Friday, February 27, 2009

Sutton Foo

It's coming along - it's exciting!

And, yes, to answer a comment it IS mohair.

As I'd mentioned earlier, this yarn is very inspiring to me, so it's what I'm using to work up this pattern. You don't go looking for inspiration - sometimes it just finds you!

I'd had this project in the back of my mind for years, but I hadn't even included it in my original list of projects for the book because I hadn't felt the inspiration to start it. When I received the Mohair Splash from Artyarns it was the kick in the pants I needed for this specific project.

Will I quibble that the yarn isn't perfect? No. Perfect should not be the enemy of good.

As I also mentioned, I'll be working up another one of these masks in a smoother yarn - perhaps a sock yarn - to double check the pattern and stitch definition.

Just because I work up a sample in one yarn doesn't mean that everyone who knits this must use the same yarn.

For instance, I am allergic to angora. When I knit with it, I can't breathe.

However, I design angora sweaters. I just make sure that other folks knit them.

If I see a pattern for an angora sweater that I'd like to make, I would use a different yarn. So if this mask is intruiging, and if you don't like mohair close to your face, my suggestion would be a different yarn might work best.

You wouldn't tell a chef who is developing a peanut butter cookie recipe, "You know, some folks are allergic to peanut butter..."

It's a true statement, but it shouldn't prevent the inspiration of the chef. Besides, perhaps one of those allergic folks might take the recipe and rework it using almond butter, or soy butter...

Trying to be all things to all people doesn't make us better, it just makes us crazy.

Inspiration isn't always perfect - it's just - inspiring!

I've added some stuff to my sidebar - an agenda calendar of my upcoming teaching venues and my twitter / newsletter / rss feeds in better places.

I'm trying to embrace the marketing goddess within me...

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sutton Hoo-Be-Doo!

The face of the Sutton Hoo mask is coming along well -

I see things about it I'll be changing in the next go-round (the chin's not long enough, the mouth may be too wide, the nose is too small and upturned) but overall I'm very happy with how it's seeming.

As I write a pattern I usually take my notes in chart format - it's the best way for me to visualize later exactly WHAT I was thinking when I did certain stuff, a way to move from the visual of knitting to the visual of a chart (and vice versa) without needing to translate it into words - which can mean different things depending on my mood or what I had for dinner.

Anyone who's read more than one pattern - and especially those who tech edit them - can understand that there are dozens of ways to write the same technique out in words.

And while it's true that there are also many ways to approach a chart, especially in patterns where increases and decreases happen within a portion of the fabric, once I have the fabric represented in a symbolic way I can generally see the changes I want to make more easily.

Here's the start of the chart for this, my working model. The final won't look like this, I'll have to find a way to abbreviate it (perhaps only showing one side?) because it could take up several pages as it's written now. So enjoy the work in progress!

I'm nearing the point where I'll set the face aside and work on the sides and back of the helmet, then join them all together to work the head. It is hands-down the most exciting thing happening here outside of the 10" of snow we're expecting today...

I'm loving the yarn I'm using - Artyarns Mohair Splash - it's hard to capture in photos how well suited it is to the feeling of the piece.

When I create an unusual piece like this I generally work it out several times in various yarns to double/triple check whether it's a good idea. I think my second pass on this will be in a light worsted weight - maybe something like Hand Maiden Casbah - which will make the stitch definition stand out better for photograhy.

The Lux yarn arrived yesterday from Buffalo Gold for the Chiton - man, this is some LOVELY yarn!

The color selection is limited, but very nice - I'm using the lightest color, natural, but they sent a few skeins of other colors for me to swatch. I'll be rolling it and sending it to my knitter today.

It was in the high 30's, so when Hannah got home from school yesterday we got out the bikes and rode to the Yarnery because I felt the need to look at a wall of yarn (I bought some Clyde from Louet to swatch up for a future project - I know I could get a swatching ball from the company, but when I see the color I need for swatching I can't hold myself back...)

Then over to Bread and Chocolate for an after-school snack, and to the Bead Monkey where I bought some stunning beads to add to the Lux for the Chiton. They're needed to add weight and drape. (Grad school flashback: often drapery weights are added to the hems of lightweight costumes to give a nicer, more well defined movement to fabrics, which may otherwise seem too flow-ey on stage.)

I won't be using many knitters for the pieces in the book, I'd rather knit them myself and the have folks reknit them as necessary. But I know that this Chiton needs a good, fast, strong hand so off it's going to Miriam Tegels, the fastest knitter in the world (opinions differ, but she'll always be number one to me!)

Upcoming Classes

I've added a bunch of classes this summer, I'm teaching again, baby!

First and foremost, there's the Cruise. It's my first, it was originally marketed as more of a crochet cruise but more of my knitting classes have been added. I am finding myself itching to get on that plane and fly to Florida for the week long knitting, resting, sunning and eating adventure.

Here's the itinerary: Sit by the pool, knit, eat, knit, drink, knit, get off the boat, walk around, drink, knit, repeat...

If you'd like to join me and Drew Emborsky, please contact Craft Cruises and make your reservations now. I've heard that the spaces are filling up - I want to give those crocheters a run for their money (baby!) Just kidding. I'm a crocheter, too. Please refer all complaints to Drew Emborsky.

And MORE teaching - On The Road Again!
Traveling and teaching is exciting - something I've missed SO much - and I'm really looking forward to it.

Mentally I feel that I've had a nice break, things are in a settled pattern as far as Gerry's health is concerned (knock wood) I'm not saying there hasn't been a decline, but it's currently steady and measured and comprehensible. Not like the scary ride last year, when I just wasn't sure from month to month how much time I'd have here at home vs. in chemo wards, hospitals and doctor's offices.

I've been asked to teach again at the Great Lakes Fiber Show - a festival I just LOVE! Then on to Mountain Knits, followed by a fun & reflective time at the Squam Arts Workshops in New Hampshire. I finish the tour teaching at The Naked Sheep in Toronto, then I just happen to wander through Ohio again for TNNA on my way home. Where are my frequent DRIVER miles?

You can see my calendar here, or peruse my lovely visual aid below.

I've heard that interest is already piquing, and I always get emails from folks telling me they wanted to take one of my classes, but got locked out. Then I have to do some fancy begging to get them in class.

So I figured I'd better start blogging about these trips NOW so folks who read my blog can get a head start. See, you knew you were reading for a reason, right?
If you're a shop, guild or venue that would like to hire me somewhere along my route, please feel free to email me! It may work out - or not - but perhaps we can set up a future engagement.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sutton Who?

A few years ago I invested in the Simon Schama "A History of Britain" and I've never regretted the expense. The 5 DVD set's been my traveling companion, my best knitting background, a wonderful respite, a safe harbor for Gerry and I when we needed our minds occupied in at the Mayo and even a cure for homesickness when I'm on the road.

I love the DVD's - love Simon - I have no idea if he's a knitter, but I know deep in my soul that he would APPRECIATE good knitting.

I love his voice, his sense of humor, and the fact that he rides that fine line between priggish and drama queen - we should all be so capable.

And I love that when he was on the Colbert Report he was as giddy as a schoolboy. I like it when folks are free enough to be giddy in public.

But I digress...

One of the things I most admire about A History of Britain is that it is A history - not THE history - and doesn't pretend to be a full-out survey from Picts to Princess Di. It's selective.

A stellar point of AHoB is the use of archeological pieces and artworks to press home Schama's point. This DVD's where I first saw the Sutton Hoo helmet, so named because it was recovered from a dig at Sutton Hoo.

When I saw the helmet I was struck by the beauty - the intricacy - of the metal work. The idea of recreating it as a knitted piece has haunted me for years, and today I felt like trying.

Who knows if I'll succeed. If I do, it will be in the book. It gets pretty intricate, and I don't just want to copy it, but I want to find a way to allow OTHERS to copy it in wool, too. That is always the hard nut.

I could sit and knit anything I wanted, but working it up so that it's doable by someone else, that's the hard nut to crack.

So here's my start. The chin.

I think in part I was inspired by some amazing yarn that arrived last week - it's from Artyarns, and it's called Mohair Splash. I'm not sure if it's available yet - I got it after I saw it at TNNA.

The tiny beads and sequins are strewn along the yarn in odd places, not measured, and the unexpectedness of their arrival is a continuous source of pleasure as I knit it up.

A firmer yarn might give a more metal-worked feeling, but in my gut I feel that this yarn is best for this project. I've been wrong before, and may be now, but sometimes working it up is the only way to find out.

I'm working directly off of the photo. I plan to work the front to the temple, then work the back and sides to the temple, then join them and work the top. The heavily tooled areas with images of fighters and horsemen will be worked - or at least at this point I think they'll be worked - as embroidery after the piece is finished.

Wish me luck!

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ruffle & Cap Finessing

A lot of the last few days has been devoted to finishing up the ruffled collar. It's not really a scarf, although it could be worn as one. It's not really a collar in the sense that it's attached to a garment - it's a stand alone.

It's not as big or ruffly as the original (see below), but - given today's fashion sense - that's leaning a bit toward cross dressing land. NOT that there's anything wrong with that, and it might be a future book...

The point of this book is to create MODERN garments that the average knitter would feel comfortable leaving the house in, with an inspiration from historic works of art.

So to that end I give you - The Ruffled Collar!

I'm absolutely in love with how this yarn works up - there are so many ideas floating around in my mind for ways to use this.

One construction note is that it's hard to weave in the ends of a fabric ribbon, so I've designed this collar so that the ruffles begin and end in the center of the piece, thus putting the loose ends to the back.

The ends need to be hemmed, but I'd rather do that in a more inconspicuous place than at the center front.

A button needs to be added at the center front, I'm sitting tight until the right one comes along - just like mother said it would...

The Hat
I ran the earflap of the hat in a long band across the back, rather like a helmet - or a coif in a Brueghel painting.

But it was bunchy and ill-fitting, so I revised it by making it two separate earflaps.

Now it fits better and will require less tweaking by the knitter to get a good, universally wearable chapeau.

Looking Forward

Today I swatch and write up the pattern for the Chiton, I'm going to ask a friend to knit it up for me, so I have to get it ready to go.

I'll be using the very fine, laceweight Lux from Buffalo Gold, but I'm adding beads and double knitted edges to give it weight and a better drape. It will be worked on size 6 / 4mm needles, so I'm hoping it won't be a nightmare to knit. You up for this, Miriam?

I need to assign yarn to the Minoan Snake Goddess outfit, and figure out what yarn would be best for the Egyptian inspired skirt and top. Ah, me...

And then there's scrabble...

But today, if we can arrange it, we're going off to watch the kiddies sled. If life gives you snow, find a sled! Or a hip-hop hottie to wear your latest creation...


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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Making it Better

So I finished the body of the colorwork hat yesterday, but it was just too long. Silly long. I'm making a size small - to better fit Gerry's head, my male head fit model - and when he put it on it almost went to his nose.

I had several options, but I only considered two seriously; rip out the top and make the decreases more severe, or take some length off the bottom and rework the hemmed edge. I opted for the second solution because I was happy with the hat top, and also wasn't very pleased with the hem (or the bottom rows of colorwork)

Here are some images of how I did it.

1. I inserted my needle into each stitch of my revised bottom row of colorwork. Since this is a repeating pattern, it was a bit easier than when I attempt this in a solid color.

2. Then I snipped a stitch in the row below and slowly pulled out that yarn out, bit by bit. Since this is colorwork, it involved snipping two strands of yarn (one red and one white) This part felt frighteningly like an episode of "Danger UXB"

3. When the snipped row was entirely removed, the stitches I'd captured before remained on the needle.

4. I worked them in white for about 8 rows, did a reverse stockinette st row, then decreased 8% of the stitches and continued in stockinette st for about 8 rows.

I bound off and stitched the edge to the wrong side, folding it at the rev st st ridge (which creates a lovely turning ridge.)

And thus I saved the hat. Now I have to add the ear flaps and make the actual collar from the painting.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Choosing Yarns

Picking a yarn is a dicey enterprise.

Sometimes it's relatively straightforward; a simple, textured stitch pattern looks good in just about any yarn, you choose the fiber you want for the drape and long-term care and wear that you'd like, and there you are.

But with a project like History on Two Needles, well, it's a little dicier.

First I have to look at the inspiration and try to determine what drape I'm actually trying to achieve. Is it firm? Very loose (woodgy, in costume shop parlance)? Does it have to be lightweight/ephemeral or should it be heavy and dramatic?

Then I have to look at the many yarns out there - what can give me the drape, texture and weight I'm looking for? Should I double the yarn? Use extremely large or small needles?

And - very important in this case - does the yarn actually come in the colors I seek? I've found some very nice yarns for various projects so far, but their colorways don't include the combinations I need, or the feeling is just too bright or dull or something.

I've set a very loose deadline of late Summer to have the pieces for this book finished. If I get them done sooner, yay! If later, no great loss. I refuse to do sub-standard work on this book because I have to get 26 pieces knit and finished in 3 months (it's happened before...)

I'm in a good place because I know so many yarns intimately. When I get a new yarn I try to knit a bit with it, even just a few rows, so I can get a sense of what it might do. This is time consuming, but when I'm looking for yarns for a book it really pays off. Having said that, I still feel painfully inept at telling folks what might be a good substitution yarn for projects - it's such a personal decision to make...

So in the past few days I did some swatching for 3 projects, trying to marry the right yarn with a good stitch pattern to create a good, workable fabric for the specific project. I never look for perfection - a good fit between yarn/stitch/drape is hard enough...

Colorwork Hat
I'm using Trendsetter Cha Cha for the ruffled scarf, which - in addition to the ruffly fabric, requires a smooth, strong yarn (in green in image of prototype) to create the structure of the piece. Yes, I'm aware that when I lay the prototype out it's a rather unfortunate - ahem - shape...

In the painting, the hat looks as if it could be knitted color work, so I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by using the same yarn for the collar structure AND the color work hat.

Trendsetter has a very nice sport weight merino - Merino IV - which is not as fine as the yarn which may have been used to create the original hat, if indeed it WAS knitted.

But it's fine enough. I'm not trying to make copies of the clothes in the artworks as much as I'm attempting to recreate a feeling or detail from the art in a modern hand knit garment.

I created one colorwork chart and knit about 3" of the hat when I decided I just hated it. It didn't capture the feeling of the original, and it looked like a tablecloth. The gauge was too large, (too few sts per inch) and the piece didn't have the required subtley.

So I reworked the chart, went down a few needle sizes, and I'm much happer with the results (I've further altered the chart so it no longer resembles an alien's face)

Let's hope I continue to be happy with the chart as I move into the crown & tip shaping!

I'm trying to create a tunic with a chiton feeling, which means it needs to be a rather lightweight fabric with a nice drape. If I were working in woven fabric I'd look for something with a Fortuny-pleated feeling, but since I'm working in hand knit fabric I need to create a ribbing effect that is strong enough to loosely pleat, but soft enough not to look like a cuff.

I've tried Louet's Mooi, which is just lovely!

It may be the color I'm swatching (French blue), but the Mooi seems more flat than I'd like. However, the drape is quite good.

Maybe it's the fact I can't pronounce the name of the yarn that's keeping me from loving it? The website's not a lot of help - "Mooi (pronounced moi)" - which makes me want to say "mwa", and I know that's not right. Perhaps they mean moh-ee?

I'm leaning toward Buffalo Gold's Lux (a bison/silk/ cashmere/ tencel blend, and easy to say...) which has enough of a heathery feeling to make the ribs more defined (at left in camel, and above in red). Now I just need to play around with lace and ribs to create a fabric that is lightweight but heavy enough to drape and fun to knit.

I very much want to knit up the samples myself. Ideally, I'd like to knit them up, write up the patterns, then have someone else knit up a sample, too. It's an idea I'm toying with, and something that I think should be part of any design process. However, with the rates that designers are paid, it's just not possible to put twice as much effort into the process. Dilemmas abound.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentines Day TC Pizza Lovers!!

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stieler Jacket In Progress, HoTN

I've spent the past few days doing some exciting swatching, trying to refine a colorwork pattern and creating a schematic for a short jacket for History on Two Needles.

It started when I saw this magnificent jacket in this painting. I found the colorwork very inspiring, and wondered what yarn would work well to achieve the feeling of the sweater. I knew it should be a larger yarn, not something small and fine as is generally used in colorwork.

I knew it would also have to be lightweight so this would be a wearable garment, so I wanted to avoid a heavy yarn. I thought a ribbon would be nice, but it would have to be the right ribbon, and I'd want to use it with a more stable worsted weight yarn.

I received a ball each of Valentina in Honeycomb and Sunshine in Nutmeg from Trendsetter, and started playing around them. I discovered that I really liked the effect I achieved by using them doubled for the darker areas, then switching to a single strand of Valentina for the lighter areas.

Using both yarns together was an interesting effect, but the color change wasn't as clear cut as I wanted.

Right around the same time I photoshopped the sleeve of the jacket and exploded it to create a repeating pattern. I dropped that into Appleworks, where I make my charts, and made an initial pass at the pattern.

I knew it would be best to do a traditional color changing, stranded colorwork and give up my double/single strand kooky method. But with such thick yarns I wanted to keep the floats as short as possible.

So I reworked my intial chart to include more color changes, thus reducing the areas with large floats.

When I liked the swatch I came up with, I created a schematic in Appleworks.

I took the chart and created a repeating pattern in Photoshop, then filled in the schematic (adding fur cuffs and collar and a waistband) to create a working sketch. Yes, this not-very passionate, cut and dried, measured image is my sketch.

I guess I'm still a pattern drafter (vs. a draper) at heart.

I'm thinking the colors I want to use are Bronze & Chocolate. I may reverse them (lighter color in Sunshine and the dark contrast in Valentina) just for fun. Decisions, decisions...


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Monday, February 09, 2009

Big Birthday (slipped by...)

Sometimes when things are very - emotional - it's hard to write about them. And then I tend to just pass them by on the blog, which isn't right.

This past week was a milestone - a big one - and one that, given our past 2 years, we were not entirely certain we'd see.

Gerry turned 50 on Feb 5th, we had a very small coffee & cake thing on Saturday, and overall it was a very quiet celebration. Just being here is celebration enough!

But one thing we DID do was go to Nye's Polonaise Room for his actual birthday lunch! I love Nye's - it's like some terrific throwback to a Minnesota version of the Copa with hot dish. If it were in NJ, I'd expect to see a couple of goodfella's strolling in through the kitchen.

My friend, London, took me there last year and we've been a few times since then for lunch. I've never been in the evenings, when apparently it's a hopping place with a piano bar, I love the quiet "morning after hair-of-the-dog" atmosphere that permeates the lunchtime crowd.

I knew Gerry would love it, too! We had a great lunch, Chicken A La King (the special) for Gerry and a big walleye sandwich for me. Then we had amazing desserts and felt so happy and satisfied we gave up on seeing the movie we'd originally started out for, we just headed home to digest.

We also had a bed breakdown, literally. Our bed was kind of old, kind of ratty, and had been moved several times. Bits of it had been falling apart for a while, and it finally gave up the ghost this week with a loud CRASH one morning. There's always excitement going on in our bed.

After taking the bed apart we moved Max's bed into our room, and the poor lad is camping out on the only carpeted floor in the house (happens to be his bedroom) in his sleeping bag. We thought it would be a hard adjustment, moving from king sized bed to smaller-than-queen, but it's been not so bad (and a little fun.)

But we're still shopping for a new, actual Queen sized bed (king is too big for our room.) The honeymoon can't last forever.

It suddenly hit me that I'd love to have a bag in my book. So now I have to start looking for paintings with bags in them...

I've been swatching and sketching for History on Two Needles. I've decided to do my swatches in one long strip, dividing them later as I need to and binding them off individually. It goes much faster this way, but it makes for some - ahem - unique pairings!

People keep trying to say nice things about my [cough] scarf, they're so relieved when I explain it's just a bunch of swatches!

I've made very few decisions so far about specific yarns for projects, but I will be trying all the new yarns I got from TNNA (they're still coming in!) to see what else may work well for the book projects.

It's hard to see in the image, so here's a second closeup. The Cocoon (at the top) is a VERY unique yarn with fuzzy, oval slubs running along a twisted cord. It can be knit up in a variety of ways, but here I've knit it up so that resembles cartridge pleating (image below.) The other yarns in this section of the swatch are Mango Moon's Ribbon (yellow/blue) and Trendsetter's Bombay (green)

When Cocoon is knitted up it looks very much like cartridge pleating (example of cartridge pleating at right from I'm trying to find some cool way to use it for a few pieces in the book.

My main problem with it is that after I've worked a cartridge pleating section, I need a very similar yarn (velour? chenille?) in the same color to complete the garment.

Novelty Redux?
I tend not to fall in the category of big novelty yarn lover, but I don't hate them, either. I think they serve a purpose, and can be used to wonderful effect when used sparingly and intelligently. There's going to be a fur collar in my book and I'll definitely be using an eyelash yarn (a la my Raccoon Jacket) to create that effect.

But then, that's the hard nut of dealing with novelty yarns. It's difficult to use them to good effect, but not over do it, or try to make them do something that they're not really suited to do.

I may have to mix this groovy Cocoon yarn from Universal with a yarn from another company - maybe Touch Me from Muench? That's usually a No-No in the magazine world where ad space must be sold to individual yarn companies and they hate to be blended with other yarn companies. I must say I really love how it looks with Bombay from Trendsetter.

However, I have the luxury to be able to put this book together in the same way most knitters put their projects together - using yarns that are most suitable, even if they're not from the same companies.

I'll definitely try to keep projects single-company if at all possible, that makes it easier in many ways, but I'm not going to be a slave to it.

My most exciting discovery to date is the mixing of Valentina and Sunshine to create a beautiful colorwork fabric. Since Valentina is a ribbon and Sunshine a beautiful, glossy, shiny yarn, they are a cool contrast.

I've also discovered I can strand them together, use Valentina for a few stitches alone, toss in Sunshine with Valentina for a few stitches, and it doesn't seem to make a great difference to the gauge.

It looks like complex stranded knitting, but it's not really so hard!

Oh, and it's Harikuyo! I have fewer broken needles since I've been using the Signature needles, but baby do I ever respect my tools!


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Friday, February 06, 2009

Valuing Our Work

I've written about this scenario in the past, and I'm afraid I'm going to bore some of you with the same sad tale again. This is a long one, with no pictures...

If there's going to be a pool of high quality, established hand knit and crochet designers, there has to be an understanding among the larger powers in the knitting industry that these designers MUST be supported - or at least not taken advantage of as a matter of course.

My personal belief is that once a pattern is printed in a magazine, the rights to that pattern SHOULD eventually revert to the designer. This is how, for instance, Yarn Forward treats their designers.

The Back Story
Last year - right around this time - I wrote about Interweave Knit's announcement that they'd be opening an online pattern store. They stated that designers of patterns IK chose to sell in the store would earn 10% of sales. Ten Per Cent. Heck, that won't pay the rent!

This seemed incredibly small to me, so I didn't sign the agreement and mulled it over for a while. I sell my patterns online, why would I sign a contract to undersell myself, AND get only 10% back into the bargain?

In talking with other designers (why do the magazines think we don't chat with each other?) it became clear that we fell into two camps:
  • Those who thought this was a raw deal,
  • and those who thought it was raw deal, but felt they couldn't change it, so they signed up anyway.
I didn't expect much when I wrote about the issue on my blog, I was pretty much just blowing off steam. But my post attracted enough attention that the powers at Interweave began to reconsider their position. They were gracious enough to open up a dialog and eventually they created a much more fair sliding scale of payments.

Now when you purchase a pattern at the Interweave online pattern shop, a designer earns between 20% - 50% of the purchase price.

All The Way To The Bank
What difference could this make? I just received my check for pattern sales for the past 3 months. It was $600 [yay!]

Because I also offer my patterns on other websites, I only earn 30% of the pattern price, so this figure reflected $2,000 in pattern sales. IK keeps $1,400, I get $600. If I sold my online patterns exclusively with IK, I'd get a bigger cut. Additionally, if I had a link on my website to IK's pattern store AND sold exclusively through them, I'd earn 50% of the pattern sale.

However, if the 10% IK originally offered was still in effect, my check would have been a measly $200. That would have been wrong, and I'm very glad that IK was designer-friendly enough to make that change.

In my perfect world, I'd like to see online compensation for designers set at 50% across the board, and I'm sure deep down Interweave would have liked to have kept the compensation closer to 10%. However, since neither of us got our way, I think it's a good deal.

It's certainly MUCH nicer than the original offer, and Interweave has gained many very enthusiastic proponents of their online pattern store (including me!)

More important, designers who may have been hesitant to design for IK are happy to submit, and that makes the magazine - and the knitting world - better for all of us!

Times Are A'Changin'
In the past year several designer-focused entities have popped up, The Stitch Cooperative, Ravelry's pattern sales feature, Twist Collective & Etsy pattern sales, to name a few. The web-savvy knitter has many more options for buying patterns than just the original big knitting magazines, and the smart magazines are understanding and embracing the change (and respecting their designers.)

Here We Go Again...
But now the issue has reared it's ugly head again with another of the big knitting magazine groups - once again in an email which was probably supposed to be positive, but only ends up sounding a bit patronizing.

In November I received this email from Soho Publishing, the entity which produces the family of Vogue Knitting books and magazines.
Dear Designer:

Due to the increasing demand for online content, publishers are now able to reach a broader audience and better serve that audience by making their print content available online. Soho Publishing Company is excited to announce the launch of our web-based initiative, which will allow us to offer the content from our print magazines (Vogue Knitting, Knit.1, Knit Simple and Family Circle Knitting) in digital format. Specifically, we will be reselling patterns from past and present publications as downloadable files, accessible via the Internet.

What does this mean to you? As one of our valued designers, you will receive a ten percent (10%) royalty on all net revenue received from the resale of patterns designed by you. While Soho contractually has the right to reuse this content without further payment to our designers, we appreciate the value our contributors bring to our product and sincerely wish to maintain a relationship based on respect and good faith. All royalties will be paid annually (one time per year) by August 15th for all sales through June 30th of each year. These payments will be made in check form and will be mailed to the address provided by you.

In order to receive your ten percent (10%) royalty payments, please fill out and return the attached form by March 1, 2009 to verify your correct mailing address. Without this information, Soho will be unable to issue and mail your annual check--we want to be sure your payment is heading to the right place!

Thank you for sharing your talents with us, and we look forward to seeing more of your work in the future, both in print and online.

Very truly yours,

Once again, I sat on this for a bit.

90%?? What Are They Thinking?
Each company has different contracts, and to be honest most designers are just so darned glad to get something into a magazine like Vogue they'll sign a contract and not read the fine print.

There are a few notable exceptions, but once a the cycle develops (designer submits, yarn is sent, contract is sent, contract is signed, etc.) it's hard habit to break.

Vogue's contracts have always been a bit less designer friendly than Interweave's (IK traditionally asked for 'first North American serialization rights') but many of us figured that this was the price we paid for getting into Vogue.

Also, at the time that many of us started signing the Vogue contracts, no one really expected there to be an alternative method for selling our patterns independently online, so that wasn't covered in the contracts.

And, fools that we were, we signed away our rights.

So What Now?
I give Interweave a HUGE amount of respect for addressing this issue in a fair way, I'd like to see Vogue do the same thing. All I'm looking for is a little respect. And 20-40% more back on sales.

I don't know whether Vogue was unaware of the arrangement Independent Designers had worked out with Interweave, but the above email sounds a bit like, "We own the pattern so we don't legally have to do anything in terms of payment. But we like you, kid, so here's a dime. If you want to cry, go call your mother."

Well, I can't call my mom. And I can't change the contracts I've already signed.

But I can blog.

The Hard Part
I can't think of many things harder for a designer than saying, "No, Big Knitting Magazine Company [BKMC], I won't sign this contract because it's unfair and and I refuse to give all the rights to you in perpetuity."

But it's exactly what I - and a few other designers - have decided to do.

When I read the email above I made the decision not to submit anything to Vogue until their policy toward ownership of intellectual property becomes more designer friendly - more enlightened.

With this blog post, I realize that I'm most likely nailing the door shut as far as ever having anything in Vogue again. But I feel that it's vital that knitters - and especially other designers - know that there are OPTIONS to the contracts we're offered. We do NOT have to accept unfair contracts we can negotiate. And there is strength in numbers, folks.

Designers earn just a hair more now for a pattern than they did in the mid-80's. Factor in cost of living, and we're earning less than we did 20 years ago. Add to this the latest slap in the fact - 90% of internet sales revenue will go back to the magazine - and we, as designers, realize exactly how much we're valued. T E N P E R C E N T.
[Let me hear you, loud and proud!]

If Vogue wants to RE-sell one of my patterns, perhaps the popular Twisted Float Circular Cocoon Shrug (cover, Fall 2005 issue), they should pay me a fair amount. (On a side note; I've entirely rewritten the pattern so that it's universal and can be worked up with any yarn in any size, and I offer that substantially augmented pattern on my website for sale.)

If Vogue sells the Circular Shrug, is it fair that they keep 90% of the income? What if they decide to offer it free as a come-on to get new online subscribers? At that point they've effectively destroyed any future sales of the pattern I offer on my website - who will ever pay for something once it's been given away for free? And I get precisely 10% of nothing.

Folks, I don't say this for sympathy or pity, but we hand knit & crochet designers earn garbage. This is due to many factors, including:
  • We allowed it to happen
  • There are many who are dying to get into the mags
  • The mags know they don't HAVE to offer a fair compensation
I say this because I really don't have a lot to lose in this fight - but I have a lot to gain. And not just for me - but for every designer out there who would like to pay the mortgage.

Fish In A Barrel

In a recent online chat Trisha Malcom, the editor of Vogue, mentioned that VK visits the Ravelry designers forum regularly to seek out new designers. Of course they do, the more established designers are becoming tired of the unfair contracts, or can't afford to work for peanuts, and the new designers are just so darned happy to get published they'd give their work up for nothing.

I know, I've been there.

What Do We Want?
I'm asking other designers to stand with me and only accept contracts in which we retain all rights to our designs after the initial publication.

When Do We Want It?
Ideally this should start with the next contracts that go out. I'd be happy if something can be worked out by the March 9th date given in the email above.

After a certain period, rights should revert back to the designer. Period. If a magazine wants to run a design again in a "Silver Anniversary Issue" or "Best of" book, the designer should be paid. (I wasn't even aware that my Twisted Float Circular Shrug WAS in Vogue's 25th anniversary issue until a friend emailed me to congratulate me.)

Now, Raise Your Right Hand...

"Today I pledge that henceforth, I will only sign contracts that allow me the freedom of determining what happens to my intellectual property after the initial publication."

And To You New Designers...
This is also a plea to new designers; I know where you're coming from, I know you want to make a name for yourself, but please consider that if you really want to do this as a career - if you're in it for the long haul - you'll be in my situation very soon.

I realize that I'm in a unique position - I'm an established designer who's had work in Vogue Knitting as far back as 1984, but I also have a web presence. This is unusual, and may be why we haven't heard much about this online from other established designers who don't have blogs or sell their patterns independently online.

It's only been in the past few years that designers have been able to network online, and we're getting stronger.

Believe me, new designers, if we don't fight this battle now, we'll be paying for years. You don't want to look back in 5 years and say, "Geeze, why didn't someone stand up and ask for a fair contract years ago ...?"

Be part of the solution - be part of the change. Please support your fellow/sister designers by working with me to teach.
  • We must explain to the knitting editors that if they prize our talents enough to use them to sell magazines, they must respect us enough to send us fair contracts which allow us to determine the ultimate rights to our intellectual property.

  • We must teach the knitters who buy the magazines about the contracts we sign, and the rights we give up. To my mind, this is all part of the copyright fight - a fight in which Designers have been so beautifully supported by knitters all over the world [thank you!]
In Closing
I realize by writing this post I'm not just holding the knife, but may be pulling it squarely and firmly across my own throat. So be it. As I said, I don't have a lot to lose.

If one can't earn a living as a hand knit designer by going with the flow, then it's time to swim against the current.
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posted by Annie at 137 Comments Links to this post

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

First Prototype!

I've been swatching quite a bit for History on Two Needles, usually just working up a Stockinette Stitch swatch so I can 'get to know' the yarn and decide how I'd like to use it.

But the moment I saw Cha Cha from Trendsetter at TNNA, I knew exactly what piece I wanted to use it for.

It's a ruffling yarn, rather like Online Linie Solo, but a bit easier to control because the ruffle depth is pre determined by the spacing on the yarn ribbon.

Also, the ribbon portion of the yarn is not woven per se, it's simply a ladder of strands, which I feel gives a better approximation of the basis of a 16th C Ruff.

So instead of swatching the Cha Cha, I put it together with Batik and created a prototype for this collar right out of the ball.

It's not an early, Elizabethan ruff, it's a later, soft ruff. The inspiration is the collar in this lovely portrait (National Portrait Gallery image #1931) of an unknown man by an unknown artist dated around 1625.

We're entering early 17th C England territory, where the ruffs and collars were softening. I so love the transition periods between clothing extremes - these are the point where the people take control of fashion (that is, until the next extreme fashion movement barrels through.)

There are other paintings with soft ruffs, but I love this one for many reasons, not least of which is what appears to be a patterned knit cap with earflaps on the fellow's head.

I've enlarged that portion of the painting and have approximated the stitch chart.

This will probably change, it's just a rough (like the prototype) but it's a starting place - and it feels wonderful to have such a promising start! And two nice projects from one painting - bonus!

Home News
We have a Wii! I bought it used on ebay - it seems fine (and we also have a warrantee) so we're pretty psyched.

I got it for Gerry's 50th birthday, which is tomorrow. I get a little emotional when I think of that, and how at one point we'd figured that he might not see it. But he's here, he's great - and if he could get a bit more movement going he might be able to decrease his pain.

I knew that the kids would dig it, but I was really hoping that Gerry would want to get involved.

He's made his Mii (avatar), and he "plays" along with the kids. He told me he wants to start getting up early so he can get at it first thing in the morning. The whole point of this was to get him moving, get him out of bed on those days when he wants to stay in all day, I'm hoping this will do the trick. Maybe fun will trump pain?

Last Saturday was Max's birthday, but it was also the Minnesota Music Teachers Assoc. Piano Competition. Both kids competed at 8:30, both did extremely well (Hannah scored 94, Max 97) Max's score, since it was above 96, allows him to continue on to the finals in March. We're SO proud of him, and can't believe that they're both doing so well after 9 months of lessons.

Unfortunately, their amazing teacher's husband has lost his job as an accountant and they will probably be moving away from this area. This is becoming so common, and is always painful.

If you happen to live in the Twin Cities area and your business is looking to hire a full time accountant, I'd be more than happy to send along his resume. Yes, it's purely selfish - I love our kids' music teacher and I don't want them to move.

But I also know the readership of my blog is not just amazing, but is pretty esoteric. You never know when someone may be reading who's company happens to be looking to hire someone!

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Birthday Slide


Max was SO happy yesterday - for the second year in a row, we've had amazing weather for his birthday party (it was sunny and in the 40's yesterday, with as much snow as anyone could want for sledding!)

A gang of 13 boys + 1 girl went sliding down the hill (and yes, I did too - and I even managed to squarely hit one of the "bumps" - backwards - which made my glasses fly off!) and had a spectacular time. Then we herded them back into the 3 cars that brought them and back to the homestead (Charlie's parents house, we lucked out!) for a showing of Get Smart, pizza and soda.

Could a birthday be more fun? Maybe, but this one was just right!

Immediately after Christmas I rushed the sales and found Max the Star Wars lego set he'd been coveting for half price, and was able to keep it hidden until yesterday. A great feat, indeed!

I'm finishing up a crocheted skirt for IK which I'm loving - it's turning out very nicely, and just when I was in doubt as to whether it was appealing a friend of my daughter's dropped by (a friend with very good taste) and begged her mom to make her one. That's always nice to hear!

Unfortunately I've had to rip out the hip yoke twice, the first time because I just didn't like the fabric I was creating, and the second time because I wasn't happy with the waist decreases. Let's hop that the third time's a charm because the skirt is DUE this week. I'd show photos, but it's not my right to at this point. I will show you one of the pleats, though - I'm very proud of them!

So today as I rest up from the wild running and sledding, I'll re-crochet the hip yoke and the hem edging, and I'll sit and enjoy the sun streaming in the window and the snow on the ground!
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Alison's Scarf
Link to pdf file of cable/trellis lace scarf

Hannah's Poncho
Link to pdf file of multi-sized poncho


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