Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I'm going to be moving house in about six weeks (don't ask where) (or how), and that seems to have inspired me to move my blogging house as well. You can now find me at www.porpoiseknits.com, so please update your feed readers and come join me in my freshly painted, brand spanking new home.

See you there!

Monday, June 9, 2014

We have a winner!

And that winner is sulander - hooray! I'll be in touch via your contact info and we can sort out getting you the yarn/beads AND the pattern.

Thanks to everyone for playing along!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ja'ali Stole

When I was seven, my parents moved my brother and I from Deepest, Darkest Cleveland, OH to New Delhi, India. My dad had a Fullbright scholarship, so we spent a year in a far off and very different land. More then thirty years later, I went back for the first time, with my own seven year old (plus her younger sister). In some ways it had changed completely, but in others, it was just as I remembered it: the light was the same, the sounds of the birds in the early morning, the cows wandering through the city streets, and monkeys sitting on fences, waiting for the opportunity to snatch what ever they could right out of your hands.

We went and saw all sorts of sights in the Golden Triangle, and it was an incredible source of inspiration for my designing. The first design that came out of that trip was the Delhi Beanie, with a border inspired by a series of tombs in Delhi. The second one is in Issue 35 of Knit Now - the Ja'ali Stole.

Photo credit Dan Walmsley for Practical Publishing

This pattern grew directly out of my trip to India: one of the almost ubiquitous features of the numerous palaces and tombs that we visited were pierced stone structures called ja'ali. These were basically the Moghul version of window curtains, and served to let in light and air while making it very difficult for anyone outside to see inside.

This picture makes it pretty clear where the stitch pattern came from! I swatched in a number of different yarns, but finally settled on a mohair blend, in two colors to emphasis the eyelets and the solid hexagons.

The perfect finishing touch? A beaded fringe.

The finished stole is a lovely, lightweight wrap that is perfect for summer evenings, or days when you need a bit of extra warmth.

This issue of Knit Now is on sale starting today, Thursday, 29th May, in craft stores, newsagents and supermarkets across the UK. Outside the UK, you can get a paper copy from http://www.moremags.com/knitting/knit-now, or a digital edition from http://www.moremags.com/digital-editions/all-devices/knit-now. You can also get it digitally via Apple Newsstand. 

As a little celebration of the publication of this pattern, I'm going to give away the yarn and beads needed to knit the stole - that includes 5 balls of Wendy Air (70% mohair/30% nylon) in two colors, and approximately 75 faceted glass beads for the fringe. Please leave a comment on this post between now and midnight BST, on Sunday, 8th June, telling me which pattern is your favorite from Knit Now Issue 35*. I'll use a random number generator to pick one lucky winner. Good luck!

* Note: saying that this is your favorite pattern does not increase your chances of winning ;-).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Brighton Dome socks

There's a fabulous festival of all things wool happening this summer not too far from where I live - Unwind Brighton. As part of the run up to the event, the organizers are holding a design competition (vote here). Meet my design: the Brighton Dome socks

These socks started with a lovely skein of yarn from Kettle Yarn Co - her fabulous Twist sock yarn. 

I got this yarn in my goody bag from the Small Wool Gathering last autumn, and wasn't really sure what to do with it. When the contest came along I balled it up and started playing around with stitch patterns. There was one that really stood out as a clear winner. 

This stitch pattern is a basic chevron pattern that is broken up by two rows of reverse stockinette, creating gentle arches. I was casting about for a good name when Allison noticed that they looked a lot like the Brighton Dome, where a number of the events for Unwind are being held. Brighton Dome socks they are for ever more. 

If you'd like to vote on the eight shortlisted designs, you can find the entire line up on the Unwind Brighton blog linked above. I'm thrilled to be in such good company, as the rest of the designs are gorgeous!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fruition delayed

Things have been crazy enough recently that I have greatly appreciated instant gratification knitting. In other words, anything in bulky wool, on large needles, that knits up in hours rather then days or weeks. It's incredibly satisfying, when you've been pushing through a deadline knit in heavy laceweight to be able to bang out a sweater sleeve in four hours.

But sadly, all good things must come to an end. And so it is with my Automne, by Ruth Garcia-Alcantud.

The knitting is done - hooray! However, the biggest challenge lies ahead: the sewing up. Seamless top down patterns are a godsend for people (like me) who have no trouble finishing the knitted part of a project, but may get waylaid by other sparkly pretties along to the way to sewing up/finishing button bands/piecing together sweaters.

Not only is the knitting done, but all the pieces are blocked - surely a finished glorious cozy sweater can't be too far behind?

Sadly, this one may not be finished until, if you'll pardon the pun, the Autumn. It's sunny and lovely here, the kids are running around in shorts and it's half term. We are trying to figure out where we are going to be living after the end of the July, and what jobs we're going to be working, and mattress stitch is at the bottom of my priority lists. In fact, I really think it's better for my sanity if I cast on something else ASAP so I have something to do with my hands to combat life's stressors. Maybe something else orange...

Check back on Thursday for an introduction to my latest pattern in Knit Now, and a chance to win the materials to create same.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On the cost of patterns

I recently hit what I feel is a major milestone as a knitwear designer: I got a negative comment on one of my Ravelry pattern pages. The pattern is my March hat design, and the meat of the comment was that I was charging too much.

My reaction to this was two-fold: on the one hand, anyone is more then welcome to think whatever they like about my patterns, my pricing, and anything else I publicly put out there into the ether. That is entirely your right as a knitting pattern consumer, and I certainly want to hear what you think and get your feedback.

But on the other hand, it occurred to me while trying to craft a response to the comment that there are a number of underlying issues here that I'm feeling particularly motivated to address at the moment (cue eerie mid-life crisis music). Ehem.

1) It's just a simple hat pattern - I could do that myself!

Good for you! No, seriously. Feel free to recreate, reverse engineer or come up with something similar however you would like. It's how I started the process of figuring out how to write my own patterns, and I don't think I'm the only one. I'll even go out on a limb and say that many, if not most designs are reworkings of techniques and stitch patterns and garment types that have been around forever and ever, amen. If you can do it yourself, you have my blessing to do just that. Just please don't then post that recreation as a free version of my pattern, or anything along those lines*.

2) Your pattern is too expensive and you are pricing yourself out of the market.

My first response to this portion of the comment was: bwah? *simple dog head tilt* The pattern is priced at $5.00, which is the same as the vast majority of my hat patterns, and is pretty similar to prices for other hat patterns. So my first thought was maybe the commentator thought it said £5.00? And I would absolutely agree - that would be a bit much for a simple hat pattern.

But the more I thought about it, the more bothered I got. Other events in my life have been forcing me to take a good hard look at how I value my time and what I produce. This is all caught up in the tension that exists for me between having a "real career" and being basically a stay-at-home mom, but I've come to the realisation that I am a bit sheepish and embarrassed telling people about my knitting/spinning/dyeing/designing "hobby" because, deep down, I undervalue what I'm doing. It's too easy to minimise my designing and the time I spend on it, and I'm only now beginning to realise how much I discount the energy and work and skill that it takes. Which is really not cool at all. If I undervalue what I'm doing, how do I expect other people to value it?

This leads in to what I think is a vastly bigger topic then I am able (or feel comfortable) to cover in a single blog post, and that is the general undervaluation of the arts. More central to this discussion, the discounting or undervaluing of those things that are considered "women's crafts" - knitting, crochet, tatting, quilting, sewing, etc. Why am I reluctant to tell people that I knit? I don't have any trouble knitting in public, yet it isn't something that comes up in conversation with most of my acquaintances. Maybe that's ok, and maybe I'd talk about it as a natural extension of the conversation if we spent more time together, but I'm not always sure that I would. And that bothers me.

Not only do I feel like I personally undervalue my work, but I feel like this happens in the fiber arts community in general, perhaps because most people don't really understand what goes in to producing a knitting pattern. It's not as simple as think of an idea, knit it up, write the pattern, hit "export to pdf" and voila!

For illustration, here's a semi-theoretical rundown of my process and the time involved.
  1. I am hit by a bolt of inspiration and see a vision of the world's most glorious hat, fully formed, like Athena popping out of Zeus's skull, while angels sing from the heavens and everything is bathed in golden light.... Actually, usually I see something that makes me think "Hunh, I wonder what that would look like translated to knitting?..." Or I'm cold and I think, "Gee, I really wish I had a sweater like this...." Being of Puritan descent and upbringing, my next step is to figure out how to create it myself**. This phase can last anywhere from 30 seconds to weeks, so I'll discount it for the purposes of this exercise.
  2. I swatch. Sometimes I sketch first, particularly if I'm putting together a proposal for a submission, but I'm a shitastic artist so swatching comes first. For a small project like this hat, that means a couple evenings' worth of puttering around with yarn and needles in front of the TV, occasionally swearing. Let's say ~4 hrs.
  3. Then there is The Math. I look at the swatch, figure out the gauge, decide what size I'm going to knit, figure out the cast on numbers and get started. These days, I usually write out at least a vague pattern before I start, so that I can get the sample knitted quickly. For Echinoid, the knitting was probably ~4 hrs, and the vague pattern took maybe 30 min, so we're now up to 8.5 hrs of solid time invested so far.
  4. Sample is knit and works, so now it's back to the grading drawing board, otherwise known as The Spreadsheet of Doom. Most of my hats have four sizes, so figuring out the numbers, the spacing of the ribs, the length of the crown decreases and the rest of the schematic numbers is let's say another 1.5 hrs, getting us up to 10 hrs.
  5. The next step is tech editing and photos. I have a wonderful tech editor who is super attentive to every little screw up I make (of which there are many) - the tech editing of the hat in question in total came in at just under 2 hours. For the photos, I drag Allison and her awesome camera out to take pictures for me. Since she's an absolutely fabulous BKFF, she spent about an hour taking fantastic photos for me (I think I had to buy her a coffee) (oh yeah, and help her organise a Yarn Crawl). 
  6. Finally, the part that is the biggest pain in the ass for me: the layout. I always feel like I need to channel Bones from Star Trek when I do this, and scream at the top of my lungs: Goddamit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a !!! ....(in this case, a graphic designer/copy editor). Let's say that layout, in a best case scenario, plus last minute back and forth with the TE, is another two hours of work before the pattern is finalised and ready to be set free into the world.
So from those six steps, we're up to (conservatively) 12 hours of my time, plus 3 hrs from other people, to put together a simple hat pattern. If I paid myself the Texas minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, I'd need to sell twenty patterns to break even (which accounts for the fees that PayPal takes out of each pattern sale, but doesn't account for any US Federal Income tax). Let's be honest: $7.25 in London will buy you a coffee and a croissant at the nearest Starbucks, and not much else. If I were going to pay myself what I charge for private knitting/spinning lessons, I'd need to sell 53 patterns to break even. Break even. Not make any profit, but break even. That calculation does not include paying my TE and what I would have to pay a photographer if Alli or Himself weren't filling that role. It also doesn't include the cost of yarn, needles and tools, computers, software - this list goes on and on. Of my 38 designs on Ravelry, 34 of them have been knitted with yarn I bought, so you can add on a few more patterns to sell to cover the materials used.

So those numbers are not too terrifying, right? But let's think about this in regards to selling patterns on Ravelry specifically: there are 164,623 patterns available as downloads via Ravelry as of right now***. There are 31,667 knitting designers. We are all competing for the same pool of Ravelry pattern buyers (all 4 million+ of you). Clearly some designers are better at marketing themselves then I am, and there are plenty of designers for whom selling 53 patterns would be a walk in the park. I'm not sure how many there are, but I know I'm not one of them (yet).

The site of yesterday's fabulous photoshoot with Alli  - the Thames Barrier Park

All of this is a very long, perhaps tedious, and roundabout way of trying to clarify exactly what goes into my process of creating a self-published knitting pattern, and what that actually means from a numbers perspective. It's also, in part, an attempt to clarify to myself exactly what is the value of my design work, and an attempt to start the process of revaluing my own creative endeavours****.

I'm sure other designers's processes and experiences are different, but I think the critical thing is that a huge amount of work goes into producing the patterns that are easily available online, and that fact is not always obvious or acknowledged by the consumers of those patterns. That is why I think this particular, somewhat offhand, comment on my pattern page has stuck with me: my time and efforts and skills and creativity should not be undervalued in the community that I participate in and am a part of. There is a reason that patterns cost money, and designers shouldn't feel guilty or awkward or ashamed about wanting to be paid fairly for the work that they do. Full stop.

This is a bigger problem then me and my self-valuation of my design work, and it's a bigger issue then knitting and Ravelry. I guess I'm hoping to get some thoughts from those of you reading this about the topic, whatever they might be. Because the most important thing is having the conversation, right?

* Please don't link or attribute your reverse engineered whatever to me/any other designer, because many of us spend time and money making sure our patterns are as error-free and clear as possible. Saying your interpretation is the same as a pattern that has been carefully written and tech edited and laid out is just...not okay.
** Because, as a Puritan, I am pathologically opposed to spending money on "frivolities", recent occurrences at Wonderwool Wales not withstanding.
*** Right now being when I'm writing this post. Which was at 9:00 pm last night, so those numbers have probably gone up.
**** Of all the things to be having a midlife crisis about, amirite? 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Blanket forts come in all shapes and sizes

And this weekend, mine came in the form of approximately 9 hours (out of 36) driving a car, 5 hrs at a wool festival and 36 hours in the company of some really wonderful women.

My weekend compatriots

We've all had times when we've felt like running away, as fast and as far as our little feet will carry us (in my case, not very fast and, two weeks post-marathon, not very far, but you get the idea). Over the last few weeks I've found myself envisioning just saying fuck it and packing up my kids and my husband and my dog and running off to live in the woods. And come Saturday afternoon when Wonderful Woman #1 and Wonderful Woman #2 showed up at my house to pack into the car and head west to Malvern, Wonderful Woman #3 and Wonderwool Wales*, my sigh of relief was probably heard in Bangkok. I needed to head out, not think about Real Life (TM) and have some down time, preferably with wool and one or two adult beverages of various stripes.

Still life with Lager and SweetGeorgia Superwash DK

Saturday night was spent in an extended SnB, complete with Thai food, prosecco and chocolate with sea salt. There was discussion of knitting and spinning and designing, about various and sundry life things, about whether or not it is possible in an intellectually honest way to be atheist**, about boys and kids and grandkids and the future. All those wonderful wide ranging topics that get covered when you are together with some opinionated, smart people who are willing to discuss and listen.

Which one is Gaga?

Sunday morning we rousted ourselves, managed to produce reasonable coffee with a tea pot and tea strainer, and headed off to Builth Wells for what I think (with apologies to Unravel) is my favorite festival yet. Wonderwool Wales this year was bigger and better then ever, and (by virtue of going on Sunday) relatively uncrowded. I had a wonderful time wandering around, actually buying things on the spur of the moment (8 skeins of Blacker Yarns Jacob DK, I'm looking at you) (and fantasizing about the fantabulous sweater you are going to become), chatting with folks, salivating over fleece and drum carders and all manner of other things. It was blissful. And then we got in the car and headed back to London, talking about designing adn dyeing and collaborations and What The Industry Should Do. I suddenly realised that I was feeling the same way I feel after scientific conferences: inspired and excited and full of ideas and plans and things that must be started immediately! It's a wonderful feeling, one that I've been missing, and it was such a joy to sit there, speeding down the M4, knowing that the three people knitting around me were in the same place.

The haul: ChiaoGoo Twist complete set (because I am weak, weak, weak...), two skeins of BFL/alpaca laceweight from Eden Cottage Yarns, a boat shuttle/pirns from The Threshing Barn, one skein of self-stripin Ullcentrum 2-ply from Midwinter Yarns (who I believe started trading on Saturday. Way to jump in to the deep end guys!), and 8 (!) skeins of DK weight, woolen spun Jacob from Blacker Yarns, slated to become the most glorious cozy warm sweater ever.

So for that, I'd like to thank Allison, Catherine and Dani for listening to me, encouraging me, and inspiring me with all that they do. It was an absolutely phenomenal 36 hours, and I can't wait to do it again.

*There's a lot of wonder in this sentence. My apologies.
** We finally agreed on "Intellectual agnostic, emotional atheist". And giggled. Repeatedly. (That might have been the wine, except we were still giggling the next day).