100 Sweaters

In Los Angeles, it’s generally about 100 degrees (at least!) until at least the end of September. Sweater weather doesn’t start until mid-to-end of October, and sometimes later. But, depending how fast you work, now can be the perfect time to start a sweater project because by the time you finish weaving in ends and blocking it, you will be able to actually wear it.

I came across this post with 100 sweaters, and it spoke to the designer in me. But even if you’re not a designer, you will find this helpful if you’re not sure what kind of sweater you’re in the mood to make. You have 100 options here for different silhouettes, sleeve styles and necklines, so you can either choose what you like to help you decide what sort of pattern to buy, or if you’re designing your own, you have helpful visuals to help you decide which combo of necklines, sleeves and stitch patterns would make your perfect sweater. And this will exponentially help narrow down a Ravelry search, which will yield you 115,394 choices if you just type “sweater” into the pattern search.

Have fun, and happy making!

Why I Decided on Etsy (Instead of Amazon Handmade or Others)

As you all know, Colinton Australia made it possible for me to offer you all a really good deal on their Light Fingering yarn, which I decided to sell in kits on Etsy. If you haven’t already checked out my shop, I hope you will, but in the meantime, I wanted to share my research on the various platforms out there that help artisans sell their work.

I did alot of research prior to deciding on Etsy, and I thought I’d share what I found out. I hope this will be helpful and save alot of time for any of you who are wanting to sell your work online but not sure where to start. I researched four platforms – Etsy, Amazon Handmade, Kitterly, and Zulily. I also researched a few others, but they were specific to the UK, so I am only including the international ones here. Obviously, Etsy won out, but I will try to give you all an objective breakdown of each with pros and cons.

Amazon Handmade

I was really excited about this, but quickly decided against it when I researched it. The major pro is that your market would be Amazon’s market, which as we all know, is about as big as you can get. The major con to selling with them is that they charge $40 per month, which is a huge fee compared to everyone else. When you’re just starting out and getting a feel for things, this is alot of money to take out of your profits, or to spend up front when you really have no idea how the market will respond to your product. I also saw complaints that Amazon can force you to lower your prices or otherwise control your shop, which seems out of place to me when dealing with creative people who usually have a style and vision for their product and image. Their definition of handmade is also a bit contrived – the complaint I read the most is that Martha Stewart Inc. (and other big brands) are included in Amazon Handmade. All in all, I really couldn’t find a good reason to deal with Amazon other than the fact their market is so huge and it’s a popular place to shop.

Kitterly

This site was founded by a former LA yarn shop owner and a marketing executive. It is a beautifully curated site with excellent photography and is there for the sole purpose of tempting knitters into their next project. The one major downside from the designer/vendor side is that you have to contact them and get approved. It is up to them to decide if they want to work with you or feature your pattern on their site, and the process takes a few months. If you have your product in hand and just want to start connecting with customers, this is not the place for you. The other thing that frustrated me is that there are no details on the site as to what kind of profits you would receive. My conclusion is that this site is excellent for marketing yourself because if they decide to work with you, you will get good promotion with your target audience, but it’s pretty much out of your hands once you contact them.

Zulily

Zulily has a customer base of 5 million and offers a large number of brands. This is not just for knitting or crafts, but includes fashion and lifestyle. Your brand would receive excellent promotion and from what I’m reading, they do have a marketing team that works to actively promote the companies they work with. The major con, from my perspective, is that they vet everyone they work with, so again, you would need to contact them and take the month or two needed to go through the process. Their site mentions that commissions can be up to 10%, which means that you would need to sell alot of volume to really make money off of your products. These are also week-long sales or promotions, so if you want to have a permanent shop somewhere, Zulily is not your place.

Etsy

I had my hesitations about Etsy because I’d heard alot of complaints. People don’t agree with how they define the term “handmade” and didn’t like it when they opened up the market to China. And to be honest, I still do find Etsy a bit overwhelming. However, after doing all my research, I think it is still the best place to open up shop. They give you an open, honest breakdown of their fees, which are much, much lower than anyone else’s. Their interface is very easy to use when setting up your shop, and you have complete control over your product and image. Etsy has gotten huge, but it is still the most supportive of the craft/handmade market. Unfortunately, it is very hard for craftspeople to make a living when we pretty much have to compete with Walmart and all the mass-produced cheap goods. Etsy was founded to help artisans sell their work, and my conclusion after comparing it to the other platforms out there is that it is still the most proactive about following that mission.

Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with my conclusions, or if you know of any other sites that work with craftspeople. I’d love to hear your input, and feel free to let me know what you think of my shop too! And if you’re just figuring everything out, I hope this post helps save you time and money!

Series: All About Mohair

Closeup1As a follow up to my previous post in this series, I wanted to share more details about mohair specifically. This fiber is often maligned, and people write it off as scratchy, annoying to work with because of fluff going up your nose, too difficult to get stitch definition, etc. In truth, I used to be one of those people – I never liked the stuff and didn’t have any interest in working with it. Even when our shop got the entire Colinton Australia line, I resisted it, and only ended up giving in because I was attracted to the array of colors.

Obviously, once I started working with it, I changed my mind, and I am now knitting my fourth piece for them. Now that experience has taught me all that this fiber has to offer, I wanted to share what I’ve learned.

The first thing to understand is that not all mohairs are the same. Many of the yarns marketed as mohair are actually mohair with a nylon core. It is very important to know this when choosing your mohair, because if you are planning to capitalize on its natural properties, you will not get the desired results with a blend.  Pure mohairs such as Colinton Australia have alot of halo and loft, but are also very soft and lustrous. They are pleasant and soft going through your fingers, and despite their halo, they still give good stitch definition.

Another misconception is that mohair yarns are weak and break easily. It’s true that mohair is delicate and should be hand-washed, but that is the case with the majority of fine, pure fibers. Contrary to alot of the mohair blends, pure mohair is actually very strong. It is also much more slippery than blended mohairs, which makes it very easy to unravel or to tear out a swatch. The new garment I just designed with Colinton is done in Ultrafine Lace, single stranded. Many of the mohair patterns I’ve seen use a strand of mohair paired with something else, either to strengthen it or provide some softness. However, when working with pure mohair, you don’t need an extra strand for these purposes, and it’s very easy to frog back if needed.

While fiber blends have their place, I’ve found that it’s important to be aware of what you’re buying and what results you expect to achieve. The blends can be great to work with, and are often designed to bring the best qualities of the individual fibers to the mix. However, in the case of mohair, I prefer the pure fiber. I really love its strength and sheen, and I like being able to block it to specifications and count on it to retain the measurements when dry. I also haven’t found a blend that has the softness of the pure fiber, which of course is important for clothes.

Mohair has become one of my favorite fibers to work with, and I’m really proud of the design work I’ve done with it. But until I learned how to choose a good mohair yarn, I couldn’t fully appreciate its capabilities. I hope this will save you the trouble and make it easier to pick a good mohair that will be enjoyable to work with.

 

Series: All About Animal Fibers

As you already know from previous posts, I have been collaborating with Colinton Australia and as promised, I want to share with you in a series the things I’ve learned as I’ve been working. I had a little crash course in working with mohair when I was designing Urban Lines, but I wanted to start by sharing with you what I’ve learned about animal fibers in general. I realized how important it is to understand the properties of different fibers and how much this knowledge will help you achieve a successful final outcome of a project.

Until I started working on this design and learning from Colinton, I did not realize that animal fibers can be separated into two basic categories. Even though they are all made from animal hairs, just as with human hair, they have different properties. There are the fibers, wool being the most well-known and popular, that have memory and those that do not, such as mohair. To say a fiber has memory means that when you wash it, it will “bounce back” to its original shape when it dries. The fibers without memory can be blocked aggressively and will hold whatever shape you block them to when they dry. Because I made Urban Lines with a luxury fiber, I wanted to get the most out of my yardage, and the pattern is written with aggressive blocking in mind.

Whether a yarn has memory or not depends on the structure of the fiber itself. Sheep’s wool has lots of crimp, which gives it the characteristics of being elastic and retaining memory, even after blocking. Other fibers with good crimp are yak and qiviut. Both are more expensive because like cashmere, they are produced from the underdown of the animals (qiviut is from the muskox) and therefore take alot of work to harvest. The animals don’t produce alot of it, which also raises its value. But if you are allergic to wool and looking for suitable substitutes, they are good options and are considered to be heirloom fibers because of their rarity.

Mohair, angora, and alpaca are very straight fibers, and therefore do not have elasticity. They are extremely responsive to dyes, have lots of lustre, and will retain whatever shape they are blocked into. People often confuse mohair and angora because mohair is made from angora goats. However, angora itself is from the Angora rabbit. Cashmere is another goat fiber, but is made only from the soft down combed from underneath the goat’s more coarse exterior hair.

Mohair is much stronger than angora and cashmere, and also cheaper. Angora and cashmere will retain whatever shape you block them into, but it is harder to find them in pure form because they are often blended with other fibers to keep costs down and give them a little more strength. Alpaca has the same properties of being blockable and retaining its shape. It is very soft in its own right, but if you are looking for something finer like angora, baby alpaca is a good alternative. If you buy blends of these fibers mixed with wool, then you will not get the same results when blocking.

Looking back over the course of my project experiences, this information explains alot about the projects that didn’t quite turn out right, even when my gauge was spot on. I am the queen of substituting yarns – in fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever gone out and bought the yarn a pattern actually calls for. But after designing this piece and learning more about the properties of fibers, I’ve changed how I choose yarn when making substitutions. I realized that when deciding what size to make, you should always consider whether the finished measurements are given with the expectation of blocking, and what fiber the pattern is made with.

For instance, in this case, I wrote the pattern based on final blocking measurements because I knew the mohair would “grow”. The pieces you knit are not the same size as the final measurements in the pattern, which are written for the final size you achieve after it is blocked. I would never substitute wool in this pattern unless I was prepared to do alot of swatching and adjusting.

If, like me, you have had problems in the past with pieces not fitting the way you expected, even when you thought your gauge matched the pattern, I would encourage you to revisit the pattern and see what fiber the designer used. Consider the nature of that fiber, and if substituting, try to find a fiber that has similar qualities. It will make a huge difference in the final result!

 

Studio Book Picks National Reading Month

March is National Reading Month (which I think is a great thing to celebrate, by the way). There are lots of bestseller lists for books in general, but I thought I’d share the crafting/how-to books I find most helpful as a designer.

When I first started crocheting, and then knitting, I used to go to the library and check out as many books as I could carry home. Honestly, I think I’ve been through the Burbank library’s entire knitting and crocheting collection. I was interested in the history, different techniques, different designers, patterns…you name it. But once I started buying books and building my own little library at home, I quickly realized certain books were more helpful than others, and really, if a book was just a collection of patterns, I probably wouldn’t use it more than once.

This is a list of the books I refer to all the time when working on a project, and especially when I’m designing. I refer to them all the time, and they are well worth the space they take up in my living room.

  1. I don’t know if these should even be on my list since they’re a given, but Barbara Walker’s stitch pattern volumes are definitely the books I use the most. I have the entire collection, and when I’m stuck, they’re the first place I look to choose a stitch pattern or consider how to combine textures.
  2. Knitwear Design Workshop by Shirley Paden. Maybe some designers have it in their heads how to work V-necklines or different sleeve openings, etc., but I don’t. Whenever I am designing a garment, I refer to this book to refresh myself on construction.
  3. Finishing School by Deborah Newton. Finishing is just a pain, and alot of us really hate doing it, but if you take the time to finish your project like a pro, it looks like a pro made it. This book is extremely detailed and thorough, and has helped immensely in getting me through those last details at the end of a project.
  4. A Treasury of Crochet Patterns by Liz Blackwell. Not in print, so you have to look for a used copy, but it’s like the Barbara Walker for crocheters.
  5. The Knitting/Crochet Answer Books. These are the reference books I use when I forget what a certain symbol means or have to look up terms I’m not familiar with. Or for instance, with crochet, if you forget how many to chain up for triple crochet, you can look it up and make sure you’re doing it right.

None of these are books I would sit down and read from cover to cover, but they are always sitting on my shelf waiting to provide answers to all those little questions I run into as I’m working on something. I hope you find this list helpful, but if you think I’ve left something out or you have recommendations, leave me a comment!

Speckled

Speckles

I have been noticing a trend of sorts. Last year during the yarn crawl, our shop got specially dyed Ancient Arts Fibre yarns, one of which was speckled. I have yet to knit with it, and to be honest, I bought it for the novelty. I hadn’t seen that yarn before, and this particular grouping was special because the company dyed exclusive colors for our shop, and yes, I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

But then a few weeks ago, I went to a yarn shop for the first time in months and noticed pretty much every company they carried had speckled yarns of some sort. Then, to top it off, when I went to the grocery store later in the week, the Martha Stewart Living March issue jumped off the shelf at me (visually speaking, of course!). I don’t usually buy these sorts of magazines, as all the yarn-related publications are already more than I have time to read. I bought this one because I couldn’t resist the cover and all the crafty ways to speckle up your life inside. Totally unrelated to yarn, but I think it will be fun to do some Easter-y crafts with the kids, and visually, I find it inspiring.

I am curious if any of you have knit or crocheted with this type of yarn? I am very intrigued by how the colors will play out as opposed to how they look in the skein. I couldn’t resist snapping the photo above, and can’t wait to finish up some projects so I can play around with my new obsession. If you have already made something with this type of yarn, please feel free to share your favorite patterns and ideas with me. Have a lovely weekend!

Series: To-Do List for the Week

First of all, I would like to say this series is helping alot – the last list really helped me focus for the week and I’m happy to say I got almost everything on it done. So thanks for reading and keeping me on track! 🙂

Week of March 7 – 11:

  1. Get pattern tech edited and graded. (This is the first time I’ve ever had one of my patterns tech edited and graded. I love to learn as I go and push myself to figure things out, but this pattern has multiple color charts and Knitty requires you to have a pattern graded all the way from XS to 2x.)
  2. Submit pattern to Knitty once the tech editor returns it to me (This is a separate item because Knitty has a very specific format to follow and I will have to take my usual pattern layout and conform it to Knitty’s requirements.)
  3. Register and decide on classes for Vogue Knitting Live in Pasadena. (This will take a bit of configuring because my daughter has a campout that same weekend.)
  4. Sketch out ideas for a new collaboration I’m doing with Colinton Australia. (All my designs start with sketching, which comes in handy when I get about halfway through a project and start to lose focus. A visual of the original idea is the best help during a project!)
  5. Wind the yarn I just received from Colinton. (Separate item on the list because there are 8 skeins which will take more than just 5 minutes, even with a ballwinder and swift.)
  6. When sketching is done, begin knitting swatches to see if everything translates well from paper to yarn. Again, a separate item on the list because swatching includes washing and blocking. (Best way to get accurate gauge, which is a key element in writing good patterns.)