Introducing: Virtual workshops!

It’s been a long time in coming, but a number of things have come together and it’s finally time to announce that I’m ready to teach virtual workshops!

During the lockdown, I’ve had more time to iron out some details. A week or so ago, I ran a small workshop with a group of friends to test out the instructional technology (this is mostly equipment I already use to teach; I just needed to make sure it would work remotely). A few weeks ago, I posted a survey to get input on various facets of this project. This week, I’ve been reworking large sections of my website to make it easier for people to find and register for workshops. Finally, today, Craftsy/Bluprint announced that it will be closing, which opens a huge hole in the online video workshop ecosystem.

Before I make my announcement, I want to go over the numbers and some other info (scroll to the bottom if you don’t care about statistics). First, I had 184 responses to the survey before I closed it down. I had noticed responses slowing down so I decided to stop the survey at that point. Here’s the breakdown of interest in these workshops, at least from these 184 people:

As you can see (and to my surprise) multi-color double-knitting takes the prize with 124 people interested (about 67% of respondents).

Availability seems to be highest in the evenings and weekend afternoons, regardless of the lockdown, so I’ll stick with those timings for now.

Nearly 75% of respondents said they’d prefer a workshop that was 3 hours long (same as my usual timing) but about 2/3 of those preferred a break midway through. Another 20% said 2 hours would be enough. Time will tell but we’ll start with the 3-hour workshops with a built-in break.

For price: almost 40% of people thought a price point between $40 and $60 would be reasonable, but a little more than 30% wanted between $20 and $40. 12% said $60-80, and the rest gave many, many individual suggestions. Due to the variety of responses, I’ve decided to offer my workshops at a sliding scale starting at $30 (with my Entrelac workshop starting higher, of course). This way, people can choose how much they value the workshop. And if they change their mind (at least in the positive direction) later, I’ve also implemented a tip jar.

Now, to the announcement:

Due to popular demand (see the graph above), I’ve decided to offer my multi-color double-knitting workshop as the inaugural virtual workshop! It’ll be a week from today, Saturday, May 30th, from 2-5pm ET. It’ll be capped at 15 people, so I expect it to sell out quickly. Register now! (…and it’s sold out!)

Some answers to inevitable questions follow:

Why so soon? Because I want to test the entire system sooner rather than later, and because logistics are a little less difficult right now since you don’t need to drive anywhere to get to the workshop.

Why so few people? Because I want to test the entire system — from payment and enrollment to the workshop itself — on a smaller number of people to reduce disappointment if something goes terribly wrong (not that I expect it to). And because I expect that finding 15 people out of 124 (or more) will not be terribly difficult.

Why not the intro first? Frankly, because I contractually can’t. I am teaching at Virtual Vogue Knitting Live in June, and I have a non-compete agreement that means I can’t teach my intro classes (the only ones they’re having me teach) from now-ish until June 29th.

I have not yet decided on a schedule for the other workshops but I will post about those as soon as I can.

Thanks for your continued interest and stay tuned soon for more!

Want to learn double-knitting online?

This is something I should have sorted out long ago — but the lockdown (and the attendant cancellations of all of my 2020 gigs) has encouraged me to take a harder look at online video workshops. What I need to do now is to gauge your interest.

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who took my survey on video workshops. With 184 responses as of May 20th, 2020, I have enough info to proceed. I have closed the survey and will be analyzing the responses to make a game plan shortly. I’ll make another post about that soon. In the meantime, if you’d like to be sure to hear about workshops when they’re available (either physically or digitally), please follow my blog or Facebook page, or better yet join my mailing list. Thanks!

In other news

The patterns AbaciscusEurekaWaterford Crossing, and Hesperos have now been released as standalone versions! Hexworth should have been on that list, but the yarn has been discontinued, so I will need to find a reasonable replacement and work up a new sample before I can release that pattern. It probably goes without saying, but if you already own Double or Nothing, there is no reason for you to buy any of these patterns (but you can, if you’re a completist and want to support me).

If you’re waiting on individual patterns from Extreme Double-knitting, I’ll probably wait a little longer until I release those. Stay tuned!

Knitting is Zen, this is Tao

It’s been a little while since I put out a new pattern, but the continuing lockdown is keeping me occupied with my ever-growing list of creative pursuits. I alluded to this pattern in a couple of previous posts, and now it’s time for a proper announcement.

Agni Deus

This is a new hat pattern, but it’s not alone: it’s part 1 of a serial collection that will be released over the next several months as patterns are ready. So the price ($11.95) may seem steep for a single hat pattern, but rest assured that the other 4 will make it well worth your while. The collection is called Wuxing: 5 Elements, and the hats are themed for the Chinese 5 elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood) that figure prominently in Taoism and other Chinese philosophies. Agni Deus is, clearly, the Fire hat.

Each of the 5 patterns is going to be pushing the envelope on double-knitting in some new and interesting way. The patterns have a structural motif in common — a kind of teardrop shape that manifests in different ways, using the off-the-grid style to great effect. In Agni Deus, the shape is reminiscent of a flame — and at the heart of the flame there are beads! Of course, since it’s double-knit, there are two different colors of beads on either layer. And yes, the pattern does explain how to achieve the beading.

You can get the hat pattern as the first installment of the Wuxing collection here, or you can order a kit from BeadBiz — your choice of 10 different combinations of A Hundred Ravens Yaksha yarn and appropriate beads, along with a bead hook to apply them.

Curious about what the next patterns might look like? Stay tuned: the Honey Locust hat is test-knitted and the pattern just needs to be written up. The others will make stealthy appearances on my Instagram and Facebook feeds, so follow me and you might just catch a peek.

In other news

This actually warrants higher billing, but the pattern announcement took priority. A couple of months ago, before the pandemic hit properly, I spent a number of hours talking to Andrea of the Fruity Knitting podcast. The podcast was finally released today and I hear it’s really good! I have been busy today (and I am always a little nervous to see myself on screen) but I will check it out before too long. Meanwhile, you should go take a look at it, and share it with your friends too. There’s a blog post and (of course) a YouTube video.

While we’re on podcasts, I was on a livestream with Suzanne Bryan in late January, and that recording is also up if you’re interested.

Finally, I have been working on revamping some portions of my website. Feel free to go poke around — especially the patterns area — and see if you can see what’s new. There will be more changes coming as I have time.

P.S.: As I’m sure you were expecting, given the demise of my teaching opportunities this year, I am working on a video instruction solution; I needed to iron out some technical details and reclaim some space before I could properly work on this. But now that I can, I hope to have some news for you on that front soon.

Stay tuned! More to come sooner than usual.

Obligatory COVID-19 Post

Friends, I am aware it has been many months since I have posted here. Life updates later; more importantly, I need to give an update on the Coronavirus’ impact on my teaching schedule.

As you may have already heard, events are being cancelled or postponed all over the country (and the world). I had been waiting for the final word on the last event in my Spring teaching schedule, and received it yesterday.

As of today, my entire Spring schedule is cancelled. Stitches United, DFW Fiber Festival, Interweave Yarn Fest, and the LYS/guild events in MA have all been cancelled. Interweave is in the process of moving its event to late August, but it is likely that I will not be able to attend. I do not have anything solid scheduled for this Fall, and I hesitate to mention the events I’m tentatively scheduled for until we know how long this situation will last.

I am losing quite a bit of this year’s income due to this virus — but at least my wife and I have other income to hold us over. I am not in as much trouble as many other indie designers and dyers etc for whom the fiber business is their only income. So, what am I doing with my “free time”?

I have had a number of projects on the back burner for some time — some new patterns, some video work, some rehashing of old patterns, etc. I’m going to use this time to take care of some of these projects — but also look into distance learning (or teaching, really) possibilities. Stay tuned! As soon as I have info for you, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, I’d like to remind you that my books and patterns are still available on my web store, and guaranteed virus-free (coronavirus, even if I had it, does not last long enough on paper to infect you at delivery. Still, wash your hands! I can’t make any promises about your mail carrier). Please note that my books are still in stock at Amazon, but I may not be able to replenish them when they sell out due to Amazon’s current rules. Your best deal will always be to order from my website, since you will get a free PDF download of the book or pattern!

In other news

My wife and I had an amazing time in Armenia last October, despite some travel difficulties and the language barrier. It’s a stunningly beautiful country with friendly people and amazing food (quite different from what you probably consider “Armenian food”) and I highly recommend it. If you speak some Russian, you’ll have a much easier time getting around than we did.

Mt Ughtasar, near the Azerbaijan border, about 10,000 ft above sea level

We have decided to go to Burning Man this year (my wife has been once without me) and I am the lighting lead for our camp. Trivia: I used to build light shows for raves back in the 90s and early 00s; my knowledge is out of date and needs some updating but I look forward to the opportunity to build some fun stuff for the playa this year. I am also double-knitting a playawear garment out of Sirdar Alpine and Caron Simply Soft in neon colors. I might redesign it in something a little more “dignified” for pattern release later.

At home, we have a recurring plumbing issue that should have been fixed months ago which is delaying the kitchen renovation we had planned for. Progress has been made, but then the virus hit, so we have no idea when the plumbing will be repaired or when we’ll be able to start in on the kitchen. Still, we have a floorplan we like and are looking forward to the opportunity.

In other (knitting) news

The last blog post I made alluded to a new pattern. This having been months ago, the new pattern is now ready for publishing. It’s a hat using off-the-grid double-knitting and beads! It’s part of a new collection called Wuxing: 5 Elements that will be completed over time as each pattern is ready. When all five patterns are complete, I’ll compile them all into a single collection. For now, however, only the one pattern is available.

The plan was to release it at DFW with a kit through BeadBiz and A Hundred Ravens (both of whom contributed materials to it). However, with the cancellation of DFW, we decided to step things up a bit. There will still be a kit — but it will be available to mail-order (at least for now) and will come with a discount code for the rest of the collection. The plan is to do a similar thing for each of the patterns, if the yarn companies are interested.

So this is kind of a soft release — I’m not making a big publicity push until the kits are available — but if you’re not interested in a kit, the pattern Agni Deus is available now. And of course, if you buy the collection now, you’ll get the other patterns as they become available.

For those of you waiting on Fallingblox Redux, it had to go to the back burner while I reworked another (thus far secret) pattern. More news on that one when it comes out, and I hope to get back to the Fallingblox pattern soon.

Thanks for your interest, stay safe, and stay tuned!

Flames are rising …

Today, the most important thing I want to mention is that I’ll be leaving the country for a couple of weeks on vacation with my wife. It’s been 4 years since my last proper vacation (no coincidence: it has taken about the same amount of time to write/edit/print two books). We’ll be visiting Armenia, with a short stopover in Austria where we’ll get to visit with some of my wife’s father’s relatives. Because I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks, any orders you place on my store will be delayed in shipping until I return. So order soon, or prepare to wait. I’ll be leaving Saturday evening, so if you order today or Friday, I’ll most likely be able to ship before I leave.

Upcoming workshops

I have a break this month, but when I return, I’ll finish up my Fall 2019 season with:

Then, we skip ahead to the Spring 2020 season, where the following appearances are booked:

I also have a couple of appearances in the works which I am not yet at liberty to discuss. I’ll post them as soon as I can; you can also check for details on my events calendar.

For those of you who were expecting to see my name pop up for Stitches events, I’m sorry. I opted out of Salt Lake because I expected to be traveling during that time, and I was not booked for SoCal 2019 or West 2020. I hope to be back to more Stitches events in the future, but time will tell!

A quick update about the project on my needles:

Agni Deus, beading complete!

This is Agni Deus, or a small piece of it, showing the fold-up brim with both types of beads exposed. As I mentioned back in May while I was swatching for this, it’s one of the Five Elements hats — obviously, this is “fire”. The iridescent red/orange beads are meant to represent embers (and the red pattern is fire); the matte black beads are meant to represent charcoal, and the gray pattern is smoke. Of course, it’ll be fascinating to see what other people do with their color combinations. The yarn is A Hundred Ravens Yaksha. The beading is complete; I just need to finish the crown. This hat will not be coming with me to Armenia; instead I’ll be bringing Falling Blocks Redux to keep me occupied on the long flights. Updates on both as I have them …

Thanks for visiting and stay tuned!

Drama, workshops, and more

I previously published a longer, more opinionated version of this blog post after discovering that a knitting colleague of mine had apparently had a meltdown, apparently triggered by backlash from the Ravelry support statement they had made. Between the last contact I had with them and today, their social media presence has all but disappeared, leaving only discussions on Ravelry and indirect info via hashtags in IG. Once upon a time, there must have been an account from their perspective, but that’s all missing now so all that’s left is a festering pool of vitriol leveled at someone I always thought of as cool and collected.

I don’t know what to think about this, and I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth. I am aware that I come from a place of privilege, as a straight, white, middle-class, cis-gender male. I want to listen to the experiences of BIPOC and members of other marginalized communities, so that I can offer the best support I can. But I am also an Aspie, and I understand neuroatypicality and mental illness, at least from my own perspective. I see elements of both dynamics here, and I will wait until more facts come out to pass judgement (for whatever that’s worth) in this situation.

(I am purposely not naming names out of respect for their privacy, and I would appreciate you doing the same in the comments field if you use it).

Upcoming Workshops

I know the above was fairly heavy, so thanks for sticking with me. I’ve got a few events coming up and I hope to see you there!

I also have tentative events the weekend of Nov 9-10, 2019 at Craftworks Coop in Northboro, MA, and another planned for April that I can’t talk about just yet. More will be posted as I have it. You can check my events calendar for class listings and more info.

Patterns under way

Now, the part you’re probably wondering about most. It’s been a while since Extreme Double-knitting came out, and you haven’t seen any new patterns from me. Truth be told, I’ve had a lot of difficulty over the past year: injuries, a death in the family, changing responsibilities at work and more. I’ve gone in and out of creative modes and have done less than I hoped. However, I feel I owe you an update on the various things on (and off) my needles, so here you go:

  • Rats Live on No Evil Scarf: If you follow me on IG, you may have seen some of this. This massive two-pattern palindrome scarf is finished and blocked; it just needs a model. I admit I set the bar high because I wanted a model with pet rats so we could have thematically appropriate photos. I have one, but she hasn’t been responding. We may have to downgrade to mice — we’ll see :>
  • Agni Deus: This fire-themed beaded double-knit hat is waiting in the wings for me to have time for a more involved project. I have ironed out the details so it just needs to be knitted.
  • Honey Locust: This earth-themed double-knit tam is being tackled by four adventurous test knitters. Once they’re all done, I’ll do the final edits on the pattern — but it will be part of a larger collection, so I have to decide whether to wait for all of them to be done or release them piecemeal.
  • Falling Blocks Redux: I’ve selected yarn for a two-color two-pattern version of my signature three-color two-pattern double-knit hat. I expect the knitting to be fairly quick.
  • Severn Thicket: I never had my own version of this pattern, as the yarn company commissioned it and has the only knitted sample. I found the remaining yarn and decided to knit my own sample, making a couple of subtle changes too.
  • Super Secret project: I’m working on another cowl — a pretty quick knit, in the same “family” as Bipolar — for a really fascinating and unique book that presents patterns in a completely new way I’ve never seen before. It’s definitely got me thinking, but this will likely eat whatever creative time I have through the end of August.

Thanks for your interest and stay tuned!

I Stand with Ravelry

If you’ve been on social media recently, or even simply watching the news, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that Ravelry, the fiber crafters’ beloved social network, has banned open support for Trump and his regime. Far from being a quiet announcement among a specialized group, this new policy has been reported by media outlets across the nation.

The outpouring of support has been immense. So, predictably, has the backlash. With everyone taking sides, I cannot remain silent.

Anyone who follows me should probably have noticed, even if I am not always vocal about it, that I am not and never have been in favor of the current administration’s activities. I agree with Ravelry that support for Trump is support for (among many other things) white supremacy, racism, sexism, terrorism, and in general “man’s inhumanity to man” (with apologies to women and non-male-identifying people).

If that’s all you need to hear to boycott me and my books and patterns, it’s been nice having your support thus far and I’ll be happy to have you back if/when you learn to see all human beings as worthy of respect and dignity and the Earth as worthy of protection. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on the situation, by all means read on.

First of all, it is 100% possible to lead a non-racist life and still be a racist. You can volunteer at homeless shelters, donate to charities that help the disadvantaged, have cordial conversations with your immigrant neighbors, support black-owned businesses, etc. But if you support Trump, you are either actively supporting or being willing to ignore the behaviors and policies that increase homelessness, maintain inequality, stigmatize immigration, and further racial discrimination (all of which is just the tip of the iceberg).

Second, to the countless people who are incensed that knitters are getting “political”: Where have you been for the past few years? Decades? Craftivism is not a new thing, and you probably couldn’t have missed the “pussy hat” phenomenon from 2016. Ravelry is, among other things, a collection of forums about countless topics. The only thing that its users have in common is the fact that they knit (or crochet, etc). Forums exist to allow knitters with other common interests to converse on those topics. Forums/groups definitely exist with political leanings or agendas. This is because, (surprise), knitters are people! Just because I am a knitter doesn’t mean that all I ever do is knit, and that I have no opinions on anything else. You may go to Ravelry to escape from the world, but there are other perfectly valid reasons to use it.

Third, to those who think it is a bad precedent to set to ban supporters of a particular president: this is not about right vs left anymore. Trump’s actions are so harmful, so shameless, so detrimental not only to the livelihoods of a majority of Americans but to life on this planet in general, that I think we can legitimately call this a fight between good and evil. There is no precedent for this. No president has done more to destroy the country he ostensibly leads than this one. The harm he has done and is doing is only beginning; we will not see the true results of some of it until much later, well after it’s too late to fix it properly.

Finally, from a conversation with my mother, a university professor who has taught (among other things) social movement theory, it is not unusual — indeed, it is normal — for dissent to take root in small communities, even not-explicitly-political ones. As dissent is normalized in innocuous places, it becomes part of our day-to-day lives. As dissent becomes mainstream, those who normalize racism/white supremacy, anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric/action, sexism, etc, will find themselves with fewer platforms from which to spread their hatred. Expect Ravelry’s decision to embolden other places where hatred has a foothold. I look forward to the news of these decisions.

Thank you for reading this far. Before I sign off, I want to say that, even on Ravelry, our work is not done. While they have taken one step in the right direction, there are plenty of people who have left the platform due to bullies hiding behind digital anonymity, causing real-life problems. From some of these people, I have heard that Ravelry’s response has essentially been “get over it” — so I am hoping their exercise in compassion here will inform their treatment of similar, non-politically-motivated issues on their site.

Warm Topological Knitwear for Cool People

Back in early 2017, I was between books. I had just finished Double or Nothing and had yet to begin work on the revision of Extreme Double-knitting. I made a throwback post about an early knitting venture of mine, and a new project teaser, asking people to guess what they thought it might be when finally assembled. As the Extreme Double-knitting project began, I forgot all about this post — and I realize now that I never answered the question.

Now that all my book projects are well and truly done, I have the free time to work on some back-burner projects. You’ve seen a couple already, so here’s another one. It has no title at the moment (I think of it as “Ein Klein Muff”) but it’s part of a series of topologically-inspired projects which will eventually be released as a collection.

This pattern is a klein bottle garment that can be inverted multiple ways: it can be a thick neckwarmer, a hat (sort of), and a muff. The neckwarmer has a moebius twist in it; the muff has a klein bottle twist inside, so that hands inserted in either end cannot easily find each other. The hat, in yarn as bulky as this, is a little ridiculous. But this is a prototype — I think the final version will not be in such bulky yarn.

In other news

I have continued working on the Five Elements hats; people on Facebook and Instagram weighed in on the “fire”-themed hat; someone suggested that I solve my problems with beads. So, with a little help from BeadBiz and Stunning String Studio, I whipped up a swatch with beads — and have now cast on for the final product. At the same time, I have begun experimenting on the “water”-themed hat, and have come up with a very nice water droplet which will get tessellated in a similar way to the fire. I’ve decided to make the slouchy hat with leaves the “earth” hat, and will begin playing with a wood-grain concept for the “wood” hat. Finally, the “metal”-themed hat, which had been escaping me, is starting to take form. More photos as I have them.

Upcoming workshops

There are still plenty of spaces left in my double-knitting intarsia and double-knitting off the grid workshops at Stitches United, happening in Atlanta at the end of this month. There are also a couple of spaces left in one of my intro workshops there.

I don’t have a lot to announce beyond that — I’ll be teaching at two retreats which I believe are sold out, and I have a new LYS weekend in Central MA which has not been finalize yet. I have been tapped for the Red Alder retreat (aka “the new Madrona”) in February of 2020, but no contract has yet been signed there either. For now, check on my events calendar for any updates.

Thanks for your continued interest and stay tuned …

A Song of Wool and Fire

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?

Throwback Thursday

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.