Monday, February 10, 2020

Book Review and Giveaway - Knits from the Greenhouse


This is a book review for “Knits from the Greenhouse”. 

From the blurb:
"The properties of plant-based yarns--cotton, linen, hemp, and others--are unique, naturally. They don't behave the same as wool yarns; to show off their best characteristics you need the right project. Knits from the Greenhouse is here to help you cultivate these fibers into beautiful finished designs. Dig in to find:
   • High fiber knitwear using 100% plant-based fibers, as well as blended yarns.
   • 18 projects designed specifically to show off the best properties these fibers ensure you have a beautiful finished project no matter the season.”

The focus of this book is knits that use plant-based fiber.
This is a perfect concept for warm-weather knits, for people with allergies to wool, and for vegans to prefer to avoid animal sourced fibers.
The book includes knits using linen, cotton, hemp, and flax. There are a few items that use silk, which comes from silkworms, technically animal sourced; and also a couple of the patterns use blends with both wool and plant-based fiber. So just be aware, it's not 100% plant-based fiber.

The book is focused on beautiful designs. It has a gorgeous layout, with watercolor sketches to enliven the pages, and clear schematics to accompany the patterns.

Here are some of the designs that stood out for me.
Spring Sprout Stole: It uses garter stitch and lace squares to make a pretty checkerboard effect. 

Dappled Leaves Scarf - has a lacy design and graceful tapered ends, and is made of a linen flax fiber. It's so pretty. I'm looking through my stash to see what I have to make this scarf right now.

Parterre Wrap. This is a lacy rectangle using delicate lace weight yarn in a linen and wool silk blend. 

The Stonecrop Shawl   is a triangular shawl with lace edging on two sides, and uses a cotton wool blend. 

The Trellis Tank has nice line and texture, with a very pretty neckline, uses cotton and hemp.

The Seabrook Top is airy and light, with its lacy stripes. 

Next the Kenno Top -  This is the item on the cover.  It's very pretty and wearable in a wool and cotton blend. 

All in all, those of us who live in warmer climates, or just prefer to stay away from wool, will find lots of inspiration in this book. It's attractively laid out and very usable.

Photos courtesy of Interweave/Penguin Random House.


Thanks to Penguin Random House (formerly Interweave Press), I'm able to offer a giveaway of a copy of this book to one lucky person who comments on the blog, naming a favorite pattern, technique, or a favorite aspect of the book. Post a comment on this blog entry, and sign up for my newsletter, and you will be entered into a giveaway to win your own copy of this book.  Be sure to give a Ravelry ID, or an email address -- or even your Instagram handle will do -- so that if you win, I have a way to contact you!  
Don't forget!  
I will select a name on February 19 2020. 
Note: I received a copy of this book for review from Interweave Press/FW Media.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

An Interview with Designer Loraine Birchall

The annual Gift A Long is underway, and I have the opportunity to feature one of the designers, Loraine Birchall.

Hope you enjoy it!

* * * *

1. Introduction. Tell us about yourself. 

I'm Loraine Birchall and I design for Woolly Madly Deeply which is my own brand.  The name comes from the movie Truly Madly Deeply with Alan Rickman (see it if you can!).   I'm a Mum to a 19 year old son, Jake. We have two Chocolate Labradors who love to watch while I knit and play with yarn.  We live in Cumbria, not far from the English Lake District and I am lucky to work from home.  I build websites and do some business consultanting. And I do my design work (knitting and some crochet).  I trained a few years ago in Colour Analysis, which I must say changed my life.  
I walk a lot with my dogs - the fresh air gives me chance to think and to clear my head each day.  

2.  How did you get started as a designer? What were some of the steps on your "knitting journey"?

I'm an accidental designer; as a young woman I was stick thin but with broad hips, and nothing fit.  I learned to sew to make clothes to fit my body.  I picked up knitting and crochet as a child from my Great Aunt and my Granny Reid when I was about four years old.  
Fed up with struggling to find things to fit, I started to knit for myself, then for friends' babies, and gradually learned a lot more.   I now have a larger "pear-shaped" body and still struggle to find off-the-rack clothes to fit, so when Anna Elliott suggested it, I submitted some designs to Knit Now Magazine.  I published 17 patterns in my first year and now have over 50 patterns with another 6 in the pipeline.  I am fascinated by construction, how things work, how to make them fit me and that's helped a lot with my garment knitting and design. I'm also pretty fearless, I'll try anything once, what's the worst that can happen, right?

3.  Do you have a process that you follow in developing a new design?

Usually I will either play with the yarn and ask it what it wants to be, then I either dream about it that night, or come back to it in a few days with a clear idea in mind.  This was how the Festive Hoodie Cozies pattern evolved, an idea in my sleep and waking up with an intense desire to make them right away.  
I had the same thing a few weeks ago with the Santa Tea Cozies in 3 sizes, it's not something I would normally make, I'm not really big on home wares but the ideas keep coming.  

For garments, it's usually a practical matter of not being able to find what I want to fit me the exact way I want it.  Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.  I swatch for small things.  For garments I will use a sleeve for the swatch if it's seamed and just start knitting if it's seamless.  I like to see how the fabric behaves with a larger piece and if I have a lot of that yarn, I might make a cowl and hat first, then do the sweater or garment when I understand the yarn.

4.   What do you think makes a successful design?

I love to see a beautiful design, something that makes me gasp at the clever use of colour, texture or pattern, but also I am so fixed on form and function.   Don't make me a cardigan that falls off the shoulders or the sleeves are so wide I get caught on the door handles.  I need to be able to move quickly and easily, so it has to fit well.   
For accessories, I love to play with cables and when you get a yarn that shows off the stitch pattern and the two work together in harmony, you can't beat that feeling that it just works so well.  Sometimes simple is best.

5.    Do you see any new trends in the knitting world these days? Last year it was all about the "fade"..

In the shops in the UK this year there have been lots of oversize sweaters and a ton of cabled/bobbled knits.   There are lots of warm colours and as an Autumn, I am loving the colours in the stores this year -- it's a long time since I've been able to find just what I want.   Accessories wise, there is a lot of black, beaded, daimante and a great deal of leopard/animal prints in both knitwear and fabrics.  
I saw a lot of scarves today using six or seven strands of similar but different colours to create a lovely marled effect. This was striped with a neutral and worked really well.   I'm not a big fan of oversize sweaters and boxy coats, there's a lot of those this year both knitted and sewn.  Being a pear shape my sweaters need to fit really well at the shoulders and waist, so boxy doesn't do it for me.  It's a trend I won't miss at all.

6.    Favorite yarns to design with?

I love a crunchy wool, or a good superwash yarn, even if they lie when you swatch (they're sneaky little beggars!).   I do use acrylics and blends for blankets and some gifts.  My Mum bless her, could felt a rock and has shrunk so many pure wool hats that I now only give her acrylics.  I'm not as keen on silky smooth yarns, I prefer texture, maybe because I'm a bit abrasive too?   
I bought some Merino/Silk/Yak at Yarndale to knit a shawl and that's fabulous, I do love it, so maybe that'll convert me?

7.       What are you looking forward to in 2020 (knitting wise or other)?

In my day job I published another book and I'm hoping to promote that and do some talks/lectures in the Spring.  

I'll be launching a membership site for the Colour Analysis business which is called Transform My Style and I've already planned out my design work for 2020.  There is an ornament collection planned for September, a seasonal ebook of accessories with a pattern every other month. I am itching to design a cardigan using Barbara Walker's Top Down Set In Sleeves method which I've used before for a T Shirt and totally loved.

* * * * 

Some of Loraine's favorite designs.

A very popular pattern is the Modular Cardigan, the original in dusty blue is mine.  Which makes me smile as it's the one garment I designed that doesn't suit my shape, but everyone else loves it!

Last year's big seller was the Santa Tea Cozies  as shown above.

I love the Wheatsheaf Hat, I had a great time working on the crown shaping and love how the cables worked out, funny how the process is sometimes the best fun!

Thanks for doing the interview, Loraine!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Knitting Tips with Carson Demers, author of Knitting Comfortably

I attended Stitches SoCal recently, and one of the events was a short talk by Carson Demers who talks about knitting comfortably. In fact, he wrote the book on it.
His book is Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Handknitting 

Here are a few highlights from his talk (shared with permission.)

1. Think of your chair as a tool. If it's too cushy and comfortable and has you leaning back, then you need to bring your head forward to knit. This could be hard on the neck.
Also, the chair should have no armrests. Your feet should sit comfortably on the floor with your hips at a right angle.
Occasionally it's good to knit while standing or walking.

2. Use a special stitch marker which we call a movement marker in your knitting.
Every time you reach that marker, check yourself – check your posture, etc.
Do things like relax or rotate your shoulders, do an ankle stretch, take some deep breaths, stand up and stretch. This will keep you from getting too stiff from staying in one position for a long time.

3. If you have a complicated stitch pattern, or colorwork, when you come to an easy row, stop and stretch out your hands or do another favorite stretch.

4. Instead of putting all your notions, needles, spare yarn, etc all around you as you knit (your “knitting nest”), put them in another room, so you have to actually get up when it's time to use them.

5. If you feel tension or stress, try to relax. If you have sore muscles give yourself a chance to rest, just like an athlete rests after a workout.

6. Try using a swatch not just for gauge, but to practice a complex stitch pattern, to work on fixing dropped stitches, or to get comfortable doing a steek. This will mean you'll be less tense and stressed when you actually knit your garment -- you will have practiced the tough or complex stitches.

Carson Demers is can be found at Carson has given me permission to share these tips with you. Aren’t we lucky!
More tips can be found in his book Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Handknitting.

Let me know if you try any of these tips, and what you think of them. I will try them, too, and I will report back.