24 September 2007

Astrid Furnival, knitting artist

Since I began this blog, I've been intending to post about an artist who's inspired me (and who, without knowing it, gave this blog its name).

I can't believe that with all the current interest in knitting, nobody seems to have discovered the work of Astrid Furnival.

Astrid is a knitting artist. She hand-dyes yarn with natural dyes from plants she collects herself, and knits them into unique sweaters and hangings.
The above image is a portrait of Samuel Palmer, the British visionary artist (click on his name to see the original portrait she was working from). Below, you can see it in context - as a sweater.

Get a load of the wrong side of the piece. Astrid cares not a bit for weaving in ends. (Note that this sweater is at least 15-20 years old, and has been actively worn for years with no ill-effects.)

I wish I had more shots of Astrid's amazing sweaters and hangings. She did one that was a whole set of indigo variations on the Navajo word for "blue." She did this wall hanging, based on the Chanson de Roland, which now hangs in a museum in New Mexico. (Sorry for the lousy photo - you can see it a little better if you click on it. Note the dimensions: 56 inches high, 108 inches across.)

But the work I know best and the one that inspired the name of this blog is a set of sheep-counting rhymes from five different regions of Great Britain. Each of the five panels is dyed with plants from the region in question.

(I'm not going to win any awards with these bad pictures - but at least they give some idea. Again, you can see them better if you click on them. Note the all-important Yan Tan Tethera, center (Borrowdale) panel.)

It seems to me that, with all of us knitting fanatics out there, Astrid (who now lives in France) should be poised for wide recognition (or at least a spread in Interweave Knits). An enterprising publisher could do an amazing book of photographs of her pieces that knitters would snap up.

I hear that she is not working much these days because of problems with her hands. All the more reason to celebrate her underappreciated oeuvre.

23 September 2007

How Lucky Can You Get?

This luscious yarn arrived in the mail yesterday. Handpainted from Painted Skeins in the most perfectly beautiful autumnal colors.

It came to me courtesy of KnitMap, a great new site that's basically an interactive map of LYS's all over the world. You can use it to post reviews and, if you're planning a trip, find a yarn store anywhere you happen to be going. It's a fantastic resource and very well designed.

And as if that weren't enough, Stacy, whose brainchild this was, holds weekly raffles for users - and, out of the blue, I was one of last week's three winners.

Now, I would be recommending KnitMap eagerly in any case. But in this rosy "Afterglow" (that's the name of the colorway), which bathes the site in a downright romantic haze, I feel impelled to send everyone I know there, and to spend hours there myself, in sheer gratitude.

Hours, that is, when I'm not knitting socks.

17 September 2007

My First Handspun

It's the baby steps one is always most proud of. After one gets good at walking, one just takes it for granted.

Here is my first very own yarn.

I'm not sure it's even enough for a hat. My spinning guru recommended doing a 5x5 swatch, but I am sure there's not enough for a swatch and anything else.

Spinning lessons are incredibly cool. When I started knitting a couple of years ago, I was stubborn beyond reason about wanting to figure everything out myself. Each lesson - gleaned from books, the internet, trial and error - was hard-won, and a source of pride. For some reason, with spinning I feel just the opposite - I am really enjoying having someone show me how it's done. Of course, this is partly because I found a teacher whose emphasis is on the creativity of the process, on continually playing with the yarn, trying different variants, remembering not to be limited by the conservative or conventional.

By saying all that, I just might be able to convince people that the big chunks of undigested fiber that are visible in this yarn were left in as the result of a deliberate choice. Yup. I'm creative that way.

As far as knitting goes: since I have decided to try to finish my "Crossing the Chanel" cardigan/jacket for Rhinebeck, there may not be a lot of very photogenic knitting going on around here for a while. I truly love this sweater - I keep caressing the fabric as I go. But it is a slog. And I'm not sure the result, however well it may turn out, is going to be commensurate with the effort. Anything that progresses this slowly should end up as some magnificent Alice Starmore creation (by Margene) that reveals some of the work that went into it.

But I do have my second, improved Baby Surprise Jacket to show, though still unseamed and un-buttoned:

This one is a definite improvement on the first one (ugh, that neckline makes me cringe). I went down to size 4 needles, so it is more likely the baby may actually be able to wear it within the next 12 months, and since I had been through the pattern once I had figured out the slight trickiness about how to pick up the lower ten stitches on the RS rather than the WS of the jacket.

But by now I am heartily sick of these jackets. And I still like other people's better. (Oh, wait, that's Margene again. Hm, maybe it's just that I like Margene's knitting?)

06 September 2007

The reveal

My downstream sock pal has received her socks.

Imagine the challenge, the intimidation, of knitting socks for the woman who makes this. And this (which I can't wait to emulate). I was practically paralyzed with anxiety. I am delighted that she likes them.

I am planning to work a new pair of these socks using her own yarn (since, after all, these were created for her, and Vesper socks should really be made with Vesper Sock Yarn) but rejiggering the pattern on the leg. The pattern I used is Charlene Schurch's, and though I like it, I want to design one of my own. Once I've done that I will post it here.

Other knitting news is slow, in part because of a cross-country trip over Labor Day (though the stranded-in-the-airport part of the trip was actually quite conducive to slog knitting) and in part because of an existential crisis regarding the Minimalist Cardigan.

To wit: is this the right yarn?
For while I am learning to reconcile myself to the handmade aspects of my knitted creations, I am also learning that yarns have certain distinct properties. I have read about this kind of thing, but have acted as if I were somehow above it. I do swatch to get gauge, so I suppose that galloping ahead knitting a pattern with a yarn that is not recommended for it is a kind of compensation for that (for me) atypical demonstration of knitterly irresponsibility

But after my experience with my Banff, I have vowed to be vigilant. (Remind me to tell you about that some time.) The lesson I learned with that is: if you suspect that the sweater is not going to look as great with the yarn you're using as it does in the pattern, STOP KNITTING.
(I haven't even photographed the damn thing. Too depressing. It's perfectly OK, but Banff is designed to be knit in a heathery tweedy yarn, and in a smooth plain-colored yarn it just looks, well, nondescript. Add to this the fact, which I also suspected from the get-go and wilfully ignored, that a sweater that looks cute and darling on a small frame is not necessarily quite as cute and darling on a woman six feet tall. Large and baggy, more like it.)

Now, what drew me to the Minimalist Cardigan was its groomed, tailored quality. But I have a feeling that with the yarn I'm using, I am already getting something, well, less sophisticated. I divide my clothes into country clothes and city clothes, and I want this to be a city sweater, and yet as I knit I seem to hear a rural twang emanating from the stitches. (Is that a hayseed I see before me?) So I made myself stop and consider, carefully, because it hurts a lot less to frog a couple of inches than a whole sweater (stay tuned for Banff, Part Two).

And if I could ever learn to use this camera indoors, maybe you could see what I am talking about. Point and click, my foot.

A final, if tangential, warning to beginning knitters. When you make two identical lace doilies, and you want to make them the same size but you don't have enough blocking pins to block them side by side, BLOCK THEM TOGETHER. That is, lay one atop the other and insert a pin through each crochet loop along the border. Do not, I repeat, do not, block them one after the other.

I rest my case.