Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.—Franklin P. Jones

I’d like to share with you something that a reader sent me in an e-mail.

What literature needs most is a new and abusive school of criticism. So wrote Rebecca West in 1914, in an essay called "The Duty of Harsh Criticism." Book reviewers were too kind, she argued, and literary standards debased. English departments were remarkable only for the shocking amounts of unreadable writing they produced. Then there was the "formidable army of Englishmen" who had managed to become men of letters without having written anything: "They throw up platitudinous inaugural addresses like wormcasts, they edit the letters of the unprotected dead, and chew once more the more masticated portions of history." There is now no criticism in England, she concluded. "There is merely a chorus of weak cheers . . . a mild kindliness that neither heats to enthusiasm nor reverses to anger." (via today's Maud Newton)

We also have become a nation of “Can’t Dos.” I think that the prevailing dumbness and instant gratification seen in knitting is merely symptomatic of our country’s malaise. That’s why I criticize the knitting establishment of magazines, lists, yarn companies, and the knitters who support “easy,” “quick,” “simple to do.” And why I do not support our current administration, which is dumber than dumb. It’s a perfect example of how ignorance and stupidity become dangerous.

End of sermon for today.

Designing Fair Isle
My design background is primarily in Aran knitting and textures, although I’ve designed Fair Isle socks. That’s not to say that I haven’t knitted quite a few Fair Isle sweaters, primarily Starmores. However, in the doing there is learning. I’ve completed a FI chart for the book, which is composed of bands of peeries (small repeats) in rainbow colors on a black background.

This may be stating the obvious but I think that the most difficult phase of designing a Fair Isle garment is determining the colors and how to balance those colors within the design. Frankly, the garment shape itself and the calculations that go with it are the least of the project’s tasks. The garment shape is simply the canvas.

It’s easier to start off designing a Fair Isle by thinking small motifs. And keep your selection to a minimum—don’t go crazy. Less is more. It will be easier for you to design your sweater. And you will have less color choices to worry about, particularly if you find yourself intimidated by color. I’m not, but I know a lot of people are. If you are, buying a color wheel is a wise idea. I have one and use it when I’m in doubt.

If you design with small motifs, you will have a much easier time working your design into the garment, simply because you will have more room to fiddle with width AND length. Don’t forget, the wider and longer the motif, the more it will dictate how wide and long your garment can be. The length in particular can become critical once you get to the sleeves.

Although I tend to stay away from drop-shoulders, I think that this is the way to go if you have never designed a Fair Isle before and don’t have a lot of experience designing your own. Yes, you can shape right next to the steeks, and I do. But you may wish to concentrate on the patterning more and the shaping less. That’s your call.

Here’s a few tips that I’ve learned over the course of my Fair Isle design experience so far.

:: When you begin to design your motifs, make sure that they are symmetrical. That means you should be able to divide them into exact quarters. Most Fair Isle patterns are but some of the smaller peeries are not. So pick your motifs wisely.

:: Buy only Shetland 2-ply, such as Jamieson’s Spindrift, because it’s the best for Fair Isles. You can get the detail you want because it produces a smaller gauge and it’s like Velcro, which you need when you steek.

:: Buy a good deal extra in the colors that you choose because…

:: You’ve got to swatch a lot. Simply making a pretty chart is not enough. The colors on whatever charting device you’re using, be it computerized or coloring in graph paper, are never going to be true.

:: Make a circular swatch. I prefer Meg Swansen’s method of knitting flat across on a circular needle, then carrying the yarns across the back in long strands and knitting the next row beginning at the same end, rather than making a true circle.

:: Block the swatch by pinning and cold-misting it. Then walk away from it for a few days. Your perspective on the design will be better if you don’t look at it for a while.

So go for it. I would say that if you have never knitted a Fair Isle sweater before, you would be very wise to start with someone else’s design. If you have any of Starmore’s books, particularly the later ones, such as Stillwater or Pacific Highway, you can pretty much substitute the Campion 2-ply with Spindrift, colorwise. And the three Jamieson books published by Unicorn Books have excellent Fair Isles. Sweaters From Camp published by Schoolhouse Press also has some good Fair Isle designs in it, besides the best technical info on Fair Isle knitting I’ve ever read.

I wouldn’t say that Fair Isle knitting is the most difficult, either to design or execute. I think that lace knitting takes that award, myself. Of course, as in most things, that’s arguable.

Das Buch
That’s Carol S.’s name for it. For a nice German girl like me, it’s just the right name.

I just want to reassure people like Kathy that, no, I am most definitely not teaching people the basics in the book. Why should I reinvent the wheel when so many are busily doing just that? Rather, it’s more of a segue into intermediate/advanced knitting. I’ve got several chapters written and right now I’m busy designing and knitting the projects that will illustrate those chapters. The peerie Fair Isle chart that I mentioned above will be part of the book, although at this point, I suspect I will be doing a child’s Fair Isle. The most time-consuming part of this project is certainly the designing and knitting. Writing I can do quickly, knitting I can’t.

And of course, you do realize that there’s absolutely nothing in this book that I invented myself. Really, it’s a compilation of the knowledge that I’ve accumulated from 36 years of serious knitting. (I don’t count the years between 7, when I learned, and 18, when I got back into it.) When I began knitting seriously, I could never find the answer to why you use one method over another, when you do certain things, when you don’t do certain things, etc. I had to find out the hard way, by trial and a lot of error. And this is what I don’t see addressed in many knitting books, even now.

Complaint Department
I’ve always bitched about certain retail practices, particularly that of Starbuck’s, who seems to have some weird naming conventions for their coffee sizes. Now, I’ve found a kindred soul. In my web meanderings the other day, I came upon this excellent letter that says everything I’ve ever wanted to say to Starbuck’s.

And I’m not even that crazy about their coffee, either. It shouldn’t cost me a mortgage payment to buy a latte, for crissakes.

Is Dunkin Donuts rare and handy? I dunno. They seem to be following either Krispy Kreme in their doughnut packaging or Starbuck’s for their coffee selections.

Coffee from a NYC street cart is possibly the best.

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