Saturday, May 28, 2016


All of a sudden, it's summer. It's always hard to grasp how our weather shifts from snow flurries to sweltering heat in just a few short weeks. The heat causes me to slow down. I'm not particularly ambitious as a knitter or designer, and I move at my own pace, sometimes fast and furious, other times slow and patient. I've been puttering along with the Fusion Cardigan. Over a year ago I knitted the first one and wrote up a draft of the pattern. For the last month I've been playing around with the design, adding more flare at the hips and experimenting with different colourways. I intend to publish this later this summer (when Isabel returns home), and the pattern will offer up more than one colourway, with the opportunity (of course) to invent your own. I've never enjoyed knitting patterns that are written in stone--they make me feel that I am merely painting by the numbers, no matter how beautiful the design. For me, the fun is in creating something that's uniquely mine.
The colourway I've finally chosen for my own cardigan is this one, shown here blocking before the steek gets cut open. You can see the high tide mark where the water stopped. (The upper yoke was blocked earlier). This blocking-in-progress may seem to slow down the completion of the garment, but in reality it saves knitting time because fewer length alterations are required. I highly recommend taking the time to do this. In our current warm weather, it'll dry in a day.

The Kingston region is rich in wetlands and I took this quick pic while picking up some perennials at a local nursery. Can you spot the redwing blackbird (one of many nesting on this site)?

Another joy of this late May season is the very long twilight. Perfect for evening walks by the lake. A sure sign of summer...the sailboats are back. This pink sail is so eye-catching against the horizon!

And here's my shadow, very long and leggy in the late evening light. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, American readers. Hope your weather is as wonderful as our Victoria Day weekend was for us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Colour Theory in Fair Isle Knitting

I've just spent the last several days playing around with stranded colourwork, and as part of that exercise I've reviewed some of the most authoritative writing on the subject. First, Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting, from Taunton Press (I have the 1988 edition). I had the good fortune to take some classes with Alice back in the early 1990s and in my mind she remains the queen of Fair Isle knitting. Just browsing through the pages where she interprets bits of nature from her native Shetland is the best inspiration and learning there is (especially the shells page!) BTW, it was delightful recently to see Alice dyeing wool with lichens in a pot over a fire on the beach in the TV series "Coast". Quite unexpected and a real treat.
The second source I turned to to refresh my understanding of fair isle colour theory was Mary Jane Mucklestone's book, "200 Fair Isle Motifs". She suggests dividing colours into light and dark, and then checking to see that the darkest in the light pile is still lighter than the lightest in the dark. She emphasizes the importance of having a "poison" colour, i.e. a colour that seems a bit odd or out of place, that will spark the others to life.
Finally, I re-read Jared Flood's two excellent blog posts on colourwork theory in stranded yokes. Both he and Mary Jane make the point that value (the relative lightness or darkness of a colour) trumps hue in importance when planning fair isle work. He shows us some examples of skeins in both colour and greyscale, the latter really highlighting how our eyes fail to distinguish contrast when two skeins of similar value are placed together. He also suggests knitting the most important motif in the darkest colour.
So, putting all that theory into practice, what have I come up with?
Here's the original "Fusion" chart. There's a problem that doesn't show up in this digital chart,

or even in this closeup of the actual knitting.

It's only when you see the knitting from a distance that the problem becomes more apparent.

The tips of the large motif (in Bird's Egg) are so close in value to the background colours (Split Pea and Bosc) that from a few feet away they are barely distinguishable. I still like this version of the design, perhaps BECAUSE it looks different up close than far away, but it illustrates the point about value.
Another way to understand the importance of value is to see what happens when a bunch of colours are organized by hue. Some time last weekend I realized that I didn't really love the bright greens and purples I was using with the grey main colour for my own Fusion cardigan. (Don't worry, I still intend to use those bright colours in Isabel's version, with the dark plum as the main colour.) I wanted an earthier set of colours to go with with grey, something that would echo the natural dyes of an earlier era. I chose this set of skeins. From left to right: Sedum, Honey, Bird's Egg, Slate, and Bosc. The Slate is actually much greyer and greener than it appears here on my computer screen.

My natural instinct was to use the blues for the background and the greens for the main motif (with the terracotta as the "poison"). Here's what happened.

Right away, you can see that this sample, at least on paper, suffers from the same problem as the original Fusion chart. The middle section seems to disappear, while the background at the top and bottom tends to dominate. All wrong!
Then, I rearranged the colours by value. That meant making the main motif almost entirely in the dark Slate, with the other colours flickering around in the background.

There's the new chart over on the right. I may extend the Bird's Egg (lighter blue) to encompass a couple of more rows, but over all, I love this. Plus it's really beautiful next to the light grey main colour. The whole thing has a lovely, faded antique quality.
And what about the bright green and purple colourway? I tweaked it a bit by moving the darker purple (Frank's Plum) to the outer edges of the large motif (see the bottom example).

So much better. Lessons learned!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Me on Youtube

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Andrea Doig for her Fruity Knitting podcast. Andrea is a musician (like me), likes BBC costume dramas (like me), and has a husband who is learning to knit (definitely NOT like me). The interview is an exploration of how and why I do what I do in the knitting world, and it has a really nice touch--both the musical intro and conclusion are taken from one of John Dowland's famous lute songs, "Come Again", a nod to my own musical interests and tastes. I hope you'll tune in to see Andrea and her knitting husband Andrew as they discuss what they have "Under Construction", engage in "Extreme Knitting" in such locales as German woods and and Welsh mountaintops, and bring us interviews with knitters and designers from around the globe. Thanks, Andrea and Andrew!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Road Trip, Anyone?

With the Victoria Day long weekend looming and the summer driving season coming up, I've added a new gadget (that's Google's term) in the right sidebar of the blog. The new link will take you to an earlier blog post entitled "Out and About". It's a little tour of day trip destinations from Kingston. They're all on this side of the Canada/US border, even though we're also within striking distance of upstate New York. The so-called "thickening" of the border since 9/11 has unfortunately made that direction much less appealing as an easy destination than it used to be. Also, such physical obstacles as Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondack Mountains make that direction more complicated. So, for now the day trip list is geared to trips with no passport required. Take your knitting though, since you never know how long you'll have to wait for ferries, road construction, or restaurant meals. Summer, here we come.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Canadian Designers KAL

Do you know about Ravelry's "Designed in Canada" group? Their 2016 KAL starts next month. Click here for details. I'm offering Glenora at $1 (CDN) until the end of August as part of the programme, and also a Buttonbox kit (that's right, pattern + wool) as one of the prizes. Hope you'll check this out.
Meantime, while Bill's in Florence, Italy taking in the sights, I'm beavering away at this.

B-day tomorrow. 59th. Ouch!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Embracing Technology

There's a bit of the Luddite in me; I prefer to grade my patterns with pencil and paper charts, and I still prefer regular books to e-books. That said, I really love being able to audition fair isle colourways with Excel and Paint. Here's what I've been playing around with this morning.

Do you have any idea how much time (and wool) would be involved if I swatched these as knitted samples? Not sure yet whether the purple is the final version. Still some tweaking left to do.