Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To Swatch or Not to Swatch? That is the Question!

technically, this is not a swatch. it's a neck warmer we made on Monhegan Island last year. but it's smallish like a swatch and boy did i learn a LOT.

Hey Y'all,
Lisa recently took a little survey over at our FB page, asking: Who likes to learn new techniques by working on a project and who prefers swatches? This, in turn, leads me to ask you for your best swatch (or failure to swatch) stories. Back when I was strictly a garter-scarf knitter, swatching didn't matter. And even when I tentatively stepped into the world of patterns, there were definitely moments-- let's call them Lessons Learned the Hard Way Moments-- when I thought, "Swatch? Who needs to swatch?" So yeah, let's just say I wound up with some very interesting sizes in the end.

When I interviewed designer Deborah Newton for the Summer 2009 issue of Interweave KNITS, I remember her going on about how much she just loves swatching. At the time, her proclaimed love didn't really resonate for me-- I had learned to tolerate swatching, but love it? Really? Maybe something that factors into Deborah's love is that she does have a team of dedicated knitters who take her designs and swatches and crank out the prototypes. But I suspect that, more than this, she really just likes playing with little squares of textures and weights and colors and patterns. I try to bear her attitude in mind whenever it's time for me to make a swatch, to set aside whatever impatience I'm feeling to work on the actual project, and to just take my time and enjoy the preparation.

What about y'all-- did you ever ignore the advice to swatch and just dive into a sweater only to have it turn out eight sizes too big? Do you always swatch? Do you stick with projects that don't really require swatches? (I love making socks with yarn I know well, so I'm guaranteed that they will turn out the size I want w/o having to stop and swatch.)

Or maybe you just like swatching because.... well, because you've dedicated your life to only knitting swatches and nothing else. Can that be possible? I guess it could be-- you could eventually sew all the swatches together and make a sort of quilt. Hmm...

Please, your swatch tales-- share them!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Great Book: AlterKnits

When I'm not knitting, I like to read about knitting. Well, okay, I like to look at the pictures. I have amassed quite a library of knit books and magazines-- my coffee table is covered in them. Recently I came across AlterKNITS by Leigh Bradford and I am IN LOVE. Of course me being me-- those of you who know me know my tastes run toward the funky (to put it mildly)-- I think my favorite pattern is the one for knitted crowns (as in royalty, not teeth) made from paper-based fiber. But there are plenty of tamer, yet still very interesting, patterns in the book. And the layout and photos are divine.

Who knows if I'll ever get around to knitting anything in the book (I'm STILL working on that dang sweater I've been working on off-and-on for over a year now). But just looking through, I get ideas. And that, in turn, made me think about the Monhegan Retreat (not that I ever stop thinking about it-- FOUR MORE MONTHS AND COUNTING!). I love how, during the classes, I always wind up learning about-- and actually trying-- patterns and techniques I probably never would have encountered on my own. I still look at the amazing cabled neck warmer I made last fall on the island and it tickles me anew. And one of these days, I'm going to bust out that magic ball of yarn I wound from eighty billion different skeins (all sorts of colors and weights) and make a lace shawl. Me, in a funky lace shawl, wearing my knitted crown. I can't wait.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Knitting and Monogamy-- Do You Ever Cheat on Your Craft?


I also write about knitting for the Hill Country Weavers blog-- HCW is my local shop here in Austin. I spend a lot of time there since it's my happy place and I find that my blood pressure seems to simultaneously go both down and up when I walk in the door -- up because I get so excited being around all that yarn and down because being in the space calms me as much as it thrills me. I love taking classes at HCW when I can find the time. Mostly these are knitting classes but once I did take a basket weaving class. While I was quite pleased with the little basket I made, I remember feeling a little bit like I was cheating on my knitting as I worked on that project.

Well yesterday, I cheated again and took a fabric weaving class. I've been getting notices about these classes, which involve using a mini Cricket Loom, for a long time and finally could no longer resist. Suzanne, who owns HCW, bills the class as Weaving for Knitters and she's been telling all of us knit fiends that we will get totally sucked in by the Cricket. I think I had a fear of this-- just what I need another hobby when I already have a stash out the wazoo over here, a dozen or more items on my Must Knit in 2011 List.

I have to admit it, the Cricket is a whole lot of fun. It's a heckuva lot faster than knitting which means it can help you zip through your stash in no time. Excellent for those of us who need an excuse to build up the stash. (Wait, do any of us need an excuse beyond Wow, I love that yarn, give me 1500 yards of it now, please!) I'm actually impressed enough with the process and the results that I am considering getting a Flip Loom, which is as simple as the Cricket but are a little bigger so you can weave wider pieces of fabric to make shawls and blankets instead of just scarves. Don't worry, even if I do get a Flip, knitting will always be my first love. But if I do get my hands on one before the Monhegan trip, I'll bring it with me and lead all of you into temptation with it.

So, what about the rest of you? Are you polyamorous when it comes to your fiber arts? I do a bit of quilting, too-- though it takes me a year or more to finish even a really simple, sloppy quilt because I am always most wanting to work on my knitting. If you do engage in other crafts, I'd love to post some pictures of your work. For that matter, I'd love to post pictures of your latest knitting projects, too. You can email me at spikegillespie@gmail.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Survey That's (Sort of) About Continental Knitting (But Not Really. Really It's About Improved Eating Skills.)


So I'm not much of a continental style knitter. I took a mini-class in Fair Isle once and I did okay. The idea of continental makes sense to me and I vaguely vow one day to pick a project to work in continental, with the idea being I'll get faster. But to get faster, I would have to first go slower to learn to be comfortable with this style. And so every time I think, "Maybe this will be the project I do continental style," I almost immediately think, "Nah, I don't have time for this."

And yet... I still use both hands to knit. This makes me think that my left hand has become stronger over the years and more dextrous (<-- good word play, since dextrous is from the Latin root for right. Sinister, for those interested, comes from the Latin for left. Aren't you glad I studied Latin in high school so I can share these things?) Even if my stronger left hand isn't good for that many things-- as a rightie I still rely on my right hand for most stuff-- I did realize something. It seems to me that if I am, say, eating a basket of chips & salsa (which is like daily bread here in Texas) or perhaps stealing French fries from a friend's plate, not only am I able to do these things easily with my left hand, it's like I don't have to think about it at all. So I'm thinking, thanks to knitting, even if I can't knit fast I sure can eat a lot faster.

Anybody else out there notice you use your non-dominant hand more since you took up knitting? And, okay okay, I'll just go ahead and ask that age old series of questions:

Do you prefer continental knitting or not?
Do you think one way is faster?
Do you want to make fun of folks who don't knit the way you do?

Let us know!