Thursday, June 22, 2006

Best of the Show!

I think that I may have finally recovered from TNNA, as the orders we took there are now being shipped, our show booth has arrived home and the follow up orders, from stores who met us but needed to think about ordering, have started to flow.

Also, I have to report that in the midst of all of this exhaustion, my 91 year old father decided to do some welding in the barn, dropped the blow torch while still lit, set a small grass fire which he couldn't put out, fell into the fire and sustained second and third degree burns. A passing motorist saw him and stopped. He was airlifted to a hospital with a burn unit on the eve of Father's Day and we feared the worst.

What were Blanche's words from that Tennesee Williams' play? ...something about relying on the kindness of strangers - any help with the quotation and the name of the play is most welcome!...

Well, after 5 days, he has had an operation to graph skin to the damaged area, has been moved out of intensive care, is off morphine, ventilators, monitors you name it and is back playing the lottery!! I have given thanks more than once - believe me!

So in celebration, I am posting Dorothy Siemens description of the design process for her Peacock Feathers Shawl (as promised). This pattern, indeed, was the "Best of the Show" - with the Paisley long shawl coming a close second! To me the shawl is an example of pure joy. There is something in the flow of the lace, the curve of the stitches and the gentle development of the pattern that reminds me of smiles, happiness, laughter. It is light, airy and obviously a joy to knit! - though designing it was certainly a challenge - read on!

The Peacock Feathers Shawl

The Peacock Feathers Shawl seems to strike a responsive chord in many knitters. I originally came up with the concept for this design while admiring a peacock's tail feather I had pinned to my studio bulletin board. The usual approach would be to try to capture the wonderful colours, but since my medium is lace, I wanted to interpret the graceful shape and flow of the feather and especially the lovely, large "eye" that makes it so distinctive. I envisioned the tail in partial display sweeping out behind the peacock, and in my mind's eye could see it as a lace shawl sweeping down from the shoulders. But I find that my design ideas are often fraught with difficulty once I try to translate them into an actual product. The Peacock Feathers Shawl was no exception!

The first thing I do when embarking on a new design is look through my stitch dictionaries and reference books. If I can find an existing lace pattern to incorporate into my design, so much the better. In this case, I was looking for something that would give the appearance of feathers. I wanted the shawl to start out with a small, feather-like pattern at the top neck, just as a peacock's feathers are smaller on the neck and back. Then I envisioned the feathers gradually becoming larger and opening up into the flare of larger feathers cascading away from the peacock.

I was successful in finding a suitable pattern for the small feathers-actually a small leaf motif from one of the Barbara Walker Treasuries, but the other feathers were not as easy. The secondary feathers with their eyes did not exist, and so I had to design my own. I found a lace pattern in Barbara Walker's blue A Treasury of Knitting Patterns on page 214, which had the basic structure I was interested in. But it took a fair amount of recharting and swatching to figure out how to make the "eye" work nicely. I struggled with it, but learned a lot as I went on.
Working down the shawl, the feathers become larger and now have long stalks, and again, I had to design these elements basically from scratch, but using the previous "eyed" feathers as a basis. Somewhere in the midst of this, I was overcome with frustration and wondered if I would ever be able to capture the image I had in my head. I find that I usually go through this angst in the middle of the design process.

Once I reached the edging, I wanted the lace to flow seamlessly into the really large, showy feathers at the bottom of the peacock's tail. I set myself some parameters. The edging should not be picked up and knit separately but should be knit all in one piece with the shawl. It should also be wavy and graceful and provide a really beautiful finish for the shawl. I was influenced by two books in my library, The First Book of Modern Lace Knitting by Marianne Kinzel, and Three-Cornered and Long Shawls by Sigridur Halldórsdóttir. The latter book has some of the most gorgeous shawls I have ever seen, and I particularly like the way edgings are handled on many of them. The delicate crocheted edge on some of the shawls seemed perfect for my concept of feathery ends and I incorporated this into my shawl. I also learned from both books a lot about how to structure a wavy lace edging, by swatching pieces of their designs to help me understand what they had done.

Once I had all the charts worked out, I began to knit a sample and found, of course, many things that needed tweaking and changing. Somehow, a motif that seems to look good and work well in isolation often needs to be adjusted when knit in a group. I am no stranger to ripping out, over and over again.

This shawl continues to be a favourite among knitters and is my best-selling design. I even received an e-mail from someone who saw a finished version and although had never knit before, was determined to learn so that someday she could also knit the Peacock Feathers Shawl. As you can imagine, I find that completely touching and gratifying, and am very happy that my design has been able to reach out to so many.

Thank you Dorothy!

Have a good one!

Friday, June 16, 2006


Well it's the end of a week that began June 9 and it is now June 16 - where has the time gone!!!!

1- I know that I spent two days of it travelling to and from Indianapolis and either putting up or taking down our show booth at TNNA.

2- Another hour or two was spent moving quickly from the 100 aisle to the 8000 aisle to arrange with show management, things like lighting, which I had decided not to order, but now really needed- none available - but through a little magic, I managed to secure an ancient flood light - I thank the powers that be for small mercies.

3 - Twenty one hours were spent in the booth chatting to shop owners, meeting people that I have been doing business with for years; but had never met - including Ann Norling, whose patterns I have been distributing since 1994. It was wonderful just making contact, putting faces to names and names to faces; hearing the OOOHs & AAAAWs of delight when people saw Dorothy Siemens' (Fiddlesticks Knitting) patterns, samples and the designer herself. And there were the orders for Dorothy's patterns and the patterns of other Canadian designers that I took down with me.

4 - Then there were the two dinners out with other Canadians who were exhibiting at the show - Lucy Neatby who was there launching her new DVDs which I will be distributing in Canada. Lynda and Deb Gemmel of Cabin Fever were there - it's always a delight to spend time in their company. Patricia Landry of Patricia's Yarn Cabin(Sidney, BC) and her business partner Linda, who exhibit under the name Swallow Hill, the most delightful patterns and kits for crocheted or knitted and beaded shawls, bags, necklaces and more. Lana of Lanaknits, also from BC who has a lovely selection of hemp yarns and Caroline McInnis of Sweaterkits, who invariably adds a touch of elegance to any gathering.

5 - Dorothy and I had 1 dinner out at the hotel on our own and decided that they priced the entrees by the pound with a 48oz steak going for about $48.00 and the veg. was extra!!! Do people actually eat that much? It was a window onto a world that I am surprised still exists, what with all the health concerns, social concerns, and just plain conservation and personal discipline expected of people to-day.

6 - Precious little time could be given to viewing the other booths which were staggering in number, overwhelming in product presentation and just amazing in scope - this is a very niche market and yet there were literally millions of skeins of yarn in every imaginable colour, thousands of patterns with their real-life knitted samples, hundreds of needles, gadgets, bags and accessories for shop owners to choose from and bring back to offer for sale to knitters in their area of the world.

7 - In deed companies and designers came from all over the world. I saw Hanne Falkenberg wearing Mermaid and Vivian Hoxbro wearing something different everytime I saw her. There were companies from Australia, New Zealand, Turkey.....the list goes on

In the blur of colour and texture a few things did stand out. There were 2 or 3 simple sweaters in natural (cream) yarn with a little cabling for interest in the Rowan booth that literally "jumped" out at you because there was no colour, no blending of dyes, no frazzle of texture in the yarn - just plain cream DK - how refreshing.

Also in a needlework booth there was a small evening bag in the shape of a tulip. It was perfectly executed with a little fabric in needlepoint to fill in the top of the purse and create a place for the drawstring. I wanted it and the one beside it which was a pansy.

Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

We're off to Indianapolis in the morning...

Yes, I'm leaving very early Friday morning - the limo comes at 4:45 a.m. - alas what one does for the love of knitting! Now I know that I have some explaining to do. I haven't posted in almost a month and why am I going to are my excuses/reasons:

1. I should not complain. I had 3 months worth of orders squeeze themselves into the month of May, which customers were expecting to be delivered in a timely fashion; so I couldn't just sit there and enjoy myself - musing through my weblog, knitting, crocheting, gardening etc....I had to WORK!!!

2. Then I had decided in February to take a booth at TNNA - booth 142 for anyone going. At the time, of course, I did not even think about the work involved - it's a little like starting a very intricate lace shawl - buying the pattern and the yarn is a breeze. Even casting on isn't that bad. It's somewhere after the first or second row that you realize the commitment involved. The booth had to be designed; the design executed - fortunately Dorothy Siemens of Fiddlesticks Knitting did most of that. But patterns had to be labelled; kits priced; forms created. The booth had to be shipped; all the small business items like staplers, pens, fishing line...Fishing line????? - indispensable, if you are hanging anything -had to be included and nothing forgotten. Anyway - it's all done and I had a day or so to collect my thoughts before heading out to the show.

3. Then there was this machine to take yarn off cones and wind it into balls that refused to work the way we wanted it too. Well we bowed to its idiosyncrasies - we had to or the orders would never have been filled. I guess you just have to be a mechanical engineer or something to appreciate this sort of thing - well it is a lovely shade of blue!

4. Then there is the never ending new website, that may end up becoming the never launched old website at this rate. Still lots of fine tuning and no time to do it!!

So now that I have made my excuses. I'll make my apologies and try and make amends after the show with at least some comments about TNNA for those who have never been. This is my first time. I know I will be in awe. I hope to keep you posted.

Oh why all the crocheted scarves? This is what a lot of nervous energy will do. I couldn't sit still, just thinking about all the work that had to be done - so I started crocheting in a yarn that we are now distributing - Fiddlesticks Knitting - Zephyr. It's 50% silk and 50% merino and too beautiful to resist. Fiddlesticks Knitting has 7 knitting patterns in Zephyr including the Peacock Shawl - more on that later. Carol