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Newsletter - March 2012
We’re welcoming Spring with an addition to the Best Selling Patterns line up. It’s afghans and blankets, a category that we couldn’t include last month due to space considerations.
A valued customer, Nancy Olsen, is filling in as guest editor for the Collection of the Month with her Intelligent Design feature that focuses on her fondness for unusual construction.
Prime Minister's Choices
Speaking of interesting construction: if you love vests as much as we do, and ever run across any interesting DK, try this. You can have so much fun playing with colour and texture and the directionality of it, and it takes only 600 yds/549m of the main colour and 200 yds/183m of the contrast for the largest size.
This is made in two pieces-- you start at the cuff and work circularly to the armhole (complete with underarm gusset!), then flat-- shaping the fronts with wrapped short rows. You can graft or cast off the back pieces together. It's very cool, and flattering-- a great little cardi.
I buy whatever yarn I want for a hat, and then make them for any size of head exactly as this pattern teaches you to (I choose 7 wedges at the top). Some folks have a basic sock recipe. I make more hats than socks, and I use this pattern template more than anything else.
This top-down pattern is a standard the way that 'Stairway to Heaven' is. You know that sloppy bathrobe-comfy boughten cardigan you wear around the house when no one's looking? This is just as comfortable, only you'll look like a million bucks. Okey is curvy, and this design sets that off; if you're not, it will make you look curvy.
I’m always fascinated when a pattern with unusual construction appears from one of our designers.
Shawn Glidden has developed a new technique that’s the happy offspring of garter stitch and ribbing. Two different coloured yarns, solids or variegates, are alternated in Glidden’s method to create a plush, reversible fabric. The first in the series, Wrapped in Camel, is a rectangular bias knit shawl; Falling Leaves is graced with a short row shaped border of leaves; Anna Dorothy features the old favourite lace pattern, feather and fan. See Glidden’s full collection and check out her “knitting to metal” in From the Ambassador’s Desk.
Christiane Burkhard’s designs are always delightful surprises. Volan, inspired by Burkhard’s travels to the Czech Republic, features double shaped ruffles on both edges but requires neither picking up stitches nor short rows. Her yarn choice is two variegated fingering weights in the joyful colours of traditional Czech clothing. Volan is the Czech word for ruffle, presented here in the most sophisticated sense. Soaring eagles inspired Burkhard’s dramatic Under the Wings. I love the way your eye stops at the diamond shapes but is drawn outward to the wings by the curving border. Just imagine this in more subtle colours, too. See Burkhard’s full collection.
In this issue ...
From the Prime Minister's Desk
This month we offer a splendid juxtaposition of viewpoints. Star customer Nancy Olson's informed tastes celebrate flattering fit through non-standard construction; Karen Alfke's Unpatterns guide you through creating your own custom-tailored garments through more traditional silhouettes, top-down or bottom-up, as you prefer to work.
I first met Karen when she came to Toronto for the Vogue Knitting Canada 2008 tour, which turned out to be as much a revelation for me as for any of the attendees. I had the great pleasure of wearing Jared Flood's wonderful green VK cover mittens in a VK fashion show; at the lunch afterward, when Karen discovered that I'd founded Patternfish, she was innocently agog: “And you model, too?” The resulting laughter cemented a deep friendship right away. And then I was astounded at the quality of her Unpatterns.
Many knitters have only worked from standard commercial leaflets, and never tried working from the patterns of immensely accomplished independents. This is rather like following good cookbook recipes, but never having eaten the food of a master chef. It's an eye-opening experience. It can change your knitting life. I urge, beg, and beseech you to try it. Such designers/publishers as Lucy Neatby, Beth Brown-Reinsel, Ilga Leja, Dorothy Siemens, the Needle Arts Book Shop, and others write exceptional patterns for exceptional garments. They are more costly than others but you'll experience the worth in every line.
Karen's Unpatterns approach is a little more universal. She is essentially teaching you to ride different kinds of bicycles (the top-down raglan sweater bike, the set-in sleeve bottom-up pullover bike)-- but once you get it, you'll have that knowledge and confidence forever. And the Unpatterns are beautiful to look at, and delicious to read, too-- delicately witty-- in addition to being utterly informative.
How often have you spent money on a precious yarn? If you buy a precious pattern once, you can make much better use of your time, money, and materials ever after. Seen in that light, it's practically a moral imperative. Go get 'em, tigers.
Charity Selection by the Designer of the Month
Karen Alfke has chosen CARE as the charity that will receive contributions based on the sales of her designs during the period of the March newsletter. Here’s why Karen chose CARE.
“I can't think of a more fitting charity than CARE. My mother, and her two younger sisters, were fed and kept healthy by the CARE packages dropped off in NW Germany after the Allieds moved in. My mother has funny stories about chocolate bars given to her and her sisters by American troops (they shamelessly sent over their youngest sister, the one with all the sweet blonde curls, to get bars from the soldiers on the trains). Were it not for the "Karrée Paketen" that CARE dropped off in Germany after the collapse of the Nazi party, my relatives would not have been sustained during the lean years after the war... and I might never have learned to knit and make sweaters the way my aunt does. I love it when things come full circle.”
We are particularly pleased to be featuring CARE just when the organization is reintroducing CARE packages and is emphasizing empowering women in its programs.
Designer of the Month:
Alfke leads the knitter step-by-step through each of her Unpatterns with care, clarity, wisdom, and unfailing good humour. Ambitious beginners will be delighted; it’s as if there’s a teacher right in the room with you. More experienced knitters will revel in the knitting wisdom and simplicity; there’s always something new to be learned. See all of the Unpattern collection here.
Patterns on Alfke’s other knitting label, 2nd Nature Designs, do include instructions written in her empowering and engaging way. They demonstrate her fascination with exploring not only knitted shapes but also the way yarns change with different stitch patterns.
See the 2nd Nature Design patterns here.
Karen Alfke tells us more.
When did you start knitting and who taught you? I must have done some needlework as a child (I remember one particularly tortured and torqued needlepoint canvas involving a teddy bear), but I didn’t really take to knitting until the year after high school, when I went to live with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Northern Germany. I also learned how to knit socks after inheriting hand-me-downs from a cousin. That pair would last me over twenty years – I still show them off in sock classes as a testimonial to the robustness of hand-knit socks. My aunt’s basic sock ‘recipe’ later became the foundation for my Unpattern Cuff-Down Socks.
How would you describe the way you knit? Intuitively…? It seems like I’ve always understood the logic of knitted fabric and how to manipulate rows and stitches to make the shapes I want. My main aim with my patterns and teaching is to help knitters become more confident and independent with their knitting.
Which is your favourite design? My Linen-Stitch Faroese Shawl is a favorite of mine. I knit the prototype on vacation one summer in Provence, long before I ever thought of publishing. So it’s a great reminder of a fabulous vacation! Finalizing the pattern came nearly ten years later. The finished design really showcases what linen stitch can do with hand-painted yarns. Most knitters don’t believe me when I tell them that it’s sock yarn worked on size US 13/9mm needles.
Which is your customers’ favourite design? Far and away my biggest-selling design is the Unpattern Raglan Pullover from the Top Down. It grows easily from the cast-on edge with a standard set of increases and it’s possible to tailor the fit exactly at the most crucial point in the sweater: the underarm. All the complicated shaping is done up front, so the rest of the knitting is easy. This is the silhouette I’ve made most for myself.
What inspires you? What are you passionate about? Seeing a knitter finish a garment and wear it is a constant source of joy for me. I love witnessing the gain in confidence that comes with expanding knitting skills. I am passionate about making more independent knitters: there is so little about our craft that is mysterious; no knitter should be afraid of their knitting! Rows can be taken out, stitches dropped down and fixed.
I love helping knitters learn to ‘read’ their knitting and realize that they can tailor a garment to fit them properly or generate their own design for a basic, wardrobe-staple sweater!
Do you teach? I started teaching at my local yarn shop over ten years ago and am still teaching weekly. I hold regular knitting circles as well as project-based classes at Churchmouse where my unofficial title is ‘Dean of Education.’ I love to teach knitting – it’s really one of the things I feel I was born to do. I come from a family of teachers, and I love teaching knitters how to better understand their knitting. The ‘aha’ moment when they come to see how something works is the best feeling.
Which designers do you admire? I have to admit that I have a bit of a crush on Kate Gilbert – her designs are so innovative, yet simple! Every time I see a pattern that makes me say “I wish I’d thought of that!” it’s one of hers. And the fact that Jared Flood has accomplished all he has in the last few years is truly staggering. He’s a talented designer, photographer, businessman, and a very patient teacher to boot.
Describe your perfect day. It would begin, as all my days must, with coffee. Mornings are my favorite time to walk with the dog and perhaps go for a run. Before and after lunch, I would be ensconced on the couch, knitting on my current project (one of about twelve, if I’m honest). A bit of afternoon tea, a walk to the corner store for provisions for dinner, and then knitting and movies into the evening. A perfect day is a quiet one at home with my fellas, and that’s the way I like it.
In what ways do you spend your time that would surprise people? It might surprise people, because it surprises me, that I’m a marathon runner. I’d never thought of myself as an athlete – my mother was the runner in our family – but then I set myself the personal challenge of doing a mini-triathlon a few years ago when I lost a bit of weight. And to my surprise, the running portion of the triathlon turned out to be my favorite. I’ve run two marathons so far: Seattle and Chicago.
Where do you think the knitting/crochet/fibre world will be in 10 years? I love seeing how technology is coming to the aid of knitters. It’s been helping us come closer and share information. The growth of Ravelry is testament to that.
As a child of Silicon Valley, I am happy to see knitters embracing downloads as their format of choice – as a publisher, it’s reassuring to know that I can fix errata and make a fully-corrected pattern available with a few clicks of the keyboard. And I know from first-hand experience in my work at a LYS that it’s impossible for a shop to carry every pattern their customers might be interested in.
Do you have any new plans for your business? I’m developing a line of garment patterns for 2nd Nature that will work a bit like ‘Unpatterns Light’ – simple silhouettes, worked up over a variety of gauges, in a broad range of sizes. I’d like to provide a set of tools for shops that allow their customers to fall in love with a yarn and be able to choose a simple silhouette to match.
How did decide to list your patterns with Patternfish? I was headed to Canada on the Vogue Knitting tour in 2008 when the Canadian focus issue of VK came out – where the concept of Patternfish was discussed. I was intrigued, because knitters were beginning to contact me from overseas, wanting to know if I had a way to provide access to Unpatterns that didn’t involve cost-prohibitive shipping. I had the good fortune to meet Julia at the DKC fashion show on that trip, and once she’d laid out for me how Patternfish worked, I was convinced that this was exactly the platform I was looking for. My Unpatterns and 2nd Nature patterns have been web-exclusive on Patternfish ever since. I admire the integrity of the vision behind Patternfish, and am so happy to have my patterns available to knitters here.
See all of Karen Alfke’s patterns here.
Best Selling Designs
The response to February’s newsletter featuring our best selling designs was so positive that we’ve decided to include an omitted category. If there’s a particular "best sellers" collection you’d like to see let us know.
Afghans and Blankets (see photos of the Full Collection)is a category we omitted last month due to space considerations, not because they aren’t on our personal ‘to do’ list at least once a year. Here they are.
The best seller is Mary White’s Fluidity, a design that comfortably fits a baby or your shoulders, sofa or dining room table depending on the yarn choice. Another of the top 10 designs is also from Ms. White, the Hemlock Ring Tablecloth or Blanket, an equally adaptable design.
Val Love’s Three Reversible Afghans are the last word in cozy and easy to knit and are especially attractive to those insistent on reversible patterns.
Annie Dempsey’s Curlicue Coverlet is a compelling design that elicits gasps of awe from knitters and non-knitters alike.
Veronik Avery modeled her Bear Claw Blanket on the famous quilt pattern and rendered it flawlessly, as is her custom.
Luise O’Neill’s Squares in Squares from Impeccable Knits lets you knit ‘til you run out of yarn and her Blue-muda Triangle Blanket makes a cushy afghan or lap blanket. Lucy Neatby’s Infinite Entrelac and Cabin Fever’s sweet Homecoming Layette complete the varied best selling afghan and blanket collection.
Our Newest Designers and Publishers
In February we welcomed seven new designers.
Barbara Pott debuts with her magnificent Celtic Maple Cape, a stunning design celebrating Pott’s interest in Celtic designs and trees. See her full collection including two pillows inspired by oak and rowan trees that could very well become family heirlooms along with the cape.
Mia Rinde debuts with her Orchid Shawl, inspired by the lace stitch known as water lily, but looking much more like an orchid to Rinde. She provides variations for lace and fingering weight yarns and beading, should you wish to sparkle in your Orchid.
The celebrated freelance designer Diane Zangl joins Patternfish, publishing under her Stitch Witch Designs label. Her first Patternfish design is her Window Pane Gansey, a decidedly masculine pullover featuring an innovative S cable running over the check. Fun for the knitter, not too fussy for the recipient.
Adriana Hernandez debuts with her gorgeous fair isle Hopi Mittens, Norwegian style mittens with Hopi-inspired Fair-isle motif and two color ribbing. It’s a fresh take on a traditional concept.
Louise Lamarche joins Patternfish with her Marrakesh Tote, a stylish and durable mosaic knit bag for just about anything you'd want to carry.
Anastacia Zittel joins Patternfish with her simple to crochet Anika vest made here in a 3 season cotton and wool blend yarn. It’s a useful piece in any closet, speedy to work, and sized from 33” to 60” chest.
Cheri Christian’s c2knits design objective is to provide “modern design with the simplicity of topdown, seamless knitting”. Abigail can be a pullover; sew the fronts together and add a big, beautiful button, or a cardigan; add a shawl pin.
Each c2knits design invites you to meet a dog, Abigail the basset hound in this case. Cheri tells me that this practice began with her first two designs, beaded bags, named after her own dogs. Dog owners loved the idea and it just blossomed. Her patterns now feature canine pals from all over the world.
Collection of the Month
We thought it would be fun to ask one of our valued purchasers to share her favourite Patternfish designs. Nancy Olson has a very particular take on knitting design; she values unusual construction methods and shapes that flatter the body. Here’s her collection and knitting story “Intelligent Design”.
I learned to knit from a neighbor when I was ten. My first project, a top-down raglan, was too much for me then (I still have the frogged yarn!). In college I learned to hold the yarn in my left hand--I thought I might prefer this and I did. Soon I found Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Without Tears and Woolgathering newsletter. In November 198I I wrote EZ to describe my method of knitting the shoulders together--here's her reply:
“Thank you so much for your unvention of the knit-together shoulder. No, I've never done it although somewhere in the back of my mind there sticks a memory of it. Having hunted through Mary Thomas and Barbara Abbey without success, I now concede it to you. The Nancy Olson Casting Off, and as this it shall be enshrined in my scrapbook, if you don't mind.... THANK YOU, and Good Knitting. (There's just no end to it, is there?)”
Of course, as EZ surely knew, I was neither the first nor the last to "unvent" a three needle bind-off!
Much as I love knitting I've gone long stretches without. I picked up the needles a few years ago when my book group became a knitting group. There's never been a better time to be a knitter--such wealth of information, patterns, fiber, and creativity.
I like collecting, combining, and learning from patterns. My Mom didn't knit but she taught origami--perhaps that's why I'm drawn to unusual methods of garment construction and Japanese patterns. Other likes: asymmetry, working from charts, circular knitting, selvedge stitches, garter welts and moebius knitting (thank you Cat Bordhi).
Here are some Patternfish favorites: I can't get enough of Perl Grey. Make Lu! I added selvedge stitches to finish the edges. On Kim, note the split front, shawl collar, and placement of sleeve decreases. As for Emma, Patternfish says it best: "an almost disturbing sexiness." Muffet has clever sideways construction, and the wide belt is also a muff! I love Hazel’s 3/4 sleeves, stitch pattern, and sideways construction.
This Lacy Shrug from Sirdar has clever construction and a lovely drape. I'm drawn to the elegance of Sally Melville’s Crossover Rib Top. I love the yarn mix and unusual construction of Jo Sharp’s Origami Bolero. For the Twisted Drop Stitch Cardi I made the body in one piece with smaller needles, adjusting garment dimensions to my gauge.
I favor cables that depart from the columnar format into something freeform, such as Cables After Whiskey from Lucy Neatby--the mother lode of this concept? Or Ebb Tide from Dan Doh--lovely asymmetry--these cables remind me of sand dunes and moss gardens. The Lavish Scarf from Classic Elite Yarns--vertebral! Carol Sunday’s Adam’s Ribs takes ribbing, not cables, to related and lovely effect.
Good Knitting to All from Nancy Olson
From the Ambassador's Desk
- Gayle Clow
When I was investigating Shawn Glidden’s innovative designs for the Editor’s Choice feature, I discovered her ‘knitting to metal’ project. Glidden joined one of her artist sisters’ metal pour projects using one of her own media, knitting stitches. When I saw the photo, my immediate thought was how cool earrings made of this would be, an idea that was quashed by the news that this piece weighs 3 pounds. A paperweight, perhaps? Shawn thought maybe she could try a pendant or lapel pin using a finer fibre than the clothesline weight you see here. If Shawn finds a way to create wearable art in this medium, I’ll report it here.