Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Different Kind of Swatch

Last week I took a morning off for a trip to San Francisco to see the Intimate Impressionism show at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. These paintings, on loan from the National Gallery of Art, are smaller works intended for domestic interiors. The exhibit includes work by all the big Impressionist names.
Of all the paintings on view, the one that most struck me was this:
Seascape (Gravelines) 1890 by Georges Seurat
It was painted by Georges Seurat, who is best known for his masterwork Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte, now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte 1884-1886 by Georges Seurat 
Seurat was the pioneer of pointillism, a painting style founded on scientific study of the interaction of colors in light. Seurat did not blend his colors on the canvas. Instead, he painted tiny dots of pure color, relying on the eye's ability to blend these colors and resolve them into an image. The picture you see exists in your head, not on the canvas.
When you look at these paintings on the screen, you are missing the sense of scale. Sunday Afternoon is huge - 10 feet wide by 6 feet tall. The figures in the foreground are nearly life-sized. When I stood in front of this painting in Chicago, I felt as if I could walk into it.
The seascape I saw last week is tiny. The inner image is 6 1/4" tall by 9 3/4" wide. When I saw it, I turned to my friend Diane and said, "Look! He painted a swatch!"
Take a closer look at the seascape. Within the ornate gold leaf frame is a flat wooden frame which the artist has covered with his signature dots. To me, this feels like what we as knitters do when we practice edge treatments on our knitted swatches.
The very fact of this small painting astonishes me. It was painted just a year before Seurat's death (at the age of only 31). His masterwork was several years in his past. You wouldn't think he needed to practice with such a simple piece.
Why did Seurat make this painting? Was it a study for a larger seascape that was never completed? Was he experimenting with new color combinations? Was it the painter equivalent of "procrastiknitting", fooling around to create the appearance of work while avoiding the work that actually needed doing? (Come on; you know you do it, too.)
We knit swatches for all these reasons - to practice a new technique, to experiment with a new idea on a small scale, to test color combinations, to doodle in 3D. If you only knit swatches to measure gauge, you're missing a wonderful opportunity to play.
We'll never know why this tiny seascape was made. But this little painted swatch made my day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Yarn Adoption Update

Well, I must admit I'm surprised.
Who knew there were so many people willing to send money to a complete stranger in exchange for yarn sight unseen?
Over the past two days, 40 Yarn Adoption shares have been claimed by 20 different people. That means I've found new homes for yarn with a retail value of well over $2000.

The few skeins that remain are being donated to a local church for their charity knitting program.
To all who adopted yarn, THANK YOU! I hope you and your new skeins are very happy together. To those who wanted to think about it for a day or two, I'm sorry. As my brothers would happily say, "You snooze, you lose."

I had a tremendous amount of fun matching yarn to requests. It was like shopping for presents for a bunch of people I don't know. If you were an adopter, I'd love to see what you make with your yarn.

What else have I been up to? I just finished spinning a project that I assigned myself as a challenge. I took up spinning less than 3 years ago, and it gives me an enormous amount of pleasure. Last year, I was given 3 ounces of natural golden Muga silk top as a gift. I'll admit I was a bit intimidated. But last month I decided to tackle it. I wanted to spin a fine, tight, even 3-ply yarn. Here is the result, with a penny included for scale.

It is far from perfect, but I'm proud. I think it will knit into beautiful lace.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Too much yarn...

Yes, it is possible to have too much yarn.
I design knitwear and write patterns for a living. That means boxes land on my doorstep nearly every week filled with wonderful yarn. I'm always sent more than I need, which means there is always yarn left over.
This is beautiful yarn. Almost entirely natural fibers, mostly wool and wool blends, in a variety of weights and textures. This is yarn I would be happy to use, if I ever had the time to knit something just for me. But the necessity of paying my bills means there is always a next project, which means more yarn coming in.
The leftovers are piling up.
I have a BIG NEW PROJECT on the horizon - a book of crochet tank tops and camisoles. I can't tell you how excited I am about this. In the past 2 weeks, I've ordered yarn to make all the projects in the book. Do you see a looming problem?
Where am I going to put the yarn to make 25 new projects? Stacking boxes and bags in a corner is not acceptable to me. I feel it's necessary to honor my work by organizing my thoughts and supplies in a neat and logical way. (At least at the beginning. As the deadline looms, this may all go out the window.)
Here is where you come in. In order to clear space, both mentally and physically, for the BIG NEW PROJECT, I'd like to move some of my beloved stash on to new homes. Would you like to adopt some of my yarn and give it a good home? Are you willing to take a chance?
If so, here is how you can participate:
1. Send me an e-mail at
2. In the subject line, write Yarn Adoption.
3. In the body of the e-mail, include your mailing address. Also include any guidelines you want to give me in choosing your yarn. Color preferences, no laceweight, only mohair, only sock yarn, whatever.
4. Finally, tell me how many "shares" you would like to adopt.
5. I'll dive into the stash and choose some yarn for you. For every share you request, I'll pick yarn with a retail value of at least $50.
6. I'll send you a Paypal request for a $20 "adoption fee" for each share you've requested.
7. When Paypal confirms that you've paid, I'll send your share(s) via USPS Priority Mail.
8. You'll get your box, open it, and be thrilled with your new yarn. You'll wonder how I managed to pick something that was so perfect for you. You'll abandon whatever else you were working on and immediately start a new project with your new yarn, all the while congratulating yourself for rescuing it from the neglect it suffered while stored in a bag in my yarn closet.
Q: Can I see photos before I decide?
A: Nope - this is a game for those with a spirit of adventure. I'm trying to avoid taking the time to photograph and catalog the stash.
Q: What if I ask for chartreuse and you don't have chartreuse?
A: If I don't have anything that matches the specs in your e-mail, I'll e-mail you back to let you know.
Q: Is the yarn in good condition?
A: Yep - it has been stored in plastic bags in a smoke free space. But I cannot guarantee the absence of a stray dog hair or two - those little suckers get in everywhere. Baxter says "sorry".
Q: What if I don't like it when it comes?
A: Pass it on to someone who will love it. I can't offer to take it back - that would defeat the purpose.
Q: How long will I have to wait?
A: I'll pick your yarn and send you a Paypal request within a day or two of getting your Yarn Adoption e-mail. Unless the postal service messes with us, you should get your box within 5 business days of payment.
Q: I live in Timbuktu. Can I play?
A: Sorry, no. The adoption fee is too low to cover international postage. US addresses only, please.
Thanks for helping me set the stage for the BIG NEW PROJECT.

Edited May 9, 2014 to add:
All of the adoptable yarn has been claimed. Thanks!

How about a sneak peak at what I'm working on? The first rows of the first design.....