Inspiration Everywhere: The Rugs of Chiprovtsi in HAND/EYE

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my favorite of Yulka’s rugs

Last weekend Lorenzo and I went to Chiprovtsi, a little town in the Balkan Mountains famous for its handwoven rugs. The trip happily came just before this piece I wrote about Chiprovtsi carpets was published on HAND/EYE Magazine‘s website.

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back in September, learning how Yulka’s loom works (and wearing my featherweight)

Our first visit was in September, with my in-laws, to see Chiprovtsi’s famous carpets and meet some of the people who still make them. Going back this weekend was a little poetic. Back in September, it was warm and green. Everyone’s red peppers were hung out to dry and the farmers took their goats out to graze every morning. Lorenzo and I weren’t even planning on getting married that year, and I was writing a piece on Chiprovtsi in the hopes that HAND/EYE would publish it. Yulka and Yordanka, the women we met there, were anxiously waiting to hear from UNESCO about whether Chiprovtsi’s carpets had won the intangible heritage award they applied for.

This time, we arrived to a layer of fresh snow. The goats were snuggled in their stables with their new babies, and instead of fresh salad we ate pickles, sausage and potatoes. Chiprovtsi had won its UNESCO status, and we were there to pick out a carpet, handwoven by Yulka, a present from my mother-in-law in honor of our hasty wedding in November.

wintertime goat snuggles
wintertime goat snuggles

You can read more about Chiprovtsi, and see more photos of their beautiful traditional rugs here on HAND/EYE. Here’s our perfect kitty enjoying our new kilim.emiChiprovtsi

Quickies: Little Yellow Chushki

left: обикновена чушка right: самодивска чушка
left: обикновена чушка right: самодивска чушка

My friend Lora has knit some adorable little Chushki with a kind of maryjane vibe. Chushki is part of my Woodstove Series, four fast, toasty little accessories for the chilliest part of winter. Here’s what she says about her mods:

I did a single crochet seam on the outside – I think it’s quite pretty. Sewed up the toe side for only about 8 selvedge stitches. Then folded the slipper and sewed from the top of the heel side for about 8-9 selvedge stitches. So it makes a cute little elfin slipper.

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I bet these elfin Chushki would be great slippers for sitting out on my balcony on a sunny morning. As an awesome bonus, Lora shared a little glimpse of her Bulgarian childhood:

There’s a whole variety of ‘terlici’ [Bulgarian for ‘slippers’] that can be created from this lovely, quick, and easy pattern… In any case, I absolutely used to abhor terlici as a child – my great grandmother and grandmother would knit endless piles of them, from home-spun wool that I had probably helped to clean earlier in the year. Despite how romantic this all sounds now, I used to think they were prickly and horrendous looking, and as a young person with good circulation, simply could not understand why my feet had to be constantly swaddled in thick wool (the draft of course, the dreaded draft!).

It seems the younger you are, the better your body is at keeping itself warm, and the more your elders will worry that you’re cold. Many many times in Bulgaria, particularly on the train, an older person has remarked on how “naked” I am (post-Communist Bulgaria is not a particularly prudish place, but in winter, Bulgarian grandmas will accuse you of public nudity for having your collarbone exposed). If I assure them I’m warm enough, they bob their heads from side-to-side and say it must be my “young blood.”

Check out Lora’s project page for her “Zholti Chushki,” and see all of her gorgeous knitting here. Thanks for the story, Lora, and happy knitting!

 

 

Knitting Is a Right, Not a Privilege

my inspiration
my inspiration

An article has been circulating that has fueled a lot of discussion among knitters, entitled “Never Say This To a Knitter. Really, Just Don’t Do It.” What exactly are you never supposed to say to a knitter? You might think it’s a remark about him/her having too much time on their hands, or an ageist joke about who, stereotypically, is “supposed” to knit. It’s neither of those. The author, Anne Miller, argues—and many knitters agree—that the comment she least wants to hear (and does hear, often) is “You should sell your knitting!”

The first thing I noticed is that the article was published by Yahoo! Makers, which is apparently a thing that exists (neat, I guess). The headline is classic clickbait, designed to compel and stir up discussion. But the article’s thesis, that knitters are tired of hearing well-intentioned randos insist that they should commodify their craft, is familiar and resonant. I’ve heard, and felt, the same sentiment many times.

When someone tells me I should sell my handknits, I take that for what it is: a compliment. But sometimes the complimenter persists, and wants to know why I haven’t pursued this brilliant business plan already. This might be someone who, earlier, told me they never spend more than a few dollars on a t-shirt, or that they think $100 is way too much to pay for a pair of jeans. Since textiles have become one of the cheapest commodities on earth, and the people who make our clothing are increasingly denied living wages or safe working conditions, I don’t know where someone would get the idea that making clothes, by hand, is a smart moneymaking venture. That’s when it veers into uncomfortable territory, when I have to explain how much money and time actually goes into a handknit item, and how much such a thing would have to cost in order to bring in even a small profit. When I explain that I do sell patterns for my designs, and that I’m happy to teach anyone to knit who wants to learn and will pay for my time, that’s usually where the conversation ends.

So I very much relate to this piece, as did plenty of people on the WEBS Facebook page, where I first saw the article posted. Most people who comment on my knitting are not interested in having a conversation about their role, and moral responsibility, within the garment supply chain. Knitting, like any textile art, draws you closer to the beginning of that chain. Making a garment changes your perspective on clothing, and about how much of yourself you’re willing to invest in something you love.
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Svalbard Chapter 1: Listening to My Yarn

Aviary from Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington
Aviary from Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington

In the last weeks of 2014, just before I took my solemn yarn budget vow, I was bewitched by this yarn from Tolt, and had to have it in a sweater quantity.

Even though I hadn’t totally devised my yarn resolutions yet, Aviary fit a lot of my new, picky, criteria for a good purchase. It’s a limited-run farm yarn, which meant whatever I made out of it would be totally unique, something no one else had. It was undyed, a captivating off-white with little slubs of natural black (the blackest natural black I’ve ever seen). So, it’s a neutral, which will be versatile in my wardrobe, it’s 100% undyed wool, and even better, it’s yarn that tells a story.

I tend to pick out yarn before I pick out a pattern. If I love a yarn but not enough to make a sweater out of it, I’ll buy one skein for a hat or cowl, or to keep in my stash in case I need to make a gift. I spend tons of time browsing patterns, but I rarely decide that I’m definitely going to make a particular pattern and then start shopping for yarn.

In her book Sweater Design in Plain English (which is sadly not in my library), Maggie Righetti talks about the process of letting yarn tell you what it wants to be. She suggests spending time with the yarn before you start knitting, kind of like how you should spend a long time playing with a litter of kittens before you decide which one to take home. Working in yarn stores, I practiced the art of “spending time with yarn.” And I’ve found Righetti’s advice to be true. Give yarn the time and space, and it will tell you what it wants to be.

This idea came back to me recently as I was reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, a new book with the power to make cleaning house exciting even to me. Like Righetti does with yarn, Kondo attributes a sort of sentience to material things. She advises the reader to handle each and every one of their possessions, in order to “bring the item to life.” She also thanks her handbag when she gets home from work at night, and she prays to her clients’ dwellings when she goes on her private tidying consultations.

seriously, find a copy of this book
seriously, find a copy of this book

Before my Aviary arrived in the mail, I had a pattern 90% picked out. With a yarn like this one, the pressure of picking the perfect pattern can be intimidating. This was a beautiful yarn, that might never be available to me again, so I had to get it exactly right. Tolt described the yarn as between DK and worsted, and I wanted a garment that would show off the yarn’s natural irregularities in color and texture. Most of all, I wanted something I would wear all the time, something that made a statement, but was simple enough to wear every day. I’d had my eye on Dusk, and from this description, this yarn seemed like a perfect match for the pattern.

When Aviary finally arrived, though, something about my pattern choice just wasn’t working with the yarn in my hand. It was heavier than I’d anticipated; the 200yd skeins weighed 120 grams, not 100. The wool itself reminded me of Bluefaced Leicester: long, silky fibers with a little sheen. A pullover in this yarn would be oppressively warm, and something in plain stockinette stitch, with lots of ease, might end up hanging forlornly, losing the yarn’s specialness. Instead of casting on my project right away, I put my six new skeins in a little heap next to the couch, for easy reach, and periodically would pick one up, pet it, and listen to see if it was ready to tell me what it wanted to be.

By chance, I was admiring a design I’ve loved for awhile, when the yarn called to me from its little camp by the couch. Svalbard is a cardigan, in an allover ribbed pattern that would help the garment hold its shape while playing up the slubs and subtle stripes. The sweater looked classic, but the pattern was deliciously complicated, according to many project notes on Ravelry. This was it. The yarn told me what it wanted to be.

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I’m about 80% finished with my Svalbard, which I’ll talk more about in another entry. So far, it’s one of my more successful pairings of a yarn with a pattern. How do you pick your projects? Do you choose a pattern first, or a yarn? Have you ever mismatched a yarn with a pattern (I know I have!), and what did it teach you?

The Woodstove Series: Chushki and Mekitza

And finally, to round out my little ebook, I bring you Chushki:

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and Mekitza:

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Chushki is a super-quick little pair of house slippers, in garter stitch with just a couple little slipped-stitch accents. The pattern is written for a slipper of about 9″ unstretched, but is easily adjustable for whatever size you want to make. For an adult foot, cast on the same number of stitches, and aim for a slipper just about one inch shorter than the intended wearer’s foot (these will stretch to fit nice and snug).

With Mekitza, there are no such sizing quibbles. Just cast on with some great big needles and go. This would be an ideal project if you’d like to try short rows for the first time.

These two patterns, along with Snezhanka and Pechka, are included in my Woodstove Series.

In creating the Woodstove Series, my intention was to present wearable designs that would appeal to knitters of all levels, that would be clear enough for beginners to understand but fun enough for advanced knitters. These are all quick, chunky knits, with some fun details. I’d love to see what kinds of color combinations other people might come up with for these designs. If you have questions about any of the patterns, or you’re thinking about casting on one of them, leave me a comment and I’ll respond.

The Woodstove Series: Snezhanka

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Hot off the presses: the second design in my Woodstove Series!

Meet Snezhanka. This luscious little hat takes only one skein of Puffin. Knit in brioche stitch on size 11 needles, Snezhanka might be the quickest knit of all the Woodstove designs (and that’s saying a lot!). I chose a pale, delicate color that accentuates the brioche stitch’s lovely topography.

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Next up in the Woodstove Series: some sweet little slippers, and a cozy, chunky bandana cowl. Stay tuned.

Announcing: The Woodstove Series

Just in time for the dead of winter, I’m so excited to announce my new mini-collection of designs. Introducing The Woodstove Series.

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The photos are the work of my friend, George. Aside from his amazing photography, and graphic design work, George spends his time fighting fascism and eating bananas.

All knit up in Quince & Co. Puffin, these four winter warmers can be worked up in a flash. They’re perfect if you need an instant-gratification knit, or if you spent all December making gifts for other people, and now find yourself exposed to the elements.

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I chose bright colors with a vintage vibe, inspired by Bulgarian folk costumes and the monkey bars outside my block. The shapes and stitches are basic, but each design incorporates a couple techniques that might be new to you. I hope they’ll be fun, quick projects for experienced knitters. And, if you’re a beginner, I really hope you’ll give them a try.

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I’ll be releasing the patterns one at a time, every few days, for the next week. Once they’re all up, they’ll be available in an ebook on Ravelry as well. The first design in the series is Pechka, a super-cozy double-layer hat.

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Check back all week for more releases. Stay warm out there.