By now, you’ve probably seen this firebreathing photo, either on one of the inner pages of my original printing, or on the cover of the new revision of Extreme Double-knitting. Taken by Shannon Okey of Cooperative Press, it’s a great eyecatcher — and certainly illustrative of the “Extreme” concept. But many have wondered about the photo, and I decided it was past time to tell the story.
First of all, let me quash some concerns. Yes, this is a real photo — not doctored (OK, it’s subtly cleaned up to remove some falling “sparks” — but the fire is real and the model is really breathing fire). Yes, the model has done this before, frequently; it’s not something we made a novice do as a gimmick. No, you should not try this at home (without ample training from an experienced fire performer with an emphasis on safety). Also, no, this is not my wife, although my wife is also a fire performer (but does not breathe fire, as part of an agreement we have).
So what do fire performing and knitting have in common? Well, mostly, they have me and my wife in common. My wife and I met at a knitting group, but I had been taught a number of juggling/object manipulation skills by my father long before that. I prefer the “stick” variety — flower sticks, contact staff, dragon staff — but have also done a fair amount of diabolo (think “giant yo-yo balancing on a moving string”) and some unicycling. As a young raver in the 90s, I developed a rave toy involving free-moving glowsticks at the end of a pair of sticks. You can see me using it at a party I helped throw, in the background of the 60 Minutes segment “Stop the Raves.” Eventually, I was exposed to the fire performing community while attending some party or other, and I thought about making a fire version of that toy. The final product was not great — the sticks were heavy, clunky, and didn’t move as freely as the original. I did, however, return to that party the following year with the fire toy and a girlfriend. It was seeing me spin my weird little fire prop that got her thinking about fire spinning herself — and some years later, she spun fire down the aisle at our wedding (and got in Offbeat Bride for it).
So during our journey together, we knitted together for quite a long time — but fire-spinning has been more of an enduring commonality. She no longer knits much, but she went to Burning Man last year (and I will probably join her there next year). We became part of a fire-spinning community in Boston and attended Wildfire (a fire training/performing camp) regularly for several years. We made friends in the community; some of those we connected with most strongly over the years were (at the time) another husband and wife duo of fire performers named Laa and Dio.
I chose Laa because she appears just effortlessly beautiful; I knew she’d make a good model and I was right. I chose Dio because he’s sort of a more photogenic version of me, and I knew he’d wear the pieces well. And since they came together as a package, so much the better.
The photo shoot was done in early December of 2010 at Halibut Point in Rockport, MA. It’s a good thing you can only see the photos, not feel them — because it was bitterly cold there. It’s on the ocean, of course, so when it’s cold inland, it’s colder there. By the end of the shoot, my models were just itching to light some fire and warm up. The cameras were freezing up, but Shannon did a fantastic job — even though this was her first fire photography shoot. I have been doing fire photography for some time, and have rarely been able to capture a fire breath as well as Shannon did on her first try. Mostly I focused on long-exposure work to capture fire trails.
Laa and Dio had moved to Atlanta since the 2010 photo shoot, and when I had the opportunity to do a new photo shoot for the new Extreme Double-knitting revision, I thought it would be fun to take photos of them nearly 10 years later too. They were up for it, but fire photography was not in the cards. We had “gotten away with it” in 2010 because we were in an isolated area well outside of tourist season. By contrast, the new shoot was over Easter weekend of 2018 in downtown Atlanta. Still, it’s good that you can only see the photos and not feel them — because it was sweltering hot there. Here’s Laa wearing the new revision of the same hat she was wearing in the cover photo above:
If this post has gotten you interested in fire spinning, a few tips:
Learn to manipulate your chosen prop(s) really well without fire first. Even firebreathing is practiced with water, not fuel.
Find a local spinjam (gathering of jugglers/object manipulators/circus performers) and begin learning there. Find out if there’s a local fire performing training event and go to that.
Learn to burn with an emphasis on safety! For you, and for the people you’re performing for.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Stay tuned! I’ve got more news coming. Also, if you’re still reading this, check out the Buildingblox Workshop Week, and maybe come take class or two with me in Cambridge this April/May?
I don’t usually take part in internet social trends like #ThrowbackThursday but earlier this week it came up in conversation that my Parallax v3.5 had made an appearance back in 2014 and as far as anyone knew, that was the end of it — it was relegated to a WIP at the back of my closet, maybe to be broken out again and maybe not.
This could not be further from the truth, and I can’t figure out why I didn’t blog any of the rest of the story. So this is a throwback both to the blog post I made when I first began the pattern, as well as its appearance in a gallery show about a year ago!
Firstly, Parallax v3.5 is an expansion of the three-color concept of Parallax v3.0, which can be found in my Parallax collection. v3.5 is not available as a pattern at the moment, for reasons that will become clear soon. I conceived of this pattern during an Illustrator sketching session at the Men’s Spring Knitting Retreat some (unknown) years ago. It was one of those moments when a pattern comes together and you get chills. It is perfect and whole at that moment and all that remains is to actually knit it.
The process of knitting it was like that too. Similar to Parallax v3.0, I used Kauni Effektgarn to keep the intrigue up as I went (although I opted to make one of the three colorways solid rather than a gradient). As I went, I enjoyed the pattern so much that I decided I’d just keep working until I ran out of yarn. Since this is Kauni (where a typical ball is around 150g of fingering-weight yarn), you can probably guess what happened: the piece ended up about 10 feet long.
A 10-foot scarf may or may not be a useful item, but one of the things that can take a piece from the realm of craft to the realm of art is the element of scale. While this piece is not large in every dimension, it is considerably longer than usual. I have been told for many years that my work is art and should be in a museum or at least a gallery. As a matter of fact, I was an art major in college, and owned a gallery for a couple of years myself. So perhaps it’s a natural progression for me to think about presenting some of my work as art. More on that toward the end of this post …
In 2017, I had an opportunity to show some of my work in a gallery setting. Full disclosure: it was at the Quaker meeting house which I attend in Cambridge, not a “proper” gallery. But it got me to start thinking about how I would present my work in that context, and I started planning and building. The biggest issue to overcome is the reversibility of my pieces. I needed a reversible method of showing them as well, but one that also protected them.
Long ago, I had envisioned a reversible picture frame, inside which the piece would be suspended via fishing line or a similarly invisible method of support. I visited my local frame shop and started chatting with the woman who works there. She was intrigued by my ideas, and I had her build some simple frames for me. These frames had no glass in them, nor backing. Once I had the frames, I had to work out what to do with them. I had found some clear acrylic sheeting that fit the frames (or rather, I had the frames made to fit the sheeting). Gluing in the sheeting would leave a certain amount of space between them for a knitted object to sit inside. But unless the frames were much thicker, there would be no practical way to mount the knitting in between. Too thick, and the frames would be too heavy.
I decided to forego the mounting method by simply putting the acrylic sheets closer together. This way, when the frames were placed back to back, the small gap between them would squeeze the knitted object just enough to hold it in place by friction alone. Since the frames had a fixed size, I used acrylic shim material, which had adhesive on one side for ease of application, and of course which could be easily bonded to the clear sheet. Various sizes of shim would allow me to make the space between the sheets slightly larger or smaller for thicker or thinner double-knitted fabric.
The next obstacle was how to keep the frames together. They had to stay flush together to maintain the friction that held the knitted garment in place. But various connection methods were either bulky and visible, or too permanent. It was important that the frame be easily opened and closed for repositioning of the knitting — so screws and bolts, even if they could be made nearly invisible, were also out.
Finally, I struck on the solution: neodymium magnets. I found a source for coin-shaped magnets, and through careful measurement and drilling, I managed to mount them in identical locations around the backs of the frames. I then glued them in place and covered them with small circular plastic cutouts to protect them from each other (two magnets that get too close to each other will snap together and possibly shatter — this should be unlikely due to them being glued in place but you can’t be too cautious.
The final step was to install hinges on one edge, and some kind of hanging method on the other. I got some new blades for my old linocut tools and hand-cut clean channels for those fittings so that when the frame is closed, they don’t get in the way.
The little frames were simple — they’re sized for a piece of acrylic that’s 1’x1′. The big one was more of a task — the acrylic is 3’x3′, and the frame is the same thickness. For this, I had to use thicker acrylic to ensure the structural stability of the final product. It made it incredibly heavy, but also quite strong.
Hanging them was also an adventure, but with the chains it was easy to get them level simply by moving a hook up or down a link. Ideally, they’d be shown in a free-hanging location or perhaps perpendicular from the wall, to allow people to see both sides — but the space at the Meeting house was not conducive to that. I decided that I would return once a week during the show and flip them around so that people could see both sides on a repeat visit.
My work was shown alongside fiber art from several other artists in the Meeting, including (in large part) Minna Rothman, a self-taught tapestry weaver who has shown her pieces internationally. The show ran during January and February of 2018. It is my hope to continue creating a body of work which can be shown as art, and to refine the process of building these reversible frames for future shows.
This finally brings us to the question of craft vs. art. Despite the fact that I have an art background from college, I also have a much older craft background, as I have been crafting since I was a small child. I have shown my work as art, and I’ve sold my work at craft shows. In recent years, I have been selling only patterns so that people can craft their own versions of things I design. But what makes a craft art-worthy? Is it simply about presentation, or is it something more? This is a discussion that more qualified people have been having for years, but I believe that one of the things that makes a piece art instead of craft is its uniqueness. If I sell the pattern for this piece, it becomes craft because other people will create their own versions and mine is no longer unique in the world. If I don’t sell the pattern, it remains art, as there is only one like it. I realize that this is a simplistic distinction that doesn’t apply everywhere — for example, printmaking is still art; similarly, the art-worthiness of my piece doesn’t diminish because someone zooms in on a photo, charts it for themselves, and knits a copy. But if intention matters, then if I intend to make a body of work that can be displayed as art, I can’t also release patterns for the same pieces.
Does that mean that I’m going to stop releasing patterns for my work? Absolutely not! I still want to create things that other people will enjoy knitting. But I also want to have the freedom to explore concepts that may not be marketable in the same way. And if I can use my patterns to support that freedom, then perhaps I can sell my art — at art prices — it will help support the crafting side of my business as well.
It’s officially the beginning of my “Spring” workshop season — the longest workshop season, as it actually encompasses Winter and Spring, and no major holidays get in the way. I find that people often prefer to take my workshops in the Spring because I teach techniques — not projects, which are more marketable in the Fall as people scramble to make gifts for the holiday season.
So without further ado, here’s the list of my appearances and workshops in 2019!
January 19-20, Pawtucket, RI: I’ll be vending my books and patterns at the Slater Mill Knitting Weekend! I’ll also be teaching an Intro workshop there on Sunday morning but that is SOLD OUT! Still, drop by and see me at the vendor area all weekend!
January 25-27, New York, NY: I’ve got two SOLD OUT workshops at Vogue Knitting Live. My books and patterns will be with Lady Dye Yarns, who will be making their second VKL appearance in NYC this year!
February 21-24, Santa Clara, CA: I’ll be teaching 6 workshops at Stitches West! This is my 5th time appearing there and it’s always a great time. There are still spaces in my intermediate/advanced workshops! My books will be sold at the Yarn Guys/Wall of Yarn booth, and I will be doing book signings at 5pm on Friday and 12:30pm on Sunday.
March 28-31, Loveland, CO: I’ll be teaching 8 workshops (several of which are repeats) at Interweave Yarn Fest! I’ve been away from this venue for 2 years, so I’m looking forward to returning. I’m not yet sure who’s going to be vending my books, so stay tuned. There’s still plenty of room in most of my workshops.
April 27-May 5, Cambridge, MA: I’ll be hosting my own event called the BuildingBlox Workshop Week, in which I will be teaching one of EVERY class I offer! This is an unprecedented opportunity to take classes that don’t run frequently. It’s not a retreat; there is no scheduled activity outside of the workshops, but Cambridge is beautiful in the Spring and there is much to do if you are coming from away. If you’re local, it’s convenient to the T and parking as well.
May 31-June 2, Atlanta, GA: I’ll be teaching 4 workshops at Stitches United‘s new location in Atlanta!
September 20-22, Amherst, MA: I’ll be returning to the WEBS Fall Retreat to teach 4 workshops — specific curriculum TBD. I’ll be vending my own books there (and WEBS will have them in stock as well).
September 27-29, Bakersfield, CA: I’ll be running two instances of two workshops (specifics TBD) at the What The Knit? Guild Retreat, along with Janine Bajus.
I’ll post more when I’ve got more to post — and if you’d like me to come somewhere nearer you, get in touch with me (or better, get your local shop, guild or retreat to get in touch with me)!
Merry Christmas (or seasonal greeting appropriate to your winter celebration of choice)!
I wanted to share a memory from my early days of knitting. 2005 was the last year my family celebrated Christmas together before my mother sold the house in Vermont and moved out to find other work in her field. For as long as I can remember, my sister and I had Christmas stockings hand-knit by my mother; for this last Christmas, we wanted to give her a stocking as well.
I had never done stranded colorwork before, so I used this Christmas stocking kit to teach myself how to do this type of colorwork, as well as basic sock construction. One of the perks of learning sock construction with a Christmas stocking is that you don’t necessarily have to make more than one!
Here’s hoping you learn something new next year too! If you’d like it to be something related to double-knitting, I’m teaching a whole slew of classes in 2019! I’ll have a post about those soon, but in the meantime, you can visit my calendar.
If you’ve been thinking about ordering books and/or patterns from my website for Christmas, keep in mind that the maximum amount of time it will take to arrive (within the US) is 4 days. So, order soon to make sure you get your stuff in time — and thanks!
It’s beginning to feel like Autumn, which means fresh apples, more comfortable knitting weather, and for me, my Fall workshops begin again. Historically, I’ve noticed that most people aren’t interested in learning new techniques in the Fall when they’re working toward holiday projects, so workshops that would sell out in the Spring struggle to fill in the Fall. This year I’m taking a new tack — I’m running bigger workshops at bigger events, cramming a whole season’s worth of teaching into a few weekends. We’ll see how it goes! I’ve also got some other cool news. I’ll try to keep it brief though, since I know attention spans aren’t what they used to be (squirrel!)
Interweave Knitting Labs: I’m teaching my entire repertoire of workshops at both Labs, one in Manchester, NH next weekend, and the other in San Mateo, CA a month later. While in Manchester, fellow Guild member Stephanie from Dirty Water Dyeworks has graciously agreed to field sales of my books in her booth there! In San Mateo, Bijou Basin Ranch will sell them as usual. Thanks to both of you!
Rhinebeck: I’ll be doing a day-trip on Saturday, Oct 20 from Boston with the Eliot School in JP — so I’ll be there at the Cooperative Press booth to sign books and generally shmooze. More definite schedule TBA.
Finally, on the weekend after Thanksgiving, I’ll be heading out to Denver to do a shoot at the Craftsy HQ, so I’ll finally be able to teach double-knitting to people in all corners of the world I wouldn’t normally be able to reach. I’m working on a couple of new patterns for this, and I guess it’d be OK if I showed a photo of one in progress here.
I’ve got some other kind of awesome news but I’m going to keep it under my hat until it solidifies a little bit. More to come soon! Thanks for putting up with my very sporadic updates!
Hello! If you’re new here after having seen my article in Interweave Knits, it’s good to see you!. Please feel free to leave a comment to this post — I’m curious to see how many people are coming in after reading IK. I didn’t realize it was out already until I started hearing kudos from subscribers.
I’ve also been getting a number of questions asking after patterns pictured in the article. Since it’s evidently not clear, let me just reiterate: All the patterns you’ve seen in the article and most of the ones you can see on this blog (except those for which I expressly say otherwise) will be published in the book. If you want to be among the first to know when the book is ready for pre-order (and when it’s shipping), you can join my mailing list in the upper right corner of this blog.
Oh hey! I forgot to mention — I’m running a DK level 1 workshop (that’s double-knitting for beginners) October 24th at Mind’s Eye Yarns, from 1-4pm. I am not running others this season because I’m working on the book, but I have to show some love to my LYS. More info at Mind’s Eye’s website.
Not that I expect I have many regular readers, but I owe you an apology. My blog hasn’t been updated in many months because I am working feverishly on my book, knitting and charting and working out kinks in existing designs. I have never been great at blogging, which may be my downfall in the end because bloggers who don’t update every couple of days fall off people’s radar. I am hoping that I will get back on people’s radar due to the merit of what I will be posting. I have had several pieces knit by sample knitters and I am doing several myself (charting as I design them, or knitting them several months after charting them). All in all there should be 12 or 15 designs, depending on how they’re counted, plus technique illustrations and text. As an update, I have one design to finish working out and knitting, two to design from scratch (but they’re small projects) and one other small project to knit up. I have had some success in my initial illustrations (I have an Illustrator brush technique that will allow me to “paint” colored yarn, but I have to work out the stitch structures). I’ll try to post here more often — I do have some finished or mostly-finished projects that are ready for photographs.
The workshop in February filled up and generated a waiting list, so we’re running the workshop a second time on April 17th, again at Mind’s Eye Yarns. I’m not offering workshops anywhere else this season — rather, I’m focusing on preparations and knitting for my upcoming book — so if you want to take a workshop with me this season, Mind’s Eye is the place for it.