Monday, November 24, 2014

Gift-a-long Designer Interview: Ashwini Jambhekar

I think I mentioned last week that one of my favorite parts about the GAL is getting to know other designers. We interact a fair bit in the designers groups on Ravelry, but usually our discussion tend to me about design-specific stuff -- how to word something or how to represent something in a chart, for example. During the GAL, though, we're all chatting as we're working on a holiday knitting, so it's almost like a vacation from the design business.

One of the designers I knew a little bit through our earlier interactions on the forums is Ashwini Jambhekar (she's AshwiniJ on Ravelry). I was delighted to get to interview her for the blog and learn a bit more about her background and design process. I think you'll enjoy getting to know her as well!


How did you start designing? What inspired you to start? Tell me a little about your first design.
I started designing when I was in grad school in San Francisco. Up to that point, I had mostly shopped only in big box yarn stores, and had worked only from patterns published in women's magazines or LeisureArts leaflets. Needless to say, none of these was particularly attractive to a young 20-something, and I actually didn't do a whole lot of knitting in college or early grad school. In San Francisco I discovered a wonderful LYS called Artfibers (which sadly closed about a year ago). Their yarns were amazing, the staff was helpful and knowledgeable, and the shop samples were to die for. And if you purchased their yarn, they would use their sweater design software to help you create a pattern for anything you could dream up! Kira Dulaney (kirakdesigns on Ravelry) was the manager then, and I definitely picked her brain about the design process. This was the first time I realized that knitting didn't have to be frumpy sweaters sized to fit the whole family! I finally found the freedom and skills to create what I wanted. That being said, I don't even know what to call my "first" design, because I started by gradually adapting existing patterns. One of the early "designs" just involved substituting one lace panel for another in the center front of a sweater. I gradually started substituting yarns with different gauges and recalculating the pattern, or changing the construction method, until I was finally making truly original work.

My first published design happened by fluke. One of my fellow dancers discovered that I knit (I had posted some photos on Facebook), and she referred me to her mother-in-law-to-be (Vicki Stiefel, LaidBackKnitter on Ravelry), who was working on a knitting book. After a chat with Vicki, I agreed to recreate an existing design for 10 Secrets of the LaidBack Knitters. It took me a while to discover Ravelry after that, but I did eventually. And it even took me some time after that to start designing more regularly. But I'm very glad to have finally stumbled upon this path!


Cranberry Brioche Sweater
You have an interesting background in that you're a scientist and also have done professional ballet dancing. How do you feel that these interests have influenced your knitting and designing?
I think in all three areas -- science, dance, and designing. What I enjoy the most is using a defined framework to create something unique, interesting, and possibly beautiful. So far these three areas haven't melded together in any tangible way, but one of my dreams is to design a ballet-themed ebook, with dance shots interspersed with garment photos. I discovered that garments don't photograph well in actual dance shots, so I'll probably keep the two separate. I just have to find the time to make it happen!

My science background has definitely helped with the technical aspects of pattern writing. I've become proficient at writing complex instructions in a rigorous manner, and making sure all math is correct. I'm also proficient enough with image editing and graphic arts software (mainly the Adobe Suite), so that also helps. I see how much of a struggle writing and photo editing can be for other designers, so I'm always grateful to have had formal training in these areas. Getting good photos in the first place, however, has been the most difficult aspect of designing for me (and my husband, who plays photographer).

What is your favorite type of item to design and knit?

Sweaters for sure. I like my creations to be front and center, and to steal the show! Additionally, I like that sweaters provide a huge canvas to explore a variety of ideas, such as different types of shaping and the interplay between different stitch patterns.
What (if anything) are you knitting for gifts this year?I always make something for my mom and for my husband (my mom generally supplies my dad with a hand-knit, so she has that covered). This is the first year that my holiday gifts are coming from other designers' patterns. My mom is getting Lingerie socks (designed by Maria Naslund), and my husband is getting a Sandpoint Pullover (designed by Elizabeth Morrison). I originally knit the socks for myself, but they fit my mom so much better that I'm giving them to her. In both cases, the recipients know what to expect. In fact, my husband practiced casting on and knitting for the first time with the pullover, so he has actually contributed to his own gift! The socks are finished, but I'm not sure the pullover will be done in time for the holidays -- I'll be knitting like crazy during the last week of December to try to make it happen.


What can we expect to see from you, design-wise, in 2015?

I think I'd like to try out different sweater constructions. All my sweaters are worked flat, bottom-up, and seamed, with set-in sleeves. There are so many possibilities to explore in this format that I don't think I'll ever run out of ideas. But I do want to try some other types of construction, like top-down or sideways. It will involve stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit, but I think I'm ready to tackle a new design challenge!
Thanks so much for taking take to answer my questions, Ashwini!

You can see all of Ashwini's published designs on Ravelry here. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Very Good Motivation

So, my spinning. To be completely honest, I have barely touched it all week save for a couple of hours this afternoon when I put a little more on this bobbin:


I'd estimate I'm about halfway done with this final bobbin, and I hope to spend a little more time spinning this week so I can finish it up and ply before the end of the month.

Aside from the desire to finally finish this spinning project, I got some really good motivation to finish yesterday. When we opened the door to some friends who came over for dinner last night, we found a fairly large package in the door -- one I kind of knew was coming but also kind of wasn't expecting. You see, what I didn't tell you in my interview with Stefanie last week is that she has a really amazing job. She works for a company called Stitchcraft Marketing, and part of her job is getting clients' products in the hands of knitters and spinners. She very kindly offered to send me some spinning fiber to review and ask me to give her some suggestions of what I might like to spin, so I did, expecting just a sample size bit of fiber.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the package last night to find a whopping 18 oz. of fiber in total. I'm sure you want to know what it was, don't you? Well I won't keep you in suspense.

The star of the package (and the item that really makes me wish the Internet had the ability to let you touch through the screen) is this lovely packet of camel/tussah silk:


This stuff is unbelievably soft. It's just begging to be spun into a light, soft yarn that will be knit into something for my neck. I think it's going to go on the spindle very soon.

Also in the package was a full pound of wool -- 8 oz. of Manx Loaghtan and 8 oz. of Gotland.


I have spun both of these breeds just once before and really enjoyed them, so I'm looking forward to really getting to know them better. And they even smell good -- when I opened the package, I got a lovely waft of that nice sheepy smell.

So thanks again, Stefanie, for hooking me up with this great fiber! I see a lot of fun spinning sessions in my future!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

It Must Be the Cold

While I am always happy to knit, I've been surprised by a real urge this week to Knit All The Things. I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised -- after all, fall is a knitter's favorite season, and we had our first measurable snowfall (followed by bitter cold) the other day, so it's only logical that I would want to surround myself with wool.

It's been several years since I did serious gift knitting, but I am doing a bit of it this year. My brother-in-law got engaged a couple of months ago, so I'm making a couple of smallish gifts for my sister-in-law-to-be. I of course had to take advantage of the Gift-a-long pattern sale this week and bought the pattern for Bristol Ivy's Metropolis Mitts (among a number of other patterns for myself). I am knitting them out of a skein of handspun superwash merino that's been sitting in my stash for several years now:


You'll have to take my word for it that these look a lot better in natural light (and when I'm not trying to take a photo of my own arm). These aren't really a quick knit -- there's lots of traveling twisted stitches and cables -- but they are a fun one. If I'm not completely sick of all the knitting gymnastics after I'm done with the pair, then I'll knit a pair for myself.

I'm planning on knitting a hat to go with the mitts, also in handspun (a skein that coincidentally coordinates quite well, I think):


I'm going to make something up for the hat -- I'm thinking something slouchy with some kind of cables. I'll figure it out as I go.

I'm not casting on for the hat just yet because take a look at this -- the rest of this sleeve is all that's standing between me and a finished sweater:


I should at least get to the cabled detail on the top of the sleeve (which you can't really see in the photo because of how the finished sleeve is folded) tonight, and I think I should be done before the weekend is out. The nice thing about this pattern is that you do the neckline and button bands before even starting the sleeves, so once I've bound off the second sleeve and woven in a few ends, the only finishing I will need to do is pick out and sew on some buttons! My goal for this sweater was to have it done by Thanksgiving, and frankly I don't think that's going to be a problem at all. The hard part will be deciding what to cast on for next -- there are too many things in the queue saying "Pick me! Pick me!"

Just a reminder that the Gift-a-long pattern sale (25% off all eligible patterns with the code giftalong2014) ends tomorrow at 11:59 p.m. EST. You can find my eligible patterns here. Once the sale is over, keep knitting with us in the group! There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of prizes to be won along with a lot of fun and encouragement in the group.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gift-a-long Designer Interview: Stefanie Goodwin-Ritter

One of my favorite parts of the Gift-a-long is discovering new-to-me designers and browsing their patterns. This year, I happened across Stefanie Goodwin-Ritter (who goes by stefaniegrrr on Ravelry), and she was kind enough to let me interview her for the blog. Stefanie is lucky enough to work in the fiber biz, and I think you'll enjoy getting to know her as much as I did!


How did you get into designing? Tell me a bit about your first design and what inspired it.
I got into designing when I was working at Lorna's Laces in 2007; my first design was the Side Swipe Sock, which is now available for free on Ravelry. Basically, I was asked if I wanted to design a sock for a new color of yarn, and that's what I came up with!

I see that, like me, you love to knit and design socks. What is it about socks that you find so appealing?
I've always been drawn to sock knitting (and designing) because it's so utilitarian: you can never have too many wool socks! While I love knitting other projects such as shawls, cowls, and hats, I find that I tend to favor just a few to wear each season, and the rest sit in the bin of hand-knits, unused - it seems like kind of waste! However, I wear all of my wool socks thoughout the season, and that's great motivation to make more. My favorite kinds of socks to knit are those that are simple enough to work on at knit night or while riding the bus or train, but with elements of interest to keep the knitterly part of my brain engaged.

Do you have a favorite design or one that you're most proud of? Tell me about it!
I'm most proud of the ebook I published this year, Conversation Socks. The premise is quick-to-knit socks using sport weight yarn with unisex appeal. As my time for gift knitting shrinks each year, I am always looking for ways to make my family the hand-knit socks they love, and sport weight socks seemed like the obvious solution. I found that a lot of the existing designs in that weight of yarn were either not "unisex" enough for my taste, or too complicated to knit while on-the-go. Each of the 5 designs in Conversation Socks is designed with these constraints in mind. Unfortunately, ebooks aren't eligible for the Gift-a-long discount, but I have set up a coupon code for listeners of the Prairie Girls Knit & Spin podcast for those wishing to save 25% off their ebook purchase.

What would you say are your main influences when you design?
Necessity! I design the things I want to make, which I haven't seen published elsewhere. Then I hope that other people will want to make them, too!

What can we expect to see from you in 2015?

Curiously, I have mostly toys or non-sock accessories in my design queue at the moment. I would like to publish more crochet designs (so far I just have a free pattern out for a Crochet Button Bunny), and I am also thinking about another ebook of some sort, but that is very early in the planning stages!

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Stefanie!

Stefanie has some great quick-to-knit patterns in her Gift-a-long bundle, so definitely give them a look if you're still in search of holiday knitting patterns. Remember, all these patterns are 25% through 11:59 p.m. EST this Friday, November 21, with the code giftalong2014.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Promise Kept

Nearly two years ago, I started knitting a doll for my then newly 3-year-old daughter. I got as far as finishing the body and half of the head before I shoved it away in the bottom of one of my knitting bags. In the many months that followed, I got it out a couple of times and did a round or two before relegating it back to its hibernation spot. Then, a month or two ago, my daughter started asking if I would finally finish it. The gauntlet was thrown, and I of course said yes.

It has not been an easy knit, because it's all in cotton (which my hands do not like), but I have stuck to my plan to have it done before her birthday and I made it almost a month early.


Pattern: Baby Doll Set: Doll by Susan B. Anderson in Itty Bitty Toys
Yarn: Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton (100% organic cotton) in colors 81/Sand (two skeins), 80/Bone (one skein), 638/Dandelion (one skein), and 632/Mediterranean (one skein
Needles: US 4 (3.5 mm) and US 7 (4.5 mm)
Started/Completed: December 19, 2012/November 16, 2014
Mods: I adjusted the dress to fit the body a bit better (incorporating decreases into the stripes and making it shorter) and made the hat larger.

Let me start by saying that the finished item is completely adorable and the recipient is over the moon about it (so much so that, upon discovering where I'd left it on her pillow this morning, she ran into our room to poke me awake and say thank you -- which would have been awesome had it not been 5 a.m.). What's particularly clever about this pattern is that it looks like a little girl, but by removing the hat and the dress, it becomes a baby again:


Now, aside from the yarn, I will tell you what I did not love so much about this pattern: Every little piece of this doll is knit separately and sewn together. And when I say every piece, I mean every piece. The feet and legs are made separately and then attached to each other. The thumb are knit separately from the hands and then sewn on. What may be the most ridiculous things are the little nose and the belly button -- but that's pretty darn cute.


I'm also not entirely sure I sewed everything how and where I was supposed to. There are descriptions some pictures in the book, but there's no really clear diagram of what goes where, so I had to do a lot of guesswork. I won't deny that Susan B. Anderson is a really clever designer and has a real knack for adorable toys, but perhaps they just aren't for me.

So, the final verdict: Would I knit it again? Probably not. I think I would rather do something that's all in one piece or just a few. Was it worth it? You tell me:


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pales and Brights

So, spinning. I'm still working on the naturally colored Shetland/silk, though it has moved along a little faster in the past few days. Last night I finished up the second bobbin:


and started the third (and final):


Yesterday was Indie Knit & Spin, a smallish local fiber festival. This year, classes were offered, and I signed up for one in support spindling (mainly because I wanted to be able to use the beautiful Spanish Peacock Russian spindle I bought at MDSW last year). The other person who signed up for the class never showed, so I essentially got a private lesson from Jill of Hipstrings. I wouldn't say I've completely mastered the technique -- I've still got a lot of practice to do -- but I managed to actually get fiber on my spindle!


I learned a lot more about the technique and how to spin short-stapled fibers. I even managed to spin some cotton (though I have no evidence of it because I neglected to take a photo after I'd spun it and I had to pull what I'd spun off the spindle when I was done because it was one of Jill's that I'd borrowed for the lesson). What you see on my Russian above is a luscious blend of camel, merino, and silk. There's also some bison, cotton, and silk hankies in the fiber sampler.

I'm sure you're wondering what else I picked up, so without any further ado, I give you my haul.

From Fibernymph Dye Works, self-striping sock yarn in Electric Avenue on her Bounce base (80% superwash merino/20% nylon):


and an Inversibles set in turquoise and brown, also on Bounce (these will self-stripe as well; one sock will have wider turquoise stripes and thinner brown stripes and the other sock will have wider brown stripes and thinner turquoise stripes):


From SpaceCadet Creations, I picked up a skein of Aurora (70% superwash merino, 20% cashmere, 10% nylon) in Tickled for an upcoming design:

Note: It's not nearly this neon in person.
 And finally I got this cute bucket bag, suitable for knitting or spinning projects, from Star Knits:


Look, it even has pockets inside!


All in all, I think I did pretty well!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Gift-a-long Is Almost Here!

If you were reading my blog last year, then I'm guessing you will remember the Indie Designer Gift-a-long that launched shortly before the holidays. I'm very excited that it's back for a second year! I'll be doing some more designer interviews and giving you some gift knitting suggestions, but I wanted to get a post up today to tell you the important information so you'll be ready!

What is the Gift-a-long?
The Gift-a-long (or GAL) started as a way to celebrate abundance among independent pattern designers, both knit and crochet. This year, as it did last year, the GAL will kick off with a pattern sale by participating designers that will be followed by KALs and CALs grouped by type of item (hats and head things, socks and feet/leg things, kids and baby things, etc.). The whole thing is to encourage you to be social as you're working on your holiday crafting and support independent designers along the way. There are prizes to be won and lots of camaraderie and support to be had on Ravelry.

What's the story with the sale?
All participating designers are required to offer a minimum of four and a maximum of 20 of their self-published paid patterns for a discount during the sale period. During the sale, all eligible patterns will be 25% off when you use the code giftalong2014.

What are the dates for the sale and the GAL?
The GAL officially kicks off tonight at 8 p.m. EST. The sale runs through 11:59 p.m. next Friday, November 21, but the KALs/CALs run through midnight on December 31.

Where do I find out more?
The GAL group on Ravelry is here. There are several pages with important information as well as stickied threads with the key dates and times and whatnot. You'll also see some chatter threads and the threads for the individual KALs and CALs.

All the participating designers are listed on this page in alphabetical order by first name. Each designer's name is followed by two links, one to the designer's Ravelry profile and one to their designer page. All participating designers are required to have a GAL 2014 bundle on their designer page, so you can easily see which patterns are eligible for the sale (note, however, that all paid patterns are eligible for the -alongs, even if they aren't part of the pattern sale). If you're a more visual person, you can scroll through this thread, which has a post for every participating designer with a photo collage and a link to the designer page, or you can click over to the Pinterest boards here.

I am very excited to be a participating designer again this year, and you can see my bundle of sale-eligible patterns here. And, for your viewing pleasure, here's a bit of a preview:


I am looking forward to kicking my holiday knitting in high gear and seeing what everyone else is making this year. I hope to see you over in the Ravelry group!