Monday, November 24, 2014

Wrap & Turn Tutorial


I have been writing for the Knit Purl blog for awhile, but haven't really posted much about it here. I thought a few of you might be interested in my most recent post about wrap & turn short rows. It's an easy picture tutorial to help 'decipher' what can sometimes be a difficult process.

I believe strongly that any technique makes more sense if you explain to someone why they're doing it and what it accomplishes, rather than just how to do it. I think this is one of the reasons our shop's classes fill up so fast - we explain the why instead of just the how.

Friday, November 7, 2014

battle royale

Loop of London does an amazing job with free patterns on their blog, driving traffic and also promoting new yarns they have in stock. Check out their recent posting here about their Hawick Cowl pattern with Rachel Atkinson. 

I have seen a lot of postings lately about free patterns. Whether or not they should be free, how they should be presented, should there be caveats or ads, should they direct traffic or simply be out there in the universe because we're crafters, and we like to share?

After reading quite a few different points and making some conclusions of my own, I've come to a few realizations and thought I would share them with you.

1. How you share a free pattern matters.

If you are a yarn company, encourage a purchase for your freebies. If you sell to yarn stores, give them the option of giving the pattern away free with the purchase of the recommended yarn. If you sell directly through your website, make it a download with a purchase. If you have discontinued the yarn, recommend a new one, have a sample worked up and re-photograph, or offer it up as a truly free pattern (but with a clickthrough from Ravelry) to download on your site.

If you are a designer, take advantage of your traffic. Whether this means that you just want to see the numbers go up for people reading or you want to sell advertising (that's up to you,) make sure that the pattern is a click-through and not an instant download. People will still get it if it's a good pattern. Look at it as a way to 'vet' your skills as a designer.

If you are a promoter (social media maven, Pinterest addict, Instagrammie or blog poster,) make sure your pattern links direct to the designer's original page, rather than to the Ravelry page. Ravelry rocks! But it doesn't make the designers of free patterns any money inherently, so let's try to give back a little with some page traffic.

Purl Soho drives traffic to their webstore and site through posting many free patterns, all of which are presented withexcellent photography choices and color suggestions. This equals sales! 

2. Mind your manners. 

If you're a crafter (crocheter, knitter) who is reading this, be polite about your access to free patterns. Nothing is more gauche than posting that you'd like this pattern more if it was free, messaging the designer to ask for a free copy, or saying that the price is too high. If it's not meeting your criteria, keep your mouth shut and move on. There are thousands of patterns out there. If you're that much in love with it, buy it!

That said, if you buy a pattern and you feel that it's sub-par, you have a right as a consumer to message the designer and point out what's wrong. But be polite. Nobody likes hate-mail in their inbox, and you're more likely to get flies with honey than vinegar.

3. Presentation

If you're a newbie designer and you think that offering your patterns for free is the only way to get noticed, please think again. As the creative director at Yarnbox, I hire dozens of designers every year, and starting next year, we'll be commissioning patterns (and paying for them, of course) from our designers. While a larger portfolio and assortment of pattern options is a primary concern for me, the photography is what really sells a pattern more than anything else. Designers with bad photography get a polite message from me, typically saying something along the lines of "I can tell you have talent, but your pictures aren't communicating that."

If you can't take a good photograph of your work, nobody is going to buy it until someone else does, and you use that photo (with permission) instead. Expedite this process by taking your own photos well or hiring a photographer. (No, you don't need a model. A clean, tidy dress form against a simple background is lovely, or even a lifestyle shot of your accessory, as evidenced by this lovely photo below.)
A simple dressform sells the Petal Capelet from O-Wool's site, no model required. 


4. Value your Craft

This is a hot spot for me. I feel that knitting has had a major resurgence since 2006 and with the rise of so many talented designers out there, has seen a rise in the quality of patterns available. While there are still 'cheapie' patterns being produced and poorly written patterns being released, I think the knitting market has divided itself into three or four categories of pattern buyers (I'll go into that in #5.)

Crochet, on the other hand, still has a reputation for being something 'less than' knitting. Which is simply not the case. Some companies are working to improve that reputation by releasing crochet patterns that are every bit as beautifully photographed, executed, and written as their knitting counterparts. Other companies are still treating crochet like a 'cheap' craft and slapping crochet on poorly made yarns (fiber type regardless), sloppy stitches and hastily prepared books. Reward the good ones and not the bad ones with your choices. Use your dollars to shop for patterns and designers who are doing it right. This is the only way we'll form a middle tier of crochet designers every bit as strong as the knitting ones. There are a bunch on their way - reward them! (For a list, look at every Yarnbox crochet designer featured thus far and forevermore. I hunt them down every month!)

5. Know & Build Your Market

If you want to produce patterns quickly, never have them tech edited, and always offer them for free, don't get upset when someone asks for your first paid pattern for free. You have consistently produced sub-par quality work, and nobody is going to believe that you can do any better. Set yourself up from the start to be a successful designer by releasing a mix of patterns, paid and free, all executed at the level that you want to be at.

There are, in my opinion, three or four 'categories' of pattern buyers:

Type 1
These folks might be looking for a free pattern or an inexpensive pattern because they want to make things for charity, but usually it's because they think of their time knitting or crocheting as 'craft time' - you know, the same way you might feel about macaroni, glitter and glue pens. They are not interested in esoteric yarn brands, where the wool comes from, or becoming the blue-ribbon winner at next year's state fair. They make to make, they make to have fun, and it's the same as any other hobby to them. That's not a bad thing, but as an independent designer or yarn company, you have to realize that this isn't your market. The companies that provide the yarn they use might be your market, but you won't be selling much to them directly. They mostly shop at big-box stores, whenever possible, or they stop by the fiber festival hoping for a bargain on local goods.

Type 2
These folks might just be getting started, or they have learned the basics and are happy staying around the same level. They'll learn a special stitch here and there for a new project, but aren't too interested in taking in-depth workshops. Quality of yarn is determined by a mixture of cost and touch. If it's not soft, doesn't come in colors that make them happy, and has too high of a price tag, they're probably going to pass. Mostly they make accessories. They will buy a pattern that has a moderate price tag if they feel like they'll enjoy making it! These customers are great for independent pattern designers, but also for yarn companies. Encourage your yarn stores to make samples (or better yet, send them some pretty samples), this will boost your sales. They shop at a mix of yarn stores and big box stores, depending on their personal preferences, possibly with some online shopping and yearly fiber festivals thrown in.

Type 3
They think about taking classes, know some designer names and industry jargon. They can tell you the difference between merino and alpaca and are usually eager to learn more and try new varieties, blends, and hand-dyers. Patterns are purchased because they're special, visually appealing and might increase a skill level. Yarn substitutions are attainable (though they might still need help with gauge sometimes.) As an independent pattern designer, this is your primary customer base. These crafters will look for more work from you if you release a pattern they love. Reward them once by making their purchase worth it, and they'll come back. They almost always shop at yarn stores or online, and the occasional fiber festival. They might subscribe to a club if they love a dyer, or to discover new yarns (hello, Yarnbox customers! We love you!)

Type 4
These folks are usually industry professionals or long-time crafters, and have a formidable stash at home of both yarn, patterns, and pattern books. If you want to catch their attention, show them something special, new, and different. There are a lot of sweater knitters in this group, and many of them appreciate beautiful construction details, advanced techniques, and beautiful yarn choices. Garment yarns and accessory yarns are two different categories for them, and while they might not know about every wool breed, they'll listen to you tell them the nuances. As an independent designer, impress these folks with your skills. Beautifully written patterns that are presented well will sell better - as will lovely photographs, a lifestyle behind your work, and sources provided. If you're using an unusual yarn, hand-spun in the Himalayas by alpacas themselves, share the information, because they like knowing it! They shop at yarn stores, online, and fiber festivals, and always pick the right yarns for the job.

None of these categories are bad. But knowing which one your design work fits into helps you determine where you need to be starting out - and where you should transition to, as you progress.

I am releasing some new patterns this year and have been thinking about these things a lot! I would love to hear your thoughts, too. I don't plan on changing the format of any of my current patterns (although a few are slated for re-releases,) but new patterns will direct here instead of being instant downloads on Ravelry, when offered for free.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

the 13th month

Kenzie in colorway 1015, becoming a 'Simple Lines' scarf


Welcome, November.

I've been thinking about you all year. You're the month in between two visits for Andrew and I. The month before Christmas. The food month. The knitting month. My birthday month. The busiest month of the year, it seems.

I have travel plans to Canada in another week, to see the Zen Yarn Garden studios. I have so many things on the needles it makes my head spin (part of the reason for this Slow Knitting blog post I wrote for Knit Purl!)

And mostly, I just want to finish things up and wrap them around my neck, put them into holiday-wrapped boxes, and take a deep breath at the end of the year. We should add another month, one where we don't do any work, a 13th month. We can call it "Restuary," or "Restember." Take your time. Take a breather. No rent, no working, no money out the door or in. It's a nice thought, at least.

Friday, August 1, 2014

alpaca silk lace

I had to take a moment from my blogging 'hiatus' to share this new yarn with you guys. Back in May, I worked with Hampden Hills Alpacas to put together a truly fantastic Yarnbox shipment, using their Alpaca Silk base, which is a dk weight, ultra-luxurious alpaca and silk blend -- the members loved it! She asked if I would also like to review her newest yarn, Alpaca Silk Lace. It's almost identical to the original Alpaca Silk base, except that you get 875 yards of lace weight luxury! The skein is massive, seriously.


She sent me a hank of this beautiful new base, which launched yesterday, in her solid collection colorway, Charcoal. It has so much depth! I almost felt guilty breaking into the pretty skein without having the perfect project lined up, but I found one pretty quickly.


I decided that Aise would be absolutely beautiful in this yarn. I am all about simple, wearable pieces this winter, and have been working on a variety of accessories in neutral colors. What I love about the Charcoal color is that it's the perfect neutral with a bit of depth. It's got a bluish tint that reminds me of mixing Payne's Grey for painting classes in college.


Knitting wise, it reminds me a bit in structure of Madelinetosh Lace (the one that is two-ply) but with a super soft, slightly-haloed texture. The fabric that I knit initially on size 7 needles turned out a bit large, so I am scaling down onto 5's to get a more solid scarf fabric (I am probably going to make some modifications.) It has a wonderful hand as a finished fabric, and I am sure it will bloom slightly in the blocking process (that was my experience with the heavier Alpaca Lace.) 

Definitely check out Erica's amazing company, Hampden Hills Alpacas, at their website or follow them on Facebook. The yarn line is called Artisan Yarns. I really enjoy it when people I have built relationships with ask me to help announce the release of a new product! Thank you Erica! 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

thoughts

Do you ever feel ambivalent about something you used to feel was so essential?

For the past few months, I have struggled with things to go into this space. I think when I created the blog, I intended it to be a personal journal, and then somewhere in the middle, I wanted to become a 'professional' blog presence -- and now I am not blogging much at all, because I am so busy doing. I am a strong believer in the phrase do what you love, and good will follow. At the moment, I am doing a lot of what I love, and I hope that more blog posts and thoughts will follow into this space.

Perhaps part of my struggle with blogging relates to who I am as a person. I am an intensely private person in many ways, especially with my inner thoughts. A blog is a sort of opposing force in that regard -- a place to put down your thoughts, a sort of public journal.

I would like to write more here about what I am thinking, what is happening, but I feel that mostly what I put down ends up being a very clinical and distant representation of what I am doing and who I am. I find it easier, actually, to write within the constructs of another brands' blog.

I think the 'cure' for this (if there is such a thing) is perhaps just to become more comfortable with who I am, and what I am doing, so I am going to take a little pressure off myself and come back to blogging as I feel like it. I want this space to really reflect who I am, and I think in order for it to do that, I need to know more about myself.

Many of you are older and wiser bloggers than myself -- and I would be very open to hearing your thoughts or feedback, through the comments or via email, if you like.

Friday, July 11, 2014

july holiday


Some of the members in the Yarnbox Ravelry group decided to set up a Christmas in July swap, of which I was happy to be a participant! I love swaps and worked really hard to send out something lovely to my partner (she should be getting it today, and then I can share details.) My partner, Nicole, sent me a bunch of amazing goodies, too! Check them out:


Gummies are a major weakness for me, so that gummy kabob vanished pretty quickly. I'd like to say that the watermelon gummies lasted longer, but I'd be a liar! At least the yarn (1 skein of Claudia, which I have never tried, 1 skein of Mimi mink yarn from Lotus, and a hank of Bertie Botts from Gnome Acres) will last a lot longer.



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

stitch dsm


One of the things I love most about running a yarn store (or at least, helping to run one,) is the connection that you make with other crafters in your area -- including those who run awesome stores of their own. Stitch, a Des Moines yarn store, is about an hour away from us, so I haven't been able to stop by until now to see their cute quilt and yarn combination store.


Of course, being that I have access to so many yarns, I didn't buy yarn, but fabric, while at Stitch -- and they have a great selection of some of my favorite designers and collections. I picked up a stack of fat quarters for zippy pouches and a sheer voile, linen, and Kona cotton for a top I'd like to make this week.


Monday, July 7, 2014

zippy


I've been getting back into quilting and sewing a bit on these zippy notions pouches. After making a few my mom and I decided that in fall we'll be offering them in our yarn store, which is exciting! I spent a couple of evenings last week hunting down the best deals on bright colored zippers, wool felt and pendant beads for the pulls.



Here are a few prototypes -- I stopped by a fabric store in Des Moines and picked up even more prints in bright colors, and a few extra fabrics for another project. I have some sewing to do. I took some time to put together my little sewing space as well (with newly renovated sewing cabinet that still needs a bit of work.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

lilly brush winners!

I know it's a little later than expected, but I have finally had a chance to draw winners for the Lilly Save our Sweaters brush and the Lilly Be Forever Furless brushes! I did notice that there were some duplicate comments, so for the purpose of this drawing, any multiples are counted just as a single number entry.



The winner of the Save our Sweaters brush is #29, Alex!


And the winner of the Be Forever Furless brush is #3, Devin!

Congratulations, both of you! Send me a message via email or Ravelry to claim you prize. And a big thanks to Lilly Brush, Co., who sent these awesome prizes to give away!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

style saturday


The shop is really one of the only places where I consistently dress up during the week. Most days, you'll find me at home, glued to my desk, armed with a cool drink (or hot tea) and filtering through a jumble of emails, Ravelry posts, and scheduled projects. Usually I'll be wearing yoga pants, although lately a pair of silky, casual harem pants has been part of my uniform.


Every Saturday, I make it down to the shop and take the time to dress up that morning -- put on something I'm excited to wear. It just makes me look that much more forward to a day full of yarn, people, and knitting!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

bicolor beauties

I have been really in love with the simple beauty of two-color stitches right now -- simple stitches, colorwork made easy. Some of them are a repeat on a stockinette background (like Check This Out), while many are just bicolored Linen Stitch. What makes them special is that when completed, the finished fabric often looks more like it's been woven than knit -- especially in the stitches that involve slipping and crossing the contrast yarn over the front (like Bicolor Linen and Bicolor Sand stitch.)




What lovely knitting trends have you run across lately? I feel like these would look extra-exceptional in handspun with a solid, neutral contrasting color.

Monday, June 9, 2014

behind the scenes

I did a photoshoot early last week for a couple of different design projects (I can't reveal too much!) I thought you guys might like a sneak peek! I am especially fond of the pink piece -- love those dropped stitches.




Thursday, June 5, 2014

inspiration


Everything in the Midwest is blooming and coming back to life, amidst days that are stormy and gray, darkened by passing rainclouds. We have blooming pale pink and white peonies in the yard, which seems to almost glow, growing overnight. It's a lovely and wonderfully inspiring, lazy, blue-green June.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

peachy keen



I am really into neons lately, and, most specifically, neon orange with a little pink. So when summer finally settled into the Midwest, I made sure to snatch up and start a project with this beautiful hank of Madelinetosh in colorway "Neon Peach".



Have you ever tackled a project the second time around and found it a lot easier? That's what's happening to me with the Lace Ribbon Scarf. Back when I printed out the pattern from Knitty in 2008, this scarf pattern seemed impossible. I just didn't get it. And I didn't read charts, so I couldn't approach it from a different angle. Now, I'm able to really understand how the pattern works, and have memorized the repeats easily enough to set it down and come back to it.



It's kind of making me wonder if Thayer might be easier now....!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

lilly brush

This contest is now closed for entries! Thanks to everyone who entered -- winners will be announced soon!

It's not often that I review things here on my blog, but I've been meaning to do it more often. This year at TNNA I got to connect with a great new company - Lilly Brush, Co. They make these magical little brushes that take pills, pet hair, dust, and even dirt off of your clothing and upholstery.


The original Lilly Brush has been marketed to those of us in the knitting world as the better pill-remover. Unlike a sweater shaver or sweater comb, it isn't rough on and doesn't damage the fibers. Sometimes if you get too close with a sweater shaver on natural fibers, it can remove chunks and make weak spots that turn into holes over time. Not so with the Lilly Brush, which as soft nylon bristles and works maybe even better than my favorite sweater comb.

I decided to try it out on some other uses around my house. I used the brush to clean cat hair off of my clothes and some velveteen chairs in my studio. It removed the pet hair faster than a lint roller, and more efficiently. It feels good that I don't have to peel six sticky-paper sheets off the roller every time I need to get yellow Russie hairs off of my chairs! Not to mention that the Lilly Brush, by nature of being reusable, will save me money and save the environment some trash.


I immediately wrote the company saying that I loved their product, and they asked if I'd like to review their other brush -- the Be Forever Furless brush. So they sent me one in the mail. As you can see, the BFF brush is larger and styled less compactly than the original Lilly Brush, which is about the size of a pencil case. It's marketed specifically towards getting pet hair off of your furniture, so I decided to give it a real challenge and try it out on the most hairy object in our house: the cat bed.

If you don't think this is disgusting enough in it's current state, you need to consider that the color of this object is dark brown. Not beige. Not taupe. Dark brown. So that current color is 90% pale white, Leopold cat hairs. So gross. For illustration, I brushed half of it (two passes) with the BFF brush. Look, it's brown again!



The BFF brush gathers your pet hair into these neat little rolls that clump on the sides of the brush -- you can just peel them off and keep going. And I did! I cleaned the whole thing with about two passes. Imagine what it does on standard levels of cat hair (or dog hair) furniture coverage!


And now for the BEST part! Thanks to Lilly Brush, Co., I am able to give away one of each of these brushes to a lucky reader. That's right, I have TWO brushes -- the original Lilly Brush and the Be Forever Furless brush to give away. 



To win, simply leave me a comment saying which one you would use most, and what you would use it on first! (Everybody has that super-pilly sweater or ultra-hair covered chair in their house, come on, share!) Contest ends on June 10th.

This giveaway is now closed! Thanks to all who entered -- winners announced soon!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

fiber take the wheel

I have been totally absorbed in work, summertime, binge-watching Fringe and spinning! Here's what's been flying on (and back off) my wheel:





Hello Yarn, of course -- the first is called 'Edible' and was dyed on Falklands, the second is 'Insect Wings' and was on BFL. I have a combo spin on the wheel at the moment that will be a bouncy, bulky two-ply. I think I've got my spinning mojo back. It must be the sunshine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

o-wool

Have you heard of O-Wool?

This little company, based out of Philadelphia, is bringing production of beautiful, organic yarns back to the US. They have a beautiful selection of yarns and colors -- and amazing prices. Some time back, I wanted to feature them in a Yarnbox after seeing their beautiful branding and advertisement all over Ravelry, but they don't really wholesale their yarns and had to pass. Even so, I have remained interested in this brand and finally took the plunge, ordering three of their yarns and all of their color cards.


The yarns I decided to try first were: 



This yarn is 100% organic merino, and comes in 50 g skeins for $7.25 a hank. This makes them half of the standard sized hank, and the singles don't have much yardage on them (only 99 yards), but I personally find this very convenient. So many projects call for color changes in worsted-weight yarns, and it's not like you need a 200 yard skein to make a pair of baby booties and a hat, really! I chose the color Dogwood. It will be perfect for my friend Stephanie, who just announced she's having a girl. 

This is the yarn that originally caught my eye. I love how tweedy this organic cotton & wool blend takes dyes -- and Jocelyn Tunney, the company's owner, has chosen some beautiful tones for this one. I picked a hank in Turquoise, a stunning blue. (I did read online that the blues in this yarn tend to bleed a bit, so before beginning to knit, I'll pop it in a bath with some Soak.) Again, this is a 50 g skein with about 130 yards on it of dk weight yarn. This one will probably become a baby gift for Amy Small from Knit Collage. She looked about ready to pop at TNNA -- her husband was helping out at the booth and they are the most adorable couple ever. 

Built on the same idea as Balance, this 50/50 organic merino and organic cotton is perhaps even more scrumptious than it's lighter-weight relative. I think this might be my favorite of all the skeins! I chose Sulfur, an acidic green that just seems to glow. I'm going to stick with my baby-knit plans and turn this into an adorable hat for my friend Kayla. She hasn't announced the gender but I'm pretty sure this green will look fantastic on any little one! This yarn retails for $11.25 and is a full 100 g skein. Perfect, since bulkier wools don't give you much yardage otherwise (these hanks have 106 yards.) 

I bought ALL the color cards, so you can be sure you'll see more of these yarns before too long. Next on my list to try is O-Wash Sport, which comes in a most lovely array of colors, and O-Wool's Classic 2-Ply, which seems pretty perfect for colorwork. Of course, I probably won't be able to resist trying a few more colors of Bulky....



Monday, May 12, 2014

maai oh maai

One of the things that I love most about working within the yarn industry is how many things you get to see early. Depending on what company you work for, you'll even get a few advance samples or get to help name colors, yarn, or both. At Shibui, they are really awesome about letting staff members submit names for new product.


This year, they introduced a new yarn at the summer TNNA show. A yarn that I got to name! The name, Maai, is a play on the Japanese concept of ma, or the interval between opponents. The structure of Maai is a chainette, so there are physical intervals within the structure of the yarn that both pull away from and against each other, creating a yarn that is really unique. I never would have dreamt that the yarn I got to name would be so luxurious!

Here's a sneak peek in one of their new colorways, Fog (named by another staff member, Leah) -- of course, one of these hanks is already on the needles becoming a gorgeous scarf. I'll have to show that one off soon.

Friday, May 9, 2014

up down, all around


While at TNNA I got to swing by the Blue Sky Alpaca's booth and pick up something they had for me there -- a copy of Wendy Bernard's newest book, Up Down and All Around! I actually won a copy of it by entering their retailer contest and even got to have it signed by the talented author herself. In case you don't know who Wendy is, she's the author of the very clever and entertaining knitting blog, Knit & Tonic. It was one of the first knitting-related blogs I read and it really rejuvenated my interest in the craft during college. It was such an honor to meet her (although I think she was probably SO tired!)



Anyway, the book is a really new approach to your more traditional stitch dictionary. Each stitch pattern is presented in a full-color swatch, and then accompanied by instructions (and sometimes charts) on how to use that pattern for bottom up, top down, flat and circular knitting. So you can adapt any stitch pattern to whatever you're using it for, in whatever format you like. How awesome is that?!



It really is such a pretty book. I can't wait to come up with some designs using the stitch patterns! How exciting!