Being enough

When the letter came home from the kids’ school, I automatically handed it over to my husband. “Career Day is coming up, if you wanted to volunteer.”

“Sure,” he said. “Are you going to?”

The question caught me off guard. Me? Uh…did I really qualify as enough of a designer to talk to someone about it as a career?

I dithered overnight, and then decided I darn well was designer enough. I might just be starting out, but there are careers in knitting and design – and as my audience would be grade school students, just giving them an idea that there are jobs in creative fields would be enough.

I was assigned to speak to 3 1st grade classes, including my daughter’s, and she brought home a letter with information for me. We were expected to give a 30 minute presentation, including time for questions, and were provided a suggested list of talking points. Reading through them, I decided several (the education required, my college experience, and the hours I work a week) really weren’t going to be of any interest to 6 and 7-year-olds. Instead, I decided to focus on the question “What is the favorite thing about your job?” and talk about the importance of imagination in getting from inspiration to a design.

And I had the perfect set of in-progress designs to use: a set based on the Power Rangers Samurai, and another on Tinkerbell and friends. I put together a quick presentation that had pictures of each of the Rangers and fairies, and packed up all the swatches, several design samples, one of my Barbara Walker stitch dictionaries, colored pencils, and a stack of croquis, half boys and half girls. I found myself assigned to the library since it had the most dependable projector, and quickly got set up.

Career Day (2)

Career Day (1)

The first class I presented to was my daughter’s class, and there was a bit of excited whispering when her classmates came in and saw the screen.

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“Is that Lexie?” several voices called out. I told them that yes, all the pictures of girls were of Lexie, and asked if they knew their classmate was a model. They all gave her wide-eyed stares while she tried to look embarrassed.

I started my presentation by having everyone stand up. “Ok, if you don’t like to be creative, sit down.” The kids giggled, but no one sat. “If you don’t like art and coloring, then sit down.” A few kids began moving reluctantly to their chairs. “Wait a second!” I said. “I didn’t say you had to be good at it – I’m not! – you just have to like it.” With smiles, everyone stayed standing. “Ok, then – if you don’t like making things with your hands, then sit down.” I did lose a couple with this one. “Alright, last one – if you don’t like math, then sit down.” I didn’t lose as many as I expected. “That’s ok,” I told them. “I know several designers who don’t like math either. So if you were with me to this point, my job could be for you!”

The first half of my presentation involved showing pictures of each of the Rangers, and comparing each to the swatches I’d worked up, playing around with some ideas.

Career Day Power Rangers Sweater Vest Set swatches

For each, I asked the students if they could see where I’d gotten the inspiration for the swatch. The color inspiration was easy to see, but some of the students picked up on the subtler details. One student, for example, recognized that the colorwork in one swatch matched the shape on the corresponding Ranger’s helmet.

Next, we went through my swatches for the fairy set.

Career Day Tinker Bell and Friends set swatches

I’m further along with these designs, so this time I showed the kids pictures of each fairy next to the sketch I’d worked up for each clothing article I’m planning to design. This time, in addition to talking about the swatches, I pointed out why I made each item look like it did, whether it was a texture, or a yarn/color choice, or a line or shape. The last of the fairies didn’t have a matching sketch yet, so I used that one to show the kids how I sketch up designs. I pulled out one of the croqui and did a quick rough sketch of the top I wanted to make, explaining as I went where each detail came from.

Finally, it was the kids’ turn: I handed out croquis to all the students and asked them to do their own designing.

Career Day (3)

Career Day (4)

Career Day (5)

The students loved it, and their teachers were equally delighted. “It’s so nice that they’re getting to do something creative!” one of the teachers told me as we watched the students pick out just the right color. I really enjoyed walking around and talking to the kids about what they were designing and why. They got to take their designs with them when they left, although one young girl told me I could use her design idea if I liked.

The three presentations flew by, and I forgot that I wasn’t “enough” of a designer to talk about it. When I came in the next day for a volunteer stint, I passed two of the teachers whose classes I’d spoken to, and both stopped me to tell me how great the presentation was. Several other staff members mentioned that they’d heard how much the kids had enjoyed my talk. The best of course, was one of Lexie’s classmates telling me at lunch all about how he’d taken his design home and told his parents all about it. I’d say I was definitely “enough.”

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My color journey

I have a secret. My design aesthetic tends towards quick knits, with simple details that add a lot of punch and sometimes look more difficult and involved than they actually are, like the change of direction in Mossy Bells or the colorwork in Freckles & Ruffles.

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That’s not the secret, obviously. The secret is that I have a deep longing to design an intricate stranded colorwork sweater for Lexie, with colorwork adorning the circular yoke, and maybe the hem and sleeves. Something like this or this.

One thing that has been holding me back is picking out colors. Now, I love color – the more the better (and that’s just my design stash). And I do have a colorwork design planed that uses variegated yarns. But that’s not what I wanted here. I wanted traditional style, with updated colors and nontraditional patterns. Feminine and modern, like my girl.

So I was pretty excited when Katie of Yarn Love started talking about doing a free color class on her blog. Week one of her Color Journey has been posted, and I’m diving right in.

Step one is to choose a goal. You don’t have to be designing a colorwork sweater – you can be choosing colors to knit someone else’s pattern. Doing a color study. Picking out color accessories for your living room. Katie will be taking us through her process to choose colors for a cowl via Ravelry, a Pinterest board, and her blog, where she’ll be providing feedback for those who want to learn along with her.

So, my goal is that colorwork sweater. I pulled up Google images and started searching – all I entered was the name of a color I wanted to look for, and then I went through the images that came back, sometimes refining my search (for example, I narrowed down to “lime green” and “butter yellow”). But I didn’t want to get too specific to start; I wanted to see all the options and figure out what inspired me. My current Pinterest board shows you what colors spoke to me.

I took it a step further than that; I like playing with colors and use Paint.net (a free program) to literally pull them out of images. This was the result of my first attempt:

First color combo

I’m looking forward to seeing what Katie has to say about it, and what we do next. If you’d like to follow along, I’ll continue blogging about it, but will also be working on the Pinterest board linked above, and on my Ravelry project page. Let me know if you’re taking the journey with us; I’d love to follow yours too!

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Remembering your first

Jeffrey has a baby book that I got him and put together when he was about 8 months old – it’s part “first book to read” and part “me as a baby,” with slots where I can put pictures in of him: with a favorite toy, in his stroller, having his first bath, etc. He’s 8 years old now, but still has and loves the book. Lexie loves it too, and now that she’s learning to read, she likes to practice reading it and looking at the pictures.

Which led the the natural question: “Mommy…where’s my baby book?”

Uh…that’s a good question, honey.

When Jeffrey was a baby, I took pictures of everything. I think that tends to be typical of first time parents – it seems the first child has every moment of their babyhood closely documented, whereas the second, third, etc., don’t get quite the same obsessive detailing of those months. But also, when Jeffrey was little, I did things with all the pictures I took, more than just storing them on my computer. Before Lexie came along, scrapbooking was one of my hobbies.

And then, shortly before she was born, I got interested in knitting. Which kinda took over my life.

I still took lots of picture of Lexie, I just didn’t do anything with them. So, now that Lexie wants a baby book of her own, I pulled up the folders on my computer to check for pictures I’d want to use.

I found this: Lexie’s very first handknit sweater.

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I had no idea I had a picture of that sweater. Heck, I’d completely forgotten knitting it, until I came across this. If it wasn’t the first thing I ever knit, it was one of the very first. I’d knit it from some very soft (and sparkly – there was a shiny thread that ran through it) acrylic yarn that I’d bought at my local Hobby Lobby. At the time, I wasn’t yet a member of Ravelry (Lexie was born in November 2007; I joined Ravelry on March 31, 2008) and hadn’t yet learned of those mystical places called “yarn stores.” I couldn’t remember anything about the pattern, but I did remember that I added the additional color on my own – the pattern had called for just one color but I wanted to liven it up. I guess in retrospect I was destined to design someday, if I couldn’t even knit my first projects without modifying the pattern.

I wanted to put up a project page on Ravelry for this, as I had for Jeffrey’s first sweater, but wasn’t sure where to start. The picture certainly didn’t give me many clues. But I did remember that one of my first sources of patterns was Bev’s Country Cottage. So I went back, clicked through to the baby sweaters, and the first one that caught my eye was called the 5 Rectangle Baby Sweater – I knew I’d knit that. Sure enough, when I looked, it looked just like what I could see of Lexie’s sweater, completely with the ribbon tie at the neck. It had looked like the perfect pattern for one of my first sweaters: it’s literally 5 rectangles – 1 back, 2 fronts, 2 sleeves – that you knit and seam. A few clicks in the Ravelry pattern search, and I found the pattern in the database and was able to create a project page (even though the yarn is still a mystery…)

And now, I should probably create that baby book. Derailed by knitting again…

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A new design collaboration…

…with my son.

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He of the scary shark t-shirt.

It all started with a recent weekend trip to Mt. Rainier to do a bit of hiking. This is something Steve’s been dying to do since we moved out here, but which was hard to do when he’s been deployed pretty much since we moved out here. But we got a chance to do a nice short hike recently at Hurricane Ridge and the kids loved it, so we decided to go just a bit bigger.

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Just a bit.

Ok, we weren’t hiking up Mt. Rainier, much to Lexie’s disappointment. Instead, we set out on a trail that would take us to Snow Lake. It was a nice, easy hike that took us up some hills, through forest, across a meadow – lots of variety.

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However, about halfway there, we discovered we were going right past Bench Lake…and my knees decreed it would be the better turn around point. Once we climbed down to it, at least, which was a bit precarious.

It was worth it, though.

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We walked around the edge of the lake, taking in the view, with the kids chattering away. I called them over to where I was standing and told them to try standing as still and as quietly as they could. After the inevitable questions of “Why?” they did, and eventually realized they could hear birds calling to each other, wind blowing through the trees, the water rippling against the shore…and a buzzing noise that was zooming past us and back again.

The local dragonflies (which looked a lot like these) were interested in us, and we were still and quiet enough for them to feel it was safe to approach. The kids watched in wonder as the dragonflies would zip up and then hover for a bit, looking us over, before zipping away. We quietly discussed how beautiful they were, and how wonderful their coloring was, and then it was time to hike back out.

As we were heading back to the trail, Jeffrey said, “Mom? You could design a dragonfly sweater.”

I looked over at him. “Tell you what, buddy. Why don’t we design one together?”

He was instantly intrigued by the idea, so much so that less than 24 hours later I got the first question as to when we were going to the yarn store so he could pick out his yarn. He had very decided ideas on the colors he was looking for.

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We worked on some rough sketches together as I explained the difference between stranded colorwork and intarsia (using a sample at the yarn store for demonstration purposes, much to the bemusement of all the ladies there), so as soon as we’ve got all the yarn, I’ll start working up some swatches. I know I’m excited about this.

And it’ll be a great memento of a perfect day.

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Mossy Bells

This was the yarn that told me rather emphatically what it wanted to be. “I want to be a cardigan.”

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No problem.

“I want to have cute details.”

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You got it.

“I want to be knit in 2 different directions and be done bottom up, but still seamlessly.”

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…Uh, what?

Well, if you’re wondering if I always do what the yarn tells me to do…

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Yes. Yes I do.

Mossy Bells is a departure from my usual design style – I tend towards top down and seamless, so I found this design a fun challenge. It really started with the desire to use short rows to add some interest to the hem of the cardigan, which required me to knit the bottom sideways. I experimented a bit, and the result was the bell shapes (together with the colorway I used, they give the pattern its name) that appear to be dangling from the single row of purl stitches.

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Since I was trying something I’d never done before, there was some frogging along the way. I’d get part of it done, not like it and rip it back and fix…and then a different part didn’t look right so I had to rip that back and fix it. The good news is that I was able to get exactly what I pictured in my head to come off the needles – and I can vouch for the sturdiness of the Eweneek Boo-Yah! yarn!

The only problem I foresaw with the end result was getting Lexie to model it. She’s started to branch out from her everything-must-be-pink-or-purple, preferably-both, stage, but not yet into green. I’d bought the Moss colorway because I loved the color, so I was prepared to offer great inducements for modeling. Sure enough when I first showed her the yarn, she turned her nose up and reminded me firmly that green was my favorite color, not hers. But as I got further into the knitting, Lexie started hanging around to watch from time to time, and ask, “That’s for me, right?” Once it was done, she was charmed and couldn’t wait to put it on.

Couldn’t get a better compliment than that!

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Mossy Bells is available for purchase below, or on Ravelry, Craftsy, and Patternfish.

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