Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Robin's Wings - A New Pattern for a Cause

All proceeds from sales of Robin's Wings will
be donated to my Aunt Robin's Fund to help her
cover medical and living expenses as she is
recovering from chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Check out my newest design, Robin's Wings! You can make it in Lace or Fingering Weight, Long (as shown) or Short. Inspired by my Aunt Robin. I wanted to 'give her wings' to wrap herself in comfort, as she recovers from surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer.

When I first started designing shawls, she asked me to design her a large, light-weight shawl to use in her meditation practice. But it wasn't until after she was diagnosed that I found my inspiration.

One morning, as I was making my morning mocha in my studio, I was thinking about how I wished I lived closer to my aunt so I could help her more. I was looking over my wall of yarn and suddenly had the inspiration to design a shawl for my aunt, and donate all of the proceeds from the sales of the patterns to her Fund.
I wanted something to represent the feathers of a bird's wings. I grabbed my sketchbook, and began sketching, interlocking feathers, increasing from the center out to create a curve that would stay in place. I figured pineapples would make perfect feathers, with just a little bit of tweaking to get the look and shape I wanted.

By the end of the day, I had 2 large swatches (in lace and fingering weight), and had contacted the dyer at Black Trillium Fibres to arrange to get yarn dyed in my aunt's favorite color. Both their lace weight Silken and fingering weight Lilt are beautiful blends of superwash merino and silk, and I wanted the design to be written with options to use either weight yarn. As a knitter and all around crafter herself, I knew my Aunt had a preference for fine merino yarn.

Last month I spent several days with my Aunt in California, just after her last chemo treatment, and I was able to gift her the Long Lace Weight version in Moonlit Periwinkle (shown above). I have also made a shorter version (in Wash) that uses half the yarn, which I must admit is my new favorite shawl, and I will be wearing it all summer.

As a therapist and teacher of meditation and mindfulness, my aunt does not get paid vacation or sick days. She has continued working through this experience, as much as she has been able to. But she has missed a lot more work that she had hoped to and the medical bills will continue to accumulate.

All proceeds from the sales of this pattern will go to Robin's Fund. I spent nothing on development so it will all go to her. My usual tech editor is a breast cancer survivor herself and volunteered her services. One of my contractors volunteered to make the fingering weight sample. And Black Trillium Fibers supplied not only the yarn for the samples, but an additional couple of skeins for me to do raffles at future events.

So, please consider purchasing a copy of the pattern for yourself or a gift! Or if you do not need the pattern but want to help, you could donate directly on her page.
Click Here to Purchase Pattern
If you happen to be local to the Vancouver, WA area, we are starting a Free Crochet Along of the Shawl at Blizzard Yarn and Fibers, every Wednesday 5-7pm, starting tonight! You can purchase the pattern at the shop and get help directly from the designer!

Special thanks to my Photographer Guy Holtzman and my beautiful model Shayna.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Elsie's Farewell Shawl - New Pattern!

Designed for Ficstitches Yarns Spring 2016 Kit Club 
Mary stopped to adjust the drape of her new shawl, straightening the collar and making certain the lace laid just so over her shoulders. Elsie smiled to see her preening over it . . .”
- Excerpt from “The Sojourn Stitch” coming soon from C. Jane Reid

In researching the earliest documented forms of crochet for her first novel, The Secret Stitchauthor C. Jane Reid found references Shepherd's Knitting, which was not knitting at all, but actually slip stitches worked with a hooked tool. I wanted to design a collared shawl using this stitch like the wrapped shawls that tie at the back which might have been commonly worn in colonial times, but knew that an all slip stitch shawl would not be a fun project for a Kit Club.
Elsie's Shawl was actually the first design I thought of for our very first Ficstitches Yarns Crochet Kit Club, last year. But I needed a larger skein of yarn than the standard 400+ yard skein most fingering weight yarn comes in. When I saw Bumblebirch's 600 yard skein of Glen, I knew it would be perfect to make this a one skein project.
A modern interpretation of a collared wrap shawl, Elsie's Farewell Shawl begins with a collar formed of short rows of front loop only slip stitches. Then a triangle of shells descends from the collar, gradually decreasing to a curved point. The solid, stretchy fabric of the collar adds weight to the silky lace, keeping it draped over your shoulders without a shawl pin.
You can purchase Elsie's Farewell Shawl on Ravelry.
All Photos © Guy Holtzman

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Aurora's Dawn - From Concept to Creation

My sister's wedding dress began with a sketch she had drawn, and her idea of a gradient orange from light to dark. I knew just which hand-dyer to look at, as she has 60 different gradient shades in 2 different fingering weight bases. So I was able to choose just the perfect colorway, Apricot, in Black Trillium's Lilt gradient. I had used her Lilt for our first Ficstitches Yarns Kit Club last year, and knew the silk blend would provide lovely drape. I was at Black Sheep Gathering a couple weeks after my sister got engaged, where I bought 3 gradient kits of yarn and coordinating beads from Bead Biz
We had found a sewing pattern of a similar shape to her sketch, but in the end I only used the waistband pattern piece as a reference to get started. Once I had completed the waistband, in a stitch I felt would give the core of the dress some structure, I told my sister to choose how I should proceed.
Having designed several garments, I knew that I could choose one lace pattern and shape it to fit her, OR I could try piecing together different flowers, leaves, and doily patterns in the Irish Crochet style -- which I had never done before, but had been wanting to try. With complete confidence in me, my sister told me to go for the crazy lace, although by then, I only had 2 months until the big day.

Since I did not know a lot about Irish Crochet, I started with my friend Kathy White's The Go-To Book Of Irish Crochet as well as a few other motif and Japanese doily books,. Before committing to motif lace, I made up a few pieces in the lightest shade of yarn, and began stitching them together. I knew I was on the right track when I realized that the pieces I had already would be perfect for one side of the bodice, and I just kept going.

I loved the idea of following a bunch of other people's patterns for motifs and seeing how I could piece them together, especially looking for patterns of leaves and flowers that would lay flat to create a smoother fabric. With a fall wedding and shades of orange yarn, my sister especially wanted to include lots of leaves, but I also found that doilies and snowflakes worked well.
I soon decided that as long as I was going to do this, I should make every single motif different! I ended up with 8 different books as reference, was soon creating variations of what I found in the books, and eventually made the motifs up as I went along. I learned a lot about how different designers start and write their circular motif patterns, and which ones worked best for me.
Having 3 small balls of each of the 5 shades in the colorway made it easy to crochet on the go (and I mean everywhere). I would work up a motif from each end of each ball for up to 6 motifs in a shade, leaving them attached to the balls to avoid wasting yarn. Then I spread them out when I was home, see how they might fit together, and start pinning them to the slip on her dressform, which I had my sister adjust to her own measurements. I was constantly surprised how well the shaping worked as I connected the random pieces and shapes together, filling in the spaces between with interconnected chain loops.I figured the dress would be as long as it was going to be, until I ran out of yarn, or time. Whichever came first. 
After several years of needing to write patterns for everything I make, allowing myself the freedom to try various patterns, play with how to make it all fit together, and see it turn out even better than I had imagined was remarkable. We made a few changes from my sister's original sketch due to the limitations of working with yarn, but she certainly seemed happy with the results. This was certainly a labor of love, but I hope to find reasons to do more of this type of designing in the future, freeform rather than structured. 
For more pictures of the finished dress, check out yesterday's post. I have been told that the photos do not do it justice, so this month, "Aurora's Dawn" is Going On Tour! The dress was on display a couple weeks ago in the Bead Biz booth at Madrona, last weekend in the Black Trillium booth at Stitches West, in a couple weeks we will be doing a Trunk Show/Book Signing/Make'n'Take at Happy Knits in Portland during the Rose City Yarn Crawl, and we will have booths at various PNW shows later this year.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Aurora's Dawn - A Crocheted Wedding Dress

Aurora's Dawn- 3 months, 108 different motifs, 100's of tiny beads and buttons, and 1800 yards of fingering weight gradient yarn on size C and E hooks.

My sister Aurora was named for the Goddess of the Dawn, so it only made sense that she chose to be married in the colors of the sunrise as she celebrated the dawning of a new life with her Guy. 

For years we have agreed that if she got married again, I would crochet her a dress. Afterall, she sewed my wedding dress (nearly 20 years ago), and once I started designing garments, it just made sense. 
But when she got engaged last June, she gave me just three months to not only design, but create the fabric for her one-of-a-kind 'modern Irish' crocheted lace dress.

Given more time, I might have chosen a lace weight yarn to create even more delicate lace as I imagined for a wedding dress. However, the Black Trillium Fibres fingering weight Gradient Yarn in Apricot turned out to be the perfect thing to create a fabric that gradually shifted in color from palest yellow to the deep orange of the waistband and bottom edge.

I have played with freeform crochet in the past, but not in lace. Inspired by designing Ailee's Wedding Shawl for our first Ficstitches Yarns crochet Kit Club last year, I wanted to explore the technique of joining separate motifs like Irish Crochet was a great excuse to go through the books of motifs and doilies in my collection and try all sorts of different patterns to see how they worked up. With a fall wedding, my sister wanted lots of leaves in her dress, so I made all sorts of leaf motifs, and chose doily patterns with "pineapples" which also reminded us of leaves.

Once I got started, I decided that every motif should be different. I was worried that so many different patterns would be distracting. But as they were joined together they blended into a solid fabric.

As I got closer to the bottom, I added beads to many of the flowers and the bottom edging. I wanted to form a flower garden along the bottom front, inspired by the flowers my sister's new husband has been growing. I included sunflowers for my sister and lilies for her husband, and was very pleased with the final result.

 Tomorrow I will post more details and photos of the process.

Special Thanks to Guy Holtzman for all of the photos in this post.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Grahame's Gorget - New Pattern!

"I recalled the way the armor seemed to flow from head to neck to shoulders, like a mantle or a monk’s cowl, but close, protective. Thick. And an image began to form in my head about that sort of thing in wool." - Unraveling: The New World, Part Three by C. Jane Reid

My design for our third and final Ficstitches Yarns Kit Club of 2015, Grahame's Gorget, was inspired by the piece of armor that protects the neck, called a "gorget". When faced with the need to protect her husband from an unknown threat which seems to attack neck and be repelled by wool, our heroine, Ailee, finds a quick way to turn the wool fleece she has into a protective garment.

By spinning a very thick yarn (like the super bulky Dredz yarn from Abstract Fiber included in Kit #3), she was able to quickly make a dense fabric to fit around the neck. Using short rows allowed me to to add width around the shoulders while keeping the neck more snug, . I like the idea that as a novice stitcher, the finished garment looks a little lumpy, as if she added and lost stitches a little randomly as she worked. But once you lay it out, you realize that the increases are quite intentional, creating an unusual shape that is easy to wear.

Since crochet was not commonly known in the colonial time period of our stories, I have been experimenting with various stitches that look a little more like knit, by inserting into various insertion points. If you have tried any of my edgeless crocheted cables, you will be familiar with inserting in the "lower-bar" of the stitch. If not, the pattern includes a photo tutorial showing where to insert your hook, and I will be adding more thorough tutorials here on my blog very soon.

For this kit, I got the chance to make the leather closures, inspired by harness straps in the story. With the chunky yarn and large hook, it will be easy to slide various types of closure between the stitches so you can wear the cowl open at the shoulder or the front. Additional suggestions for buttons or seaming are also included in the pattern, to give crocheters options to really make it their own.

If you haven't already, don't miss out on our first Kit Club of 2016, available for Preorders, This Week Only! This next kit will include a stand-alone story following one of the characters introduced in Ailee's story, which you don't want to miss!

The pattern for Grahame's Gorget is also now available on Ravelry. The pattern will also be one of 9 patterns inspired by Ailee's story, coming out end of March 2016!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Homespun Heroes…Party Time Again!

I always take the week off before each of my kids birthdays from work crafts, to focus on making favors and decorations for their parties. This week I find myself making another batch of superhero capes, this time for my daughter's 6th. She's been running around with capes for the past few months, left from the batch I made for her brother's party when he turned five (5 1/2 years ago). So, I'm using the same pattern (saved from that first party) to make capes again, this time with stretch velvet and bias tape at the top to keep from stretching.

But in looking back at what I did for G's party, I found an entire blog post I wrote back then and never posted. I always meant to add more links to resources and pictures. But, today I figured I would share that post, and you can find lots of pics of my first Superhero Party on my original party post.

From August 2010:
There are so many great ideas online for Super Hero parties I wanted to share some of the ones we used (now that I have more pictures). I was amused to find that even Tory Spelling did a superhero theme for her son’s birthday. I began to think it has all been done before. Griffin helped me choose which activities he wanted to do, filled the goody bags, piñata, and even helped me bake and decorate his birthday cake, a chocolate cake with yellow frosting and a red Super G symbol.

For once I started shopping early for party supplies. I hit the stores the week after the 4th and found tableware & decorations on clearance. What is more superhero than red and blue stars? I hit the $Tree and Party City early as well, after checking prices on Oriental Trading Company (my usual go to for party supplies and themed favors), and did not end up ordering anything.

I caught a great sale on Satin fabric at Joane’s for the capes. I knew it would be easier to have all one color, but I loved the idea of kids running around in all different colored capes. So I bought enough of 6 different colors to make 4 capes in each. I decided I would make 24 capes, assume I would have leftovers, and sell the extras as Design Your Own Superhero Kits on Etsy (if I ever open my store).

Next I made a pattern by folding one of Griffin’s capes in half and tracing a similar shape onto foamcore. My sister and I bought a serger a couple of years ago, but we never got it working right. I managed to break the needles the first time out. Turns out regular sewing machine needles do not work in a serger. Who knew? Once we got the serger running I made the 24 capes in just a couple days, and now I am pretty darn comfortable using the machine.

I got some great ideas from Ambrosia Girl’s blog including a mask pattern and source for adhesive felt. I used plastic to make stencils of her mask patterns for Griffin to trace onto sheets of stiff felt (which I found on clearance at Michaels).
I was racking my brain on how to make sturdy Training Manuals the kids could take with them to each station. My sister designed the pages for me. But I was really excited when, inspired by the Vancouver Recycled Arts Festival, I came up with a great recycled cover for the manuals. I sell bras and just could not bring myself to throw out the large pile of plastic packages I have accumulated. I realized that the creases on the packaging would be perfect for folding the manuals open, and I could bind them with binder clips from the office supply store.

Our piñata was also entirely recycled. Awhile back Griffin saw a Spiderman piñata in a store. I told him we could make something similar. But the more I thought about it, I did not think we wanted the kids bashing in Spiderman’s head! So we decided to make Venom (much simpler to paint I might add). I had picked up a couple of extra large balloons to make it with at $tree. But when those popped in the prickly grass, I found an old balloon I was able to untie and blow up to make a perfect piñata. Earlier in the summer Griffin made a piñata at Spanish camp, and the teacher suggested using just plain old starch (in the blue bottle) which worked perfectly.

Other moms have told me that I had better be careful, or I will have to keep making his parties bigger and better each year. But when asked, Griffin still says his favorite birthday party so far was “the one where we chased the ladybugs,” when he turned two. I was just glad that when we were pulling up to yet another birthday party at JJ Jump last spring he said, “I want to have my party at home!” So I will make it as fun as I can as long as he wants his parties at home.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Dyers In Their Studios - Sarah of Bumblebirch

This month I am excited to introduce Sarah Kurth of Bumblebirch. Sarah was actually the dyer who gave me the idea for this whole series of Dyers In Their Studios Profiles! When I met her during the Rose City Yarn Crawl a couple of years ago, she suggested that some time I could come out and see her dye studio. We still have not managed to get together in her studio in Portland, but I she just happened to have the perfect yarn for our next Ficstitches Yarns Kit Club (on sale this month). The mystery accessory design for this kit required more than the average 400+ yards of most skeins of fingering weight yarn. Bumblebirch's Glen yarn not only comes in a giant 600 yard skein, but with 20% silk, it's a absolute dream to work with!
Glen yarn in Mushroom and Blackberry
Now, let's get to know a little more about Sarah...

How long have you been dyeing yarn?
About 7 years. Sometimes I feel like an amateur! There's always something new to learn, which is really fun.
How did you get started dyeing?
A friend sent me a swap kit that included bare yarn from KnitPicks and some packets of Kool-aid. It's so easy because the Kool-aid has the dye and the mordant all in the packet. The colors are fun and bright, and it smells great!
What is your background?
I have an architecture degree from Cal Poly. I learned how to be a creative problem solver, and how to meld my artistic side with my logical side. Most of my practical work experience is in office administration, so it's helpful for running my own business.
Do you have any special experience with art or science that influences your dyeing?
My schooling included design concepts and how to apply them to physical things, including experiential spaces. Color theory was only a small part and I mainly work on intuition and experimentation when developing colorways. Working in the architecture studio setting for 6 years, I naturally developed my own work process and it affects my operations today.
What makes your yarn special or unique?
Every skein is unique. The kettle-dye process ensures the dye absorbs slightly unevenly, which means the resulting yarn will look watercolor-y when crafted into a fabric. I choose each yarn base carefully: it must be soft, bouncy, and create a sturdy, heirloom-quality garment when knitted or crocheted.
What is something interesting about your dyeing process that non-dyers might not know?
You might not know that I use organic dyes and mordant. The whole dyeing process takes about 4-5 days from start to finish. First, the yarn gets tied up to prevent tangling. Then has to soak in a mordant bath before being dyed. It cooks for several hours in the dyebath and must cool completely before being spin-dried, usually overnight. It gets hung up to air-dry in a cedar-lined drying room for another 2 days, then gets twisted up and labeled. In total, I handle each skein at least 6 times throughout the process. My hands and all the imperfections they create along the way (measuring dye, squeezing out excess water, submerging yarn in the dyebath, gentle stirring, etc.) are integral to my tonal colorways.
How do you choose your colors and name your yarns?
Portland has some spectacular plant life, everywhere from the International Rose Test Gardens to city parks to my neighbors' backyards. There is no shortage of inspiration around me as I venture out for a hike or stay home to work on my own little plot of land. Sometimes I accidentally make a cool colorway and just have to stare at it for awhile and wait for a name to pop into my head.
Where do you find inspiration?
Mostly in the natural world. You'll notice that most of my colorways are earthy. I developed the bright ones over a summer when I spent a lot of time in my garden. We sowed some wildflower mix all around the edges of the vegetable garden and were surprised with a wide variety of bright colors and textures that summer (and the one afterward).
Like me, Sarah is a mom and has her own little helper to lend a hand.
How many colorways do you have?
There are currently 24 colorways in my classic collection.
Do you create seasonal or special order colors?
I do, and it's so much fun! Often a store will commission an exclusive, limited-edition colorway. I also like playing around with colors and making some seasonal limited editions. These are mostly variegated colorways.
How many and what types of bases do you use?
There are currently 6 standard bases in the Bumblebirch collection, all superwash Merino and superwash Merino blends, ranging from lace to worsted. They are all exceptionally soft, strong, and consistent. I also introduced the seasonal Vernacular base this year, which is 100% domestic wool, grown and milled regionally. In 2015 it was 100% Cormo wool. In 2016 it will be Cormo blended with another regional wool so I'll have much more of it to dye. Keep your eye out for it!
Where do your yarn bases come from?
The classic bases are from a mill in South America, where Merino wool is plentiful. The Vernacular base is from small farms in the Pacific Northwest.
Where can we find your yarn? LYSs and online?
You can find a selection of my yarn and limited edition runs in my online store on my website, There you can also find a list of retailers throughout the US.
What are your favorite colors?
I love gray, green, blue, and warm, earthy colors too.
Favorite fibers?
I love a lot of soft wools and am especially in love with anything blended with silk. Merino/silk, BFL/silk, Alpaca/silk—I love it all!
Do you crochet, knit, or spin? What came first?
I learned to knit first, when I was a child, and picked it up for good in my mid-twenties. I also taught myself some very basic crochet stitches so I could work edgings and flat circles when needed. I recently had a spinning lesson and decided not to start that hobby until I'm retired! I also just started weaving on a small hand loom last month and it's very addicting.
Anything else you would like to share?
I encourage everyone to try dyeing their own yarn, at least once. There's something magical about the process and all the labor that goes into it, and you get a completely unique product in the end, which is very satisfying.

Find Bumblebirch on Sarah's WebsiteRavelry GroupFacebookTwitter
and Instagram!
(all photos courtesy of Sarah Kurth)
Happy New Year to All! We are looking forward to another great year of yarny goodness here on ReCrochetions and Ficstitches Yarns!