Wednesday, May 30, 2012


So I had to go get a CT scan today, and it was the kind where you drink the Barium "milkshake". (Thankfully there is no "milk" in the shake, or my lactose intolerance would be another story!)  DH and I went in early in the morning, and I started drinking it immediately, on an empty stomach, with toothpaste flavor still in my mouth.  They informed us that 60 minutes after I finshed the stuff, then they could do the test.

I sat drinking the soupy goop, and with every sip it seemed to taste a little more unpleasant.  As I polished off the last of the first bottle, I involuntarily made a face and shook my head.  Everyone in the waiting room started laughing at me!  Glad I could entertain them at 7:15 in the morning.

Then I pulled out my knitting, and worked on the Rhinebeck Mitten KAL.  Naturally, they came out and called my name right in the beginning of the cables - !  And yes, another funny face.  I know this from the expression on my husband's face at the time.  I finished my row, and went off to the test.

After 40 minutes of several nurses trying to find a vein to pump some more meds into me, an older nurse with an assured confidence came in and put on the tourniquet.  She hit the vein on the first try, and smiled at the nurses who hadn't succeeded. 

"What's your name again, Dear?" she asked me.

"Liz Marino.  Frustrating nurses since 1966." I answered.

You guessed it - more laughing.  Glad to oblige.  Now could we please get on with the test?  Oh, sure.  It took 9 minutes.  Yep, 9.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Recent News

I spent Saturday and Sunday at the Great Lakes Fiber Show in Wooster, OH.  What a nice show!  I was impressed by the caliber of the vendors, the quality of the organizers, and the class offerings.  The students were cool, and we had a great time.  It's a lovely show I would be happy to do again.  And though it was incredibly difficult, I restrained myself and only purchased 600 yards of alpaca.  I could easily spend all of every paycheck shopping indie dyers' and hand-spinners' wares!

I would not be happy to stay in my hotel again.  A lot of door slamming kept me from sleeping - the doors are on some pneumatic door closing arms so all the doors always slam - as did folks thundering up and down the stairs.  The tub was dirty (showered in my Tevas), and the shower head was positioned at shoulder level, requiring contortions to get my head wet and hair rinsed.  Bleck.

The Rhinebeck Mitten KAL is steaming along nicely with about 32 participants that I know of.  Stephanie at Dirty Water Dyeworks as joined in, and posted a lovely photo on her blog.  I haven't heard from her exactly which of her yarns it is, but I suspect it's DYD Edna (or Julia).  And the color she chose is my absolute favorite color in the world.  (Click the link to see!) I can't wait to see her finished project!

I'm typing along on two new classes, which keeps me in the AC while it's really hot and muggy outside, and it makes my allergies a little easier to take.  I look forward to the pollen abating some so I can knit class samples outside - one of the lazy joys of summer.  I'll need to find some folks to sit through a test class to see where the holes in my presentation are... 

Happy Memorial Day weekend, my friends.  Enjoy, and knit well!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thoughts on Pattern "Sharing"

Have you ever worked a pattern and had a friend want to borrow it?  Did you loan it to them?  Have you ever borrowed a written pattern?

Have you ever asked your LYS to photocopy a pattern from a book for you?  Did they do it?

Have you ever distributed a pattern to a group of people?  Did they pay the author for the pattern?

Who does it really hurt to copy a pattern for a friend?

It hurts me.  Please try to understand.  I'm thrilled that folks like my work enough to want to use it, don't get me wrong. But how many people would work without pay? And do good work without pay? And be patient while they were stolen from? Even when it's "just a pattern"? This is how I feed my kids...

Many designers, myself included, have a variety of both free and for-purchase patterns out there in the world.  We get paid very little for patterns published in magazines ($50 -$200 is standard) and get no royalties.  We make our money in very small chunks at a time.

Why do we publish free patterns?  Because we are knitters, and we know that budget is often a big consideration.  And if you try a free pattern of ours and like it, you're more likely to buy one from us later.  What keeps the lights on is the patterns we are paid for.  How do you decide when it goes from sharing to stealing?  You might be surprised at the answer.

Patterns in books and magazines are not supposed to be photocopied and shared or distributed based on copyright laws.  What if you photocopy the pattern for yourself so there's a more portable copy?  No problem if you are the owner of the book.  Legal sharing of the pattern with another person means loaning out your book or magazine.  Or it means directing them to the bookstore or LYS.  Ask if your local library has the book.  Any giving away or selling the pattern without consent of the author is stealing.

It sounds a little severe, doesn't it?  Consider this.  Most patterns available online or as print singles cost between 2-6 US dollars.  Imagine your rent or mortgage payment.  How many patterns would you have to sell to make that work? 

Don't misunderstand me.  I love my work.  I went into this knowing that it doesn't come with a guaranteed salary and a 401k.  It's just that for some reason, everyone wants beautiful patterns that are perfectly written, and don't want to pay for the time and expertise it takes to make that happen.

It takes me, on average, 10-40 hours to make a pattern that is charted, written, photographed, technically correct, and uploaded.  At maximum speed, I'm turning out about 8 patterns per month, and that's rare.  I teach 1-8 classes per month.  I usually get 1/2 the class fee, and have to cover my own travel, lodging, and food expenses.

I'm told that I shouldn't worry, because "everybody else" is paying for my patterns.  Just a reminder: you and your friends are "everybody else" to everybody else.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Great Lakes Fiber Festival

I'm off to teach the Great Lakes Fiber Festival in Wooster OH next weekend, and I'm in a nice position.  I'll have a few hours free each day to visit the festival, and a few hours teaching.  I love teaching all day, but it's nice to be able to attend the festival part, too.

So what happens at a festival?  If you've never been, here are some festival basics:

Usually you'll arrive in a setting like a county fair site, or a larger public park.  There will be dozens (or hundreds) of vendor booths set up, sometimes inside large enclosures but often outside like a street fair.

The vendors are often small-batch artisans with hand-made wares you'll never see anywhere else.  There will be hand spun yarns, hand-dyed yarns, hand-knit finished products, hand-turned wooden knitting needles, a variety of hand-made wooden fiber craft implements like niddy-noddys and spindles, hand-made buttons and shawl closures...  The work is usually spectacular, and I always take tons of photos and business cards from everybody.  It's nice to follow up with folks on Twitter or their websites to see what they're doing next!

The vendors will be dotted with folks who make non-fiber things, like soaps and lotions, artisan papers, and sometimes artisan foods and wines.  All those crafty people tend to know each other, and they spur each other in new creative directions.  (More photos and business cards.) Very cool.

There are usually some free public events: a lecture or how-to workshop, live music, sheepdog demonstrations or competitions, or a charity auction. I try to attend the things I know the least about, but I'm also a sucker for the dogs.  How they are trained to do so many things so well is a mystery to me.  (My dog is 6, and still hasn't mastered coming to me if he can see a squirrel.)

At most of these events there are skill-building classes, and I usually am teaching at the festivals I attend. Other classes usually include spinning techniques, various styles of dyeing, crocheting, pattern design, needle felting, and more.  Many instructors travel long distances to offer classes not usually available at your Local Yarn Shops, making these events a unique opportunity for learning.

Book-signings are fairly frequent, and giveaways of books, patterns, yarns, and tools keep things interesting.

I know, now you want to go to one right now!  Where are they?  Clara Parkes of Knitter's Review maintains a pretty thorough list on her site.  Find it here.  Bring: money, your camera, a tote bag to carry your cool new stuff, comfy shoes, sunscreen, and maybe a couple of patterns you've been wanting to match with the perfect yarn.  If you're a fiber artist, bring lots of your own cards and give them to everyone whose cards you take.  Take out or leftovers for dinner will get you off your tired feet sooner - the better to play with your new acquisitions!  Enjoy.  And I hope to see you at a festival soon!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stuff to do...

There's always knitting work to do.  It's usually fun work - it keeps me busy - but ultimately it is work.  It's important to do it well, and the details can become tedious.

1) Finish pattern for June Gift Knit Kit Club.  Get pattern to sample knitter.  Encourage sample knitter to finish on time.  She eats really healthy, so I can't bait her with M&Ms or doughnuts, which works for my kids.  I have to provide motivation, not incentive.

2) Create packets for classes in Wooster, OH on Memorial Day weekend.  LOTs of copies, collated into packets.

3) Finish Rhinebeck 2012 Mittens, move on to Rhinebeck 2012 Socks.  Get sock sample back from sample knitter; adjust pattern as necessary.

4) Finish up sample Rhinebeck 2012 Mittens.  Take pics and post on Ravelry KAL.  Keep posting KAL clues and support.

5) Create June kits, including yarn, instructions, etc.  Ship Gift Knit Kit Club kits for June.

6) Submit book proposal to publisher.  Now that original manuscript is where I want it, it's time to work with a publisher who's excited about it.

7) Respond to podcast guest request.  Unfortunately conflicts with a teaching date.  Maybe we can reschedule.

8) Write blog post.  Three times or more per week.  Original content.  Avoid writer's block.

9) Finish pattern design for Rhinebeck 2012 hat.  Begin swatching sample.

10) And so on.  And none of this includes knitting for fun, or designing for magazine deadlines, or managing contests and giveaways on my FB and Twitter pages.  Or my recent spate of making T-shirt yarns for placemats for my home.  Or writing new classes. 

I like my knitting life.  I'm surprised, now that knitting is my full-time life, that it keeps me busy so much more than full time!  As I tell my girlfriends, the BIG money is in folk music, but knitting is a close second.  OK, not really.  But with all this work to do, who has time for a straight job?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Knitting with Children

Have you ever tried to teach a child to knit? 

If you're picturing it being like trying to wrangle a wet cat back into the tub, stop.  It's nowhere near as dangerous or noisy.  Or wet, for that matter.  Messy, yes.  I've seen knots created that would do the most talented sailor or Boy Scout proud.  And like so many things with children, their attention will drift in and out.  But it's fun!  And for me, it makes me appreciate the patience shown me by my grandmas and mother while I was learning to knit.

One little girl I worked with wanted to make a blanket for her Barbie doll.  This seemed like an ideal project for the 6 year old knitter.  I cast on for her, and taught her the knit stitch.  She did it for a row or two, very slowly and deliberately.  Then she decided to "invent" her own stitch.  It was hilarious, and very involved.  (As I recall, it involved taking the yarn off the needles and using fingers for a minute.) We left her original stitch in the "blanket", and went back to knit stitch for awhile.  Soon enough she was inventing again.  Goofy-ness ensued.  I never did see the finished product, but two years later, she still considers herself a knitter.  Good stuff!

I've also taught two of my three daughters to knit, and they have invented creations for their own toys, and accessories for themselves.  Both prefer yarns with glitter or metallic elements in them.  Maybe the intrepid and colorful Colleen is rubbing off on them.  Neither are devoted knitters, and I'm fine with that.  I wasn't devoted at that age, either.  They look at it as a fun thing they did.  But the fact that I learned very young gave me the confidence to go back to it over the years.  If I could do it at 7, I could surely do it at 16, ditto 18, etc.  When they want to, they can come back to it without worry.

Every time I teach anyone to knit, I learn something about them, and something about knitting.  It seems everyone's reason for wanting to learn is different.  Maybe their Grandma knits.  Or they want to create something with their own hands to give to a loved one.  Maybe they're ill, and need something creative to do while recovering from illness or surgery.  The different perspectives always move me, and remind me that knitting means something unique to the soul of each knitter.

My favorites are always the children, though.  Their creativity isn't limited by patterns, available yarn, budget, or even basic physics.  They just think in terms of "wouldn't it be cool if?"  They want to knit because they want to produce things that express themselves, much like they color with crayons and model with clay. 

I'm looking for a project where I can knit with kids.  My daughter's third grade class had a "craft day" in which I taught 15 kids to knit.  Incredibly fun!  Sticky - I think there were cupcakes involved - but fun.  Maybe a summer camp craft project.  I'll think of something.  Do you knit with kids?  In what way?  Any finished projects you'd like to share?  I'd love to see.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Learning Through Error and Error

I love my children.  Each of the four is an individual in their own right.  Three of the four have a learning characteristic I would change if I could, though.  Three of them seem biologically incapable of learning from someone else's mistakes.  They have to make every mistake themselves in order to learn it is a mistake. 

This is not what I would hope for - I would love to save them the skinned elbows and knees this learning style brings.  But giving it a bit more thought, I've realized just about every knitter I know learns the same way.  And in building skills as a knitter, mistakes are invaluable.

The only way to learn to pick up a dropped stitch is to do it.  Several times.  From the right and wrong side of the work.  Once you get that, you don't have to rip back when you discover a mistake in your knitting a few rows back.  Just drop the stitches above the error all the way down to the affected row, fix it, and pick the stitches back up again.  Most knitters only develop this skill out of necessity.  We learn it when we're in despair over having to rip back a project with really long rows or a very busy pattern, and we just can't face doing the ripping.  Then we pull out a book or a magazine or a web page, and start learning to pick up a stitch.

I learned (the hard way) that my gauge changes dramatically when the home team is losing the game I'm watching on TV.  I can handle movies and news casts, but watching the Yankees score on the Red Sox will tighten my gauge like nobodies business.  Good to know. 

Holding your cable needle to the wrong side from what the directions say will not result in the cable you're trying to make.  It will make something interesting, but not the original pattern.  Making your first stitch on each needle loose in the round will lead to unattractive ladders.  Making that same stitch very tight will make it hard to move your work along the needle.  No yarn is colorfast until proven to be so.  Ribbing knit in cotton is not very elastic.  Knitting needles labeled as the same size may measure very differently through a gauge finder, so they only match if they were bought together, or have been measured to match. 

I know that the list above won't teach most knitters anything.  Mistakes like these are much more instructive in the doing than in blog notes.  But if you've made these mistakes, too, then you've smiled and nodded several times reading this.  You know better now.  I'm cautiously excited to see what my next mistake is!   

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Make Friends With Blocking Your Work

There are things experienced knitters do that newer knitters don't, and they make the knitting look much better.  Among them are ripping back, gauge swatching, knitting flat pieces on circular needles, and blocking, just for starters.

Today let's look at blocking.  (Specifically spray blocking.  We'll cover others on another day.)  What is it?  It's the process whereby your finished knitted work is smoothed out and set into the shape and dimensions specified by the pattern.  Look at the hat below.
I designed this pattern based on thistles that grow outside in my yard.  The pattern is achieved by using a variety of cable techniques.  The characteristic beret/tam shape is achieved by both the knitting pattern and the blocking.  Before blocking, this looked like a wrinkly gnome hat.  The pattern was un-recognizable, and the shape was more like a Hershey's Kiss.  The decreases to make the circle nearly always want to be a point, and this hat was no exception.  How to make the pointy FO into the tam in the pattern photo?

Blocking to the rescue!  (Spray blocking, that is.)  This blocking was achieved by locating a plate with the same diameter as the finished hat was supposed to have.  The finished hat was sprayed down with a water bottle until evenly damp.  The plate was inserted into the hat, causing it to stretch by about an inch all directions.  This is about right for a cabled pattern, as they need to stretch a bit more than flat patterns to lay properly.  The hat was then shaped around the plate to make sure that the thistle pattern in each panel opened up evenly.  The plate was balanced on a cereal bowl which allowed us to smooth out the ribbing on the bottom of the hat.  Then the hat was allowed to dry.

Now that the hat is dry after blocking, it always looks like a tam, and never reverts to the funny looking thing it was when it came off the needles. 

Remember, this hat was knit by an expert knitter.  Even so, it looked nothing like the photo when it came off the needles.  Nothing was done wrong; it's just a fact that most patterns require blocking to look their best.  It is really the knitting equivalent of ironing.

Knitters come into the shop all the time with a finished piece of knitting complaining that that pattern "didn't work" because though they followed the directions, the garment looks all wrong.  And they MaryAnn (the shop owner) blocks the garment.  The knitter is always amazed!  They fall in love with their project all over again. 

Blocking will not correct all sins.  It will even out the occasional loose stitch, make matching up seams much easier, allow lace to be lacey (not lumpy), and even help your garment wear better and last longer.  Try it.  After all the time and effort you put into knitting your project, don't you want it to look its best?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lovely Freebie Shrug

The shrug at left is a very pretty, fairly uncomplicated piece that I would love to make in a spring palette.  I can see it in a sage green in silk and linen blend.  I'd love to see it in off white in a bamboo or tencel blend.  In the right colors and fibers, you could enjoy making this pattern for any season.

It gets even better!  It knits up on a US 9 needle, making it quick.  It has a 12 row pattern repeat, but all the even rows are purl rows, so it's really only 6 rows to remember.  It's knit cuff to cuff, which is a little unusual and will be fun if you always knit bottom up.  Go get it!   From our friends at Red Heart Yarns.  Open Front Shrug

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Updated Kit Projects

The original proposal for the Gift Knit Kit Club 2nd Edition was:

July: Easy Lacey Ladies' Socks
August: Coveted Mittens (Ladies)
September: Warming William Hat (men's)
October: Nordic Socks (men's or women's)
November: Alpine Heirloom Mittens (men's or women's)
December: Alpine Heirloom Ski Cap (men's or women's) [Will coordinate with November project]
After feedback on Twitter, Facebook, this blog, and email, I've learned that some of our members would like more warm weather projects, while others are happy to hear we'll be doing more wintry projects.  I'm trying to give everyone most of what they want, and of course that's a challenge.

The schedule has been amended:

July: Easy Lacey Ladies' Socks
August:  Alpine Heirloom Mittens (men's or women's)
September:  Alpine Heirloom Ski Cap (men's or women's)
October:  Holiday Stocking
November:  Special Occasion Placemats/table runner
December:  Cables and Lace Toe-up Socks

This should allow for more flexibility, in that only two projects are distinctly cold weather oriented.  People in all climates need socks, and Holiday Stockings and table runners look similar everywhere you go.  Let me know what you think.  I'd like to open the club in the next week or so.  Thanks!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Borrow Leftovers From Friends

Borrow leftover yarn from friends to swatch with. You may find a new favorite yarn, or learn to avoid one you've always wanted to try.

Example:  One of the yarns I love is Scheaffer Nichole Sock Yarn.  In general, my socks don't take up all the yarn in a skein, and leave a little ball of about two and a half to three grams.  This is a good size for swatching.

My girlfriend Rosemary knits socks, but has never tried Nichole.  This is a perfect opportunity for her to try this yarn without spending $26 for the whole skein.  She can knit up a swatch of her favorite pattern and see if she enjoys knitting with it as much as I do.  If she does, great.  If not, it cost her nothing to try it.

The cool part, though, is if she hates it.  Really.  When you leaf through the knitting magazines and are thrilled by the look of a yarn, and the projects they show made from it, you have no idea what that yarn will be like to use.  If your LYS doesn't carry it, you can't even feel it in the skein.  If you're anything like me, you'll be tempted to order it online, and you'll order enough to complete your project.  This can be quite a hefty investment, plus shipping and handling.

The yarn arrives, and you start swatching for your project.  The yarn splits and snags.  You change to needles with softer points, but now you're dropping stitches.  You finally finish your swatch, launder it, and discover that the color runs all over the place.  When it's dry, you see that it has pilled slightly.  There is no returning the skein you've swatched with, and now you're sure you don't want to waste any more time with this yarn. 

What to do with the leftovers?  Foist them on another unsuspecting knitter?  Return them, paying postage and possibly a "restocking" fee?  Put them in the stash and hope someday you'll have the patience to fight with this yarn?  No.  This is where swatching with freebies from friends would have saved you time and money.  You'd know before you spent the money. 

Make a little list with two or three headings: Like, Love, Hate.  If you don't want to use the yarn ever, put the vital stats in the Hate column.  (Maker, fiber name).  You can be sure you'll never use it again.  If you love it, put the stats in the Love column.  You can use the identical yarn.  If you Like it, put all the info on the label in the Like column.  It will help you develop an understanding of which yarn characteristics work best for you.  Your like list will develop some clear patterns, whether by weight, fiber, manufacturer, loft, or twist.  Knowing what you like will become more intuitive as your list emerges.

And that leftover yarn?  Give it to a daycare or kindergarten to use during arts and crafts time.  It will make great hair on some body's macaroni art.