Monday, November 17, 2014

Meet a designer - Kara McKinley

Have you ever been inspired just because someone is so passionate about the things she creates? Have you ever wanted to get to know the person behind the pattern? Well, I have been inspired to knit more hats by my brief interaction with a fellow designer who is also participating in the Gift-a-long. I'd like to introduce you to Kara McKinley (Ravelry ID: KaraMcKinley). Below is an interview to help you find out a bit about Kara and her designs and inspirations. I think you will enjoy getting to know about her. And if you are interested in seeing her designs, you can find them here. Don't forget! Many of her patterns are on sale 25% until the end of the day on November 21st with the coupon code giftalong2014! (and P.S.- all photos are hers. . .and so that means she owns the copyright. I have her permission to share them here.)

What fiber arts do you do?

Just knitting. Learning how to sew is on my to-do list and I can crochet at a very basic level, but I'm only proficient at knitting. 

What fiber arts do you design for?

Just knitting. 

Where are you from?

I grew up in Howard County, Maryland, and live in Baltimore City now. I love living and working in the City and I'm incredibly lucky to have awesome local yarn shops and local yarn dyers to work with.

Favorite part of where you are from (where you are currently)? 

Oh, this is hard. Baltimore is such an awesome city. I live in north-central Baltimore and am within walking distance of museums and theatres, awesome local shops and restaurants, and pretty much everything and anything else I could want. I think my favorite part of where I am, is the Wyman Park Dell. It's a gorgeous little park two blocks from my house and is a great place to take the dog or a picnic, or just spend an afternoon knitting outside. I like to think of the Dell as my 16-acre backyard in the city.

 Quirkiest thing about you that you want to share?

This may be a couple of quirks, but they tie together as: I love knitting books. I collect books about knitting, especially old books/guides and books about the history of knitting. I have several Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping books dating from the 1940's and 1950's as well as a number of books about the history of fiber arts. Also, I cannot get on board with e-versions of knitting books and magazines, I have to have my paper editions! 

Fiber Arts History

How long have you been designing?

I have been designing in a real way (meaning creating patterns that someone else can use) for four years now, but I've been designing for myself pretty much since I started knitting in 2003. 

What is your favorite design that you have created?

I love my Sherwood Hat and Cowl set. I may have to knit a second sample because I've been wearing the original I made non-stop since it's gotten chilly the last couple of weeks! The pattern looks like it might be a challenging knit, but it's a surprisingly simple stitch repeat and I think the result is really lovely (it's funny to be talking about my favorite design, mostly because I don't usually tell people how pretty I think my own knitting is!) 

How long have you been knitting? 

I've been knitting since 2003. I was in college and going through a lot of change at the time - transferring to a new school with a new major in a new city. I decided I needed a hobby and had seen other people knitting. So I checked out Debbie Stoller's Stitch N'Bitch from my local library, bought some yarn and needles, and have been knitting ever since.

What is your favorite thing to knit?

I truly believe there can be no such things as too many hats. I think hats are the most fun thing to knit and have limitless possibilities. I wear hats while walking my dog (Molly the Labradoodle) from October through April so I have a ton of hats in my personal collection. Plus, hat knitting is easily transportable (there is always either a hat or sock in my bag), so whenever I have a few minutes free I can pull out my current hat and knit a few rounds.

Random bits of info:

Things that inspire you in your designs:

Baltimore city is a great source of inspiration. My undergraduate degree is in History and I love learning about my almost 300 year-old city. I'm inspired by people, neighborhoods, architecture, events, the list goes on and on. The Light Street Hat was inspired by the Art Deco Architecture in downtown Baltimore. The Sherwood Hat and Cowl was inspired by the spirit and beauty of Sherwood Gardens. I have a bulletin board at my desk and a pinterest board full of ideas and inspiration based on people, neighborhoods, and architecture.

Favorite free-time hobby (other than knitting - if one exists :) ) :

I read a lot and I'll read almost everything I can get my hands on. There's a free book exchange near my house, The Book Thing, and I could very easily spend hours there digging through the incredible selection of books. Of course, I read while knitting so my hobbies tend to be intertwined.

Favorite type of yarn (fiber and/or brand) :

I love working with fingering weight wools. One of my absolute favorites to work with is Neighborhood Fiber Co.'s Rustic Fingering, which not only has amazing colors, but has an amazing feel and knits up like a dream.

Favorite place to buy yarn (LYS or online). Why do you love it? 

Hands down Lovelyarns. Sue Caldwell, the proprietress, has created a fiber haven that is warm, welcoming, and has an amazing selection. Lovelyarns supports a lot of local and regional dyers and spinners so it's awesome to be able to not only support a local business, but also support a business that is in turn support local artists and other small businesses. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Indie Designer Gift-a-Long! (and gifts for you, too!)

YAY!!!!! Yeah. I'm excited about it! It's time for the second annual Indie Designer Gift-a-long on Ravelry. Have no idea what that is? Well I am here to fill you in. 

For the past few weeks, 293 independent designers from 21 countries around the world have been doing the hard work of getting ready for a sale of their patterns. Each designer will have between 4 and 20 patterns on sale, 25% off with the code: giftalong2014 . They will be on sale from 8pm (EST) November 13th through 11:59pm (EST) November 21st. There are HUNDREDS of designers participating with almost 4,000 patterns on sale during the promotion! WHOA!! 

So obviously, you get the benefit of 25% off and we get the benefit of the sale, but there is more!! If you go to this link: there are over 1,860 electronic prizes and many more physical prizes to give away to you just by participating in the threads or the various events that they do over the course of the next several weeks!! This can include playing the find the designer games or knitting a project from any of the paid for patterns of the participating designers (this includes even patterns that were not on sale during the promo period). The end of the Gift-a-Long is December 31st, 2014. . .for all of you procrastinating knitters and crocheters who don't QUITE get it done in time for Christmas.  

The goal of the Gift-a-Long is to get you ready for the holidays. It's the discount and hopefully the inspiration you'll need to get you knitting or crocheting for those special people in your life (including yourself!!) . Many of the items are small and quick so they are perfect for gifting. 

For those of you on social media, you may start to see the #giftalong2014 tag popping up on Twitter and Instagram as we have the chance to promote other designers in our feeds. 

So who do you have to knit for? Need a quick pattern like a hat or mitts or slippers or booties? OR want something a bit more involved like socks? Or maybe something to go with those hand made soaps (like the ones I get from for gifts for teachers? 

Whomever you are knitting for this season (or even if you have no plans to knit for anyone but you have a queue that will last beyond life expectancy that contains a pattern or 7) you might just find something in this gift-a-long worth joining for. And if you want to see my designs specifically, go here:  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Overwhelmed by WIP's?

Are you overwhelmed by WIPs (works in progress)? Yeah. Me too. I have never been a monogamous knitter. And I most certainly am a product knitter (meaning that I like the finished item more than the process itself) . . .Don't get me wrong. I LOVE to knit. I do it a lot. I might even say I do it all the time! But I have so many things that I'm in the middle of right now that I don't know what to do next! You too? Or maybe it's just me. So how do I prioritize? Well, first I take a look at everything I have on the needles.

Yes. That is a list of the 8 projects that are currently on the needles in various stages of doneness. What you also aren't seeing are the two designs, which are out to test knitters and tech editors. After I take a few deep breaths, I start to do some work on figuring out what comes next.

Then I prioritize.

1.     I pick the projects with the closest deadlines. Am I knitting it for something or someone and it has to be done soon? Those come first.

In the case of these projects, that means these:

These are the socks for my current sock knitting class. I have to be at the same place that I expect my students to be, so I have to get to the place where I am ready to start the heel by this weekend. In case you want to know, these are the Scylla Socks by Fiona Lucas knit in Leading Men Fiber Arts Show Stopper yarn in their Foliage colorway. The yarn and pattern area lovely. These are getting a lot of attention.  

And also this. This is a Monster Cowl. I am going to be teaching a class on this awesome chevron pattern in March so I have to get this off the needles so I can take it in to Paradise. I won't get to keep this cowl, as it is a store sample, but I do get paid to knit it. In case you are wondering, this is knit in Madelinetosh Tosh Vintage in Coquette, Dirty Panther, and Leaf.

Because both of my designs are yet to be published and will be going out with clubs in April, I can't show you those, but those are also both deadline knits that I have been working on (and writing down and editing and swatching and getting to tech editors and test knitting and sending to test knitters Phewwww!!!!)

2.    Then I pick the projects that I am doing for a knitalong. Usually with a KAL there are soft deadlines and I like the accountability and the communal push to set goals and complete them. I am working on this, though I am woefully behind the KAL goals at this point.

This is Halele'a by Mel Ski knit out of Must Stash Yarn and Fiber Helluva Skein in the Pauo'le colorway. This photo does not show how far I am. I  have my entire fronts and backs done and seamed (yes, those who know how I feel about seaming. I did actually seam it!). I am working on the texture portion on the bottom and have only a little left to go. Then I have to do ribbing around the neckline and the bottom. . .AND then I have to do both sleeves. To meet the KAL goals I should be on my sleeves this week. As you can see, I am not! HA! but I do love this sweater and after I finish all of the things above, this is next.

3.    I also love to have a small thoughtless project to carry around in my purse and work on when I have a second. . .at the doctor's office, in the car waiting to pick someone up, hanging out with friends, etc. 

This is going to be for Tim. Those of you who know him know that he doesn't have much hair on top so he is constantly wearing the hats I knit for him. And yes, I do actually mean constantly. He rarely takes them off. He really wanted a sock weight hat. I had this yarn from Lorna's Laces - their Solemate - in Blue Skies Over Colorado. The cool part about this yarn is that it has a Outlast in it, which is supposed to regulate body heat. So he may even use it for running . . .The pattern, Runner's Watchcap by Ivete Tecedor, is super simple but a nice size and perfect for this yarn. And it makes great purse knitting!

4.    Then are those projects that have to get done before someone outgrows it. Yes. Like this one. If I don't hurry, he will be too big before it's finished.

This is my Little Stitches Hoodie out of Three Irish Girls Springvale DK in Picnic Blanket and Solar Flare. (PS - Three Irish Girls has opened up their website directly for ordering once again, so if you love these colors, they can be yours. )  I love everything about this (I am biased, I know). But the yarn is lovely and I want him to wear it! I need to work on it!!!!  

5.    Then there are the projects that are oh so close that are actually really quick knits and need to just be done. The body is done, the ends woven in the shoulders seamed. I even have most of a sleeve done! And it's knit on size US10.5 needles!! This is perfect for couch knitting but not so perfect for taking with me since it takes a whole bag to cart it around.

This is the Long Sands Cardigan by Amy Christoffers that I  have been working on since this summer when it was gifted to me by a friend. It would be perfect for this cold weather we are having. . .I really should work on it. I am knitting it out of the lusciously squishy Malabrigo Chunky in the Pearl Colorway. 

6.    And lastly are those projects which are just sitting. Barely started. Not even worth taking photos of. Those might be the ones that end up on my hibernating tab on Ravelry. I have two currently and while I adore them and really want to finish them, I don't see my self doing so anytime soon. 

This is just a method. Prioritizing so I can accomplish what needs to get done in a timely manner. . .so I can work on what I want to get done. It doesn't always work. Sometimes the I-want-to projects trump the I-need-to projects. But at the end of the day, knitting is supposed to be enjoyable. When it quits being so, it's time to find something else to do. So what about you? How do you prioritize? Or do you? What comes first for you? Any rhyme or reason? 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Technical editing for knitting patterns? What is that?!

So since I posted last time I've had several people ask me about the specifics of technical editing. What is it? Why is important? Who uses it? So I thought I'd do a post about it. Needless to say, not any photos this time.

So what is technical editing (for knitting)? Technical editing is going through a pattern with the designer to  make sure that things like sizing, stitch patterns, stitch counts, and pattern specific things (like links to external websites for specific techniques) are accurately reflecting the designer's wishes for the pattern. Technical editing is NOT telling a designer how it SHOULD have been done, but simply offering suggestions based on knitting and pattern standards and letting it be implemented how they see fit. In the end, the designer should make the final call on changes made.

How does that work? What do YOU actually do? I get to do the fun part. I receive the pattern from the designer and read through it. I make sure numbers work. I check sizing to make sure that the stitch counts work out to appropriate measurements for what the designer has in mind for each size. I also make  sure that the stitch pattern works out over those stitch counts. I make sure that things are written clearly (and this doesn't mean changing the designers "voice", as part of what differentiates designers is often the verbal presentation of their patterns). I offer suggestions for clarity and sometimes preferences of my own, but try to be clear about those being preferences and not something that changes the workability of the pattern if left as is. SOMETIMES, I test knit the pattern as I work through it. Sometimes I use LOTS of pages of graph paper to draw out the pattern stitches. And then, when I'm confident, I send it back to the designer to review and implement. This process is done SEVERAL times. As things change, other rows and rounds and numbers are changed in the process, so it's a constantly evolving piece that needs to be checked over again each time a new revision is made. And I get to do math! Did I mention that? I get to make sure that at the suggested gauge, that the stitch counts given yield the sizing that the designer has given with whatever ease is being factored in to determine who will fit into each size. . .how it should be listed. . .how much yarn you might need (which is usually done by finding # of stitches and amount of yarn needed for each stitch for each size)

Who uses technical editors? Knitting designers use several ways to verify their patterns. Some are more reliable than others. For instance, some knitters only knit a pattern themselves to figure out if it will work. Some designers really are THAT good. But few are. The way you write things  makes sense to you or you wouldn't write it, but that sometimes doesn't translate well to others. Not all designers are good relayers of information, and often, self-tested and self-written patterns often lack clarity and accuracy. Not all. Please don't think that there aren't some really great patterns out there written just this way. But many are not. Other designers use test knitters. This means writing a pattern and then giving it to people to read the pattern and test it. This can be REALLY useful. BUT. . .and yes, this is a big BUT. . .your test knitters must be people who are not afraid to tell you when you messed something up or it isn't clear. They must also be willing to knit the pattern EXACTLY as you wrote it, even if they can think of a better way to do it. They must be available to relay information to you as they go. And above all, they must be confident in their pattern reading skills. And lastly, to verify patterns, designers use technical editors - someone who can go through the pattern, with or without test knitting it, and mathematically and practically assess the accuracy of the pattern without changing the voice and the wishes of the designer when it comes to the outcome of the design. The designer works with the tech editor to make sure that the resulting knit object coming off the needles reflects the words that are written on the page.

Which of these options is most important? A good pattern often uses all three of the things above. When a designer knits a design several times, writes and rewrites, sends it out to a technical editor and then forwards it to a good group of test knitters who understand their job you will end up with a pattern that is as well-done as possible. It doesn't mean that a great pattern can't get by with one or two of these things, but each of these checks makes sure that the pattern has undergone assessment on several different levels. . .creative, mathematical, and practical. . .and hopefully is written in a way that can clearly portray the design to make it accessible to an every day knitter. Especially for designers who write several patterns, one bad pattern can spoil future sales of other designs, so it's important for a designer to invest (time, energy, etc.) into a design in order to gain a fan base. It is also important for knitters. While I don't believe it's the job of a designer to create something that is perfect for everyone, I do think that it is important for designers to inspire knitters to want to keep on creating. A bad pattern can cause a person so much frustration that they put it down and never come back to knitting. I would hope that a bad pattern isn't the cause, but I fear that it can be. The short and sweet is that all three of the options are important, but a technical editor and/or really great test knitters are, more often than not, essential to a good pattern.

Why doesn't every designer do it? The main reason for not hiring a technical editor, I'm guessing, is that it can cost money. Free patterns are LESS likely to have had a technical editor once over (though the lovely Mel (MSkiKnits) used me to technical edit her free patterns and provides awesome free patterns). Also, it means letting go of your written design(and maybe your ego) on some level. Some designers don't like being corrected. I've worked with someone on a professional level who has every confidence in her designs (a great thing to have for a designer) but she had an unwillingness to accept constructive criticism, which leads to designs that are not ready for publishing. And some designers are not ready to be told that their writing might need a bit of work. Most designers are more than willing to do this because their design is worth it to them, but it is definitely one reason that some don't do much to verify patterns. Other designers don't use technical editors because they have a great group of test knitters, and as a result, the test knitters do a lot of the technical editing for you. If you can surround yourself with test knitters who are worth their weight, you can use test knitters to do much of what technical editing does. Megan Williams (justrunknit on Rav) has allowed me to test knit things for her, and even put up with me finding what I perceived as an error. . .instead, it was me misreading the pattern. . .but instead of her saying, "Dude, learn to read. . .", her response reflected a great designer, "If it confused you, it will most likely confuse someone else. Let me see if I can reword that for clarity." The best thing, I think, that any person can do is to surround themselves with people they trust to help them become the best that they can be. This applies to designers, too.

The most important thing to remember: While tech edited (or test knit) patterns tend to be better, the aren't always. And even the really great ones are rarely perfect. There might be a typo. Or a spelling error. They may have a line that was miscopied and therefore not correct. They could have math errors. Or stitch count issues. Somewhere between version 1 and version 56 something may have been left off and both (or multiple) sets of eyes, having looked at that pattern for hours, somehow managed to miss it in the final edit. It happens. But the first sign of a good designer is one who is willing to look at an issue run into by knitters to attempt to make it correct or more clear (This does not mean rewriting the pattern to fit a knitters preferences. You can do that on your own.). But I must also then  mention that the first sign of a good knitter is to recognize the fact that the knitter is just as likely to make a mistake and it isn't always the fault of the designer. For both sides, it is important to extend grace when necessary . . .and if you can't, then to walk away. There are lots of patterns/designers/knitters out there and not every design is meant for every knitter. Best to use your time on something that won't turn you away from knitting forever but will inspire you to keep creating.

Hopefully that gives you a clearer picture of what goes into a pattern. . .the days, weeks and months. . .of making it as good as can be. . .and hopefully gives you a greater appreciation for the effort and even financial expense that many great designers have had to put in before the pattern was ready for the public. Maybe, you will recognize the value of a well-done pattern, will find it a bit easier to swallow the cost of a paid design, and will appreciate well-written free patterns as the creative gifts they really are. Or maybe, you will get so caught up in knitting that lovely design that none of this matters to you anyway. I hope that's the case.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Busy knitting, designing, teaching and tech editing - Ushering in 2014

Yup. It's 2014. I know. I'm shocked too. And a bit embarrassed that I haven't posted in well over 5 months. I'm terrible, I know. I've been BUSY. Like where-did-the-time-go-and-wow-look-at-that-to-do-list-and-I-can't-believe-what-I've-accomplished busy.

There have been several objects that I've test knit. One of the people I've done a fair bit of test knitting for is Megan Williams (justrunknit on Ravelry) of Stockinette Zombies fame. Megan just started her own blog, by the way, and it's worth checking out if you want more details on her knitting and fitness life. I teased her via text today about her hopefully being better than I am about keeping up on the blog. She promised that she would be really good at it for at least a month. HA!

One of the beautiful designs that I test for her was the Sugar High Cowl. I LOVE it.

Mel (Ravelry: mskiknits) has also allowed me to become her technical editor. It's been a lot of fun to work with her behind the scenes to triple check her designs to make sure that her beautiful creativity is spelled out on paper in a way that will translate to the people who knit them. I am knitting Halele'a . It's so fun, after getting to know the pattern inside and out with the tech editing, to actually delve into it with yarn and needles. I will post photos to my Ravelry page when it is complete. Mel has recently published two free fingerless mittens patterns on her blog. I haven't had the chance to knit them yet, but they are both beautiful (and hopefully error free :) ) The photos below are used with Mel's permission.

Hawaiian Snowflakes 

With Gratitude

I have also been working on projects for the Paradise Fibers yarn club. There have been a wide variety of projects. Some I have loved more than others, but it has been a lot of fun to work through the single skein projects and kits to learn more about different types of yarns.

This in addition to ending the year with teaching almost every weekend for the last few months of the year. It has been a lot of fun.

So what's coming down the chute? I have lots of classes coming up. A beginning knitter class in January. A shawl class in conjunction with a Sheep to Shawl series that Paradise Fibers has been hosting. A sock class in February. And another couple of classes in March through the Corbin Art Center (Ruffle Scarf and Coffee Cozy). I would love to attend Madrona Fiber Arts in Seattle/ Tacoma in February. And I've been to told to expect loads of tech editing for Mel. I also have a few designs to finish writing up and submit to Three Irish Girls.  And heading up the blog for my LYS (will keep you posted on that).

Maybe I should promise to do MY blog every two weeks. What do you think?

What are your goals and plans for 2014?