Thrift stores, second chances

I’m lucky: There’s a really, really good thrift store around the corner from my work. Since it’s non-denominational and benefits AIDS treatment and research, San Francisco skips Salvation Army and brings the good stuff here. Like any thrifting, it rewards time, luck, a knack for recognizing quality, and an eye for interesting detail. It also makes a decent excuse to head out of the office and give yourself a few minutes to walk off a frustrating problem or temporary coder’s block. It’s also a great spot to look for unusual knits.

I’ve spotted a number of handmade sweaters there. Many are worsted-weight acrylic cardigans, since those are easy to make and sturdy enough they’d probably survive WWIII, and I often find wooly ones that make absolutely no sense in the generally mild Bay Area climate. I always feel a pull to rescue the all-wool ones, but have to remind myself that I have small closets, not much storage, not much need for heavy winter gear, and a lot of well-loved clothes already. If I don’t absolutely love the color, the fit and the materials, I snap a photo of any interesting labels or design features, put it back on the rack and give it a hopeful pat. Maybe someone else will be as charmed as it by I am — someone who actually likes purple.

Every once in awhile, I find something worth breaking the rules for. A few months ago, I felt the rough scratch of wool on my hand as I flipped through the sweaters. I shoved back several screechy hangers’ worth of unremarkable cotton and found gold: a handmade, slightly shaggy, absolutely classic lopapeysa, the round-yoked Icelandic sweater. I actually smiled at it, like you’d smile at a lost-looking friend.

I wasn’t sure about the fit. I hated the buttons. I didn’t like the single-crochet trim, which looked clumsy compared to the perfect knit stitches and made the ribbed collar fit really strangely. Hell, I didn’t like that it had a ribbed collar. But it was lovely. It was made in three colors of thick, unplied, undyed wool. It was mended in a couple of places, neatly, if not the way I’d have done it — I’m good at mending knits because I’m even better at accidentally breaking, snagging and ripping them — and I liked that someone had cared enough about it to fix it.

All that for five bucks? Sold.

It lived in my closet for a few months, next to my snow boots. It missed its big chance at a winter trip to snow country since it took up too much room in my carry-on. I shuffled it from room to room, trying to figure out how to wear it and what to do with it.

If I wore it around Oakland with my knee-high logger boots, I looked like either someone’s joke version of a Portland hipster, or someone who’d stumbled out of the deepest backwoods in 1915. That second one is a look I don’t mind a bit, but the sweater’s squishy bulk made me feel like a yeti, and I’d sweat immediately if I wore it in direct sunlight. It hung for awhile in my bedroom, where I’d pick it up from time to time and think about how I could modify it to suit me a bit better. Maybe a zipper instead of buttons? Definitely a better edging, preferably one that could stretch. Maybe re-do those mends, and fix the yarn in the places it had worn thin? Then I’d hang it back up and smile at it again. I just liked it. I’d figure it out.

Then a week ago, it got cold. Like, really cold. Not freezing, but weather near the bay follows no rules. When you live in an old building with barely any insulation and huge, single-pane windows, it’s as cold inside as it is outside. I was just fine, since I was wearing leggings and another thrift-store find: an oversize men’s sweater, three sizes too big for me and with a small hole in the back, that I’d bought for a buck for the classic tweedy wool yarn and hadn’t gotten around to taking apart. My boyfriend, shivering in his cotton hoodie, kept making big eyes at me and pleading with me to make the weather warmer.

“Um … I can lend you a sweater,” I said.

“Whatever! Just make it warmer.

“How about this?”

I handed him the lopapeysa, which I’d left hanging over the stair rail on top of some drying laundry and a four-season tent. He put it on, making some skeptical remarks about the fairly feminine buttons but too cold to really care.

The sweater finally made sense. What I thought was the collar landed just so around his neck. The broad, dark band of the yoke motif swung perfectly around the widest point of his shoulders. The body of the sweater fell just right, narrowing toward the waist and landing at the same spot as his favorite hoodie. With his beard and long hair, he looked like he’d wandered right out off a windswept hillside in a ’70s Reynolds pattern brochure. No wonder I felt confused when I tried to wear it: It wasn’t meant for me.


(Pardon the low-resolution iPhone photo and the wadded-up, half-frogged sweater on the countertop. Don’t mind the goat skull in the window basket; That’s normal.)

The only tricky part would be proving that it’s made for him. I have a much higher interest in and tolerance for unusual clothes than he does. The rustic wool and natural colors make the whole look veer toward “grandpa.” There isn’t much call for subarctic wool outwear in the generally sunny Mission District where he works.

But there’s hope: His verdict is “a little hipstery, but maybe.” I’m pretty sure most of his issues would be solved by trading the old-fashioned buttons for a zipper. Only one way to find out …

Howdy from back-from-Colorado!

Wow, long, busy projects at work that eat up all my time and my capacity to socialize and invent things sure aren’t my favorite. Same for commuting! I cast on for a fingering-weight t-shirt on size 4’s at the end of February, and I only work on it while commuting to work for this project. I’ve already finished the back and I’m halfway up the front. That’s a whole lot of stitches and a whole lot of miles.

But! I’ve got something to brag about.

For the last couple of years, if a band I like is playing somewhere interesting, I’ll pick up a ticket and plan a cheap vacation around it. Airfare is easy if you pack light, and distances seem short when you’re from California, a state that takes days to drive across. So that’s how I ended up in Laramie, Wyoming last month to see Iron & Wine and Gregory Alan Isakov. (That’s not why I’m bragging, that’s just my particular brand of crazy.)

I spent a few days first in Fort Collins, Colorado, nursing a cold before I headed up to Laramie. On the way back down toward Denver, I swung by Gypsy Wools in Boulder, which carries print copies of Flatirons, and saw their store sample on display.

(This is what I’m bragging about.)

Flatirons at Gypsy Wools
Flatirons store sample at Gypsy Wools – See it on Ravelry!

The last time I’d been in the store, it was still in progress, but this time it was hanging right there in the store, next to one of the print version of the pattern. I *think* I managed not to hop from foot to foot with excitement when I saw it, but I was definitely glowing when the owner, Barb, shook my hand and told me they’d sold out of the pattern. I’ve really got to work on my habit of getting squeaky-excited and holding both hands to my mouth when cool stuff like that happens.

I left with a light step and a slightly lighter wallet, thanks to my “I don’t buy souvenirs, but local things I can’t get at home don’t count” policy. That’s why I underpack my luggage by a few pounds on the way in, and make up the difference in yarn, whiskey and local beer on my way back.

It’s hard to resist yarn when I’m out there. I keep finding yarns from Colorado, Wyoming and thereabouts with muted, deep colorways clearly inspired by the colors of the landscape, and they really speak to me. Please, someone make yarn that looks just like a storm rolling up over the prairie:

On this return trip, loaded down with yarn from Palouse YarnsMJ Yarns, Mountain Meadow, Your Daily Fiber and Gypsy Wools, not to mention a handle of bourbon from Dancing Pines, I came in just half a pound under the limit at the airport:

(Fifty pounds seems like an incredible amount of luggage to me. I usually fly with a tiny carry-on bag that fits under the airplane seat in front of me,   but on this trip I’d brought gear for several days of camping in potentially snowy winter weather. Only once I got there did I learn I can cheaply and easily rent camping gear all over notoriously outdoorsy Colorado. Whoops.)

I also learned a valuable lesson about taking care of hand knits on my trip. The last time I’d been to Colorado, I’d been working on a giant laceweight version of Flatirons. The friend I’d stayed with had said she couldn’t wait to see it when it was done, so I brought it along on this latest visit.

I wore it just about everywhere, in spite of the warm sunny days. (Once you learn how to layer for the frequently chilly Bay Area weather, it’s really hard to stop, even when it’s 75ºF and sunny out.) I also wore it into several yarn stores, and when I got compliments on it — It’s pretty striking, what with its bright orange and red stripes and the fact it’s about six feet wide — I’d unwind it from my neck, stretch it out and say “I’m doing this because only knitters understand how much work goes into it.” It felt like a cross between bragging and showing off a really impressive scar.

As to the lesson: the thing about wearing a loose-gauge, single-ply laceweight fabric everywhere and stuffing it into a bag with a zipper between wearings is, don’t. Wrap that sucker in its own cloth, fold it up and put it in a bag, whatever it takes — otherwise you’ll spend half an hour a day mending pulls and breaks, and eventually put a nickel-sized hole into it that’ll make you wad the whole thing up and stuff it into a closet until you have time enough to mend it. I’m pretty sure it got stuck in a zipper’s teeth at least once, and the hole is bad enough that I’m going to have to re-knit an inch of one stripe and pick up along the re-knit edge to fix the adjoining stripe. I’m not even showing you a photo, since it makes any knitter who looks at it frown with concern.

Normally I’d find that kind of repair really frustrating, but feeling creatively drained changes my approach knitting. I’m incapable of doing anything I have to invent from scratch, but it feels like I’m also incapable of getting bored. More than a year ago, I cast on for a queen-sized entrelac garter-stitch afghan, and I’ve knit on it more in the last three months than I had in the year prior. More than once, after yet another 12-hour long day, I’d find myself craving the comfortable blandness of a pattern I never had to think about it. I’m done with the squares and slowly working my way through what feels like a mile of edging, and I’m still not sick of it. I ripped out four inches of plain stockinette on a knee-high sock to adjust the fit, and didn’t mind a bit. I’m looking forward to shorter workdays and revived creativity, but I’m enjoying the way knitting has shifted from a technical challenge and challenging creative outlet to the needlework equivalent of white bread and creamy peanut butter.

But that said, I’m never, ever, ever knitting a giant lace-weight garter-stitch shawl again.


Indie interview: Carolyn Kern of Carolyn Knits

Howdy! Today on the blog is another indie designer interview, this time with Carolyn Kern. (Her blog is here, if you’re interested.) (Funnily enough, like me, she also has a pattern named Double Dutch!)

You may’ve seen her patterns before, with Interweave Knits, Blue Moon Fibers, or Quince & Co., and I can totally see why: she’s a natural for their styles, which heavily favor timeless patterned and color accessories.

Jonna cowlTartan mittsRosebud hat

… But I know what I like best! (The answer to that is nearly always “stripes” or “herringbone,” if it’s a context where the answer can’t possibly be “bourbon.”) This one has both. (Not bourbon.)

Equilibrium cowl. I bet you a dollar I’ll end up knitting it this winter.

Her blog’s fun to read — I especially liked this breakdown how Alabama Chanin influenced the pattern choice and color inspiration of her Rosebud hat. And she has tutorials!

Anyway – to the interview! (I hope you read that last sentence in your best “To the Batcave!” voice, like I did.)

How did you fall for knitting? What kept you casting on after that first wonky scarf or potholder?

I grew up in a “crafty family”. All the women in my family learned how to sew, knit, crochet and embroider. Some, like my mother, and my father’s mother, worked more at the needle-arts than others. They were the greatest teachers I could ever have had, and, of all of my sisters and cousins, I was their most willing pupil. I just always liked “to make stuff”.

My first knitted object was a rainbow-colored (from a worsted weight yarn, dyed in a way that was then called “ombre”) garter stitch square. I folded it diagonally and made a kerchief type hat for my Barbie doll. I guess you could say that it was my first design. (I was seven years old.)

What kind of project do you never get tired of, and why? (Mine’s hats. I have a whole fishbowl full of them. They’re fast and easy, and they don’t get tons of hard use in the Bay Area, so they don’t wear out.)

I have been knitting sweaters for myself since I was a teenager. I love sweaters and I wear them a lot.

I still make most of my sweaters from other designer’s patterns (sometimes heavily modified). Even though I know that I want to, and probably should, create my own sweater designs, it is like comfort knitting to me to work to a pattern. I appreciate that a sweater must be made over time –that there is plenty of time to think and modify – and I actually enjoy the finishing – it can be both challenging and rewarding.

My knitting now is a balance between my original accessory pieces, and my slow and steady sweater knitting. It works for me.

Are there any particular themes to what inspires your designs – texture, color, nature, a particular time or place?

Color and texture are big with me. I do love stranded colorwork. I enjoy using my simple knitting chart software (Stitch & Motif Maker V3) to make charts and knit to them. I have always loved color and enjoy putting colors together. I also love knitting that is full of texture, and have been exploring more kinds of textured stitch patterns over the last couple of years.

A source of inspiration for me can be found in fabrics [my Equilibrium Cowl and my Tartan Mitts] and traditional hand-knits [my Rosebud Hat]. I love to combine color and texture [as in all of my Playground Shawls].

I have also recently been inspired by modern textile design and the stitchery work of Alabama Chanin, and I hope to work on some pieces that involve embroidery in the not too distant future.

What’s your favorite part of designing?

I have, so far, designed accessory hand-knit designs. Though I originally thought that I would be better at designing garments because of my long history of sewing and knitting them – I try not to worry about that for now.

What I really enjoy about designing accessories, is going online and browsing what are current fashion design trends in accessories. There is so much to see when you google something like “Fall 2014 Accessory Designs”. I get a lot of inspiration from the internet and even from occasionally leafing through fashion magazines.

I am also always on the lookout for “Calls for Submissions” from knitting magazines and yarn companies. These can often be found online (designer groups on Ravelry are a good source of links).

More and more, the editors of magazine are putting together mood boards and even Pinterest pages, to inspire designs around the pre-planned themes of their future issues. I love these! I print the ones that I like best, and tack them to a wall (near where I work at my “day” job). Even when I do not submit something for a call, they can still inspire me later on.

What was the hardest thing about designing when you started out, and what part of designing challenges you the most now?

I found putting together design proposals for magazines quite difficult at first. No one will exactly tell you how to present your design idea and what to include. And you always want to make a good impression.

This has gotten a lot easier, now that I have done it so very many times (and have grown to accept the many rejections that come as a part of the process.) Besides visually showing what your idea is, you need to provide enough detail on how you plan to execute it, so that the editors know that you are actually capable of making it.

My biggest challenges are now in my Indie design patterns. I have a hard time taking photos that I really like. I also know that I need to spend more time on marketing, as in selling myself, and using social media to promote my work. None of that comes easy for me.

Do you collect anything, other than yarn?

I do have quite a collection of yarn! I can’t really say that I collect anything else except maybe knitting needles and knitting books.

Do you have a favorite “underdog” knitting technique – grafting, seaming, weaving in ends, something that most knitters seem to hate — that you think doesn’t get enough love?

I already mentioned that I really do not mind finishing. To an extent that is something that many knitters hate, but if they could take the time to learn what they need to know, they would come to love the pride that goes along with making and completing something beautiful.

Is there a technique you can do that you’re really proud of, maybe because of its difficulty or how well you do it?

I don’t mean to be redundant, but my answer would have to be similar to my answer to the previous question. (In the coming months, I am not sure exactly when, I have plans to post a series of finishing tutorials on my blog.)

Say you’re stranded on a desert island in a very improbable shipwreck that leaves you with tons of knitting needles an infinite source of one particular yarn. What yarn would it be?

A very tough decision! If I could have every color possible (there are over 100, I think), I would say Cascade 220 worsted. It is, to me, a great workhorse of a yarn. I love it for stranded colorwork and it has great stitch definition for textured and cable knitting.

I’m with her on Cascade 220. What a workhorse. Plus, you could probably pick apart the individual plies and get a decent laceweight! Check out Carolyn’s patterns on Ravelry!

Indie interview: Toby Roxane Barna of Toby Roxane Designs

So! As part of the Indie Gift-Along, I got to interview a couple indie designers. First up: Toby Roxane Barna.

Cicada ShawlJanuary HatNotting Hill Gate

I really dig Toby’s style. Her patterns have this really great mix of texture and classic lace, but not quiet at all — there’s lots of bold color (Stripes! So many stripes! I love stripes!) and graphic appeal that I really enjoy.

Not to mention the yarn — When I was going through her designs, I kept noticing the knockout yarn from indie dyers featured all over her work, and how well it relates to the designs. I love a designer who knows when to crank the volume all the way up on an texture or lace pattern, and when to keep the pattern quiet so the yarn can take the spotlight.

So: To the interview, where we nerd out about designing and Neil Gaiman, and I accidentally momentarily break her with a question about yarn.

Your chandelier tattoo is amazing! (I know that’s not really a question. I’m excitable and I’ve had too much coffee and blackwork tattoos are my favorite.)

Aw, thanks! [Nov. 20] was its seventh birthday. I may bake it a cake.

Any excuse for cake.

Look at this color scheme. LOOK AT IT.
Look at these colors. Look at all that texture. I kind of maybe sort of have been furtively yarn-shopping online today so I can make exactly these mitts in exactly this colorway. Yes, I have enough mitts already. I need more hands.

You named a pattern collection “Everwear.” Are you a Neil Gaiman fan? Did Neverwhere influence the patterns in the collection? (If not – How did the London Underground influence those designs? Was it a mood thing? Did you take visual cues from the stations you named your patterns after?)

I am a Neil Gaiman fan! I LOVED Neverwhere. I read it for the first time when I was about 13 and I’ve reread it several times since then. I also love the BBC miniseries—I have it on DVD. It’s one of those so-bad-it’s-good type things, but I secretly love it in a non-ironic way. The title of Everwear is a pun on Neverwhere.

Anyway, Neverwhere did inspire the names of some of the patterns in the collections … Knightsbridge, Earl’s Court, and Blackfriars, for example. I spent some time in London in 2011–I took a class in knitwear design at the London College of Fashion. I got off at the Shepherd’s Bush station for that class, and I stayed in South Kensington.

Some of the names have nothing to do with Neverwhere or my own personal experience—St. John’s Wood, for example. It’s fun to imagine a forest in the middle of London. I wonder if some of the inspiration for Neverwhere came from making up stories about the names of stations.

You’re an artist; you mentioned on your blog that your dad’s an artist; clearly, this isn’t just a thing you do, it’s a thing you are. You’ve also got multiple fields of experience and study – knitting, writing, did I see dyeing on your blog?, and so on. Do those inform each other? What does writing teach you about knitting, for example?

It’s interesting, actually—knitting and writing involve such different parts of my brain that I have a hard time switching from one to the other. It takes a long time for me to transition between them. Maybe it’s because knitting is so visual and writing is so cerebral, but it’s like two different languages. I have to switch from thinking in pictures to thinking in words. That’s why I’ve had such a hard time keeping up with my blog. I really want to write more, but that means I have to switch brain channels.

Making the jump to full-time knit designer must’ve been thrilling, but also at least a little terrifying. When did you know for sure it was the right thing to do?

Haha, I’m not sure I ever had a moment when I knew for sure it was the right thing to do. I try not to think about it too much. Like you said, it was a little terrifying. It’s still a little terrifying.

I always knew I wasn’t destined for a “typical” job. I worked in an office one summer during college and it was the worst summer of my life. I was always exhausted and I cried all the time. I was just miserable. So every choice I’ve made since then has been in service of keeping me out of an office building.

I did once have an internship in the Flatiron building in New York, with MacMillan Publishing. That wasn’t so bad—there were lots and lots of windows, and my job was to read unsolicited manuscripts that got sent in.

Designers are often inspired by specific places. Are you? What are some of your places?

London, like I mentioned, definitely inspired a lot of my work, but I haven’t been back there since 2011. I just moved to the Hudson River Valley this past spring and I’m really loving it. It’s really beautiful here, especially in the fall.

Your patterns use lots of incredible yarn from indie dyers. How do you choose the yarn for your designs?

I’m all about indie dyers—I think so many of them are doing such amazing work. I’m a die-hard festival-goer, which is where you can see some of the most exciting yarns, in my opinion. Although I’ve met some of my favorite dyers at TNNA trade shows, like Brenda of Phydeaux and Sarah of Fiberstory (look for some upcoming collaborations!).

A lot of the time the yarn comes first and the design follows. That can make it really tricky to request yarn support—”Hi, I love your yarn! I don’t know what I’m going to make with it yet, but if you send me some, I’ll probably have a design for it sometime in the next few months.”

I often sleep with yarn on my nightstand so it can “tell” me what it wants to be while I’m sleeping. My family teases me about it, but it works.

Say you’re stranded on a desert island in a very improbable shipwreck that leaves you with tons of knitting needles and an infinite source of one particular yarn. What yarn would it be?

I’ve been sitting here staring at that question, writing and deleting answers for a very long time now. I give up. I can’t possibly choose!!

Are you an audiobook listener, and if so, what’re you listening to lately? Any goofy weaknesses? (I have an embarrassing number of How To Train Your Dragon audiobooks, because David Tennant.)

I ADORE audiobooks! Right now I’m listening to Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun, which takes place in the semi-near future, and everyone in the world except for like, three people, suddenly become completely unable to sleep. Everyone is in a hallucinogenic stupor and the infrastructure falls apart. It’s interesting, and sort of creepy. Luckily, I’ve never suffered from insomnia in my life—the opposite, in fact. I have to set an alarm even on weekends (“weekends”—days of the week mean nothing to the self-employed) or else I’ll sleep all day long.

Back to audiobooks, though—I’m embarrassingly fond of trashy mysteries and thrillers. I love Laura Lippman in particular. My favorite of hers is And When She Was Good. I also really like her short story collection, Hardly Knew Her.

Thanks, Toby! Readers — I can call you that, right? It feels oddly quaint. I like it — You can check out more of Toby’s designs on Ravelry. I also get a kick out of her Instagram.

Thanksknitting (is a terrible pun I’m sure has been made before)

So the Indie Gift-Along is still in full swing after that kickoff sale ended a bit ago. While checking out the Pinterest board of participating hat patterns, I ended up getting hooked by a couple of hat patterns, Rekaviður and Fuego, and I’ve already knit one of each.

Looking at that photo, I notice how many of my in-progress knitting photos are taken on the tables of cafés and bars. I took that photo in November, and here’s an awfully similar one from today, with coffee instead of a pint glass and my finished Rekaviður photobombing in the bottom right corner:

I knit most of Fuego in a day, sort of — by “sort of,” I mean I knit the brim and hat in a day, but only after spending two evenings in a row trying to cast on the right number of stitches, overshooting, ripping back, recounting, casting on more, getting fed up and starting over, and finally falling asleep on my boyfriend in front of Spongebob Squarepants cartoons with my knitting on my chest. Once I got past the hardest part — coming up with the same stitch count twice in a row — it went super fast.

I still need photos of the hats, but somehow between work and travel and hustling, a one-day holiday always manages to eat a week’s worth of spare time. I could’ve done it the day before the holiday, I guess, but this year that was the day my birthday landed on — and I had very solid and serious plans involving bourbon, live oysters, lobster poutine and not working at all at anything.

Anyway! As part of the Gift-Along, I got to interview a couple of other participating indie designers — Toby Roxane Barna and Carolyn Kern. I’ll be posting those interviews over the next couple of days, so keep a lookout.

Indie Gift-A-Long: Incoming!

When it comes to knitting I’m not exactly a joiner. I used to go to local stitch and bitch groups, and even hosted one for awhile, but these days the idea of spending limited downtime surrounded by boisterous knitters makes me go a little limp. It’s not that I don’t like knitters; knitters are great, and the Bay Area hosts knitting groups that are packed to the gills with fun, creative, friendly people. I don’t even really knit blockbuster patterns, except for one Koolhaas and a barely-started owls.

I eventually figured out my favorite knitting happens with me curled in a ball on the couch with a finger of bourbon and some Netflix, surrounded by pencils and sketches, and I roll with it. These days I’m often joined by my boyfriend and the sounds of video games, which I mostly ignore in favor of an audiobook. The best are Saturdays in winter when I have the place to myself, and I can sit and knit and watch the mist through the bay window and drink whole pots of tea and knit through whole series of shows. I like my own company.

So it’s been a surprise to me how much fun I’ve had gearing up for the Indie Gift-A-Long on Ravelry. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a two-month holiday knit- and crochet-along of patterns by indie designers, with prizes! And a sale! Like, a huge sale. Participating patterns — and there are over 3,800 of them — will be on sale starting Nov. 13 (oh my god that’s TOMORROW) through the 21st. I’m participating as a designer, throwing my measly four patterns into the ring. It took a little hustling to get a fourth pattern out of test knits and published by the sign-up, but I really wanted to be a part of it.

Which was weird for me because: not a joiner. If it were just a parade of ads and hype, I’d be rolling my eyes like crazy with the same skepticism that got me kicked out of volunteering as a summer camp counselor as a teen. (Yes, you can get kicked out of volunteering! They transferred me to office work for the city instead. I stamped a lot of checks, did a lot of data entry and ate a lot of sandwiches with the vastly entertaining middle-aged employees, and got laughed at like crazy when I showed up one day in thrift-store pants with a white stripe down the side like local police wore.) But I’m really enjoying the prospect of getting to talk to other knitters and designers during the whole shindig, and as a chronically late giver of handmade gifts, I can totally see the appeal of having cheerleaders help you get through gift-giving knitting. (Even though all my holiday knitting this winter will be entirely for one person: me.)

I’ll be interviewing a couple other participating designers (both way more established than I am — this ought to be interesting) and posting more about it as the gift-a-long goes on.

Don’t forget: The big sale starts tomorrow!

New pattern: Flatirons

Hello, Flatirons! I love garter stitch shawls but have a tough time knitting the same row over and over again, so I came up with an all-garter shawl that suits my less-than-perfect attention span. I have a love affair with fine details that give knits a really polished look, so the shawl also has a pinstriped trim and striped i-cord edging.

Getting photos was fun: I dragged it out to the sweltering desert while on vacation and put it on a Joshua Tree. It’s a long way from the Boulder Flatirons in Colorado, the pattern’s namesake and inspiration, but you do what you can with the scenery at hand.


The pattern is modular and written for any gauge — use any yarn you like! The sample is knit in two yarns from one of my favorite dyers, Gypsy Wools, out in Boulder. They’re two different sock yarns (an all-wool yarn and a silk/wool blend), both in the same colorway! The two yarns side by side really highlight how much different materials affect the finished yarn: the silk blend is lighter with a slight sheen to it and slightly less saturated colors, while the all-wool one has darker and subtler tones. The effect is really striking and it’s one I’m definitely going to play with again.

Go check it out!

New pattern: Temescal hat

I love making hats. They don’t take much yarn, they’re great for using up scraps, I can knock one out in a day — and they’re as wearable as you can get. In winter, I keep a pile of them in a bowl and pick one out without looking as I head out the door. (I don’t really have to worry about matching my outfit, since I always seem to knit and dress in the same three or four colors.) I think in my whole knitting career, I’ve probably made about five scarves, three and a half pairs of mittens, maybe twenty pairs of mitts, two thirds of a glove, and dozens and dozens and dozens of hats.

Yup. Love.


Lately I’ve been making even more than usual, for a damn good reason: they’ve been samples for a pattern I’m re-releasing today as Temescal, the first in a series of hats inspired by Oakland neighborhoods. I made four different versions of the hat and shot photos all over town, from way out by the cranes of West Oakland, to a vivid mural outside a pop-up poutine restaurant 40 blocks north.

One version of the hat is really special, both for the stunning yarn and the way it fits my local theme: it’s made with a gradient set of mini skeins by Pigeonroof Studios, an indie dyer based in Emeryville, just north of Oakland.


(Go check them out. Seriously. Everything’s incredible. The colors, the saturation, the … oh, just go look. It’s my favorite local yarn, hands down.)

It can be hard knitting multiple samples of the same pattern, but I never got bored of knitting this hat. It’s knit on relatively big needles (seriously, I had to break out the size 13’s for the largest gauge, which I almost never use these days) and the stitch pattern has what I call a “popcorn” quality: easy enough I can do it on autopilot, interesting enough to stay hooked, and completely addictive. Each one had a different pattern, from all one color to a variety of stripes. Once I was done with one, I would start thinking right away about making the next.

(It wasn’t just me, either. Some of my test knitters bound off, just to immediately cast on for second — and even third! — versions of the hat. When I heard that, I cackled. That right there means victory to me.)

Anyway. It’s here, and I’m stoked. Check the pattern out on Ravelry or heck, buy it now!

Heath Ceramics

While I knit my secret project, let’s talk about something completely unrelated to knitting and very cool: Heath Ceramics.

Founded in 1948 and happily churning out gorgeous tile and tableware in that subtle but occasionally playful midcentury style I love, Heath Ceramics is a recent favorite of mine. Their stuff is pretty.

I found out about them from my boyfriend, who occasionally “adopts” the Heath pieces used at his work when they chip and have to be retired. I have one of their cups at my work, and bring it with me when I go to local cafes for coffee. (I am, uh, a little granola like that.) It’s not uncommon for a barista to pick it up and then stop, heft it a little, then turn it over to look for a maker mark and ask “That’s nice, is it Heath?” The first time it happened, I felt like I’d been accepted into some kind of extremely tasteful secret society.

One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is that we’re spoiled completely rotten with beautiful, locally made things. The original factory where they still make their dishware is only about a mile from the place I sometimes stay in Sausalito. If you ever can, go on the studio tour, where you can walk through and see work in all stages from research to finished product.

To a certain kind of person ‐ a me kind of person ‐ it is, to be succinct, a fucking marvel: tables of glazing test pieces in bright and layered colors; mismatched, decades-old tile set into walls; vats and walls covered in decades of clay buildup; and, best of all, shelves and shelves and shelves of creamy-smooth plates and cups and dishes with the texture of a brand new egg.

On that studio tour, the boyfriend and I also got a sneak peak at a wall clock that I learned months later was a collaboration with another design favorite of mine, House Industries. How cool is that?!

On that same trip, I fell in love with a little sugar bowl in the overstock section that was missing its lid. (Yes, they have an overstock section! Heath ain’t cheap, but if you can still love pieces with slight freckles or imperfections, you can get them for a pretty decent price break.) The sugar bowl fit perfectly in my cupped hand ‐ granted, I have giant hands ‐ and it was all I could do not to rub the smooth-but-not-slick linen finish on my face.

So if you get a chance, swing by the studio. If you can’t, there’s a virtual tour you can check out. And if you want a trendy food experience that’s way more actual San Francisco than clam chowder in a bread bowl (seriously, nobody does that but tourists), order a flat white at one of the city’s zillions of cafes and bring your own cup.

No, the barista won’t look at you funny. Promise.

Hey, it’s scenic, it works


There’s this shawl I’m working on that’s named after mountains in Colorado, but on my last trip out there I didn’t have time to take photos of it. This weekend I managed photos but since I was nowhere near Colorado, I had to use the majestic scenery I had at hand.

Fortunately, Joshua Tree has plenty.

I’ll be picking shreds of yucca fiber from my shawl for awhile, I think, but I’m happy with the photos I got. It went OK; I should’ve gotten up even earlier than 6:30 a.m., since it was full morning by the time I got into the park around 7 and already unbearably hot when I left an hour or so later. The Mojave in summer, even the tail end of summer, is no joke.

It also would’ve been nice to have remembered a tripod. Or to have slept enough not to have panda-like rings around my eyes. Ah, well. I managed. I set up my camera on a rock and propped the lens up with a stick, and when it got too hot to stay in the sun, took some shots from a spot wedged in between the lumpy stacks of boulders that jut out of the ground throughout the park and provide the only shade.

I knitted a lot this weekend, which I always do regardless of season. People noticed more than usual  due to the hundred-degree weather and the bright colors I was working with, and some people recognized me as “the knitter” from years past at the same event.

(The event is a music thing – Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, playing in Pioneertown. It’s been happening for ten years running, and I’ve gone to — and knit at, I think — all ten.)

I’d meant to check out yarn stores when I was down there, but instead I brought home this:


That’s Buddy. Guess I’d better get used to finding little ginger and white hairs in my knitting.