Starmores I have loved and lost....

Like many, many knitters of my generation (and other generations), I have been obsessed for decades with the designs of Alice Starmore. She's got it all- incredible colourwork, stunning texture, gorgeous cables, shaping, designs for men, women and children- something truly for everyone. Over the years I have actually completed several of her designs (which apparently is uncommon; someone once told me that many people buy the yarns and patterns for her designs and for Kaffe Fassett's, but only a small percentage complete them.) 

I own almost all of her books, including the more obscure, not reprinted ones. However, I don't currently own a single Alice Starmore sweater. Why? Glad you asked. Here begins my story of Starmores I have loved and lost. (or, still pine for). ALL PICTURES ARE FROM ALICE STARMORE'S BOOKS- please go to virtualyarns.com and explore her world completely.

My first Starmore was Lochinver. It was also one of the first sweaters I ever made. I made it in cotton. I knew nothing about gauge, the difference between US needle size and metric needle size, steeking. It came out surprisingly ok- but ENORMOUS, even for the 80's. And heavy. Eventually I tried to sew and cut it down, but it really never worked.

My knowledge grew and I knitted Stornaway for my then-boyfriend on appropriately small needles. I knitted for months while he was serving in the Merchant Marine. It was truly gorgeous. I should have known the relationship was over when he was completely unimpressed- in fact he 'forgot' and left it at my house after I gave it to him. I should have kept the sweater.

And then came Tudor Roses, a gorgeous book by Alice and Jade that not only included gorgeous designs but also related to my favorite characters in my favorite period of English history. I instantly wanted to knit ALL of them. On to the 'someday' Starmores- since the first edition I have been determined to make myself a Katherine Howard. It looks equally good in both the original and newer version, and someday I WILL get around to making it for myself. One thing delaying me is the fact that (like many of Starmore's designs) the largest size is JUST too small for my (ample) bosom and I would have to modify- which is not easy in such a detailed design. 

Also in both editions is the lovely Margaret Tudor by Alice. It, too, is stunning, and features a relatively open neck- I find tight necklines impossible to wear (I must have been choked in a former life!) The sleeves are different in the later version; I'm not sure which I prefer. This will probably get done first as its largest size will fit without changing. 

Finally, there is ONE Starmore currently sleeping on my needles- Cape Cod from FIshermen's Sweaters. I bought the yarn on a vacation to- you guessed it- Cape Cod. I cast on while on vacay and haven't picked it up since. It's on my 'must finish before buying new Starmore yarn' though.

So, that's my Starmore story. Hopefully a completed, wearable one lies in my future- I'll keep you posted!

 Lochinver by Alice Starmore from Fishermen's Sweaters

Lochinver by Alice Starmore from Fishermen's Sweaters

 Alice Starmore's Stornaway from Fishermen's Sweaters

Alice Starmore's Stornaway from Fishermen's Sweaters

 Cape Cod, Alice Starmore, Fishermen's Sweaters

Cape Cod, Alice Starmore, Fishermen's Sweaters

 Margaret Tudor by Alice Starmore, Tudor Roses, 1998 edition

Margaret Tudor by Alice Starmore, Tudor Roses, 1998 edition

 Jane Seymour by Alice Starmore, Tudor Roses, 1998 edition

Jane Seymour by Alice Starmore, Tudor Roses, 1998 edition

 Katherine Howard, Jade Starmore, Tudor Roses 2013 edition

Katherine Howard, Jade Starmore, Tudor Roses 2013 edition

 Katherine Howard, Jade Starmore, Tudor Roses, 1998 edition

Katherine Howard, Jade Starmore, Tudor Roses, 1998 edition

 Margaret Tudor by Alice Starmore, Tudor Roses, 2013 edition

Margaret Tudor by Alice Starmore, Tudor Roses, 2013 edition

What's next?!

There are lots of jokes about the number of UFO's (unfinished objects) knitters tend to accumulate. While there are knitters who work on one project to completion and then start the next, they seem to be rare (though they do exist- I've met them!). For a variety of reasons, most of us seem to develop a collection of WIPs' (works in progress). Sometimes, you run out of yarn, or lose the directions-or the project bag- or need a different sized needles. Sometimes, you have a falling out with the person it's intended for, or they grow, or you miss the occasion, or you find out they hate the color or style you were making. Sometimes you come up against a technique you need to learn. But I think most of the time we put a project to the side because we either get bored with it (like a king-sized blanket on tiny needles!) or some other project catches our fancy. Most often in my life, I start a project for myself, and then someone else has a birth or wedding or graduation so mine goes back on the pile.

Speaking of my pile, some people are embarrassed about their unfinished projects, or the number of them. But I will share all the UFO's I have lying about, in part for because I'm trying to decide which to pick up next. This is actually causing me anxiety. You see, like many knitters, I like to have 2 projects active at a time, one demanding my full attention (like a complex design, or one I'm doing for publication which therefore must be perfect) and one less demanding one for in front of the tv or knitting on the go. (I refuse to call it 'mindless' knitting, but you get the idea).

I recently finished not one, but two major projects. Yarn should be delivered to me next week for a sweater for a magazine, so that takes care of the full-attention side. What I need to choose is the project I'll be dragging along with me in the car, knitting in front of the tv, and working on until the magazine yarn gets here. So, I want something portable, not too complicated, preferably one color and a simple stitch pattern. Let's look at what WIP's I have (and for the sake of this discussion, we're going to confine it to things already started and on the needles, nothing I have got the stuff for but haven't started yet!)

There's the British flag sweater from Vogue magazine that's been languishing for years, and the Alice Starmore super-fine-gauge I started on vacation in Massachusetts a few years ago. On the plus side, these are for ME and I'd love to be able to wear either of them, as soon as possible. They're also my longest languishing UFO's and it would be so great to check them off the list. On the minus side, both are very complex, the flag is almost impossible to transport, and there's no way I'd make significant progress before being torn away for the magazine project. So, not this time around.

Next there are two bed-sized blankets in progress. One is a cabled, fairly simple pattern on relatively large needles, but the original intended recipient is, shall I say, out of my orbit at the present time, so I don't feel the pressure to get it done. The other is the Toshtrology blanket from jimmy beans- I WAS keeping up with it originally but other things came up and now, I have probably a third of the year left to do. It's for me, so again, no super urge to complete it, and in both cases, blankets (especially once they have a big chunk done) are a pain to lug around, especially in the summer. So, no to the blankets.

Other projects currently in progress include a birthday sweater intended for a little friend whose birthday was a month ago (I know, a day late and a dollar short). However, it has multiple patterns and colors, so I think it's going to have to wait. (don't worry about her; she still hasn't grown into the sweater I knitted for her last Christmas, so she can wait). Down to the final two. I have a sample on the needles for the adult version of my Henderson sweater, which I've been promising people the pattern for for quite a while. It ticks all the boxes, but...I  have one more to examine. The last WIP is another sweater I'm going to make up the pattern for as an indie pattern, but this is one I'm making in my size because I want to actually wear it (the Henderson prototype is model sized. I am not). The one for me is not super complicated, but it's not automatic knitting either.

So, I think I'll actually pull out both. I can do the Henderson while I'm out and about and unable to keep track of a pattern. The one for me, I'll work on in situations where I can concentrate just a bit more. Of course, once the yarn comes for publication, that will take priority over everything else. And of course, who knows what else will pop up before any of these get finished!

How about you? Do you have more than one project going at a time? More than one UFO? Do you have a pre-set plan, or do you struggle choosing which project to pick up?

Behind the Scenes- Beachglass

I usually have a lot of projects going at once, so when I find myself actually needing a piece for myself for a specific occasion, I'll often look at designs others have published. I do this for several reasons. For one, why reinvent the wheel? For another, it's nice to support other designers. And finally, knitting someone else's design is kind of a mental vacation because I don't have to worry about checking and rechecking everything-  and I often learn a new technique or way to phrase things. However, sometimes I have an idea in my head and can't find what I want, so then, it's time to design something for myself (and hope other people are looking for the same thing, eventually!)

In this case, I was invited to a destination wedding that was taking place on the beach. I find outdoor weddings, particularly on the beach, problematic. Not only does the sand make my extensive fancy shoe collection useless, but I don't know what to wear in general. Even if you know the weather forecast for the town, it can be significantly hotter or cooler on the sand. Or, it can start out hot, for the ceremony, but then the evening reception can turn significantly cooler after the sun sets and chill breezes start to blow.  So, I decided to wear a dress I have that I love that hasn't gotten enough wear. It's not super bare, but it is sleeveless, so I decided I wanted to at least bring a sweater with me, whether I wound up wearing it or not.

Now, let me say here, there are gazillions of gorgeous shawl patterns out there. I know they're all the rage, both within and outside the knitting community. But....I am not a shawl person. I just seem completely incapable of wearing one successfully. They slip, fall, drip off my body. They drop in my dinner. They fall on the floor. They get caught in the chair. And they look like a rag I somehow got caught in. Plus, they don't really answer my issues of chilly arms. So, thought it looks like the obvious choice for most people, no shawl for me, thanks.

But what kind of sweater? I didn't see anything I liked in the stores or in patterns on ravelry, so I decided to start from scratch and make exactly what I wanted. I wanted something that worked for the occasion, but also for lots of other things, if I was investing so much time in it. I wanted long- like thigh length- hooded, no closures, long straight sleeves. I wanted a tailored edge, not ribbing, so I chose i-cord for all the edges. I wanted openwork that was relatively easy to work, relatively simple and not flowery, so I found "Diamond Mesh" in a Barbara Walker treasury. 

For yarn, I wanted something cotton but light and flexible. It needed to be thick enough that the knitting wouldn't take forever, and it had to be easy-care. (I'm a messy eater and a slob in general,  I freely admit. Eating in the dark on a beach? Please.) When I saw the Caron Cotton cakes, I knew I had found my match (oh, and I should say, I needed a 'non-luxury' yarn- budget friendly is important). In all honesty, a solid white or blue yarn would probably have matched the dress better. However, while the wedding was the starting point, I'm thinking of  the many more hours spent wearing it for other occasions, and the color striping of "beachglass" appealed to me. It also really does remind me of the beach glass we would collect along the shore when I was a child, and I decided to use it for the name of the whole design.

I actually started with the hood to make sure I liked  how it was all coming together before committing to the whole body. Once I saw that I liked it, I moved on to the sleeves, and finally the body (I wanted to be sure I had enough yarn to make it as long as possible).  I'm quite pleased with the result. It was fine for the wedding, but more importantly, it's perfect for throwing over a t-shirt for walks along the shore or in the park, or over a dress for church. Hope you like it too, and this peek into the process!

Our State Fair is a Great State Fair!

Any other old-school movie musical fans out there? I have a confession; I have a bad habit of throwing out random lines from random songs from random musicals from time to time (not in public- I'm an introvert. Only my family has to endure this particular quirk). In this case, however, neither the song nor the musical is random. No, I'm not on my way to the Great New York State Fair (see above- introvert), but my sweater is!

To go back to the start of this story, I have always had a weird obsession with state fairs and 'country' living, especially since (or maybe because) I've lived almost my whole life in NYC. I practically memorized the Little House books (remember how they made the butter more yellow with carrot juice?). My favorite TV show was the British import The Goode Life (I was into self sustainability before hipsters were born). While other kids played with Barbies, I preferred the Sunshine Family and most of all, I loved my Sunshine Family Craft Store.

So, it's no surprise that the idea of a state fair appeals to me. I've actually entered quilts- without success, unfortunately. I've never yet entered a sweater, but there's a reason. Years and years ago, I decided to enter a sweater in the local County Fair. I designed and knitted an elaborate Aran cardigan for a toddler cousin. I used fine yarn and cabled every inch in a variety of cabled patterns. It really was beautiful, if I do say so myself. I was so disappointed when I got the red, second place ribbon. That might sound petty, but there were only 2 sweaters in the competition to begin with. The other sweater, which won, was a completely plain woman's pullover in medium weight yarn, one color, stockinette, no patterning of any kind. When I went to pick up my entry, I was told that I had lost because the other sweater was bigger, so there was more knitting in it. So, I've been a little hesitant to enter a fair ever since.

This year, though, I decided to bite the bullet and enter. I want that blue ribbon. Don't get me wrong, I'm not competitive-  Really! I'd actually be thrilled if everyone in the category got blue ribbons. But at least in the State Fair, there are specific divisions for different sizes and kinds of knitting so hopefully I have a better chance. I designed this sweater years ago, and remade it in a new size and colorway. Let's hope, even if I don't win anything, that at least it won't be because the square inch measurement is too small!

sf.jpg

I-cord cast on

I know it's been quite a while since I made an addition to my study of different cast-on methods, but I have been trying different styles. Unfortunately, there's really nothing specific to recommend any of the methods I've tried, other than some ways of holding the yarn may feel more comfortable depending on your hands.  Of course that's nothing small, especially for knitters who knit a lot, or who knit small projects and consequently cast on a lot, or particularly for knitters whose hands have particular pain or flexibility issues. However, that doesn't make them look any different in a picture here. I advise you, if you find the current method you use to be painful or awkward for your hands, to consult one of the many great knitting reference books for options (such as Hiatt's Principles of Knitting, or Vogue Knitting (the book) or Montse Stanley's Reader's Guide book- I could go on and on, and probably will in another post)! In the meantime, I'm going to confine my posts to cast-ons that produce a different look to the finished piece, rather than different methods for producing the same look.

Lately, I've been loving the i-cord cast on. As the name implies, you end up with an i-cord edge to your work, which I find a nice, tailored alternative to ribbing or other 'regular' edges especially for summer pieces (I don't want a cozy tight ribbed sleeve cuff on a summer knit). I also find a small I-cord is a nice crisp edge for an openwork design, like the one I'm working on now (another post for another day).

I've found two different ways of creating that i-cord cast on edge. One, which I had learned years ago, involves working an I-cord (by knitting, or by using one of those devices like a spool knitter), ending it, then picking up stitches along one vertical row of stitches. It's an easy method, especially if you have an i-cord machine, but I have had trouble keeping my stitches neatly along the same row. Of course as I write this it occurs to me that that could be a design feature, if the i-cord were deliberately 'swirled' at a steady rate, but that would require further experimentation.

I've recently learned the method of casting on while creating the i-cord itself- there are tons of videos online and I advise you simply to google one of those; my verbal description here would be inadequate and a one minute video will have you off and running. Anyway, as I said, I'm loving this method, although you should be forewarned- it takes a lot longer and a lot more yarn than a conventional cast on- if you are making a 3 stitch i-cord, you will actually be making 4 stitches for every stitch you cast on- 3 for the cord and one for the cast on stitch- so if a shawl starts with 100 stitches, that's 400 stitches before you even start the shawl proper. Still, I think it's worth it (in appropriate designs) because you're left with such a pretty finished edge, and you can mirror it easily with an i-cord bind off (and even, in the case of a blanket, for example, applied i-cord on both sides).

Anyway, that's my 'flavor of the month' cast on- if you're not familiar with it, or with it worked in this way, give it a try and see how you like it!

icord.jpg

"Cheap" yarns

Sometimes I'm asked why I often use 'cheap' yarn in my samples. At other times, I see 'cute' signs proclaiming "Life's too short to knit with cheap yarn!" I thought I'd take a moment to talk about these concepts.

First of all, what IS 'cheap' yarn? Obviously, it's non-luxury, less expensive- but how much less expensive does it have to be to qualify as 'cheap'? It's relative, isn't it? Although every knitter seems to have a different definition, I would guess that the most people probably mean acrylic yarns available through mass market retailers, like Michael's or Walmart or similar chains. 

One point of view is that a knitter is going to be spending (depending on the project) hours, weeks, months, or even longer working with the yarn in question, and then, someone will (hopefully) be enjoying the finished project for months, years, generations even. Looking at it that way, certainly buying the very best yarn you can afford, and that you will enjoy working with, makes sense. I would never discourage a knitter from indulging in the most beautiful, tactile yarn he or she could afford to use.

On the other hand, there's an important caveat there- "could afford to use." So many knitters, for one reason or another, have quite limited yarn budgets- and the more you knit, the more yarn you need to buy! For some knitters, 'cheap' yarns are all they can afford, even using sales and coupons. I have seen the argument that by shopping online and finding closeouts and bargains, one can buy much higher quality yarn at mass-retailer prices, which may be true, and I'm always in favor of shopping around and getting a bargain- if that's what someone chooses to do.

I guess what really bothers me is the way even in the knitting community people judge each other. I've heard some hurtful comments about people's yarn choices, and seen customers shamed in yarn stores for asking for acrylic yarns. Too many times I've seen knitters embarrassed, and seen them feel like they had to apologize for their yarn choices, and justify them.

I know some knitters who are self proclaimed "yarn snobs." I think that's great- if you're a snob about your OWN yarn choices. There are so many options out there now- vegan, hand dyed, environmentally beneficial, locally sourced, fair trade, recycled, reclaimed, I can't even begin to list all the categories. Whether you choose your yarns by environmental impact, color, washability, sustainability, or by what's on sale, enjoy them. If someone asks for your recommendation, or your philosophy on yarn choice, please share! But as with so many other things, let's be supportive of each other, and let's remember that what brings us together- our love for knitting- is so much more important than divisions like yarn choice. After all, the greatest factor in any knitted project isn't the yarn choice, it's the love and time and skill put into completing it.    

Welcome!

Welcome to the new, improved Bonnie Franz Designs website and blog! Here I'll share some tips and tricks about knitting and designing, upcoming projects and publications, and whatever else we'd chat about if we were knitting together at the coffee shop. So, pour yourself a cuppa, pull up a chair, and let's knit and chat!