The Pleasures of Vacation Knitting

Last Friday, on the brink of Memorial Day weekend, a young woman walked into the shop, looked up from her phone and said “I need 950 yards of DK weight yarn that comes in balls.” Puzzled by her “comes in balls” requirement (we have a winder), but sensing that she was in a hurry, I walked her over to the yarn that fit her specifications. In short order, she showed me the pattern on her phone, confirmed that the yarn would work, and said “now I need needles.” She grabbed two sets of needles and a package of markers and walked to the counter, glancing repeatedly at her watch. As I rang up her purchases, I made small talk. “Are you going somewhere for the long weekend?” “Yes,” she replied, “I’m on my way to the airport. I have a flight to catch in a little over an hour. And I just realized that I forgot my knitting.” “Ah,” I thought to myself, “that explains her ‘comes in balls’ requirement. I placed her yarn, needles, and notions into the bag and wished her a wonderful weekend.

For me – and clearly for that young woman – vacations and knitting are inseparable companions. Everyday knitting almost always comes with a tinge of guilt. I think about how I should be taking the dogs for a walk, writing an overdue note to a friend, or cleaning out my closet. But when I’m on vacation, I leave the “shoulds” behind; I become a hedonist and indulge my desire to knit.

A quick look at Instagram posts with the hashtag “places you can knit” (my last count is 9,648) confirms that I’m not alone. Knitters knit in mountains, forests, and canyons; we knit on beaches, museums, boats, overlooks, and trains, and we knit in front of waterfalls, landmarks, and campfires. For this sampling of nearly 10,000 knitters (and me), knitting and vacation go hand in hand.

The pleasure I get from vacation knitting begins with planning my “vacation project”. When I was a teacher, faced with piles of end-of-the-year papers and exams to grade, I’d carve out time to plan and buy yarn for my “summer vacation project,” and the thought of that project sweetened my anticipation of the school-year’s end.

The pleasure I get from vacation knitting also stems from its therapeutic effect. When I’m fortunate enough to take a vacation that involves flying, I take a complicated project because it occupies not only the travel time, but also my mind. I’m a nervous flyer, and there’s nothing like a charted lace pattern to supplant the “what ifs” in my mind. And what starts out as an antidote to my anxiety grows into a wonderful memento of my trip. I will always associate Stonecrop by Jared Flood (which I knit in Anzula Squishy), with a vacation five years ago, when my husband and I traveled to Italy in celebration of our 25th anniversary:

 

 

 

 

 

The pleasure I get from vacation knitting often comes from the serenity to be found in knitting someplace peaceful. We go to the beach each summer, and my favorite part of our small rental house is its screened-in porch. I’ve claimed a white wicker rocker on that porch as “mine,” and I sit in it mornings and late afternoons and knit. I watch the pine trees sway in the breeze, listen to the birds, breathe in the sea air, and am soothed by the rhythm of my needles. I savor the peacefulness of the moment. When I knit at home, I’m up and down, checking on dinner, switching laundry, or letting the dogs in or out. I find it difficult to ignore the temptation of the television. But at the beach, where the days seem to have more hours, those distractions fade, and I knit in peace. Often, that peacefulness allows me to knit something a little challenging. Here’s last summer’s project, Piccadilly , by Justyna Lorkowska for Loop London (in Claudia Hand Painted Yarns Addiction):

 

 

 

 

 

Short or long, a vacation is a privilege; it means we’re in a position to take a break from our daily routine, do something that nourishes us, and return to our everyday lives refueled. I’m about a week away from this year’s beach vacation and am thinking about the knitting I’ll take along. I’m embarrassed to say that, right now, I have four projects on my needles :Starting Point  the Joji Locatelli MKAL,  Meandering Shawl a lovely Stephen West pattern knit in brioche,  Spots & Stripes Fingerless Gloves, cute two color mitts from Churchmouse Yarns and Teas, and the Regen Shawl , a beautiful mid-size shawl by Shannon Cook in the most recent “Making Magazine.” I adore all four – and I will probably take all four along. So in a couple of weeks, you can picture me walking in from the beach, sand still between my toes, and sitting down in that white wicker rocker to knit. And I’ll be thinking of all the places knitters knit and wondering about you. Will you be lacing up your hiking shoes or exploring a foreign city, or will you be spreading out your beach towel like me? In what places will you knit this summer? What will you be knitting? We’d love to know. Let us know where you’re going and what you’re knitting. Send us a photo info@woolworksbalt.com so that we can all “take a vacation” together.

Coming Full Circle

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had careers as an attorney, a stay at home mom, and a high school English teacher.  Throughout each, the pleasure I’ve found in writing, conversation, and knitting have remained constant.  Now that I have the privilege of owning a yarn shop along with two wonderful partners, I’m going to indulge those interests by writing this blog, which I hope will foster a sense of community and spark conversation.  You – and your comments – are an essential ingredient in its success.  Please take a few minutes to share your stories and thoughts.   -Brenda

A few weeks ago my husband (a real estate lawyer) and I were driving down a commercial street lined with “For Lease” signs, and he commented on the fact that the internet is really killing “bricks and mortar” businesses.  Of course, when he said this I cringed, immediately thinking of our small knit shop, not because I’m now an owner, but because of all that would be lost if our “bricks and mortar” business – and small local businesses generally – don’t survive this internet age.  I thought of how easy it is to buy yarn online and watch Youtube videos demonstrating new techniques, and I wondered about our small shop’s future.  I thought of how creative we’d need to be to survive in this internet age.  But I also thought of all the knit shop offers that the internet doesn’t.

Twenty-five years ago, when I first walked into the shop and told the women sitting at the table (If you’re a long-time Baltimore knitter, you’ll know it was probably Doris, Rochelle, Susie, and/or Lou) that I’d tried knitting in high school, hadn’t gotten very far, and wanted to try and knit a scarf.  They replied in a chorus: “Oh you don’t need to start with a  scarf.  If you can knit and purl, you can knit a sweater.”  They assured me that they’d give me whatever support I needed and, since I could start with a toddler-sized sweater (I had a 2-year-old daughter and a year-old son), I decided to give it a go.

Neither of my children ever wore that first sweater, a chunky red cardigan with tube-like arms sticking out at right angles.  But the women in the shop, who had supported me every step of the way, encouraged me to keep going, and soon I was knitting sweaters for my children that I was proud to share.  Here’s my all-time favorite:

Since that time, I’ve found much more than yarn and patterns at the knit shop.  I’ve found practical help that enabled me to try increasingly difficult patterns and techniques.  I’ve found inspiration for new projects.  I’ve found someone to help me think through cryptic instructions, and, when I’ve been uncertain about my color choice or gauge, I’ve found expert advice.  I’ve found knitters who commiserate with me as I rip out my work, people to “ooh and aah” over my finished projects, and folks who make me feel less guilty about the size of my yarn stash.  And, finally, I’ve found things that can’t be precisely labelled or measured; I’ve found conversation, friendship, and a sense of community.  When life has seemed challenging, I’ve always known that I can pull a chair up to the yarn shop table and find the therapy I’ve needed, whether it’s a sympathetic ear or just some good knitting chatter.  At the knit shop, I’ve found time out from the periodic craziness of everyday life.

I know it’s a cliche, but many mornings when I slip my key into the shop door I need to remind myself that I’m not dreaming, that it’s a day in which I’ll have the opportunity to work side by side not only with extraordinary partners and staff, but also with customers as they contemplate colors and patterns, correct their mistakes, or figure out a set of instructions.  I’ll watch customers squeeze skeins and run the yarn between their fingers, imagining how it might be to knit or wear.  I’ll see someone hold a skein up to her cheek to see how it feels and arrange and rearrange skeins of yarn on the table to find the perfect color combination.  I’ll laugh together with like-minded knitters as we play “true confessions” about our stashes and unfinished projects, and on a really good day, someone will come in to share a beautiful finished object.

Since walking into the shop over 25 years ago as a new knitter I’ve come full circle, and while the internet has emerged as a challenging force, the essence of our small shop – much more than “bricks and mortar” – endures.

 

 

Fair Isle Friday

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There’s a lot to be said for fair isle, that lovely stranded color work technique that produces shock and awe responses in the uninitiated.  Even intermediate knitters who have not tried fair isle can be intimidated by its polished and impressive look.  While it looks daunting, it’s not as tricky as it seems.

In traditional fair isle, only two colors are used per row, with additional colors added or alternated in subsequent rows of a fair isle pattern. The other saving grace of many fair isle knit pieces is that they are done completely in the round, as in a yoke of a pullover or a hat.  Circular fair isle utilizes only knit rows, making the alternating of colors much more accessible and easy.  Fair isle knit back and forth requires knit and purl rows and, believe me, it’s just not as fun.

The truly hardcore fair isle knit is the one that is “steeked” to make a cardigan or armhole openings in a top-down knit sweater.  This endeavor is for the knitter with a sewing machine, scissors and no fear!  Steeking lets you knit every round of a fair isle motif, but allows for extra stitches within the body of the piece at the front where the cardigan will open.  Generally these extra stitches are not patterned and are reinforced with vertical lines of machine sewn seams after the knitting is complete.  The machine stitching on either side of the extra stitches locks the knitting on either side and allows you to CUT through the middle of the extra stitches.  Once this leap of faith has occurred, raw stitches are picked up on either side to knit cardigan bands.

In the end, the beauty is obvious.  Fair Isle and steeking aren’t for everyone, but Karen Brehm makes it look easy. Here is the progression of Karen’s baby sweater from Dale Booklet 142, Design 6 using Canopy Fingering from the Fibre Company.  Sleeves were knit first on dpns, then body from the bottom up.  Sleeves and body are then joined when it’s time to knit the color work yoke.  In this piece, the picked up button and buttonhole bands fold over to the inside to provide a completely finished look.  Bravo KB!!!

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Knitting for Baby

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When my children were little, I didn’t knit.  Now that I do knit and have unlimited access to all the best there is, knitting for babies is my very favorite thing.  Knitting for little ones has everything going for it…the projects are small, which makes them easy to finish. The patterns are irresistible, which makes you NEED to make them.  The yarns are beautiful and soft.  Nothing makes a knitter happier than to knit with a particular baby in mind or for one who is on the way.  I know more than a few knitters who are making things ahead for prospective grandchildren or gifts.  It’s not for everyone, but it is for those of us wanting to knit while we have the mind and hands for it.  Don’t laugh…knitters think this way!

 

 

 

At Woolworks, we take knitting for wee ones seriously and have a room in our very small space dedicated just to kids and babies.  It provides a bright and inspirational atmosphere for moms, grandmas, aunts, uncles and just about anyone who needs a fix of cuteness.  Our kids room is chock full of store samples and yarns to make anything from the most simple hat to a complicated fair isle sweater or knit toy.

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Imagine my delight when my nephew asked for a knit baby dress for his little girl, Tatum’s baptism.  Despite feeling honored to be asked, I was slightly panicked since the deadline was less than a month away.  I ran the idea of the ‘Clara Dress’ from Tutto by my nephew & niece and was off and running.  I had made Clara before and knew I could make it again.  The parents measured little Tatum and I knit like the crazy great-aunt that I am.

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The dress moved along and I was able to ship it with a few days to spare.  The day Tatum’s mommy, Rachel, sent me the dress rehearsal picture, I felt like I’d won the lottery.  A beautiful baby in a most special knit dress, all ready to go.   A few days later, Tatum was baptized with family and friends around her.  I wasn’t there for the ceremony, but I feel like the dress was there, acting like a big hug from me.

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Project Profile: Funky Grandpa

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This week we received a shipment of Zauberball Crazy in from Schoppel and it brings to mind a project that we have always wanted to try.  Funky Grandpa by La Maison Rilile is a boxy, deep v-neck cardigan with a top-down, almost-all-in-one piece construction that is fascinating. http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/funky-grandpa

 

 

 

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Funky Grandpa is not a new design, but it is very much a timeless one.  It’s not trendy or high fashion.  In fact, what makes Funky Grandpa so appealing (beyond the name), is the fact that any body type can wear it.  The wide range of sizes and customizable shaping make it accessible to everyone.  This design’s fashion comes from its retro style.  Our Grandpas wore the basic shape, as did Mr. Rogers.  What sweater loving person can’t relate to either of those guys? spring_cardigan__socks___stuff-53_medium2 Zauberball Crazy is a fingering weight yarn that has fairly long color runs that gradiate, but also change between tweedy and solid within those sections.  Funky Grandpa uses Zauberball Crazy to jazz up solid fingering weight sections every so often, making you look like a brilliant colorist.
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We’re going to give it a try. Stay tuned.  Or come on in and try it with us.  Everyone should have a Funky Grandpa.

Project Profile: “Stole” by Theresa Gaffey

 

Every once and awhile we get a project going at the shop that takes off with a lot of customers.  In this case, a customer brought this pattern and book to our attention (Thank you, Brenda Wilson!) and it grew from there.  The book Wearwithall: Knits For Your Life is a compilation of patterns by various designers and spans the range from kids to adults to home goods.

 

Wear With AllOne factor that is a common thread in popular shop projects is their accessibility for a wide range of knitters.  The skills needed here are pretty basic: the ability to knit and purl with gorgeous yarns.  The most important skill with this project turns out to be PATIENCE, with a side order of stick-to-it-tiveness!  “Stole”, by Theresa Gaffey is a lot of stitches in a basic rib pattern, using 9 different colors.  The yarn used for this project is the gorgeous Isager Alpaca 2, a 50/50 blend of alpaca and merino.  The color palette of Alpaca 2 is glorious, with many options when choosing for a project of this type.

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An excerpt from the Wearwithall blog gives a description of designer Theresa Gaffey’s style and knitting sensibility:

“Knitting and crocheting are my equivalent of worry beads – a way to focus my mind while keeping my hands busy.  My life is often overly complicated, so in my designs, I gravitate toward elegant simplicity – say, a simple rib contrasted with stripes of gorgeous colors – a project that is easy to knit, but satisfying.  And I’m always working on something.  When I’m lucky, my passion for yarn and my editing career overlap, as it did with Wearwithall.”

Customers making this project have the full range of Isager Alpaca 2 to choose from.  Once the job of casting on a zillion stitches is done, the meditative ribbing begins.  Changing colors is a highlight and watching the piece emerge spurs you on.  While the knitting of a piece like “Stole” can be tedious, the finished object yields incredible results.  Kim models Barbara Steinhart’s freshly blocked version below.  Elegant indeed.

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When Brenda, Susie Bank, Amy Gold, Suzanne Dagurt and the many others finish their “worry-bead” project, we’ll be sure to post pictures!

Check out “Stole” by Theresa Gaffey on Ravelry: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/stole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrapping up the Kelbourne Woolens Beltane KAL

 

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The Mystery KAL’s just keep on coming!  During our May/June Thursday knit along nights, lots of folks took part in the most recent Kelbourne Woolens May Day Mystery KAL.  Courtney Kelley of Kelbourne Woolens featured Fibre Company MEADOW in a pattern that was doled out clue-by-clue for 6 weeks.  This one was a toughie, as it was “true lace”; meaning you knit lace patterning on both the right and wrong side of the work.  The finished object was stunning – a lace shawl that started at the neck with a tab cast on and finished with a gorgeous, flowing lace edge.  Kim and Karen both used Meadow and Susan used Isager Spinni for a little different size and feel.  All the shawls are show-stoppers as you’ll see….At the end of the mystery KAL, the pattern was named BELTANE.

For lots more information about this project, access the links below our finished objects!

 

KAREN’S BELTANE:  FIBER COMPANY MEADOW “Queen Anne’s Lace”

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KIM’S BELTANE: THE FIBRE COMPANY MEADOW “Aster”

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SUSAN’S BELTANE: ISAGER SPINNI “28-s”

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Find the pattern here: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/beltane-shawl-2

Read about MEADOW here:  http://kelbournewoolens.com/yarns/meadow/

Mystery KAL Round up from Kelbourne blog:  http://kelbournewoolens.com/blog/2014/6/may-day-mystery-knit-a-long-round-up

See other Beltane shawls on Instagram at #KWMKAL

The Case of the Mystery KAL…An Interview with Romi Hill

IMG_4435A couple of months ago I was scrolling through Instagram and happened upon a post from Rosemary “Romi” Hill about her upcoming Mystery Knit A Long, “It’s a Mystery” shawl and decided to give mystery-knitting-along a whirl. With that, I entered into what was a fun, interesting and challenging knitting endeavor and dragged several of my compadres at the shop along!

For starters, Mystery Knit Alongs ( KAL’s) were all over the place on Ravelry and I was curious to see how they worked and what people liked about participating in them. The formula is pretty simple: a designer makes a knitting project available in clues and those clues are doled out one at a time over the course of several weeks. Participants are told what supplies and skills are needed, and what the object is they are knitting, but not much else. After an initial pattern purchase (which many times is the pre-release price for a new pattern), a clue is delivered to your Ravelry Library and you are notified via email. You pick up your needles, the first clue, and start knitting.

Designers establish a Ravelry discussion board around the KAL and moderators administer the discussion threads, answering questions, commenting on progress and encouraging participants. Participants can comment, ask questions, post pictures of their progress and socialize with others. There are even SPOILER threads on which pictures are allowed for those who want to see what others are doing.

As Romi’s “It’s A Mystery” shawl KAL progressed, both the shop participants and knitters on Ravelry formed an ongoing conversation about the techniques, colors and accessibility of the project. It was fun to see what people chose for their color combinations and see their progress, week by week. Romi even stalked the Ravelry thread occasionally to get a peek at how things were going.

At the conclusion of “It’s A Mystery”, the project/pattern was renamed “Red Rock Canyon” which aptly describes the effect of the lace and color work sections of the beautiful finished shawl. I wrote to Romi and asked her if she’d mind answering a few questions for me that I could share with our readers and she most generously agreed!

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Amy: When were you first aware of Mystery KAL’s?

Romi: I knew that there were people doing mystery shawls back in 2005 and it intrigued me, so I finally tried one in 2007: Melanie Gibbons’ Swan Lake Mystery Shawl. I’m kind of a control freak, so it was a giant leap of faith for me.

Amy: As a designer, does a KAL help roll out a new pattern/design? Are they good sales tools for designers?

Romi: That’s difficult to answer for everyone, so I’ll just comment on my own case. I personally love to do KALs because my Ravelry forum enjoys knitting together. There’s a fantastic community there, and I know they like to have all my pattern releases spread out so they can hang out, chat, and share stories while they work.

Amy: Do you design a piece as a KAL, or design a piece and figure out how to break it down into a KAL?

Romi: For my non-mystery KALs, I just design pieces without thinking about how people with end up knitting them – whether alone or in a group. For a mystery KAL (this was my second one), I definitely design the pattern with the mystery in mind rather than breaking it down into clues later. I try to break it into 5 fairly equal pieces that have something interesting about them. My favorite thing is to begin with a clue that gives the impression of heading in a different direction from where the piece will ultimately end up. Maybe I will end a clue with the top of a motif that looks completely different broken up, or in the case of the Red Rock Canyon shawl, the first clue used shaping reminiscent of a circular shawl before getting triangular in the next clue.

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Amy: How do you decide who your moderators will be on Ravelry?

Romi: It’s super important to me that my forum is a welcoming, friendly and supportive place. My moderators are all helpful and kind, and love to chat with people. We share a common goal in wanting everyone to feel comfortable and relaxed, like knitting together in a friendly living room.

Amy: When you read the Ravelry threads related to each clue, what gets you the most excited?

Romi: I love, love, LOVE seeing all the different color combinations people choose. Some I never would think of to try and they look amazing! Watching it all come together is an incredible feeling.

Amy: What do you feel makes a great/successful Mystery KAL?

Romi: Being moderate, I think. In other words: it needs some element of surprise, but not too terribly much, and it needs to look similar to my other work so knitters can decide whether or not they want to participate. I try not to do anything off-the-wall for mysteries. And above all, it needs to be FUN! My wonderful moderators and Ravelry group members made the KAL a really friendly and encouraging place to be, and I think – in the end – a positive experience and a beautiful product are the most important things.

We are most grateful to Romi for sharing her process with us. To view Red Rock Canyon on Ravelry, please visit the link below:

 http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/red-rock-canyon

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Instagramming…Is that a Verb?

photoInstagram has been around for awhile, but just recently we decided that Woolworks would start their own Instagram account to post pictures of interest from our shop.  If you haven’t seen or experienced Instagram, take a look.  It’s a free app, you choose people and businesses to follow and you have your own “feed” of those you’re following.

Woolworks is following knitwear designers, yarn manufacturers and people of interest within our industry.  It’s thrilling to see posts from Kate Davies, Miriam Felton, Knitbot, Kelbourne Woolens, Olgajazzy, Shibui Knits, Never Not Knitting, Brandon Mably, Carrie Hoge, Clara Parkes, Sarah Hatton, Joji Locatelli, Kay Gardiner, Romi Hill and many more.  This is a public way of posting bits and pieces of these designers’ days – what they’re working on, new colorways being produced, photo shoots of new products, swatching with their morning coffee and maybe a kitty or two.

We’re happy to be putting Woolworks out there amongst our peers and making connections at the same time.  Designers comment on our color choices for projects using their patterns or yarn.  It’s a community.  That’s what’s fun. 

If you’d like to follow us on Instagram, our username is Woolworksbalt.  If you’d like to follow some of the same people, click on “following” once you’re on our Instagram page and you’ll see a list of names you’ll recognize.  Have fun with it.  It’s inspiration for your knitting and crocheting life!

That’s Very Pinteresting….

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Have you been sucked into the creative and visually stunning vortex that is PINTEREST yet?  Well we have and believe you me, we are not always proud of the amount of time we’re spending doing it!  However, (and this is important) it is an extremely valuable resource for all creative types.  Just last week we started the Woolworks, Baltimore Pinterest account, after having individual accounts amongst us for a couple of years.  The idea behind Pinterest is to create virtual “boards”, by category of things you like.  These boards can be any subject matter and when we say the possibilities are endless of what you’ll find, we are not kidding.

With that in mind, the Woolworks, Baltimore Pinterest is made up of 19 boards so far – all having to do with knitting, crochet, needle felting, buttons, inspiration and design.  We’ve chosen knitwear designers to “follow” on Pinterest so that you – our followers – may see what current designers are pinning and planning.  If you choose to follow Woolworks, you’ll have access to an already curated batch of boards that cater to what we all love the most.  In addition, when following our “Feed”, you’ll scroll through and see what some incredibly talented people are doing and what they are inspired by when it comes to fiber arts.

If you haven’t joined Pinterest yet (it’s free, there’s an app, etc.), please do.  Once you have an account, look for us – Woolworks, Baltimore – and give us a follow.  We think you’ll like what you see.  Best of all, most of the “pins” track back to the source, whether it’s Ravelry, Rowan’s website, great blogs, tutorials, etc.  It goes on and on.  We love it and we’re pretty sure you will too!

Join Woolworks on Pinterest!