27 September 2018

Off Topic — When Will Hollywood Be Ready for an "Ugly" Heroine?

As stated, this post is a little off-topic. But, as this is a blog about knitting and the readership tends to skew female, I decided to include it.

Back in late March, Steven Spielberg (Amblin Entertainment) released in theaters Ready Player One, based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline. I've read the book twice or, more accurately, listened to the audiobook performed delightfully by Wil Wheaton. The story is set in a not-too-distant dystopian future (2044), in which most people spend their time online in the OASIS, a fully-immersive online virtual reality. The book is a love-letter to 1980s popular culture, especially geek culture. It has references to Dungeons and Dragons, Monty Python, television, music, and various video and arcade games. It is quintessentially a Gen X story in the way Forrest Gump was a Baby Boomer story. Much of the story's action takes place in the online simulation where there is a universe-wide hunt for Halliday's Easter Egg. In that world, our hero's name is Parzival and the heroine is Art3mis. Parzival's best friend is Aech (pronounced as the letter "H").

There are three places in the book when Art3mis's physique is described:

On page 35:
She occasionally posted screenshots of her raven-haired avatar, and I sometimes (always) saved them to a folder on my hard drive. Her avatar had a pretty face, but it wasn't unnaturally perfect. In the OASIS, you got used to seeing freakishly beautiful faces on everyone. But Art3mis's features didn't look as though they'd been selected from a beauty drop-down menu on some avatar creation template. Her face had the distinctive look of a real person's, as if her true features had been scanned in and mapped onto her avatar. Big hazel eyes, rounded cheekbones, a pointy chin, and a perpetual smirk. I found her unbearably attractive.

Art3mis's body was also somewhat unusual. In the OASIS, you usually saw one of two body shapes on female avatars; the absurdly thin yet wildly popular supermodel frame, or the top-heavy, wasp-waisted porn starlet physique (which looked even less natural in the OASIS than it did in the real world). But Art3mis's frame was short and Rubenesque. All curves.

On pages 291-2:
At the very top was a school photo of a young girl with a distinctly sad smile. To my surprise, she looked almost identical to her avatar. The same dark hair, the same hazel eyes, and the same beautiful face I knew so well . . . .
. . .
The data below the photo said . . . that she was a twenty-year-old Canadian citizen, five feet and seven inches tall, and that she weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds.

And on page 370:
She looked just as she had in the photo I'd seen. She had the same Rubenesque body. The same pale, freckled skin. The same hazel eyes and raven hair. The same beautiful round face . . . .

Even with an Internet search, I couldn't find how many copies of Ready Player One (the novel) have been sold. It was on the New York Times best-seller list and is well-ranked on Amazon, so I am guessing in the millions. Let's just classify it as wildly successful. Steven Spielberg directed the movie. Industrial Light and Magic led the visual effects. The film had a built-in pedigree. So here's my question, should I ever corner Mr. Spielberg in an elevator, "Why couldn't you cast someone who looks like Art3mis in Ready Player One?"

This is not to knock Olivia Cook. As an actress, she is capable of playing the role. But, Art3mis's physicality and her unabashed relationship to it is important to who she is as a character. Part of why readers like Art3mis is that she is comfortable in her own skin. In a world where you can be whoever you want, she chooses to be herself. And what does it say about Hollywood that a film with a built-in audience can't cast a woman who is 5'7", 168 pounds, with black hair, hazel eyes, freckles, and a curvy physique? What is the message Hollywood is sending? And Mr. Spielberg, why are you complicit in this when you are one of the most powerful people in Hollywood?

For those of you in Generation X — the reliable but ignored middle child of American demographics — the Living Computers museum + labs in Seattle has something special. Through the end of 2018 they have the special exhibit Totally 80s Rewind. CNN reports on it here, with pictures that remind me of Aech's basement. I was thinking it would be very difficult to recreate the climactic scene of Ready Player One (novel) because it involves a room filled with computers representing the history of computer gaming. It turns out there is a museum in Seattle that makes Halliday's vision possible every day. Mr. Spielberg, why didn't you work with them? J. J. Abrams, can I convince you to shoot a remake?

15 August 2018

Book Review: Something New to Learn About Cables

Sometimes the universe seems to say, "Ok, this is the moment for X." For me this summer, the universe is all about cables.

Last weekend I bought a copy of Something New to Learn About Cables by Arnall-Culliford Knitwear. I am guessing Jen and Jim are a married couple in Frome, Somerset, the United Kingdom? After reading this book, I am already interested in their other books Something New to Learn About Lace and A Year of Techniques. And I would eagerly sign up for a class if I saw them on the schedule at a major knitting show. I will happily plop them into the knitting pantheon, right next to TECHknitter.

Why do I like this book so much?

First off, I like the small format. The book is 6¼ by 8¼ inches. While 8½ by 11 or 8 by 10 is a common size, it may or may not fit easily in a knitting bag. I like a smallish book that can be tucked into my bag. And there is a sticker inside with a download code for Ravelry, so I can have a digital copy on my iPad or print just the pages I need to pack with a project. The digital download is even broken up into individual chapters or the whole book, depending on your needs and download speed.

Secondly, this book is packed with interesting techniques and wisdom. A list:
  • cabling without a cable needle
  • cabling 1 by 1 without a cable needle
  • cabling right cross and left cross
  • counting rows using waste yarn
  • counting rows using your finger and the cable cross hole
  • fixing cables by dropping the whole group of wales
  • fixing cables by dropping half the group of wales
  • fixing traveling cables by dropping wales
  • fixing cables by embroidering over them
  • fixing cables by cutting and grafting
  • working axis cables
  • working faux axis cables
  • adjusting loose stitches at the knit-purl interface using combination knitting
  • adjusting loose stitches at the knit-purl interface using slip stitches
  • 1-into-5 increase for starting a closed-loop cable
  • 5-into-1 decrease for ending a closed-loop cable
  • choosing yarn wisely for cable projects

Some of these I had not seen before. Some of these — such as fixing a cable by dropping wales — I teach but had not seen other people talking about it. I had tried the technique of dropping half the cable once in class and it did work, but I had not seen anybody else try it or write about it. In my pattern for the fall issue of Cast On, I did show the trick of counting rows by looking for the cable cross hole. I've never seen the trick of using slip stitches to improve tension at the knit-purl interface. This book is uncovering the obscure tricks intermediate and advanced knitters use.

The book has just a few projects, all of them interesting to knit. There is a gorgeous hat, some mittens/mitts, and a hexagon-based modular blanket that can also be worked as a short or long cowl.

If you have any interest in ever knitting cables, scoop up this essential book now. I need to go track down their other two books.

14 August 2018

Classic and Refined

One of my weaknesses as a designer is that I tend to be too complicated. I get wrapped up in new techniques or projects that highlight extreme craftsmanship and forget that a lot of people just want to sit and knit and relax.

Back in April, I had just taught my "Easy Reversible Cables" class at Unwind. I was still traveling when I read the e-mail announcing a second call for proposals for the autumn issue of Cast On magazine. I was surprised that more people weren't already familiar with the reversible cables technique, especially since Lily Chin has been teaching it for more than a decade. So I proposed a rather simple scarf.

The autumn issue of Cast On went live last week. You can read it on and download it from the TKGA website, if you are a member and log in.

"Legerdemain" is a good basic scarf. As with so many of my designs, I have thought about the details.
  • Italian cast-on and a tubular bind-off gives the scarf a clean couture beginning and end.
  • Ribbles make it reversible (as scarves should be), as well as making the fabric thicker.
  • Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light, which is a sport weight 50/50 alpaca-wool blend, gives the scarf warmth, drape, and just a hint of halo.
  • The moonshadow grey colorway is unisex.
  • The pattern is easy to work and easy to remember
  • The overall design is un-fussy and classic.
If you have been waiting for an excuse to learn to do ribbles, or you want to teach someone else, this pattern provides an entrée. And the completed scarf should be a wardrobe mainstay for years to come. This would make an excellent gift for a loved one taking a job in a new, colder locale. You can work it in a neutral, as I have, for years of wear. Or you can work it in a favorite color (perhaps from a sports team?). Or what about the hot designer color of the season for the daring fashionista? Or for a subtler look that has impact without being obvious, work it in the eye color, the complementary eye-color, the complementary skin color, or the complementary hair-color of the intended wearer.

And a final note: this pattern would be very easy to adapt. You can scale it and the cables themselves up and down. I think it would make a fantastic blanket either for a new baby (worked in a parent-friendly yarn choice) or for a special couple, or for that suddenly grown-up child flying away from the nest.

11 July 2018

First Trip to TNNA, part 2

And what else did I see at TNNA?

Wholesale yarns:

Aalta Yarn. A vendor out of Pennsylvania. Several good, solid bases for sweaters. And she has nice gradient cakes for shawls.

Alexandra's Crafts. A hand-dyer from Oregon. She also carries spinning fiber and a nice travel lazy kate.

Ancient Arts. I knew this hand-dyer from advertising and patterns in Interweave Knits. They have a wonderful range of beautiful colors upstaged by colorways based on cats and dogs.

Anzula. Hand-dyed yarns in luxury bases. Proof that cashmere goes with everything.

Baa Ram Ewe. Anglophile knitters, rejoice! This vendor proudly "celebrates Yorkshire and its rich woolly heritage." They carry locally-sourced and spun yarn, as well as patterns that will make you look like you belong on BBC America.

Baah Yarn. Hand-dyer from southern California with a nice range — self-striping, speckled, variegated, solids, and kettle-dyed effects. They also have special monthly colors.

Bellatrista. Milk and soy yarns. They also have Menta, a viscose yarn made from peppermint. How's that for the knitter/crocheter who has tried everything?

Black Cat Fibers. Etsy hand-dyers from Wisconsin. Many of their yarns have names from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Planning to attend STITCHES United next summer, so opportunity to ogle their wares in person is coming.

Brew City Yarns. Hand-dyed yarn with clever names based on geek culture. For example, the "Galaxy Far, Far Away" mini-skein set includes the colors "Bounty Hunter," "Droids," "Sith Lord," "Do or Do Not," and "Like my Father." Their summer 2018 shawl kit is a house-sorting kit for witches and wizards. Not yet carried by anyone in Georgia.

Delicious Yarns. This hand-dyer deserve credit just for her clever photographs. Talk about taking a theme and running with it! She offers several color stylings including gradient, swirl, or speckles.

Dirty Water DyeWorks. This hand-dyer has big skeins — more than 8 ounces in Targhee, Polwarth-silk blend, or Blue Faced Leicester.

Dragonfly Fibers. Someone I know from Maryland Sheep and Wool, SAFF, and STITCHES. Excellent hand-dying and fabulous gradients.

Emma's Yarn. These indie dyers are two sisters from Florida. From what I can tell, they are relatively new on the scene. Their yarn is beautiful, their bases are good, and they even have a merino-nylon-cashmere blend that is 600 yards per skein. I hope to see them again at SAFF or STITCHES.

Fairy Tale Knits. Indie dyer with geeky colorways. She has semi-solids as well as speckles. And she carries Rambouillet yarn.

Feederbrook Farm. A real working farm just outside Baltimore, Maryland. They have a variety of breeds-specific yarn including Black Welsh, Cormo, Finn, and Teeswater. Their Entropy yarn nicely mimics marled handspun.

The Fiber Seed. Hand-dyer out of Florida with a tremendous range of colors in solids, speckles, and stripes. Her yarn is all grown and spun in the USA and hand-dyed in Florida

A Hundred Ravens. Someone else I know from the wool show circuit. Beautiful hand-dying, fabulous mini-sets, geeky colorways (e.g. "Let the Wookiee Win" or "Angelica Schuyler"). It's all good.

June Cashmere. I had heard of this vendor through Interweave. They are working directly with shepherds in Kyrgyzstan to obtain high-quality cashmere fiber while engaging in fair-trade practices that appropriately compensate the shepherds.

King Cole. British yarn company in business since 1935. They carry a full range of yarns and patterns, from classic workhorse yarns to novelty.

Koigu. I chatted with Taiu Landra's daughters, the granddaughters of Maie Landra, who were sitting on the floor and knitting. When I was learning to knit, this was one of the first hand-dyed yarns I encountered. And every now and then, Vogue Knitting would have a fabulous show-stopping piece all in Koigu. Always beautiful.

Kokomo Yarns. Imports Studio Donegal, perfect for the Anglophile knitter. They also have special small-batch yarns from the flock at Portland Community College.

Lorna's Laces. One of the classic hand-dyed yarns. Fortunately for me, I can get it locally.

Meadowcroft Dyeworks Yarn Rehab. Fabulous intense hand-dyed colors.

Molly Girl. Self-taught indie dyer whose rockin' bases and colorways are all music-themed. She has a range of speckled, striping, and kettle-dyed effects. And she has little stitch-marker tins that would be perfect favors at a knit-themed party.

Mountain Colors. Somebody I already know and love from Montana. Thank goodness their beautiful fiber and yarn is available locally. There are literally pounds my stash.

Oink Pigments. A trio of hand-dyers based in both California and Indiana. 12 of their 18 yarn bases are 100% made in the USA, right down to the sheep. They carry Targhee wool in both yarn and fiber form.

PortFiber. They carry handspun cashmere yarns that have pictures of the women who spun the yarn as well as hand-dyed yak-silk spinning fiber.

Remarkable Yarns. This vendor carries Melanie Berg's patterns which so often perfectly walk the line between boring and complex. She also carries Rosy Green Wool (100% organic certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard) and Crave yarn (merino-cashmere-camel-silk blend).

Round Mountain Fibers. Hand-dyer from Vermont with colorways based on birds, insects, and plants. These would be perfect for the nature-lover.

Space Cadet. A hand-dyer out of Pittsburgh, PA. She has yarn and fiber, gradient sweater kits, project bags, yarn bowls and mugs, boxes, and notion tins.

Spincycle Yarns. Another West Coast wholesaler, this time from Bellingham, Washington. These two ladies started as hand spinners. They dye the fiber, then spin, then ply. If you like the look of fractals or combo-spins but aren't a hand spinner, look here.

Toad Hollow. Her lovely colorways remind me of floral Victorian wallpaper. If you like hand-dyed yarn and crave prettiness over neon intensity, check out her colorways.

Toft. This UK company has yarn and patterns for both knit and crochet. They have 12 natural colorways which perfectly complement their pattern specialty — crochet amigurumi. And they have a subscription club that would be perfect for the crochet menagerie lover. If you are thinking about making a huggable toy in natural dye-less yarn, start here.

Trailhead Yarns. Vegan yarns — tencel, cotton, linen. Her colors are vivid, something not always easily achieved on plant fibers. Not yet carried in Georgia or Florida!?

Twisted Owl. Small-batch dyer out of east Texas who has Batman-inspired colorways. Fun!

West Yorkshire Spinners. A British yarn manufacturer, so yet another excellent choice for the Anglophile. They have several breed-specific yarns including Bluefaced Leicester, Falkland, and Shetland.

Yarn Undyed. A purveyor out of the UK with an amazing range of yarn bases. If I were an independent dyer, I would thoroughly explore her offerings. She has some unusual combinations, including an alpaca-silk-linen blend.

In researching this post, I've noticed that several of the most tempting choices are carried by Fuzzy Goat Yarns in Thomasville GA.  That's a four-hour drive from here. If anybody wants to have a full a day trip down to south Georgia to explore, please let me know.

10 July 2018

First Trip to TNNA, part 1

Late last year a took a big step in my professional development and joined The National Needlearts Association by becoming an affiliate member. TNNA is the national-level trade organization. It is best known for hosting a winter trade show and a summer trade show. This is where shop owners often go to see the latest products. It is how they decide whether to carry yarn from Trendsetter or Prism; wheels and looms from Ashford, Schacht, or Kromski; notions from CocoKnits, or patterns from Stitch Sprouts. TNNA also organizes Spinzilla and Local Yarn Store Day.

Membership is $195 per year. And for a designer/teacher like myself, joining also meant acquiring some letters of recommendation and copies of my published designs. It wasn't a five-minute process.

And then I needed to decide how to make the best use of my investment.

Recognizing that I need to write a book (actually, probably more than one) on versa lace, I decided to attend the summer convention in Cleveland, Ohio, to meet directly with potential publishers. Of course, that only took a small amount of my time. I also walked the entire floor, meeting vendors I didn't know. I reminded several vendors that STITCHES United will be in Atlanta next year and that we knitters would really love to see them. It has been five years since we had a major convention in Atlanta. The knitters are going to show up for this. I also reminded the vendors that we have two guilds with over 100 members. Both Atlanta Knitting Guild and North Georgia Knitting Guild meet monthly and both are usually looking for programs. A yarn representative with a trunk show is usually a pretty good program.

Some questions/observations:
Is the market segmented geographically?
I hardly knew any of the vendors from the other side of the Mississippi. There were also some vendors from New Jersey, New York, and up into New England who I didn't know. If I who attend Maryland Sheep and Wool, SAFF, STITCHES South, and read Interweave Knits, PLY, Vogue Knitting and Cast On haven't heard of you, chances are good my 250 guild friends haven't heard of you, either.

Are vendors using guilds to their best advantage?
Guilds are groups of the most devoted crafters. At a meeting, they are gathered in one place. Guilds often need programs. Communicating with guilds could be a way to get new products into the sight of enthusiasts who will then share with friends and pester their friendly local yarn stores.

Where's the hype?
When I attended Gen Con last year, the place was pumped. Now, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison to TNNA, as Gen Con is a consumer convention. Tabletop game companies know how to build excitement. They release new games at Gen Con, often with promotional items available nowhere else. If TNNA wants shop owners to attend the winter and summer shows, then the show-only premiums need to have greater prominence, both for the shop owners but also for the customers.

And what did I see?

Tools, gadgets, and assorted items:

Atenti. This wholesalers has a range a bags for every sense of style. Many of these bags are large enough not just for projects, but also to use as overnight bags.

BambooMN. This vendor imports a range of bamboo-related products, many of which are not knit- or crochet-related. That said, they do have a nice Amish-style swift as well as gorgeous lidded round yarn bowls and square lidded yarn boxes in three colors. They also carry wool, bamboo, acrylic, and cotton yarn.

Clothe Zure. These buttons and toggles attach securely yet removably with magnets. They remind me a little of Jūl. These would be good in a holiday gift-exchange. They can be used to jazz up a plain sweater, shawl, bag, or hat. And if you find a favorite, you can keep moving it between garments.

Dill. Based out of Germany, they manufacture a full range of buttons from natural shell to colorful plastic to metal. They also make these lovely spiral closures, perfect for holding a shawl in place.

Dimensions. Raku clay buttons and shawl pins, made in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I am thinking the gentle color shifts of raku would be great with kettle-dyed yarns, such as Malabrigo, or a variety of hand-dyed effects.

Fairy Knitting. This is a new book coming out in September by authors Alice Hoffman and Lisa Hoffman. From the trifold sample and the pictures on Ravelry, it is a combination of fairy tale stories matched with knitting patterns and gorgeous photography.

JaMpdx. A pair of clever Oregon potters are creating beautiful lidded yarn bowls, as well as profane yarn-related mugs. The pottery is hand-thrown on a potter's wheel and then decorated by piping the clay through a pastry bag (as you would decorate a cake with icing). There are no vendors in Georgia or South Carolina carrying their wonderful designs.

Katrinkles. I mentioned them after I won some of their items as a door prize at Unwind. They have a lovely line of buttons and gadgets for knitters, crocheters, and spinners. I very much like the 4-inch/10cm square frame for determining stitch gauge.

Knina. These are swivel bamboo circular knitting needles made in Japan. I must admit bias here, as I find Japanese culture encourages and rewards excellence in craftsmanship. If you like the warmth of wood, consider these. The unbelievably smooth circular join swivels, preventing kinks in spite of a springy cord. Both pleasantly pointy needle tips are marked with the size in US and metric. A quick test drive is making me wonder why do I see Knitter's Pride Dreamz needles in yarn shops but not Tulip Knina? I am guessing it is price point but really, why quibble over a few dollars when the difference in quality is obvious. I love metal, but would gladly use these lightweight circulars. If you are considering wooden or bamboo needles, please test drive these before investing in a whole set.

KnitBaahPurl. If you are looking for mugs, glasses, project bags, shirts, tags, cards, posters, and more, this is the place. Their stemless wine glasses should be required equipment for those who knit and sip. And as you can see from the pin, they have a wry sense of humor.

Prym. These alabaster-colored plastic knitting needles have a triangular cross-section and slightly hooked tips. The straights clip together, both preventing the loss of a needle and preventing stitches from sliding off while stuffing the work-in-progress into a knitting bag. The women distributing these are based in South Carolina. I am hopeful I will see them again at South Carolina Knit Inn. Even if you aren't a fan of straight needles, the double-points and circulars are worthy of a test drive. As a fan of square needles, I do like the shape of these triangular needles.

Reading Glass Co. Apparently, if you live long enough, your eyes work less well. (Ask me how I know.) This vendor out of Marietta, Georgia, carries a nice array of stylish reading glasses. You need never mar your carefully-crafted sartorial message while reading a pattern written in young person's typeface.

Shelli Can. Maker of craft-themed pins, key chains, and stitch markers. I do love the octopus with 8 balls of yarn. She also has a golden stitch pin — a golden snitch remade as a golden yarn ball with wings. Clever!

Travelin Along. The Knitting Memories Along the Danube cruise scheduled for next summer includes hand-dyeing, Bavarian stitches class, a shop hop in Vienna, and a textile museum tour.

Tomorrow: Wholesale yarns.