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.

My 2015 Crafting Resolutions

photo by George Chelebiev. Check back in a few days for the hat pattern!!
photo by George Chelebiev. Check back in a few days for the hat pattern!!

I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions (and I almost never stick to them if I do). In 2014, I made a point of not making a single resolution. After about a year of living in the USA again, I was disillusioned with America’s achievement-centered culture. Bulgarians don’t generally define themselves by their jobs, or their exercise routines, or how often they floss their teeth. Americans, on the other hand, are supposed to be always striving to do more, to be better, thinner, richer, more successful. Life was not a series of moments, to be enjoyed as much as possible with others, but instead a competition, to be won. So, in preparation for starting a new life in Sofia, I decided that no resolution at all was the most appropriate choice.

However, resolutions can be a great thing. I appreciate the American tendency to be proactive, and that Americans like to feel in charge of their own lives. That mentality has definitely served me well.

I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution last year. Still, I managed to move to Europe with my sweetheart, find an apartment and a great group of friends in my new home, get a job, quit the job to be a freelance writer, get married, and knit six sweaters. 2015 is the first year of my adult life that I don’t have an imminent job change, location change, or relationship change on the horizon. So it seems like a great year to focus on what I really want and go for it.

Because themes are fun, I’ve decided my New Year’s resolutions will all be knitting-related. It’s been 2015 for a whole week, so I’ve had some time to really think about these. Here they are:

1. Stick to a yarn budget.

Unless I have a steady supply of store credit (shout-out to my WEBS days), I’m a careful yarn shopper by necessity. My resources are limited, and living in Bulgaria means that I can either choose Bulgarian or Turkish wool, or pay for shipping and customs to import the yarn I want. My stash is fairly modest, and for the most part all my yarn purchases turn into finished products eventually.

Even still, I only have a vague idea of what I spend on yarn each year. And, since I’m generally concerned with consumption, and more philosophical questions surrounding materialism and ownership, I could always benefit from reflection and awareness of my buying habits. So this year I’m putting myself on a yarn budget of $35/month. That might sound extravagant, or painfully strict, depending on who’s reading this. Budgeting is very personal, and based on my own knitting habits and income, I’ve decided that’s a decent amount for me. It’s certainly less than I spent in 2014, because part of this exercise is to push myself to be creative and deliberate in my choices, and to work from my stash when possible.

I’m not counting tools or books in this number, just yarn. I almost never buy tools anyway, once I have them, and the only tool on my list for 2015 is a good pair of fabric scissors. Books we’ll get to in a minute. This gives me about $100 every three months, which is usually more than enough for a sweater quantity.

And, since I’m an open book, I’ll be tallying my budget and my purchases right here on my blog for all the world to see (click on the little burger icon at the top of my homepage).

2. Blog more.

Which brings me to my next resolution. My goal for 2014 was to start a knitting blog, so, mission accomplished. But, my updates have been sporadic, and for 2015, I’m reflecting on why I started blogging in the first place, and how to motivate myself to update regularly.

At some point around 2011, I started wanting more out of my knitting, and myself, than just a pile of FO’s. I wanted to learn, and grow, as a crafter, incorporating fiber arts into every aspect of my life, and pushing myself to learn more about the supply chain that feeds my addiction, instead of being a passive consumer. This blog should be a record of that growth process, not just a place to show off what I make, but to collect things that inspire me and bring all my disparate beliefs, tastes and desires together.

Concretely, this means blogging at the very least once per week, although 2-3 times is better. I’ll also be taking care to organize my updates into categories, including inspiration/wants, projects, techniques, environment, etc. Most importantly, I won’t limit my writing to strictly about knitting, although knitting will surely work its way into every post. Instead, I’ll try to integrate more inspiration from the rest of life into my posts.

3. Define my color palette.

As a yarn store clerk, the type of customer I encountered most often was the color-cautious knitter (and by extension, the color-cautious dresser). I’d often spend several minutes assuring a customer that she would look gorgeous in teal or burgundy. She might look longingly at the brighter color, before finally insisting that she needed navy because she’d “wear it more.”

This was a baffling new perspective for me, since I’m afraid of lots of things, but color isn’t one of them. I’ve always gravitated towards bright pinks, reds and oranges. Particularly as a knitter, my first instinct is to pick the color that will be the most vibrant and fun to look at while I’m knitting it. Learning to knit was a dangerous and liberating new outlet for my color cravings, since I could knit garments in colors I couldn’t find in stores.

Like many things that seem like a great idea when you’re 20, my color choices didn’t always stand the test of time. Plenty of projects I stripped for parts before they were finished, as their impracticality became more apparent. As I get older I’m trying to streamline my entire wardrobe, not just my knits, into a collection of pieces I absolutely love and wear all the time. I’ll never be someone who wears head-to-toe neutral, and I don’t think I’ll ever like the way black looks against my skin. But, I no longer dismiss neutrals out of hand.

I’ll be asking a lot of my clothes, and my knits, in 2015. I used to be susceptible to impulse buys in wacky prints and colors, either second-hand or (gasp!) fast fashion. But there’s nothing like moving to Europe, then moving back to the USA, and then moving back to Europe, to make you think really, really hard about the things you buy. Now I’ve resolved to add to my wardrobe only items that I love enough to hypothetically bring across an ocean. I want colors that flatter me, that coalesce with my entire wardrobe, and that typify my style. Whenever possible, I’d also like to favor naturally-dyed yarns, and for neutral pieces I’ll look for un-dyed wool.

4. Grow my library.

Besides Knitter’s Almanac, which I’ve bought, lent out, and bought again at least twice, I’ve never been motivated to buy books on craft. With my favorite novels, I’m the same way, carrying the story in my head, but picking up and giving away ragged paperbacks willy-nilly. It was mostly out of necessity, since I did so much moving around in my twenties. But I’ve missed out on quite a bit by neglecting my reading list, and I’m ready to start building a library that will serve me for the rest of my knitting, and reading, life.

This is part of why I’m adhering to a strict yarn budget this year, because I want to prioritize great books instead. As much as I love making, I want 2015 to be just as much about learning. At the end of the year, I don’t need another pile of sweaters (although I’m sure I’ll have one). What I need is to grow my own understanding of craft, and what kind of crafter I want to be, and that means growing my library.

My Christmas list included no yarn, and three beautiful books. First, Clara Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, which I’ve thumbed through in yarn stores and libraries countless times and wanted to own. Then, Cirilia Rose’s gorgeous new book Magpies, Homebodies and Nomads, and finally, a re-print from Schoolhouse Press of Anatolian Knitting Designs, by Betsey Harrell. A classic stand-by, a new masterpiece, and a nearly-forgotten little gem. In shopping for books, I’m inspired by my grandmother back in Portland. Her craft room held a library of knitting reference books, old volumes of traditional regional knits, and stacks of dog-eared back issues of Vogue Knitting. In addition, Gramma collected handsome art volumes, and beloved children’s stories, which all felt right at home among the knitting books. It might take more than a year, but someday I’d like a library as indispensable and eclectic as hers.

So, for 2015: Less yarn, more writing, more reading, and prettier colors. Do you have any knitting resolutions this year?

New Pattern: Chervena

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So, after that last post from ages ago, all my dreams came true and I got to knit with Verb’s lovely new yarn, Clover (shout out to Big Sky, as well!). I also got married, but more on that later.

Clover was everything I hope for/expect from a Verb yarn. Soft, but not a pushover. Warm, but not stuffy. And it’s fascinating to see how wool/silk gives off a very slight sheen, and brings out new facets to Kristine’s natural dyes. Since blocking my new hooded cowl, Chervena, I’ve been wearing it pretty much constantly. In the lovely Bandana color, the cowl has the added advantage of making me more visible to Bulgarian taxi drivers when I cross the street.

R1011579If you want to see more photos of Chervena, my latest design, check out the guest post I wrote for Verb’s blog.

Verb and I are also giving away (like, for free) 20 copies of Chervena, to whoever buys Clover fast enough. But if you’re thinking about grabbing two skeins of Clover, you really should, because it’s absolutely lovely to knit with and wear.

WANT: Fairchild and Clover

lovely Fairchild
lovely Fairchild

I’m crushing hard on Bristol Ivy’s latest design, Fairchild, featured on the cover of Pom Pom Quarterly. The subtle yoke shaping, the cute front pleats that look like mini-pockets, and the back pleats that have a sort of racerback look.

To be honest, though I’ve admired Bristol’s sweaters from afar for months now, I have yet to make one. Fairchild might have to be the first.

And, wouldn’t you know it, A Verb For Keeping Warm just unveiled another beautiful hand-dyed yarn, Clover, that apparently knits up to just the right gauge for Fairchild.

beautiful naturally-dyed Clover (swoon)
beautiful naturally-dyed Clover (swoon)

I still have a little stash of Verb’s first original yarn, Pioneer, that I’m saving for just the right project. I had a front-row seat to Kristine’s planning and dyeing process for Pioneer, and saw just how much work went into that yarn (and boy was it worth it). Now she’s teamed up with Sweet Grass Wool to make a brand-new DK-weight wool/silk blend. I’m so excited to see what Verb will do next to help re-invigorate the domestic wool industry, and I’m *dying* to get my hands on some Clover. A naturally-dyed swingy sweater might have to be a wedding present to myself (more on that later)…

WANT: Studio Pullover

GAWGEOUS
GAWGEOUS

When I first heard from Cirilia Rose that she was publishing a book, I knew it was going to be good, of course. Since way back in our Web’s days, I’ve admired Cirilia’s style and design sense. Something that stands out in all of her designs, is her talent for integrating the perfect knit into every facet of style. She’s no cloistered knitter; rather, she’s a writer, explorer and fashionista who applies those sensibilities to her amazing knits.

The designs in Magpies, Homebodies and Nomads are all fun and eminently wearable, but the Studio Pullover is the one that really has me drooling. The gorgeous mohair intarsia reminds of me of a Rhodopi cherga, a homemade shag rug/bedspread with long mohair ties, that you’ll likely find yourself lounging on or under if you spend any time in the Rhodopi Mountains.

photo courtesy of Guest House Geranitsa (благодаря!)
photo courtesy of Guest House Geranitsa (благодаря!)

Only Cirilia could come up with something covered in a rainbow of mohair, yet flattering and easy to wear. She also includes some great insight into her design process (and it IS a process). Love it.

Into It: Drop Sleeves

Drop sleeves and Ladas: two under-rated relics of the eighties
Drop sleeves and Ladas: two underrated relics of the eighties

Good old drop sleeves. Since their glory days in the massive-shouldered 80’s, drop sleeves have been a bit neglected by designers, perhaps for good reason. Arguably, no other sweater shape is more associated with the cliché “unflattering hand-knit sweater” than drop sleeves.

Basically, drop sleeves reduce a sweater to its most elemental: a big tube, with two little tubes attached to it at a ninety-degree angle. They can be fun, and easy to make, and they lend themselves well to elaborate color and cable patterns. But, flattering to the human form? Not so much.

His and hers drop sleeves: for the couple that's shaped like Spongebob Squarepants under their clothes
His and hers drop sleeves: for the couple that’s shaped like Spongebob Squarepants under their clothes

Until recently. I’ve been on the look-out for cute drop-sleeve sweaters ever since I finished my Davis this summer. With short-row shaping, a cropped length, and very slim little sleeves, this sweater manages to avoid all the pitfalls of the drop-sleeve sweaters of yore, looking polished and modern while still slouchy and casual. Browsing through Ravelry’s “Hot Right Now,” I noticed the list was littered with drop sleeves. They are back in a big way, as are boxy, 80’s shapes in general, and lots of designers are doing beautiful things with them.
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Top Left: My pal GreenOlivine in her beautiful Toujours, designed by Joji Locatelli

Top Right: Salted by Alicia Plummer, proof that drop sleeves don’t have to be boxy

Bottom Left: Natsumi from Brooklyn Tweed, a sexy update on the drop-sleeve cabled sweater

Bottom Right: Outlined by Suvi Simola, so seamless and elegant!

Also, this sweater:

I love you, little pocketed sweater
I love you, little pocketed sweater

PS If anyone reads Finnish and/or can find this pattern for me, I’d be eternally grateful.

Into It: Crochet Cowls (Plus Some Digressions)

teaching crochet to some lovely students
teaching crochet to some lovely students

A couple weeks ago, my friend Deni approached me with an amazing opportunity.

Deni works for UNHCR Bulgaria, which is unprecedentedly busy since Bulgaria became the ersatz home for thousands of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Many Bulgarians have responded to this recent influx of refugees admirably and with characteristic hospitality. Even still, the poorest country in the EU has had a tough time mustering up the facilities, infrastructure, and care that all these newcomers so desperately need. Continue reading

Quickies

A couple quick projects that brought me a lot of joy.

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Top: Cocoknits Slouchy Hat, knit with Quince & Co Osprey, some cashmere I bought at Knit/Purl, and (swoon) Sue Reuser’s California Cormo, which I got at Verb.

Bottom: A modified version of Elk Tooth, designed by the inimitable Caitlin Ffrench, also made of Cormo. This is Clara Yarn Cormo 1.0 in Wisteria (it’s all gone, you can’t have any, sorry).

If you’re disappointed there’s not more Bulgaria in this Blog-area, stay tuned. In the meantime, Lorenzo published an illustrated guide to Bulgarian hospitality. Check it out!

WANT: Shinobi Pullover by Yoko Johnson

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This sweater showed up in my Ravelry highlights yesterday (it’s like they know me).

I love the subtle shirttail hem and sweatshirt collar detail. And the texture!

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Also, the story behind the name (from the pattern details page):

“Shinobi is another way of saying ‘Ninja’. My children, who are big fans of a Japanese Anime “Naruto’, named the pullover Shinobi when they saw my sample. (Shinobis wear a chain-mail like top underneath their famous black costume.)”

For another treat, check out Yoko Johnson‘s Octopus Mittens!