• The Magpie Knitter…

    ...trying to get from "Oooooh, shiny!" to a design.
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  • Jen Johnson began knitting in 2007 while pregnant with her daughter and does most of her knitting for her daughter and son. When she couldn’t find the patterns she wanted, she added designer to her job titles of Navy wife and mother. Jen loves the inspiration she gets from all the beautiful yarns available, as long as she doesn’t get distracted by—ooh, shiny!
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Moving, moving, moving…

I know, I just got here…

…but I’m moving on.

During a chat with some of my fellow NASCAR knitters as we watched a race, someone mentioned being surprised at how many people she knew starting small businesses. “I guess I’m kinda starting a small business,” I said, surprised at the thought.

Our CPA friend assured me that I wasn’t “kinda” doing anything. Granted, for quite a while I won’t be needing to file with the IRS because I’ll be below the hobby limit…but that’s the kind of thing I need to start thinking about now.

Another thing I needed to start thinking about was establishing a professional identity…and for that reason, I decided it was time to move from WordPress.com to a hosted blog on my own domain. I didn’t want the site to look much different, at least not right now, so I’m still using WordPress…but now you’ll be able to find me at themagpieknitter.com.

themagpieknitter screenshot

The process was a lot more painful than I’d hoped–saying the learning curve was a precipice would be an understatement–and I undid a lot more work than I kept, but I’m happy with the result. I’ll need to make some changes down the road, but what I have works for what I need right now.

I have copied all of the posts and info from here over there, so this blog will be closing down in a few days. Hopefully, you’ll come visit me at the new The Magpie Knitter!


That was the stress of the last month or so draining out of me, if you were wondering.

Two days ago, my last design sample finished blocking, so I was able to take the pictures of it on Lexie (and no, I can’t share those either, sorry!) and then pack up all three samples and ship them off. I had no idea how tensed I was about the whole thing until my shoulders came down from where they’d taken up residence around my ears.

I’m no stranger to deadlines. In college and grad school, there were always deadlines for my assignments. The Navy lives for deadlines (although we called them by the much fancier name of Plans of Actions and Milestones (POAMs). And then once I was retired from the Navy, I worked as a contractor for the military with even more deadlines. But I’ve never knit to a deadline before. The closest I’ve come is knitting for expected babies…but you can always fudge those deadlines a little bit.

And not only was I knitting to a deadline, I was designing as I went. It would have been easier to knit to someone else’s completed and tested pattern in a given time frame, but I was doing the designing and testing and I knit. I mean, I had the patterns pretty well roughed out, but I had to make changes and improvements as I went. In the end, I finished with plenty of time before the deadline to mail the samples out, but I was still on the stressed side so I sent them express when priority would have done as well. I must have even looked stressed, because although I didn’t say anything about making a deadline, the clerk at the post office ran outside with my package and flagged down the express driver just before he left to make sure my box was on board.

Yesterday I took a much bigger step towards relaxation: I got a massage. I have a friend who is a massage therapist, Jessica LaGarde of Peace at Hand, and I’ve actually been talking with her for a bit about my wrists. I’m well aware of the dangers of overuse injuries in the wrists, and since my job now involves mostly knitting and typing–2 activities that can lead to carpal tunnel or other overuse injuries–I want to make sure I’m not finding myself forced to take a long hiatus to heal. I wanted to focus on prevention, and I knew Jessica was the person to talk to. She partners with The Yarn Spot, an LYS I frequent in Wheaton, MD, to teach classes on physical wellness for handcrafters, and I’ve taken one of them. She also give seated massage at The Yarn Spot and I’ve seen how takes careful note of what her client tells her regarding how they feel and adjusts her massage accordingly. So Jessica was clearly my best choice (and yours too, if you’re in the DC area, I promise).

We’d already been talking a bit about things I could do to treat the pain I was feeling in my wrists and the numbness I was developing in my hands, and I was already feeling better by the time I arrived for my appointment yesterday. My left wrist was pain free and had sensation back in my right hand, although my right wrist was sore and my left hand numb. Jessica and I talked a bit more about what was feeling and doing, and then she gave me a very firm neck, shoulder, arm, and hand massage. It was wonderful. There were times I flinched a bit when Jessica found some unexpectedly tender knots, but I left with most of them worked out. And even better, I left with a pain free right wrist, full sensation in my left hand, and information on where I’ve been tensing up and how to counteract that.

The stress (and tension) isn’t completely gone–I may have mailed out the samples but I have to finish the patterns. But that’s going to be the easiest part of this whole endeavor. So I’ll be fine…

…as long as I don’t start thinking about all the other work I’ve got ahead of me. Oh, my neck…

So…what now?

I just wove in the last end on my last design sample. I spent a few minutes just admiring it (even though it needs to be blocked, it’s still cute), and then I handed it to my husband for his admiration. He really likes both the design and the colors in this sample, and I agree on both. I also managed, once again, to find the absolute perfect buttons, and I love how they look with the yarn. Blocking will commence tonight, and hopefully it’ll be ready tomorrow for a quick photo shoot with Lexie before I ship off all the design samples. I sat back with a sense of accomplishment and a job well done…

…and for the first time in several weeks, found myself at a bit of loose ends.

Of the 3 samples I knit for my 2 designs, one of them was completed a few months ago since it was decided the one I was already working up could be the design sample. But for the other design, which comes in 4 variations, we decided it would work best to work up 2 variations in different colorways. They’ll be killing 2 birds with one stone, because not only will they show off my design, they’ll be showing off part of a new fall colorway line. So, ever since I received the yarn for the samples, I haven’t done anything knitting related except knit those samples and type those patterns.

It’s not that I don’t have anything else planned. I have lots of plans, both design and knitting. I even have things on the needle right now, like a Snug baby hoodie I’m knitting for my cousin’s newborn. I haven’t taken a good in-progress photo of this one yet, but I have the body done and most of one sleeve; just the rest of that sleeve, the other sleeve, and the front/hood to go. I’m loving the knitting and the buttons that I custom ordered from Tessa Ann on etsy:

Tessa Ann Teddy Bear buttons with 3IG Carson

I think it’s that I have too many plans right now. There are several design ideas that I’ve been jotting down notes on while I’ve been consumed by my current designs. Some are for fall, and some are for spring/summer, so I’m dithering a bit on what to work on first. I’d like to do more submissions, now that I have a whole 2 under my belt, so I need to start doing research with those publications and see what their deadlines are for various issues. Then I can start prioritizing my plans.

But I’ve decided that will be for tomorrow. For now, I think I just need to knit. Preferably something simple and undemanding. Where’s that Snug?

Shawl Design with Kirsten Kapur

shawl design

When the email came out from Fibre Space a few months ago with the list of upcoming classes, “Shawl Design with Kirsten Kapur” was the first one my eye lit on. I love shawls. You wouldn’t know it, looking at my project page–sadly devoid of any shawls, although I have knit a shawlette–Mary-Heather Cogar’s Simple Things. I love the pattern (obviously, since I’ve knit not just one, but two of them), but part of what I love about it is that it’s great for showcasing colorful hand-dyed yarns that would obscure intricate lace patterns. So my lace shawl experience is non-existent…

…which would probably make the idea of me taking a shawl design class sort of silly, but I’ve never let a little thing like inexperience stop me. Now that I know about shawlettes (I think part of the reason I’ve never knit a shawl is because of the size and time; I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that I knit children’s items because they’re smaller and quicker), I can see me knitting more, and I’d love to be able to design my own. More than that, I knew I should jump at the chance to expand my design knowledge, even if I never design a shawl pattern to share.

So I signed up right away, thinking there was a good chance the class would fill up quickly…and looking around the room as the class got started today, it looked like it was sold out. I’m sure as much as the class itself, the teacher was a draw. I didn’t recognize the name Kirsten Kapur at first, but she’s the designer behind the great designs at Through The Loops. Her Pembroke Vest in the inaugural issue of Petite Purls is on my to-do list for every male in my family under the age of 8. And this was personally exciting for me because I’ve never taken a class from a well-known designer before.

The shawl design class was a 4-hour class, and I have to say I was surprised when people started cleaning up their gear that 4 hours had already passed…at the same time couldn’t believe that I’d learned so much in just 4 hours. As I told Steve, I left both confident that I could design a lace shawl with multiple stitch patterns and in even more awe of people who do design those intricate patterns. I knew intellectually that a lot of work would have to go into those designs, but now I know that from a bit of experience as well.

Really, the whole experience was wonderful. Kirsten is an awesome teacher: friendly, personable, fun, and very confident in her subject matter. I was really impressed by how she managed to juggle a class full of people with a wide variety of experience; she easily bounced from students having trouble with charting their initial stitch pattern to others who were asking about altering stitch patterns, to others still asking for advice on designs they’d started putting together before the class. And I enjoyed working and chatting with my fellow students, who all seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as I was.

At the end of the 4 hours, I left with the beginnings of a shawl design. It’s nothing intricate or terribly special, but I’m quite proud of it. I learned how to pick out lace patterns–both an initial pattern and then other patterns to coordinate with it, and I learned some tricks on how to modify lace patterns and fit them in. I think my resulting design is going to be cute. Now all I need to do is find the time to finish it…but I’m going to finish it and knit it!

The awesome photo shoot I can’t post any pictures from

One of the best parts of designing children’s knitwear patterns is that I have 2 available models (I’ve tried to convince Steve that I really need a baby model, so how about one more?…with zero success). They’re not always the most willing models, but part of being a mom/photographer is finding the proper motivation. Today, it took Phineas & Ferb fruit chews to get Lexie to model my latest design.

And she was delightful. She turned, twirled, waved, smiled, and was just generally cute on cue. Unfortunately, I can’t post a single picture of her actually wearing my design. But wouldn’t you want to design for this model?

Lexie before shoot 092210 (1)

Lexie before shoot 092210 (2)

Lexie before shoot 092210 (4)

Lexie before shoot 092210 (5)

When am I a “real” designer?

Recently, I’ve had reason to ponder this question. I mean, yes, I design things and therefore I am a designer in that sense…but when I’m staring at those forms were I have to fill in my profession, at what point do I stop putting in “homemaker” or “stay-at-home mom” (as appropriate) and start writing, “designer.” Or maybe “knitting designer.” Or, to borrow a phrase from Shannon Okey‘s The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design, “intellectual property developer in the textiles field.” For example, recently my son brought a form home from kindergarten asking if any of the parents had an interesting career they’d like to talk about for career day…and while I’d love to talk about knitting and designing, did it really qualify as my “career”?

I wouldn’t have used the term while I was designing free patterns for fun, but it was clear to me that I was just doing it as a hobby. So at what point does receiving remuneration make this my job and not my hobby?

Certainly at this point, just starting out, I won’t be making enough money to support myself, let alone a family of four–but I don’t need to, since my husband does (and I know how lucky I am to be in that situation). He’ll tell people that he just hopes I’ll make enough to offset my yarn purchases. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I mean, I know he’s half-joking when he says it, and the other half is based on firm knowledge of how much I stand to feasibly make any time soon…and considering the size of my yarn purchases sometimes, offsetting them would take a fair amount! Yet it still feels a little patronizing and belittling, although I know he doesn’t mean it that way (and, come to think of it, I’ll need to talk to him about this before he reads it on my blog!). He’s probably my biggest supporter, never doubting I could do it and never murmuring a complaint about all the yarn I’ve brought home because, “I’ve thought of a great design for this!”

Last week my husband was having some minor, elective surgery done–minor enough that I was allowed to sit in and observe if I chose. Steve was noncommittal on whether I sat next to him or in the waiting room, and I half-joked that I’d probably stay in the waiting room so I could knit–only half because I really have spent most of my sitting time working on design samples. So Steve asked if I could knit in the room, and the answer was that as long as I didn’t actually knit over the incisions as the surgeon was working, that was just fine.

I sat there next to Steve, knitting and chatting with him, the doctor, her med student, and the Army corpsman as the doctor worked away. The corpsman, a very nice Sergeant, watched me work for a bit and then asked, “Is that knitting or crocheting?” His wife has just taken up crocheting, so he was interested, and we talked a bit about the difference between the 2 crafts. Then he asked what I was working on, and I told him.

“She designed it,” Steve piped up. “She’s a designer, and the pattern for that is going to be published.”

So…I guess I’m a designer, and I should stop saying it in an apologetic tone. And next year, when the career day forms come home with Jeffrey, maybe I’ll sign up too.

Keeping secrets

“Mum’s the word!”

That was the last line in the note that came with my sample yarn from Three Irish Girls. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this package, because I couldn’t wait to see what colorway(s) Sharon picked out for me.

Would it/they be fall colors? Spring colors? Colors for any season?

Would it/they be dark? Light? Glow in the dark? (Ok, probably not that last.)

Would it/they be playful? Sophisticated? Saturated? Subdued?

Would it/they be variegated? Semi-solid?

Well, the good news is that I have my answer…the bad is that I can’t share it.

And I’m really bad at keeping secrets.

So I’m going to have to come with something that I can talk about soon. With lots of pretty, distracting pictures.