• 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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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?

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.

Button, button, who’s got the button

That would be me.

I love buttons. Now, one might think that with 3 lbs. of wooden buttons, I’d be unlikely to ever need to buy another button. But not everything calls for a wooden button, right? Some projects need glass. Some projects need metal.

And some projects need beautiful, beautiful clay.

Tessa Ann Cherry Blossoms buttons
Cherry Blossoms

Some projects need to mix it up with different sizes and shapes.

Tessa Ann Raspberry Chocolate Ganache buttons
Raspberry Chocolate Ganache

Some projects need lots of bright colors.

Tessa Ann Raspberry Fields buttons
Raspberry Fields

I’d favorited Tessa Ann’s etsy shop back when I was first looking through etsy for buttons, but hadn’t had an occasion to go back until recently. About 2 weeks ago, a friends posted in the Three Irish Girls KAL group asking for help in finding buttons for a completed project. I probably would have joined in the hunt anyway, but she earburned me because she’d already checked one of my favorite sellers…so I took the request in the spirit of a challenge. I’m good at spending other people’s money.

I checked out all of my etsy favorites first, and although I couldn’t find any that fit the given guidelines at Tessa Ann’s store, I fell in love with the buttons again so hard that I linked her shop in my post just as future reference for anyone looking for buttons (I was actually the 2nd person to link it, so I can’t take all the credit, I guess)–it occurred to me that all those saturated colors could be a great match for a lot of the Three Irish Girls colorways.

Rhonnie was the other person who’d posted about Tessa Ann, so she and I got to chatting about her buttons.  I mused, “I’m thinking I need to design something around some of those…”

And Rhonnie answered, “Yeah! Design something cute, easy and quick to knit up…cause I wanna make it too!”

The gauntlet had been thrown down…

So I headed back to Tessa Ann’s store and began looking through her buttons, while considering which Three Irish Girls yarns I had that weren’t already dedicated to other projects. And I immediately thought of my Kate on McClellan Fingering. I’d originally purchased it to make a Stripey Toddler Cardi for Lexie…but I’d never gotten around to it. I’m pretty sure I let other projects bump it because the idea of knitting a full cardigan in fingering weight yarn–even toddler sized–sounded a bit tedious.

But I love the yarn…and I love the base…and I loved the buttons I was finding that had the same pinks, and white, and brown, and green… And the different button sets were giving me ideas on where and how I could use the buttons, on a short, lacy cardigan for a little girl to wear on a spring/fall day…

So, I bought 4 sets that could work–the 3 above and one other one. They arrived while I was out of town, so I was excited to see them when I got home. And I love them all. They’re just gorgeous…and I’m keeping the Raspberry Chocolate Ganache set out of sight of the children, ’cause they really do look good enough to eat. The only problem was that the browns in the button were warmer than the browns on the yarn. The bamboo in the McClellan gives the colors a cooler tinge. But someone pointed out that one of the sets had just small bits of brown that might work.

Tessa Ann Raspberry Vine buttons
Raspberry Vine

3IG McClellan Kate
Kate on Three Irish Girls McClellan Fingering

I think she’s right. It’s even more obvious in person without the slight glare. And Rhonnie has picked out the yarn she wants to make her item in. Gauntlet picked up.

(For the record, I found the original poster not just one, but two button options that she liked, so she bought both and is going to see which works best. Other people’s money…I can spend it.)

On my needles…


Absolutely nothing.

And this is not the normal state of things for me. I’m a project polygamist normally; I like being able to jump from project to project as the mood moves me. According to my personal Ravelry notebook, I have 13 WIPs, but most of them I haven’t started yet. They’re either projects I’m planning to start shortly or ones I put in my projects before Casey gave us the ability to link stash yarn to the queue (and I don’t want to move them because I’ve already linked blog posts to them).

Of actual WIPs, there’s one project that really needs to be put back in hibernation, the socks I’m knitting for Steve that need frogged (too big) and the sweater I’m knitting from one of my designs that turned out to need adjusting and has been frogged. Oh, and there’s a sweater for Jeffrey, but I need to frog that both because I left it for so long that I need to start it again with a bigger size…if I have enough yarn left from the Great Lexie With Scissors incident of March 2010 (I haven’t gotten up the nerve to really look at what I’ve got left yet).

I think part of my problem is that I’m feeling a bit in limbo. I have 2 design samples I need to knit up, but I haven’t received the yarn yet (I expect it’ll either be waiting for me when I get home from this week-long vacation or coming very shortly). This is for my 2nd design, which I haven’t yet knit in its entirety. I have knit the yoke…4 different times (it took 3 tries to get the increase rate right…and then once I just screwed up the numbers)…but I haven’t needed to knit the entire thing to get the pattern together. So I’m still wondering what these sweaters are going to look like once all knit up. And I’m not sure what the yarn is going to look like. I know the base, because I picked that, but I just made suggestions as to the colors I’d like (since I’m going to be able to keep the sample).

So both mysteries are making it hard for me to settle down to anything else…even though, ironically, one of those “anything elses” was a full sweater from my 2nd design. I’m finding myself strangely reluctant to restart it now that I’ve gotten the pattern fixed…and I think it’s because part of me doesn’t want to see a completed version of my design until I see it in the colors Sharon chose for me.

At any rate, we get home tomorrow (and oh, am I ready to be home!), so maybe my first mystery will be solved…and I can start working on the answer to the second.

The Birth of a Design, Part III: To Swatch, Perchance to Knit

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.

Ok, so small, all over stitch pattern with a lot of texture and an even number stitch repeat required.

On my first go-through of the Barbara Walker treasuries, I looked just for all over patterns with a lot of texture. Granted, they didn’t meet all of my criteria as-is, but I had two thoughts: 1) I didn’t want to miss the perfect pattern because I was being too restrictive; and 2) I might be able to alter it to work…or I might love it so much I changed some of my other design decisions. After all, nothing was written in stone yet. Heck, nothing much was written on paper yet.

I was also looking for any other stitch pattern that might catch my eye, including lacier patterns. I did have an idea for a second design, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that one in Lindon Merino or a different yarn, so I figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone and swatch any possibility. Plus, I figured that as I wasn’t as familiar with Lindon–I only had one project under my belt–playing around with a larger variety of swatches would help me understand better how the yarn knit up. I didn’t start with my Pansies right away, though; I had a quarter skein of Lindon on a slightly more subdued colorway (Cameron) that I wanted to use to see the stitches better. If I could get a stitch pattern I liked, I could try it with the more colorful Pansies.

My first swatch was way outside my planned zone:

unpurled cables lindon crop

I started with this one just out of curiosity. The cable pattern comes from the Un-Purled Cables cowl designed by my friend Sara Marie Rink. I was familiar with the stitch pattern both because I’d knit a few of the cowls and because I’d designed a coordinating hat for Sara. They don’t look like the same stitch pattern because the cable looks so different when pulled tight in a hat as compared to when the cable is allowed to pull in, giving a more organic vine look. And…I liked it in the Lindon. I really liked the look. Just not for what I was doing.

ribbon stitch lindon crop

I moved on to a ribbon stitch from Barbara Walker’s 1st Treasury. I’d been picturing a stitch pattern something like this, so I figured finding it in the Treasury was serendipity. And I liked it once knit up, although it didn’t look like either the swatch in the book or my imagination. The difference was the yarn thickness; I was using an aran weight yarn and it was noted in the pattern that a finer yarn had be used to achieve that effect. I tucked this one away as a maybe someday.

(Or maybe not; not long after I was checking out the designs of one of my favorite designers, Georgie Hallam of Tikki Fabric Addict and found this. Look familiar? Yep…pretty much the same stitch pattern, in pretty much the same way I planned to use it. What can you do? I know what I did–I bought Georgie’s pattern. Looks like she’s working on a cute dress version, too.)

Turkish Stitch A Lindon crop

Turkish Stitch B Lindon crop

My next try involved a lace faggoting stitch separated by either stockinette or garter section. I really liked the difference between these 2–with the stockinette the lace portion bunched up and bulged out a bit (similar to the dimension of the ribbon stitch), while with the garter the lace lay flatter and more open. And this, I decided, was what I was going to do for my other design idea…but it wasn’t going to work for this one.

In fact, I just wasn’t finding much that did look like it was going to work, at least not in accordance with that dim picture in my mind’s eye. Everything was too big…too intricate…not textured enough…cabled…

And I didn’t want cables. But I kept coming back to one stitch pattern in the 1st Treasury, a cabled ribbing that I sort of liked the look of. And they weren’t actual cables. So I tried a variation and got this:

Baby Twists lindon crop

I liked the subtle texture, which I felt the variegated yarn enhanced by putting the colors slightly out of order. But I wasn’t looking for subtle. So I mixed it up.

Twisted Diagonals lindon crop


Yes, this is what I was looking for. This stitch pattern gave a very strong diagonal line that could be felt and seen. But would it work well with Pansies? Would the line still be visible with the colors were so much more different than in Cameron?

Twisted Diagonal swatch (2)

Yes, they were. Not as visible, but I could still see them (and they’re even more visible in person). Perfect–stitch pattern selected. Chances are I’ve “unvented” this stitch pattern, as Elizabeth Zimmermann would say, but until I can find it, I’m calling it the Twisted Diagonal Stitch.

Now to put it in a sweater.

My yarn is holding me hostage – send help!

I really should be in bed. It’s 11:20pm (or 2320, as my husband and I usually say; old habits die hard for this Sailor). I haven’t had a good night’s sleep for 2 nights because my daughter’s been sick–between the itchy rash and the high fever, she’s been miserable at night and the best solution has been to “sleep” downstairs with her so at least my husband can get some sleep. Tonight seems like it might be the night she turns the corner; there was some fussiness about an hour after she went to bed, but that was 3 hours ago, and nothing since.

So why am I not in bed? My wise husband has been for over an hour (we didn’t use the best solution last night, so he didn’t get much more sleep than I did) and I’m exhausted too.

Well, it’s the yarn’s fault. I’d like to put out an APB on this:

3IG Glenhaven Cashmerino Pansies

It’s Three Irish Girls Glenhaven CashMerino (the base isn’t available via her website, but is carried by retailers). Does the colorway look familiar? It’s the Pansies from The Yarn Spot I talked about earlier (2nd from the right in the line-up photo). Glenhaven CashMerino is a 80/10/10 merino/cashmere/nylon blend and it is so soft. I love knitting with this yarn–and it’s not easy to give it up to someone else.

But I knew when I bought it that this yarn was for my daughter, and when I brought it home, Lexie enthusiastically seconded the idea (in fact, I had a hard time getting the yarn back from her; I think she intended to sleep with it). I tucked the yarn away with the plan to knit something for her in the future.

Apparently, the future is today. I didn’t intend for it to be, but I’ve been itching to start knitting up one of the other designs I’m working on. It’s also a design from Three Irish Girls, and I wrote it up for Springvale Super Merino Worsted. But the problem is that I haven’t yet received the sample yarn for it, and I don’t have any Springvale on hand that isn’t earmarked for something else. But Glenhaven is also a worsted weight…and it’s earmarked for a sweater for Lexie…and the design is called “Lexie’s Lacy Cardigan” since my little girl was my inspiration.

So, I did some swatching today to determine needle size–I needed to go up a size from what I used with the Springvale–and figured I might as well cast on while I’m waiting for the sample yarn. Along the way, I did a few recalcuations on the number of starting stitches, and I had to do that for all the sizes. I figured that was enough work for one night, as it was late already…but the yarn had other ideas. I swear, it won’t let me out of my chair! I’m tired but it won’t let me stop knitting. HELP!!