, sometimes it's an empty spot in my closet/sweater drawer, and often it's a "crazy" idea that I have to see through to the end. There are, of course, a wide variety of crazy ideas from a stitch pattern to a detail in a museum piece to my ever-increasing understanding of what you can do with knitted fabric. The more you knit, the more you'll know. I like interesting details, prefer working mostly in one piece (and in the round, if possible), and am always inspired by the brilliance of Elizabeth Zimmermann.

Next come the doodles! Nick would tell you that I've been in training for this since college, when my notebook margins were littered with dress sketches. Now, it's a succession of Moleskine note and datebooks that bristle with notes, descriptions, lists, and, of course, drawings.

And then, most often, comes the yarn (sometimes it comes first - we all know how it can go at the LYS: the yarn just demands to come home with you, saying "You'll figure out later what I'm meant to be"). I'm a loose knitter (the only relaxed thing in my world! Kidding! Sort of :) , so I often have to go down a needle size or two from the ballband suggestion, if I'm knitting a sweater. For lace, of course, you go up a needle size, and down for socks, mittens, even hats on occasion. The great thing about being the designer is that you are swatching for the fabric you want, not a particular number of stitches per inch. It's freeing, though it puts a lot of pressure on said swatch when writing the pattern.

More to come ... tomorrow? I'm not sure this will again become a daily blog, but I'm going to aim for at least a few times a week. Happy New Year!

19 December 2011

Pattern: JOY garland

JOY garland

A little something for the holidays! I dubbed this garland "JOY" because it came out even better than I thought it might. You see, I had this idea of using i-cord, and then it all fell into place. This is knit in one piece (oh, joy!), and I didn't even weave in the ends, just trimmed them to an even length so they could be used to hang the garland.

It comes in two sizes, and the pattern includes templates to cut out felt letters to spell JOY, PEACE, MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH, and HAPPY NEW YEAR, large and small.

My JOY garland hangs on our front door, makes me smile every time I see it (I seek out peace and joy all year round), and gently jingles when the door opens or closes (and we all know what happens every time a bell rings, don't we?*).

JOY garland
Our door, which does not photograph well for patterns
So, share some joy this holiday season (or work it up in other colors for festive bunting any time). If you can knit, increase, and decrease, you can have some joy in your life. I've included instructions for making i-cord, if you've never done it.

I chose Plymouth's Encore Worsted, since it was in the stash, cheery, and sturdy. You could use just about any yarn you like (I'm contemplating some teeny garlands in fingering weight yarn because I'm twee like that), though I'd save the cashmere for something else. And then you'll need to visit the craft store (unless you have a five and dime - I'm sure they would have had felt and bells at the 5 & 10 I visited when I was little) for some jingle bells and felt. I went classic here, but I saw glittered bells in various colors *and* sparkly felt. You could really bling this one up, if you were so inclined. I may have to go back to the craft store...

The pattern may be purchased through Ravelry or on Etsy, or you can use the handy button below to buy instantly.

May the coming year bring you peace and joy and lots of yarn. xoxo, Kathleen

*"Every time a bell rings, an angel gets it's wings," according to It's a Wonderful Life. Whether you believe in angels or not, jingle bells are a merry sound.

12 December 2011

Craft Fair 2011 and Etsy

Goodness, how the time has flown! I've been busy knitting up items for the kids' school craft fair, and anything that didn't sell is now available on my Etsy shop (see the sidebar). The craft fair, as always, was lots of fun, and again I was impressed with all the creativity in the room.

I've also been coping with turning forty and having a seven-year-old daughter. How did all that happen?!

I need to get back into the blogging habit, so I hope to show up here more often. There is a holiday decoration pattern in the works, so come back soon!

14 October 2011

An Aran for Frederick

Designers have started uploading photos to Ravelry for Jane Austen Knits 2011 [link], so I realized it was time to add mine. If you can't wait for the print versions to show up at your LYS next month, you can purchase the digital edition from Interweave's site [link]. My contribution is called An Aran for Frederick [link] - a men's cabled pullover knit in the round with an EZ-style hybrid yoke to show off all those amazing cables.

© Christa Tippmann
© Christa Tippmann
© Christa Tippmann
You can also see a little of the sweater in Catherine Shields's Fitz fingerless mitts [link].

This bundle of cable-y goodness was knit up in Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter, which I really enjoyed working with. Most of the time I work with Worsted-spun yarn, like tosh dk, so working with a Woolen-spun yarn was interesting. There is a fluffiness to it, and yet the cables really pop. Plus, it spit-splices like a dream, which is perfect for a sweater knit in the round. I only had to weave in the cast-on and bind-off ends, as well as the underarm Kitchener-ed ends.

Ever since I read Elizabeth Zimmermann's description of the hybrid yoke, I've wanted to see what would happen if you tossed cables in there, winding up the arms and shoulders, climbing up the back. So, when submissions for Jane Austen Knits were called, it seemed like the right time to explore this idea.

Persuasion is my favorite of Austen's novels, closest to my own story, and I thought a sweater inspired by Captain Wentworth was a great idea. Happily, clever editor Amy Clarke Moore agreed, and I was able to work some Frederick-themed cables into a handsome, strong-shouldered sweater.

I hope you like it! And the best news is that Interweave is already planning another edition for 2012 - call for submissions may be found here.

10 October 2011


So, that happened. Now, I'm 40. How did that happen?

I can't really believe my "big" birthday has come and gone. It was a fairly low-key day, with phone calls from family, kisses from little people (and big ones), and macarons from Ladurée. And a surprise breakfast the following day with some of my mommy friends, since I was the working parent at Penelope's school on my birthday.
Celebrating 40 the Laduree way
Birthday treats with the cuties

Now that I'm a grown-up, I have finally gotten my proper New York State driver's license, which means I can drive myself to Rhinebeck this weekend! Hope to see some of you there, though I missed the Rhinebeck Bingo deadline.

And I've applied for some jobs, which is properly grown-up. I mean, my less-than-thrilled feelings about this birthday mainly stem from wanting to accomplish more, professionally. I love my husband and kids and feel so blessed to be at such a good place in my life in that regard. Yes, I managed to avoid the whole When Harry Met Sally... breakdown ("And I'm going to be forty! ... Some day."). But I want to contribute more. I've been brushing up my resumé, which has reminded me of how much I enjoyed working. I know, going to an office, interacting with co-workers, coping with deadlines, all that stuff can be tough. But producing things, hanging out with the smart/cool co-workers, and wearing grown-up clothes (I have had some work wardrobe fantasies after applying for jobs) are pretty great, as is that whole getting paid thing.

In regards to my birthday wish list, some yummy things did make their way into my life, in addition to the aforementioned macarons (fleur de sel caramel were my favorite). Some shiny red Hunter boots have been keeping my feet dry, though, luckily we haven't had much rain since my birthday. Blue and white striped espadrilles arrived from my besty - so "me" that it's almost funny. And my sister tracked down some Wollmeise, sending me a lovely, giant (300g) skein of the stuff in a beautiful kelp forest colorway (teal, greens, black). It's one of those one-of-a-kind dealies, so I don't know the name of the colorway, but I'm sure going to have fun figuring out what to do with it. Then, I may have acquired a sweater's worth of tosh dk in Baltic during the NYC Yarn Crawl. Oops!
Birthday shoes!
Tres chic espadrilles!
Yarn photos will have to wait for daylight.