Monday, August 31, 2009

Brooklyn Tweed is Coming to Austin, TX!

Y'all, Brooklyn Tweed, aka Jared Flood, is coming to town November 5 - 8. Now, you might be wondering why I'm telling you this when it's not even September yet. Well, here's why. Do you KNOW who Brooklyn Tweed is? Suzanne puts it this way, "He is to the knitting world what Twilight is to the teenage vampire lit world."


He's a designer, a knit blogger, and an all around color/texture/pattern genius. His classes are, no doubt, going to sell out. Suzanne is still working on the schedule, but here's what you should do if you want to be sure you don't miss your chance to knit with the big dog. Call the store and make sure you're on the newsletter mailing list. If you get the updates regularly, you're probably on the list. But we've been hitting a bump or two with some subscribers, so it's good to check. The number is 512-707-7396.

Next, sit back and dream about the classes. They're going to be super fun and super informative. To get yourself psyched even more, I've got a few links for you to check out:

Classic Elite Yarns
Classic Elite has published a book of Brooklyn Tweed's patterns, called LIVING IN BROOKLYN. As Jared himself puts it: "LIVING IN BROOKLYN presents a daily arrangement of unexpected inspirations—like existing in the midst of an impassioned conversation. In assembling this body of work, I've come to rely on an impossible juxtaposition of parts in my environment—old and new, luxury and necessity, tradition and trend—as a kind of sustenance in my process."

Brooklyn Tweed
This is Jared's blog. Right now he has the most awesome baby leggings posted at the top. Check it out.

An Interview with Jared

And remember, give the store a call to make sure you don't miss out on the announcement about the Brooklyn Tweed class schedule.

I'll be there,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Postcards from the (St, st) Edge

Hello Y'all,
Greetings from Camp Aunt Jackie. I scooted up to Jersey for a couple of days to have lunch with my mom before she has surgery next week. I've got a couple of dozen nieces and nephews up here whom I've only hung out with a few times scattered over the years. But in 2005, my sister Rose brought her family to Austin and while they were visiting I taught her oldest to knit.

Well, on this trip up, GiGi reminded me about that lesson and dug out her needles and asked for a new lesson. Her younger brother and sister also wanted to learn. So we headed out to the local gigantic craft store and picked up the sort of yarn that kind of makes my skin crawl (alas, no Hill Country Weavers-type store that I know of nearby). Then we all plunked down for an afternoon of knitting while the two year-old kept trying to get into my knitting bag, no doubt in search of the scissors. (I distracted him by showing him how to click-click-click my counter.)

It was a lot of fun, and all three got the hang of it pretty quick. This reminded me of so many stories I've heard from so many knitters I've interviewed for this blog and the other knitting blog I write. At some point, somebody taught you to knit and, as it turns out, often enough it's an aunt that does the honors. Up here, I'm not Spike, I'm Aunt Jackie. And so I hope at least one of them sticks with it and gets hooked the way I am. Then one day, decades hence, they'll be granting an interview about their award-winning designs, and recall, "My Aunt Jackie taught me when I was a kid."

Here are some pictures from our adventure:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ask Stella: I Messed Up-- Help!!

Dear Stella,
Since I started knitting ten years ago, I have hardly ever ripped anything out and I rarely drop a stitch. This is not because I am a perfect knitter, but because I freak out at the idea of ripping out and then having to get the stitches all back on the needle AND get them in the right direction. Also, picking up dropped stitches is really hard for me, so I just try to avoid dropping them in the first place. Well, the other night, I was working on a sweater that's pretty advanced for me. I TOTALLY screwed it up, and I had no choice but to rip it out. I got down pretty far, tried to get the stitches on, messed up, and had to rip out more. I finally did get the stitches on but a part of me felt so mad, like I'd wasted a lot of work. Also, I realized I was reading the pattern wrong but I couldn't figure out how to read it right. Is there a way to avoid this frustration in the future?
Hates Ripping Out

Dear Hates,
First of all, I recommend taking a deep breath. Come to think of it, I actually recommend a nice nap under the desk, with your head resting on the feet of someone you love. But if you don't have time for that, at least remember this: you are a human, not a dog. That means that you are bound to make mistakes. It's okay. Yes, it can be frustrating to feel like you wasted work and it can be scary trying to get a project back on the needles. But at least you have opposable thumbs which, if you think about it, means you have an easier time of it than I do, even if I understand the concept better. I mean, I'm telling you, it's a real pain in the rump trying to use dew claws for fine motor skills.

I'm going to give you two tips. One is, if you put knit stitches back on and it turns out they are on backwards, don't worry. Instead of lifting them off and turning them around, just KNIT INTO THE BACK of the twisted stitch and, voila, it'll fix itself. My next piece of advice is this-- remember knitting is always supposed to be fun, mostly supposed to be relaxing, and ultimately leave you feeling rewarded. I know a lot of stubborn knitters who don't like to ask for help. Sounds like you're like that a lot of the time. So congratulations for reaching out here. But what you really need to do is come on down to the store. Either do a quick drop-in class (if you have a big problem) or ask a friendly employee on-the-spot (if you have a small problem). And remember, there are lots of ongoing classes where you can meet up once or twice a week and learn as you go. Those are SO FUN. If you run into a problem at night, you might not want to wait for the store to open but guess what? In the long run, that'll save you lots of problems and time. Plus, you get to visit your happy place-- Hill Country Weavers!

So come on down, you're the next contestant on Let's Make It Right!

Epilogue: Our distressed advice seeker did go down to the store where, in less than ten minutes, Suzanne got her squared away with making sure the stitches were all back on the needle, understanding the knit-into-the-back-of-the-twisted-stitch routine, and figuring out how to read the pattern. She's back to being a happy knitter AND she learned a couple of excellent new tricks!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Answer is Rowan in the Wind

Okay, so the pun in the title is not my best. But forgive me my giddiness-- THE NEW ROWAN SHIPMENT IS HERE!! Now, I'm not big on holidays, and I don't read magazines like I used to. But twice a year, whenever a new issue of Rowan magazine comes out, you better believe I drop everything (but stitches) and plop down and just drool over all the new patterns. I don't even need to knit anything I see, I can just look at those gorgeous photos over and over and over again.

And with the new issue of the magazine also comes a huge shipment of Rowan yarn. I was down at the store the other day, looking for a place to plunk down with my computer, and the back classroom was wall to wall boxes of new Rowan. Valerie was checking it in and noting how fun her job was. I know there's this theory that no matter how much you love something, if it becomes your job, there's bound to eventually be a lot less love. But Valerie confirmed my hunch-- not true when your job involves going through mountains of skeins of new yarn.

It's all so gorgeous. Well, okay, one possible exception. Suzanne and Lindsay were engaged in a debate over whether or not the younger male model (see picture below-- he's got long hair and crossed legs) is in fact hot or not. I, personally, think he looks a little too much on the soft side. I like dudes who can lift stuff, you know? Like big boxes of yarn. So what do you think-- would you throw him out of bed for eating crackers or would you be willing to spend hundreds of hours knitting him a complicated sweater? (Before you answer, let's say that, just this once, knitting him a sweater would not result in the Boyfriend Sweater Curse).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Never Felt This Way Before: Meet Mary, Our Felt Artist

Hey Y’all,
Time to meet another fabulous fiber artist that teaches at the shop. This time around, I got to talk to Mary Macaulay, who teaches felting classes—in fact she’s got two coming up this weekend and another in September. (Check the store’s main website for info or give us a call.) The picture above is one of her spectacular felted hats modeled by one of her spectacular dogs. See below for more pics of cool felted stuff.

Spike: How did you become a fiber fanatic?
Mary: I’ve had a love affair with wool my whole life. I grew up in Minnesota, so I was swaddled in wool from a young age. I’ve Knitted since I was 9 and I’ve made zillions of sweater and all sorts of attire out of wool.

Spike: Besides the felting classes you teach, you’ve also taught other classes. Tell me about that.
Mary: I used to be an art teacher and I’m retired from that now. When I taught I taught a lot of fiber arts in high school. I’ve got a loom and a spinning wheel and too much yarn and wool.

Spike: When dod you get into felting and why do you love it?
Mary: In the mid 90’s I started felting and that’s really been enjoyable for me. It frees me up, I can do anything I like, and it’s very forgiving. I don’t ever work with patterns so I can just have fun. It’s a good outlet for me to be creative with. Besides wet felting, I’ve also gotten into needle felting a little bit.

Spike: To be honest, I’m not real clear about how felting works, besides when I accidentally put a sweater in the washer. Is this felting you do—does it involve knitting?
Mary: Normally for felting you use carded or combed wool—that’s wool right after it’s cleaned its combed. It doesn’t have to be spun or knitted. You lay the combed fleece out in thin overlapping criss corssed layers in opposing directions like plywood is made. Its is sprinkled with hot soapy water and then it is rolled in a mat to agitate it. Then all these little tiny fibers start to migrate and lock into one another and that’s what causes the hard felt—the transformation from soft fleece to hard felt. You can use alpaca for something softer or another fiber for a stiffer purse or slippers or a rug. It’s very versatile. HCW has beautiful dyed fleece—it’s painted fleece. It’s soft. It would be nice for just about anything.

Spike: And what is needle felting?
Mary: For needle felting you use barbed needles. They have little barbs that go up and down. As they go down they take the thin fibers and push them into another fiber—a base. I like to do needle felting onto another piece of wool. Needle felting is good for embellishment. You can needle felt on just about anything but it works best on wool. It’s repetitive motion with your hand, up and down. They also have machines that do this, called embellishers. Just four needles that go up and down very fast and push that fiber. You can make all sorts of beautiful designs.

Spike: Do you have a favorite felted project you’ve made?
Mary: I made a cape—a big cape at one o’clock in the morning. It took several days to lay the yarn out. It’s called Blooming’ Blizzards Cape. I will never wear it— it’s very theatrical. It has white blooms to remember all the people who died in a blizzard I read about in a book—a true story. I made the cape because I had just processed reading this book and I was getting notes from up north saying how cold it was.

Spike: What do you do when you’re not felting?
Mary: I garden a lot and just work as an artist. I do sell some of this felted stuff. I have my finger in a lot of pies. And I have three grandchildren and four grand dogs.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Who's Sari Now? Awesome fiber from Nepal

Okay, so we already loved Vermont for bringing us Ben & Jerry's ice cream, right? Now, here's another reason to dig Vermonters, namely Konstantine and Stephanie Shiman. They're the husband and wife team that make up Frabjous Fibers. Frabjous is a mash-up, invented word, combining fabulous and joyful, which is how they insist you'll feel when you use their yarns, which are made by women's cooperatives in Nepal who use recycled sari silk to create both ready-to-knit fibers and stuff you can spin yourself.

The shop just got in a big shipment of Frabjous, which, as you can see from the photos, is just gorgeous. I've actually made a big shawl and a lap blanket from recycled silk and I can't even tell you how many compliments I've gotten on these. It's pretty big so, added bonus, it knits up really quick. And the colors are just stunning. Plus Frabjous also imports very cute felted bags and needle cases, which just happen to be extremely affordable.

Besides how good the stuff feels running through your fingers (and later, wearing) you get additional feel good opportunities by using it. The company works to create safe, reliable, decent paying work for the Nepalese women and they donate a portion of their profits to educational programs in Nepal. In short, you should feel obligated to treat yourself to a whole bunch, right? Because it's a way to be happy and help others be happy, too.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Confession: My Secret Affair

Since we started this blog, I've posted pretty steadily on M, W, F. But I missed Wednesday and I have a confession to make. The reason I missed is that I was indulging in my secret affair. Yes, that's right, I was cheating on my knitting. Technically, I did have my knitting with me. But my focus was on quilting. Because, you see, I have a secret double life, one that started in 2002, a couple of years after I started going steady with knitting.

It started out as a brief article I wrote for the Dallas Morning News about the popularity of quilting. I only wrote the piece to make money to feed my kid. I really knew nothing of the world of sewing, which I left behind me after a brief, disastrous attempt at making a wraparound skirt in eighth grade home ec. But somehow-- I can't even say exactly how-- I went on to write a book, Quilty as Charged: Undercover in the Material World, detailing the alternate universe of quilting, including tales of my own attempts to learn the craft. Somehow, that book led to a second quilting book, which comes out in October. And that book led to a third, which I am currently writing, that will be published next year.

I'm still a lousy quilter, and I don't do it often, but I do have fun with it when I get out the sewing machine. Because I know my limits, I never worry about making some perfect, traditional pattern. I just sort of throw stuff together. As you can see, from the photo at the top, I also like to incorporate unconventional embellishment. That's a section of a quilt I made for my son, whom I call Wolfie, as a graduation gift.

My growing quilt knowledge has afforded me an opportunity to go out and talk to quilt guilds. So this week, I spent M, T, and W talking to guilds in Lubbock and Midland. And while the knitting and quilting are clearly two different beasts, there is a lot of overlap. Like us knitters, the quilters confess to having stashes so big they'll never get through them in a lifetime, even if they live to be a hundred and twenty. Also as with knitting, this does not keep them from continuing to build their stash.

Of course there's also the tactile/textile common denominator. Quilters and knitters both share the knowledge that working with colors and textures and stitches to create something beautiful and useful is about the most fun you can have. And then there is the overall passion factor. As we hardcore knitters are nuts about knitting, and seize all opportunities to finish "just one more row," the quilters like to log "just one more hour" at their machines (or even handstitching) before calling it a night.

I always get a huge kick out of meeting these groups. But then, I come home, and I get out my knitting, and fall back into the arms of my first craft love. I admit I still get a wandering eye at times. Last Sunday, for instance, I stopped by KnitBuzz to say hello, and a group of weavers was in the other room, making these incredible scarves. And I made a mental note to one day flirt with weaving, just as I've made a secret vow to try out spinning (which, though officially it falls under the knitting umbrella can, I hear, get so addictive that one could stop knitting altogether and just spin spin spin.)

Anybody else have secret other passions out there? Little weekend getaways with embroidery or cross-stitching? Maybe a dress form you keep hidden away, sneaking it out every once in awhile to create a garment? Come, on, 'fess up...

Below are a few images of quilts I've taken-- as you can see from the details, I did not make them.

The quilt below is a miniature I saw at a show in Dallas. The pattern is called Mariner's Compass. It's REALLY tricky.

The next one is an antique quilt I saw at the Denver Museum of Art (yes, I have my affair in public sometimes):

This last one is another miniature, made by a woman named Ellie, whom I met on my Lubbock visit. I just love that bunny.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Meet Connie: Gardener, Knitter, Life Enthusiast!

When I caught up with Connie, who landscapes the HCW yards and who is an avid knitter, it was a Saturday. Illustrating the concept "no rest for the weary," she explained she was running around, muddy from working in her orchid hothouse, forever trying to get caught up. It should be noted that this information was offered in a most cheerful way, not as a complaint but sounding more like-- Isn't it so cool I will never get caught up since I have so many great things going on! Connie did take time to talk to me about gardens and yarn and how those two dovetail so nicely for her. Here's what she had to say:

Spike: How long have you been landscaping for HCW?
Connie: Suzanne loves to help people. Nine years ago, when I got back into knitting, I started hanging around the shop and all of a sudden I had a big debt (for yarn) and Suzanne empowered me-- she had me do the yard. That's how I started over there. Now, about twice a year I go in and tear everything out and mulch and make it pretty.

Spike: And landscaping isn't just a hobby, it's a business for you, right?
Connie: I’ve spent my life studying plants and working with plants in any capacity. For twenty years I worked for IBM and Eastman Kodak as an office system and copier repairperson. Then I had enough of that, decided to retire. Before you know it you’re working again. I’m a plant lover. I fell into that.

Spike: When did you first start knitting?
Connie: I started knitting as a little kid in Michigan. A great aunt taught me when I was about 8. I put knitting on the back burner when I was an adult and living in Texas— it seemed unnecessary. Then I had a neice who wanted a sweater. I went over to the store when it was by the Tavern, and got what I needed and made a sweater. That was a long time ago... I’ve known Suzanne probably thirty years. I left it again for another ten, fifteen years. Then knitting got popular again nine or ten years ago. I walked in the store and got hooked again. I was retired and had time. I fell back in love with it--I couldn’t believe how beautiful the yarn had gotten. Things were getting interesting—people were making all crazy scarves, hairs and fur. That pulled me back in.

Spike: But you are so busy with your business. Do you still make time to knit?
Connie: I’m busy at work but I have a passion to make things. The knitting goes along with the gardening. I can sit in my garden, even though it’s a thousand degrees out, and I have a beautfil shawl in front of me so I’ll knit a couple of rows. There are a million projects going—my husband has to put up with it. I probably have more yarn than Suzanne. It's the same thing in gardeing you have all the colors and textures—it’s like painting a picture. I guess it’s why I like shawls so much—all the lace and textures. I love to see all the things happening and what I can create with colors, textures and lace patterns. I throw it all together and wow-- I have these colorscapes. It’s like a big beautiful garden.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Yay! New Interweave KNITS Mag Has Arrived!

The Fall Issue of Interweave Knits has arrived. I am so psyched. I love every single issue and usually decide I want to knit every single thing in every single issue. Then, okay, I get sidetracked. Not this time. The sweater on the cover was designed by Deborah Newton, an awesome designer I had the privilege of profiling a couple of issues back. I love DN's stuff and this sweater is no exception. I'd been wanting to try another sweater after a class I took with Fran last Jan/Feb where I finally learned how to actually finish something without it coming out all lumpy. I'd been debating what to make and then, voila, I saw the magazine. Here's a closer look at the sweater:

Bonus points for this pattern-- it's made with Manos del Uruguay Wool Clásica, which is hand spun and hand dyed by women in a co-op in Uruguay. (There are more than 800 women in the co-op). The stuff is so great to work with, it's subtly variegated, and it gets thinner and chunkier and thinner and chunkier as you go, so the texture of the garment is super cool. I made a top-down sweater out of some avocado green Manos years ago and of all my sweaters it is my absolute favorite. As soon as the temp dips below 91 degrees, I wear that thing around the clock. There's a bunch of great colors to choose from-- it's in the room with the books, so check it out.

Oh, and the new mag also, not surprisingly, has a bunch of other great patterns, too.

Happy knitting,

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Spud & Chloë, Sittin' in a Tree...

Or maybe I should say Spud & Chloë hanging out in a nice green pasture. Who are Spud & Chloë? They're the adorable cartoon girl & sheep mascots for a new spin-off company by the same name, part of Blue Sky Alpacas. I haven't tried out the Spud & Chloë line yet-- it's brand new to the store (and I think it's just brand new, in general), but having had the luxurious pleasure of working with Blue Sky Alpacas, my hunch is this S&C stuff is going to be a dream to work with.

The company's tagline is Sweet Yarns for Real Life and their anthem is Love at First Wash. If, like me, you have ever lived through the nightmare of accidentally felting a sweater you spent two hundred hours on-- or even if you just find that handwashing your knitted garments is a drag-- you might want to consider making a full time commitment to washable yarn.

They've got three weights and lots of excellent colors to choose from. Down below are pictures of the various color-weight combos for sweater yarn (55% superwash wool/45% organic cotton blend), super bulky "outer" yarn (65% superwash wool/35% organic cotton blend), and super fine sock yarn (80% superwash wool/20% silk blend). The sock yarn is especially good for Fair Isle and detail work. They have patterns, too (pics of those below also).

Oh, and check out their blog, too-- they do giveaways.

Super Bulky Outer Yarn:

Sweater Yarn:

Sock Yarn:

Pattern Stuff:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Stop The Presses: Industrial Revolution Reaches HCW!!

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's something from an NC-17 movie!! Oh wait, no it's not. It's our new electric ball winder!

That's right, folks. After who knows how many years of using that old hand-crank ball winder-- recommended by four out of five Luddites!-- to roll skeins of yarn into balls, Suzanne has, at long las, swung open the front door wide and welcomed in the Industrial Revolution! Technically this handy little gadget saves time. Only right now it doesn't, because when you're standing there using it, either you feel compelled to grab a passerby to discuss its amazing awesomeness, or a passerby feels compelled to stop and demand to know what in the heck that thing is.

I tested it out myself last week and, I gotta say, much as I do love the feel of that old hand-crank, this new little number is pretty darn neato. Come on and try it yourself-- you'll have a ball, we promise. (Get it-- Have a ball?! I am so funny.)