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    ...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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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.

A child’s inspiration

The ladies at TAAT Designs recently did an interview with me that is now posted on their blog. Hop on over and check it out!

I was asked in the interview about my inspiration and one of the ones I listed was my children…but I don’t limit myself to my children. I’ve been spending the last several days at my brother’s house, visiting with him, my sis-in-law, my three-year-old niece, and my five-week-old nephew (meeting him was the main reason for our visit). Naturally, I arrived bearing knitted gifts. One of them is the sample for the design I’ve been posting about, so I’m keeping that one under wraps for now; the other is a Mossy Jacket.

I loved the Mossy Jacket pattern the first time I saw it. This was also one of those rare times when I found myself wanting to recreate the original as closely as possible, including the color, but I wanted to do it from my stash if possible. Fortunately, I had several skeins of Three Irish Girls Lindon Merino, which was the right weight and has a slightly textured look, in the colorway Arboretum. The color was a bit different, skewing a bit towards the cooler colors with hints of purple, and with brown instead of copper, but I liked it, especially with the coordinating brown from the trim that Sharon dyed for me (amazingly, a near perfect match done a year later!).

Three Irish Girls Lindon Merino Arboretum (2)3IG Lindon Merino Brown Fantabulosity

The cardigan knit up very quickly, but I arrived at my brother’s house with it sans buttons. I didn’t have any in my stash that were the right color and size, so one morning I took my kids button shopping with me. Joann’s, I’ve found, as a much better button selection than I’d remembered it having, so I found several possibilities I liked, but none that seemed perfect. I had Jeffrey “helping” me, mostly to keep him occupied, but he kept shooting down all of the buttons I picked out. I had a set of blue-green buttons with a bit of a sheen that I thought were perfect, as they went with the main colors of the cardigan, but Jeffrey was strongest in his condemnation of those. Finally, a bit exasperated, I asked him what buttons he wanted. He looked over the buttons thoughtfully for a few moments, and then pulled a set off the hook and handed them to me. “This one,” he said firmly.

I eyed the red-purple buttons–in the same style as the blue-green ones, with a bit of a sheen–dubiously. The sweater was mostly in blues and greens, after all, but I held the buttons up to the sweater to check.

Moss in my Arboretum (5)

Jeffrey had seen what I had not–that the purples in the yarn went all the way from the blue-purples to the red-purples, and this button brought those out. The blue-green buttons were the obvious choice, but the red-purple was the exceptional one.

Moss in my Arboretum (3)

Guess Jeffrey will be my color consultant from now on.

TAAT Designs

Remember how I commented in my first post that the wait to see if my design proposals had been accepted by Three Irish Girls was made easier by having friends to share it with?  Well, four of those friends have teamed up to form TAAT Designs.  In knitting “TAAT” stands for two-at-a-time, but here it means Tesia, Allison, Abigail, and Trisha, the 4 women and friends behind TAAT Designs.

I’ve only yet been lucky enough to meet two of these friends–I joined Tesia’s and Abi’s knitting group during my family trip to Seattle. I’ll admit–I was a touch nervous about meeting up with a group of real-life strangers, although I’d gotten to know Tesia and Abi (and the other ladies) quite well online. Once I’d been there, oh, about 5 minutes I really had to wonder what I’d ever worried about. It was like I’d known them for years. They even took Jeffrey’s refusal to share his super powers and Lexie’s backwards somersault out of her chair (she was unhurt) entirely in stride. So I was unsurprised to read in the first posts from Trisha, Allison, Abi, and Tesia, that they’d all bonded so quickly.

But although they’re close friends, they’re very different people–student, scientist, married, single, mom, runner, traveler, Canadian, American–with different strengths and talents that they bring to their designs and their blog. Recently Tesia posted about her Socks of Win (and no, I’m not posting to pressure her to hurry up and release the design–those socks are beautiful but they intimidate me!); Abi posted about some great design resources; Trisha once posted her thoughts about yarn and when it’s too much for her; and in an early post Allison talked about taking it one stitch at a time when needed.

One thing I really enjoy about their blog is that they take advantage of the fact that they have 4 women with diverse backgrounds–often when one of them posts on a topic, some or all of them will add a post with their thoughts, often taking the theme in a new direction. For example, when Trisha wrote about her thoughts on yarn–wanting to have a smaller, more manageable stash–Abi talked about knitting with handpainted yarn, Allison shared a story of a skein of yarn that took charge of what it was going to be, and Tesia mused about how she sees her stash as a collection, complete with rare skeins. They also have audience participation posts, asking for readers’ favorite tips or key knitting books.

So, hop on over to meet 4 great women and designers, enjoy their stories and input…and check out some cool designs.

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!!

Back to School Shopping

This past weekend was the tax-free holiday in the state of Virginia. Naturally, I took advantage of the chance to buy the kids’ winter clothes, as well as the supplies my son Jeffrey needs for kindergarten (less than a month until my oldest starts school. Mom is not ready). And I took the opportunity to buy my school supplies as well.

Nope, I’m not going back to school–at least not a traditional school–at 36. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but I’m plenty happy with my master’s. I needed supplies for one of the classes I’m taking from Shannon Okey, aka Knitgrrl. Shannon has a virtual studio where she teaches online classes. I wish I could remember for sure where I’d heard about them, but I’m pretty sure it was from a fellow Three Irish Girls knitter on Ravelry, who was taking one of Shannon’s classes. I’d also been seeing tweets about Shannon’s book, The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design, and they were so overwhelmingly positive that I figured there had to be something worth looking into. So I hopped over to Shannon’s site, checked out the book (which I bought; more on that in a later post), and found the Tech Editing class that my friend was taking.

The class was full, so I signed up to be notified when a class was enrolling. A few weeks later, I got the notification and clicked right over to sign up. And then I flipped back to the page that I’d clicked through to originally, because I saw that she also offered a Designer 101 class that was currently enrolling. Signed up for that one as well.

Over the course of the next several days, I uncovered several more classes that were enrolling, and I signed up for 3 of them: Get Published!, Marketing and Branding, and Fashion Illustration. The class on getting published I’m taking in more of an observer role; I don’t have any plans/desires to publish a book of any kind at this time–heck, I still don’t have a single “for sale” pattern published–but that might be something I’m interested in down the road. Additionally, a lot of what’s being covered is applicable beyond just the world of book publishing. I am nearly completely clueless on proposals, so anything I can learn will be good for me.

The Marketing and Branding class, despite its small size and the fact that I haven’t done many of the assignments yet, has already given me some great lessons I’ve taken to heart. It’s where this blog idea came from, for one, as well as the associated Twitter account–both separate from my personal blog and Twitter account. And then there’s the Fashion Illustration course. Of all them, this might be the one I need most desperately because…I can’t draw.

Really, I can’t. I have trouble sometimes drawing a straight line if you spot me a ruler and gridded paper. My stick figures (the best I can do) would make Picasso say “Whoa!” and my sense of proportion and perspective would leave Escher shaking his head.  And that was the class I needed the supplies for: drawing tablets, colored pencils, pens, blending tools (what the heck are blending tools? I wondered), and more. I admit–I had fun shopping for that stuff. I get a real sense of pleasure from good pens, paper, and drawling tools…I just can’t use them very well. The first assignment still has me a bit paralyzed.

The classes I’m most active in are the Tech Editing and Designer 101 classes. We are 2 assignments into each, and I can honestly say that I’ve already learned enough to make both classes worth the enrollment fee of $65 each…and there’s still so much more to come! Shannon and her teaching partner Alexandra (who runs the Tech Editing class) are great instructors with lots of great info to pass on, but classes are even richer due to the diversity of the classes. We’ve got beginning designers and tech editors, of course, but we also have established designers (I will admit to a major fan girl moment when Georgie Hallam of Tikki Fabric Addict joined the same Tech Editing class. I’ve knit her Rainbow Dress, am currently knitting Bloom, and plan to knit a couple Milos…and that’s just near term), test knitters, and an independent yarn dyer who wants to have a better idea of how to work with designers.

So for anyone with any interest in the design process, from any angle, you’ll want to look into these classes. And if you join the virtual studio, say hi! I’m there as Jen Johnson.