• The Magpie Knitter…

    ...trying to get from "Oooooh, shiny!" to a design.
  • Magpie Knitter on Twitter

  • Latest Knits...

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • 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!
  • free counters
  • Advertisements


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?

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.

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.

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!!

Ooooooh, shiny!

That’s me.

Only it’s not really shiny things as much as pretty colors…namely, pretty colors on yarn.  I started knitting in August of 2007 while pregnant with my daughter Lexie (in southeast Texas, of all places–not really known for a place where one needs a lot of wool sweaters).  I think I’d only been knitting for 2 days before I got distracted by another yarn and pattern and cast on for a baby sweater while the scarf for my son Jeffrey was still on the needles.  And so it began.

When I couldn’t always find the perfect pattern for the beautiful yarn was in love with, I decided to branch out and design my own.  My early designs were usually single-sized patterns for one of my kids, like the dress for Lexie or fingerless gloves for Jeffrey…and they didn’t always work (let us never speak of the golf ball shaped thumbs on the toddler mittens again).  But whether I ended up with an awesome finished object or an…um…learning experience, I loved the process and getting to see my children in something I designed…and then getting to see other people in something I designed.

Where this is going…

So, when my favorite independent yarn dyer, Sharon of Three Irish Girls, announced a call for design proposal submissions, 2 designs that had been vaguely floating around in my brain coalesced and jumped to the forefront.  The situation couldn’t have been more perfect.  First, I’ve had more “ooooh, shiny!” moments with Sharon’s yarns than with any other I’ve seen.  Second, my children are older now–Jeffrey starts kindergarten in the fall, oh, my!–and I’m ready to branch out from my stay-at-home mom career.  I honestly had never considered becoming a professional knitwear pattern designer…but I couldn’t ignore the signs, even if I wanted to.

I thought and researched and scribbled and erased and swatched and frogged and rethought and jotted and typed and blocked…and finally, sketched.  That last was probably the hardest part.  I, um…have trouble drawing a straight line with a ruler.  I was the despair of every art teacher I ever had when it came to proportions.

Oh, and to complicate matters…Sharon had specifically asked for designs that would showcase her yarns.  Most of her colorways are variegated so I was trying for designs that had more interest than stockinette but would neither be lost in nor compete with the yarn.  And I had to capture that in my sketches too!

Finally, I had my best attempt at each proposal together and emailed them in.  I learned it’s hard to type professional sounded submission emails with your fingers crossed, so I had to compromise with crossed toes.

Note to self: Uncross toes before trying to walk.

Then all I could do was wait.  It helped that several of my friends in the Three Irish Girls group on Ravelry had also submitted design proposals, so we got to wait together.  I wasn’t too nervous–to be honest, I thought my inexperience would work against me and it was unlikely that my very first design proposals would be accepted…until the day Sharon planned to announce her decisions.  Then I was hitting the Send/Receive button on my email client several times an hour…right up until the email was sent out apologizing that due to the number of submissions, decisions would be delayed a day.


As promised, the email arrived the next day.  I steeled myself and opened it.

“Thank you so much for your lovely design submissions…”

Uh oh.  It sounded like the beginning of a polite and kind rejection letter…

“–we are very pleased to offer you the opportunity for publication with Three Irish Girls!”

I had to apologize to the kids for scaring them with my inadvertent shriek.

So, here I am.

And welcome to The Magpie Knitter!  Here, I’ll be working to overcome to my “ooooh, shiny” tendencies to create beautiful designs…and maybe amuse you as I go.  Enjoy!