Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Little-Known Aspect of Second Mitten Syndrome

There's a little-known aspect of Second Mitten Syndrome, which I have unfortunately suffered.

Your gauge can change drastically in a year.


The mitten on the right was the second-ever stranded colorwork project that I undertook. I got it 90% done, then let it sit for almost a year, while I worked on other projects. I recently got a bug up my butt to finish all of my UFOs, and this is the first UFO that I've gotten cleared out.

When I am learning something new, I get a bit stressed and tighten up while I try to get everything right. That explains the right mitten. Now that I've done 6 or 7 other projects using stranded colorwork, apparently my gauge has relaxed, which explains the left mitten. Ah, well. At least they're for me, and I still love them.

This project has me addicted to knitting mittens, and now everyone will be getting stranded colorwork mittens for the holidays this year! All except my sister, that is, who got mittens last year and will therefore be getting something different this year. She reads this blog. Hi, sister!

I recently got this amazing book out of the library for the second time, and I'm totally obsessed with it, particularly mitten #20 and also mitten #18. You can find all the patterns from this book on Ravelry.

I seriously can't stop staring at this book. I'm daydreaming of making sweaters using some of the border patterns. It's totally inspiring and wonderful!

While I wait to buy the yarn for my holiday mitten projects, I am working on a scarf/necklet thingy for a friend (great story there, that will be an upcoming blog post), a toddler blanket ( another pesky UFO) and the second project for my Frida Kahlo series. Lots of fun fiber arts! And this weekend I get to visit an alpaca farm. Life is good!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Cookbook and a Recipe

My oldest daughter's 4th birthday is tomorrow, and one of her gifts is a sweater, knitted by me. I designed it and knitted it over the last two weeks with Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton, one of my all-time favorite yarns and my favorite yarn for kids' and baby stuff!

The main color is Bone, and the stripes are done in Caribbean, Azul and Orchid. I used about 2 and a half hanks of Bone, and obviously just a little of the contrast colors. I am so happy with how it turned out!

I chose bright colors for my daughter's bright, cheerful, creative personality. I knitted it top-down, in one piece, using Barbara Walker's brilliant top-down raglan cardigan template from Knitting from the Top, which I think may be the most important knitting book of all time.

It's like a knitting cookbook, except Barbara doesn't even necessarily give you recipes, she gives you a thorough understanding of all the ingredients so that you can develop your own wonderful recipes and confections. I wonder how many people she has turned into designers with this wonderful book.

I have recently thought about what it is that has given me the ability to design my own garments, something I never thought I'd be able to do when I first started knitting. If you want to design your own garments and accessories, too, here's what I recommend:

1) Knit a LOT of patterns. Knitting a lot of patterns for a wide variety of garments and accessories gave me a great foundation and taught me a wealth of techniques. Now that I can design my own stuff, I still knit a lot of patterns because I want to learn all there is to know, so I can apply it to my own designs.

2) Read Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitting from the Top and Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English. Reading these books has given me the knowledge that I need and the guts that I need to make my own designs.

3) Buy a few stitch dictionaries. These are invaluable for sparking creativity, and they are just plain fun to look at.

I will eventually pattern-ize this sweater, when I make a second one for my younger daughter later this year. For now, though, if you'd like to make your own, here's the recipe:

1) Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top, specifically the chapter about raglan cardigans.

2) Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton. For a 4-year-old girl, I needed 2.5 hanks of the main color. (Sweater Design in Plain English has an excellent chapter about estimating yarn quantities.) The contrast color could be pretty much whatever you want. Spin the color wheel, have fun!

3) I used size 7 needles and my gauge was about 4 sts x 6 rows per inch. But if you're designing yours yourself, your gauge can be anything! Barbara Walker has you start with a gauge swatch, which is the foundation for everything. The number of stitches per inch that you get is the basis for all the rest of the math (and the math is easy, fear not).

I'm going to do a lot of posts in the future about how to free yourself from patterns and knit whatever you want. It's a wonderful feeling to not have to worry about making your gauge match a pattern or to keep anal-retentive track of where you are in a pattern, and to just knit a swatch and then let loose from there.

I wish there were more knitting books like Elizabeth Zimmermann's, Barbara Walker's and Maggie Righetti's, where the book isn't just a collection of patterns but rather a collection of jumping-off points, a manual for learning how to do something yourself, written in a friendly, encouraging, conversational, often hilarious tone. They are fun reads which give you the instructions for freeing yourself from instructions.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Modeling knits: Why are only the smallest sizes ever shown?

I'm a size 12. I'm not fat, but I'm not thin, either. I'm about average, I think. My bust is a bit above average, at a 38 D bra size, which makes my bust about 43 inches around.

When I first started knitting 6 years ago, there were a lot of patterns in books and magazines that I couldn't knit because the largest size had a 38 inch bust measurement (and I hadn't learned yet how to modify patterns). Now, somehow, the books and magazines have gotten a clue and almost every pattern goes at least up to my bust size and usually beyond, so I can make almost any sweater pattern without having to do the math and calculate the larger size myself.

Now that both Interweave Knits and Vogue Knitting have so many wonderfully inclusive patterns that will fit from a 30-inch bust (haha, not since about 4th grade for me...) to 60+, why are most of the garments in the magazines modeled on super-thin models, who wear the smallest size available for the pattern?

I have occasionally seen some larger models in Interweave Knits, and their models overall tend to be very normal and human-looking. Their models tend to look like women, not too thin. But it is extremely rare that I see a larger, even what you would estimate to be a size 12, model.

Pretty normal, happy-looking models. They are modeling garments with a 35.5-inch and a 33-inch bust size, respectively, which is the 2nd-smallest size for each pattern.

In Vogue Knitting, in which the current issue's patterns almost all accommodate extra small to extra large or larger sizes, however, I see much thinner-looking models. In contrast to the happy-looking, smiling models of Interweave Knits, in Vogue Knitting, we have angry-looking, very thin models:

I call that the "model-glower." They all seem to be thinking, "I hate you."

But I digress. Despite these patterns all being offered in larger sizes that fit me and much, much larger women, we see none of these sizes represented. It's all thin women. Why are none of the larger sizes represented?

In the case of fashion magazines like Vogue and Bazaar, I can understand the thin models. They're modeling couture, which designers only make in very small sample sizes. But in the case of knitting magazines, the designer or test knitter can knit up any of the sizes the patterns offer as a sample... that is, if the magazine employs models that will fit that size.

I recently knitted a sample sweater in my own size. I figure, I can wear it after the company is done with it, right? I can even model it for them and take photos to their specifications. It turns out that all sample garments must be knitted to fit their models, and thus must be made to fit a 30 to 32 inch bust.

That pissed me off. If you are going to offer the larger sizes in the patterns, and I am grateful that you do, why not take at least a small percentage of them and have them be modeled by women who wear the medium and larger sizes? We knitters are not all small and extra small, so why should we have to look at only small and extra small-size models modeling the garments? I would think that if medium and large and extra large size knitters can see how a garment might actually look on them, rather than on a size 0 model, that might help sell patterns and would prevent unhappy finished garments that look fine on a size 0 but not so much on a larger woman. That larger woman, who wasted money on a garment that worked on her body in theory but not in practice, is now pissed and a bit humiliated, and now might not buy the magazine or the book in the future, having had this unpleasant experience.

The sizes have become inclusive. How about making the models more inclusive as well? Just a few, maybe 10% or 25% of the garments in a book, in a magazine, or on a website, modeled in the medium and larger sizes offered in the patterns, would go along way towards making us knitters who are not size 0s or size 2s feel a lot more welcome.