in which our hero learns something important about TNNA a little too late and has his last visit to a Jeni’s Scoop Shop

Jenis Vending MachineTNNA began on a high note this year — I touched down in the Columbus airport and found that the Delta terminal has — of all things — a Jeni’s Ice Cream vending machine. I took pictures in case you don’t believe me. You swipe your card, pick your flavor, there’s some churning noise and the thing spits out a cute little 1/4-pint serving. I had a serving of Pistachio-Honey ice cream while waiting for my hotel shuttle. It was delightful and just a little bit salty. Columbus, I have missed you.

Prior to TNNA, I did a whole bunch of prep — I had a couple of patterns in a pack for SampleIt this year (that’s an exclusive event where buyers have a chance to get special items for super-discounted prices from a bunch of different vendors) and printed/mailed over 200 copies. I also rebuilt my “crazy mannequin thing” so it’s actually significantly more portable, and I was able to fit it plus all my samples and clothes into a checked bag which was still under the 50-lb limit.

TNNA-MannequinDuring the show, I tried to split my time fairly between staffing the booth, walking the floor, and food-tourism. I was happy to visit with old friends and make some new ones. I was especially excited to connect with Patty Nance, whose newly-published Bargello Knits seemed to be everywhere this year. As she said, there may be a collaboration of techniques in the future here — once I figure out a good way to do double-knit intarsia.

As with last year, I attended Marly Bird’s designer dinner on Friday night. There was no masquerade this time so I didn’t have a chance (or a need) to outdo last year’s outfit. It was a more casual affair, with a sort of “Let’s Make A Deal” game show theme, with prizes going to audience members who were the first to produce some obscure item. The items seemed overwhelmingly to be of the category “things one might find in a lady’s purse” so I got a hearty cheer when I was the first to produce a pair of tweezers (from my SwissCard). I received a lovely bag of 10 red balls of merino wool, but gave it to one of my tablemates who was eyeing it. Easy come, easy go!

During the course of the weekend, I was asked a number of times if I was teaching double-knitting this year. I’d never thought of TNNA as a teaching event since the attendees are there to scope out new yarns and notions for their stores and place orders. Here is where I learned something important a little too late — store owners are also taking classes from teachers to scope out teachers they might want to bring to their stores! How did it take me 3 years to figure that out? My primary reason for coming to TNNA is to network with shop owners and get more teaching gigs! The networking with yarn companies is just gravy. Next time, Gadget, next time! Although, next year TNNA will be in Indianapolis and in May on the same weekend as Maryland Sheep and Wool (WTF, TNNA?). Farewell, Jeni’s Ice Cream!

Speaking of networking with yarn companies, I just wanted to send shout-outs to a few awesome folks I met. First, a dyer I didn’t visit until later but her colorways are gorgeous and I want to knit with them — but can’t afford the $400 wholesale minimum (mostly in stash capacity, honestly): Happy Fuzzy Yarn. Her website makes yarn sound positively erotic, and when you see her colors, you’ll understand why. Even if I can’t afford to design in it right now, I hope I can drum up some business for her by talking her yarn up a bit. Also, while wearing my beloved “Know Your Cuts Of Lamb” t-shirt, I ran into Lorilee Beltman, who designed the t-shirt. She gave me a bunch of little Moo-cards that she uses to promote that design, and I ended up having just enough of them to pass out to every person who wanted to know where I got that shirt. If you saw it and didn’t ask — now you also know. Anzula Luxury Fibers had a booth with a bunch of vintage suitcases and army-surplus duffel bags that looked as if they were meant to be some kind of decoration, but it turned out that they were actually full of yarn! Any designer who wanted to use their yarn just had to ask and it was given. I got some amazing merino/cashmere/silk fingering called “Dreamy” that will get used in a new pattern I’m Dreaming up now. Other designers in the CP stables took much more than I did and I hope to see it all put to good use. Lastly, I reconnected with Dianna from the Knitting Boutique (where I taught earlier this year) who wanted me to design a new cowl in her new store-brand yarn. The dyer came by and passed me probably way more than I’ll need of a beautiful BFL/silk blend DK. I’m looking forward to that design, probably in early 2014.

In non-yarn-related news, I visited Jeni’s Ice Cream a total of 3 times (low for me) but visited the vending machine 3 times as well. I did not brave the “Everything Bagel” topping, although I’m sure I would have managed to try it eventually. I ended up searching for dinner alone on Saturday night and found a little hole-in-the-wall pizza place where I got a personal Mac and Cheese pizza for $8 including tax and tip. I ended up hooking up later with my friends from The Village Knitter and heading to a local Italian restaurant to disappoint the waiter by not drinking and ordering a salad. As a matter of fact, I ended up eating twice again on Sunday night — I joined my friends from CP, Anzula and Cephalopod Yarns at a local Thai Fusion place, then hopped over to another Italian place to have “appetizers” with the Craftsy crew and a bunch of other instructors. Let it never be said that Craftsy skimps on supporting its instructors!

With TNNA over, it’s time for me to batten down the hatches and get moving on my next few projects. I sent off Pattern #4 to Willow Yarns when I returned, and since Pattern #5 isn’t due until August, I’m working on my cards for the kClub. I’m actually kind of surprised that I’m going to be returning to my roots and doing the largest card in Lion Brand Thick & Quick. I also did one and will do another in (gasp) cotton! And it looks and feels great! More on that project later, though. The other major project I need to finish before the end of July is to split off the majority of my patterns from Extreme Double-Knitting to individual patterns. They’ll get listed and sold on Ravelry, Craftsy, Etsy, Patternfish, etc — so if you’ve been itching for a specific pattern but don’t want to spring for the whole book, your lucky day is coming!

Thanks for staying tuned and I’ll see you soon!

TNNA 2012 – a view from inside the mask

Well, I’m back from TNNA and still a little low on sleep, but I’ve got stories to tell and swag to show off, people to thank and pounds to lose. I’ll start with the stories, although some of the ones you might most want to hear I probably shouldn’t relate without the consent of all involved. Still, this is going to be a long post, without nearly enough photos (because we’re not supposed to take any on the show floor, and my wife needed my camera that weekend).

The first thing I did after arriving in Columbus was to head to the Designer Dinner. No, I tell a lie. The first thing I did was to head to Jeni’s for some ice cream — an event that would be repeated several times over the weekend. After a nice cup of the White House Cherry ice cream, I changed and headed to the designer dinner, where it turned out I was one of the few designers to actually handmake my own mask. After Marly’s ingenious voting system had generated the results, I was the only winner with a fully handmade mask. Still, I couldn’t beat Ann Kingstone, who was wearing a pair of underwear on her head. I did tie with Lily Chin, who had a scrap-yarn waterfall emanating from the wings of a plastic butterfly mask.

The dinner was lovely and the company was good — I was at the Cooperative Press annex table (there were just too many CP authors there!) with Anna Dalvi and Stephannie Tallent, and my old friends from Green Mountain Spinnery who were sponsors of the event. I won a Hadaki bag full of goodies, in addition to the even larger bag of goodies everyone got after the event. I’ll show this stuff off later in the post, and thank everyone involved as best I can.

On Saturday, I had a shift at the CP booth in the afternoon so I got to spend much of my day cruising the show floor and managed to make most of the networking connections I had planned to try for, leaving much of the rest of my weekend open. It’s all kind of a blur, and the order of events is a little fuzzy, so I’ll just hit some highlights:

  • I was heading to visit Ron from The Buffalo Wool Co, and encountered Ron and Theresa being interviewed by Melanie and Deborah from the Savvy Girls Podcast. I’d met them at Rhinebeck last year, so I waited and listened to the interview. They finished and we all struck up conversation which led to the Savvy Girls following me back to the CP booth where they interviewed me about the 52 Pickup scarf. I even got in a plug for CP’s new Knit Edge magazine, where I have an article about that project.
  • I was chatting with Jeane from Elemental Affects, who I had met last year, lamenting the difficulty in finding good long color fades (similar to Kauni) in weights other than Kauni’s fingering weight. She kindly introduced me to her friend Tina at Freia Handpaints. I had seen her yarn online but seeing it in person I decided it was worth a shot — so after showing her what I was working on, she was more than willing to let me take a few skeins after the show was over.
  • I was privileged to room with designer Daniel Yuhas, who has some really interesting and cute patterns that are well worth checking out. He was a good roommate and fine conversationalist, and while we didn’t see each other much during the day, I feel like we hit it off fairly well. It’s also nice to have another guy knitter to room with so we can save each other some money — and who knows, it could happen again!
  • Andi came back to the CP booth with a baggie of random bamboo needles and notions from Tulip, a vendor in line of sight from our booth. She said they were “just handing them out” so I tagged along with Heather. As has happened before, Heather plugged me to them after scoring her own baggie, and I pulled out my Parallax 2.0 to show them. They were stunned (apparently a common reaction) and gladly handed over another baggie for me. Tulip is a long-standing Japanese needles-and-notions maker that’s only just getting a foothold in the US thanks to Caron. Their interchangeable needle set is really unique and well designed, and I’d consider it for myself except that I just bought 3 HiyaHiya sets, which go down to size 2, and Tulips end at size 3 in any case. One really neat thing about them is that they come with endcaps and can also take Tunisian crochet hooks instead of needles. I haven’t tried the ones they gave me yet, but I’m happy to recommend that anyone in the market for bamboo interchangeables check them out.
  • Speaking of which, I did have to stop by the HiyaHiya booth to thank them for making the set I currently use. They’re known for being very free with the needles for any designer, and while I have all the needles I need, they did give me a new product — a pair of cord joiners, so I can construct larger cords. This is a fairly standard item but theirs are unique in how small they are. They challenged me to find the join between the two cords. I cheated and used my fingernail to find the slight texture difference, but otherwise it’s almost unnoticeable. They also put out an adaptor for the larger needles to the smaller cords — not useful for me, but cool nonetheless. I really enjoy the sets I use — they’re well priced and good quality.
  • I was excited to see that Charles Gandy had his book finished and was having fun at the Visionary booth with Cat Bordhi and Unicorn. It was mildly unfortunate that he had his book signing in the very last slot on the slowest day — Monday — of the show, but perhaps because of that I was able to convince the Unicorn folks to give me a ticket for his book (since I’m not a buyer, it’s usually “not done”). Since I had my ticket, I finished the trade by signing my book and giving it to him. He’s a great advocate for me and I’d like to return the favor, but he has no website I can find so I’ll just send folks to the Amazon page for his book.
  • I got to spend a lunch at the Indian place in North Market with Audrey Knight, who, despite the heat, was advertising for her new book with a double-knit scarf.
  • I got to spend a bunch of time with Sarah and Sam from Cephalopod Yarns, who didn’t have a booth but were hanging out at the CP booth much of the time, and Elizabeth who is Shannon’s second-in-command these days over at CP. The CP crew had rented a house for the week with a pool and hot tub, so needless to say there was much hanging out there after hours while most other people were at the Hyatt bar. We also got to wade for 10 blocks through the insane detritus of humanity that populates Columbus’ High St, at least during Com Fest weekend but probably all the time.
  • I was surprised that I was able to hear over the roar of what seemed like hundreds of knitters packed into a small upscale bar at the Craftsy birthday party, but I got to speak a little bit to Linda (I think) about my upcoming Craftsy workshop.

Now I’m ready to show my swag, and talk a bit about it and the exciting things that will happen to some of it. Some of this stuff is from the Designer Dinner goodie bags, some of it is stuff that I got from vendors. All of it is worth profuse thanks to those who supplied it (thanks already supplied above won’t be mentioned again down here)

  • Thanks to XRX for Victorian Lace Today and Knit One Below, both of which I got in goodie bags from the Designer Dinner. Thanks to the authors of Bead Crochet Jewelry for impressing me with probably the only technique that might actually encourage me to learn crochet, and for the copy of the book they provided.
  • Thanks to Dawn at RYN Yarn, US distributors of my favorite yarn, Kauni Effektgarn, who supplied 6 balls of yarn for my next two Parallax projects and promised me wholesale prices on any more Kauni I need in the future.
  • Thanks to Iris at Artyarns, who provided yarn — two skeins of Silk Pearl,  a skein of Ensemble Light and a skein of Ultrabulky, for me to design two new projects for the next One+One book coming out in late 2013 sometime.
  • Thanks to Alisha from Alisha Goes Around, who had no booth this year but instead brought a suitcase of lovely yarn which made its first stop at the CP booth. I got a pair of skeins of Tracks, which is her dyed version of a Buffalo Wool Co yarn.
  • Thanks to The Crochet Dude, Knitters Pride, and Indian Lake Artisans for some fantastic looking needles and crochet hooks, and to Namaste for a bag to keep them in.
  • Thanks to Rowan, HiKoo, Zealana, WEBS, The Alpaca Yarn Co, and Kollage for some beautiful yarn.
  • Thanks to Briggs & Little, who passed me a sample of their yarn at their booth again — these folks are a mainstay in Canada but don’t have much in the way of US presence. I wish I could help, but I’m not a store — the best I can do is to design something awesome using their yarn. I hope to do so as soon as I have a free moment.

Whew! There’s more, and if I forgot to relate your story or forgot to thank you for something you did for me or something you gave me, I apologize. It was an amazing time and I can’t wait for another opportunity to have this kind of experience again. Now — back to knitting!

Bal Masqué at TNNA

Next weekend I’ll be in Columbus, Ohio eating Jeni’s Ice Cream all day, every day. Well, perhaps not quite. Actually, I’m going to TNNA! This will be the first time I’ve gotten to go as a published designer. OK, last year I had a couple of patterns out, but the book was not to be done until August (and later got pushed to October). We had some preview pages to drum up interest but this time, we actually have a book, and I’ll be at the Cooperative Press booth (#554) with a bunch of other awesome authors, all helping drive each others’ sales.

An odd thing about TNNA is that it’s an industry event for vendors to network with retailers — the people attending are yarn store owners and the like; they’re people who the vendors can market to. Therefore, everyone attending is either a vendor rep or a shop rep, for the most part. Designers, historically, have never had a set role at TNNA. They have to attend piggybacked onto a vendor or a shop, but can’t usually come on their own — even though it’s a huge networking opportunity for them. So instead, there’s an event thrown each year by the illustrious designer and podcaster Marly Bird in honor of the designers attending. Last year I wasn’t aware of it beforehand but this year, with a book and some new patterns under my belt, it’s time for me to show up and strut my stuff, or something.

Not having been to the Designer Dinner before, I don’t know if there’s often a theme, but this year they decided to make it a sort of masquerade ball. About a week ago, it occurred to me what that meant — I would be expected to design a masquerade mask.

I didn’t want this to take too much of my time. I decided to use worsted-weight wool that I already had on hand. I borrowed some double-knit cable techniques from Mounqaliba and the warped-checkerboard concept from Parallax, added some shaping and banged out a prototype in a weekend. The prototype had some issues, but I fixed them in the final version. If I were to publish this, I could make it even cleaner, but I think it’s fine as it is. And of course, it’s reversible so there are nominally 2 different way to wear it (but it’s just as good upside down so technically there are 4 different ways). It’s entirely plausible that there will be photos of me wearing it, along with others in similar regalia, in the not-too-distant future.

In other news, Franklin posted a book review over on the Panopticon, and there are still a couple of spaces left in my three-color double-knitting workshop at WEBS if you’re nearby and interested on Sunday, July 15th. Also, I’ve created a mailing list specifically for shop owners to sign up to, so they can get the first word when I’m starting to schedule for upcoming workshop seasons.

Keep an eye on this space in the next couple of weeks for a report on TNNA!

Hello Artyarns, my new friend

It’s been a few weeks since TNNA, and the book is still in progress. On target? I’m not sure. In any case, it’ll be out before the big October events. While I’m waiting for word from my publisher, I’m also working on some new patterns.

I mentioned earlier that I had approached Artyarns with interest in submitting a pattern for one of their upcoming one-skein pattern books, this one specifically on hats. Iris was immediately enthusiastic about a submission from me — I have had in mind a concept for a double-knit lace hat, and since Artyarns is often associated with gorgeous lace patterns (but Iris clearly aspires to have more reversible patterns in her yarns), I thought it would be ideal to try one of her yarns for this project.

I chose Ensemble — a luxurious silk-cashmere “blend” (really just a strand of each held together) because I wanted something without so much “aura” and I wasn’t sure I could get a full hat out of a skein of Ultramerino 4. The latter yarn will be great for more traditional double-knit patterns, but the Ensemble lends itself well to the sort of work I wanted to submit. While at TNNA, I selected a couple of skeins of each, deciding to try the Ensemble first and if it didn’t work out, try the Ultramerino afterward.

Yarn for artistic inspiration!

But that wasn’t the end of it! Iris emailed me about a week after TNNA and told me she’d sent me some other yarn to play with, and get inspired by. A little while later, I got this in the mail. The 4 horizontal ones are Ensemble, and the rest are Ultramerino 4.

Iris, I am so grateful that you’re so enthusiastic about my work, and thankful that you value my artistic integrity enough to give me free rein with so much lovely fiber — and I am so looking forward to incorporating more of your yarn into my future designs. The selection you sent me is gorgeous, and I’m already having so much fun with the ensemble of Ensemble I got at TNNA. It’s wonderful stuff, and unexpectedly extremely durable in addition to being softer than anything I’ve ever designed with before.

I don’t have a photo of the piece I’m working on yet — actually, I had to rip it out last night (next time: lifelines! but here’s an unexpected bonus — the yarn doesn’t “kink” after being ripped out!) but I’m really happy with the way it’s coming out and I’ll be posting it up here once I’ve gotten far enough to show off the pattern well.


In which I muse about the TNNA experience and uncloak the magnum opus

TNNA was fantastic. Truly an ego-booster, if nothing else. While I’ve grudgingly accepted my popularity as a designer and teacher in my local area, I’ve always subconsciously assumed that my work won’t hold up on the national and international stage.

Wrong, evidently.

A few musings from TNNA:

  • I found out that the easiest way to be approached by TNNA attendees was to be seen knitting either of my WIPs. Shop owners, exhibitors and other designers all gravitated toward them. Perhaps it was the novelty of a man knitting — even at TNNA, most of the men seem to be in the business end of things, not actively knitting — but I’d like to think it was primarily the merit of the pieces themselves.
  • While we were unable to take pre-orders for Extreme Double-Knitting at the event due to unresolved issues about price, we had an outpouring of interest from all corners and I am optimistic that we will have copies for sale by August — and probably digital versions even before then. Shannon is exploring all printing options at the moment.
  • As I traveled around and networked with people, I felt myself coming into my own as a designer, not just a technique guru. One person asked if I could design another double-knit tie for a kit; another asked if I could design something in DK or worsted weight yarn for their magazine; yet another wants me to release a pattern accompanied by a DVD with tutorials on the techniques; and Iris Schreier of ArtYarns lavished praise and yarn on me when I visited to express interest in submitting a hat for an upcoming publication.
  • When attending TNNA as a loner for the first time (yes, I was working a booth, but other than that I had few ways of attracting attention), it’s great to have a friend who’s well-connected pave the way for you by telling everyone she meets about your work. Even better when she works as a social-media specialist for a major publication. Thanks, Kimberly! Also, Cat Bordhi talked me up in one of her workshops, which got several folks to visit me as well.

I don’t want to bore you with an account of my entire TNNA experience, so I’ll just say that Jeni’s Ice Cream rocks (if you didn’t already know), and I look forward to visiting again next year. In the meantime, I’m going to be planning for an August book launch, Rhinebeck and Stitches, and working on workshops for the fall and spring. And of course, I’m going to keep working on new projects — both for my own purposes and as commissioned designs.

Without further ado, here’s the one I’ve been keeping under wraps. It got “outed” by a couple of people blogging about it (I have only one link though) so I figured it’s about time I posted it myself. It’s still a ways from completion, but I’m getting faster — the more I do, the more I can do it without looking at the pattern. I’m starting to be able to separate the faces in my head and error-check them without actually looking at the chart.

To all those who say I'm not playing with a full deck ...

The piece is a scarf called “Fifty-Two Pickup”. In fact, there are two Jokers as well, for a total of 54 playing cards, arranged in a 3×18 grid for about a 6.5-foot-long scarf. The idea is that each distinct card is able to be oriented face-up or face-down; in addition the suits can be oriented right-side-up or upside-down. I recommend that the first 9 repeats (sets of 3 cards) be worked with the suits right-side-up, and the last 9 repeats be worked with the suits upside-down, so that a scarf hanging around a person’s neck will show right-side-up suits (pips) on both ends. Because of this, each card is charted 4 times. Since each chart takes half a standard letter-sized page, there are 212 charts for 53 cards (the Joker is used twice), or a total of 106 chart pages. Add to that the instructions and schematics and the pattern currently stands at 114 pages.

You decide randomly where each card will go, and whether it landed face-up or face-down. There are rigorous ways to do this with dice, but I find the best and quickest way is to actually play 52-pickup — throw a deck of cards in the air and arrange the resulting mess in a grid. A friend’s mathematician father tells me that the chance of any two arrangements being the same is 4.15851e+87 to 1. Therefore, if “thrown” and not followed from my schematic, each scarf done from this pattern will, pending the development of the infinite improbability drive, be completely unique.

A few details: The scarf is done in Regia sock yarn at 7-8 sts/in on US3 needles. I don’t know how many balls of yarn yet, but considering I’m starting repeat 4 and the 3 balls I’m using now are maybe half done — so I’m guessing a total of 3 balls of each color or 9 total. Each card has a single suit “pip” in the middle because I don’t have the resolution to design entire cards and still make this a pattern that someone else might like to knit (i.e. more people are likely to knit a pattern that’s 7-8 sts/in than 12sts/in). Again, I don’t have the resolution (or color) to do full face cards, so I took each card’s emblem or weapon (as seen in a standard Bicycle deck) and charted it in the opposite color from the pip. In the photo you can see the Jack of Clubs has a sort of fat spear; the King of Spades has a sword, and the Queen of Diamonds has a flower. I had another font that looks more like the playing card font, but it doesn’t knit up well — the diagonal lines make it harder to read — so I charted 5×7 block font letters/numbers and they work well enough.

Once this sample is done, I’ll do a photo-shoot and the pattern will be released on Ravelry, probably for $12 or $15.