Crochet Crush: Sophie Digard

First, let’s be clear that I am not a hooker. I am exclusively a knitter. I use two needles with points on the ends to knit and purl skeins of wool into something wearable. When I use more than one color, I don’t have a squillion ends to weave in, and nothing I make can be started at breakfast and worn at lunch.

It’s not that I don’t like to crochet, it’s that I don’t grok it. What do you do with your other hand? How can anything be made with only one loop in action? (If I’m down to one loop, I’m at the end of the bind-off row which means the thing is done.) And charts without gridlines? Sheesh.

Like Walter Sobchak dabbling in pacifism (not in ‘Nam, of course), I have dabbled in crochet. Knitting sometimes benefits from a crochet edge or reinforcement, so I’m not completely useless with a hook. I can make a chain, single crochet, double crochet, and even triple crochet, but I’ve never made anything wearable. Never really wanted to.

And then along came Sophie Digard.

A talent like hers makes you want to know everything about her so you can do what she does. Where was she born? Did she study poetry and architecture in school, because her scarves have elements of both. Was she an only child given every opportunity by indulgent parents, or did she wake up from a coma one day at the orphanage asking for a skein of yarn and a size G hook?

But she’s the J.D. Salinger of the fiber arts—a rather enigmatic French genius who doesn’t have a website or blog, or any online presence, really. I could find no interviews with her and very few details about her and her art—and this is art, not craft—except that she lives in Madagascar with her family and employs hundreds of local women to produce these masterpieces. Mostly accessories like scarves, necklaces, and purses.

A Sophie Digard scarf costs more than my monthly mortgage payment, so I figured I could learn how to crochet those little puffy flowers and make my own. (Yes, I know…but a master makes everything look easy. What writer doesn’t read The Catcher in the Rye and think they could write another one?)

My crochet vocabulary is limited, so that’s what I searched for—puffy crochet flowers. Naturally, it took forever to find instructions for them because they’re called Mollie flowers. And they’re not easy to make.

Plus, if you’re not Sophie Digard, they look like this:

I didn’t even try.

And even if I did carve out a month’s worth of time to figure them out, I couldn’t duplicate the colors. Sophie works with merino wool, linen, and velvet, using up to 60 hues in a single color palette that is hand-dyed to her specifications.

Her scarves are made from several strands of laceweight yarn held together, so creating just the right color and fiber combination is something only Sophie Digard can do. (Well, Sophie and a bunch of hookers living on an island off the coast of southeast Africa.)

Just so you’re clear about the majesty of her color sense, I believed myself to be a genius when I combined these two yarns together on a hat.

Ironheart Hat by Robin Allen - A Texas Girl Knits

“People always clap for the wrong things.”

In a future post, I’ll tell you how I came to own a Sophie Digard scarf.

To Ponder: We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself. |-Lloyd Alexander-|


A Gift of Yarn and Magazines Part 1: The Magazines

A couple of weeks ago, during my Saturday afternoon volunteer shift at the library, I was able to get in one or two rows of knitting. I can usually knit quite a bit on those shifts because we’re not busy and because I work with a partner who loves to shelve books. But summers in Texas are indistinguishable from the molten core of a volcano and the library is air conditioned, which means more patrons and more checkouts. I can’t remember when I had time to even take my knitting project out of my bag.

But that day, I was knitting when a woman came to the circulation desk to check out books. She said, “Oh, I used to knit, but I don’t any more. And no one in my family knits.”

Bummer, I thought, as I scanned the barcodes on her books.

“I have a bunch of yarn,” she said. “Do you want it?”

My first thought, was OF COURSE I WANT FREE YARN. But then I asked the critical question as non-snobbily as I could: “Is it wool?”

She said it was, and that some of it was cashmere from Italy that she bought without having any plans for. “You know how you go to a yarn store and just pick stuff off the shelves.”

I nodded, thinking, I don’t pick cashmere off the shelves.

I wrote my name on her book receipt and she said she would drop the yarn at the library for me.

Around 10:00 AM on Monday, I got a call from one of the morning shift volunteers.

I was there in 15 minutes.*

When I walked in, Jackie, who had called, smiled at me from behind the circulation desk. Take. me. to. the. yarn. NOW, I started to say, but remembered my manners and first thanked her for letting me know it was there. She held up a stitch dictionary she had been browsing through and assured me that she was just looking at it. “I like to cro—”

“There are books, too?” I asked.

“—chet,” she finished, then nodded.

Manners shmanners. “Where?”

Jackie led me to a two-shelf book cart in the back room near the kitchen. On the top shelf were four dusty file-size clear tubs stuffed with crack yarn.

Treasure chests.

Jackie watched as I opened each tub full of vintage yarn—Unger, Bernat, Del Avo, Indiecita, Lane Borgosesia, Katia, Brunswick—careful not to let any of the skeins leave my sight. I felt like a prisoner guarding my breakfast in the mess hall, ready to defend my haul against Jackie or some other crafting bully who wandered by and thought the yarn was just another donation, there for the taking.

On the second shelf of the book cart was what looked like a foot-tall stack of books and magazines, also vintage, and mostly from the 80s.

In reality, only about 7″ high.

What a collection!

Stitch dictionaries.


Pingouin and Phildar magazines.

Vogue Knitting magazines.

As with some books that came into my possession, these Vogue Knitting covers were so familiar to me, I thought I already owned most of them.† I didn’t, though, and they’ve filled in a lot of gaps in my collection.

Unfortunately, my knitting donor is a smoker. As soon as I can get the smell out of the yarn, I’ll do a post on what’s in the tubs.

Coffee grounds seem to be working to absorb the smell.

*There are other knitters at the library, including the director, whom I’m almost positive would not have exerted eminent domain over my yarn, but I wanted to get it out of their way as soon as I could.

†I did own them at one time, but they had been donated to Goodwill by a dumb college girl who had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, but was sure she would never knit again.

Yarn for The Sweater

If I could afford to always buy 100% merino wool that’s been hand-dyed by Icelandic mermaids using the natural colors of the ocean, I would, but wearing the crown of a yarn snob requires a certain number of zeros in my bank account that I will never see unless the bank makes an error in my favor. (In that case, I would proceed directly to the little yellow crack house in Austin and buy most of the yarn in their front room.)

For now, I buy good yarns on super sale or okay yarns that are a good value.

Cabled sweaters eat yarn like someone else is paying, so I’m knitting The Sweater prototype in Valley Yarns Northampton, a good-value workhorse yarn that comes in skeins of 247 yards and lots of colors.

I used this yarn for my Old Port Pullover by Kristen Tendyke. It’s soft and sturdy, and didn’t change shape during its baptism.

The camera adds 10 lbs, and three cameras are on me.

I’ve mentioned before that I design as I go along, so my process is to knit a prototype to figure things out, write the pattern, then knit the final from the pattern. If it’s a small item, like a hat or fingerless mitts, I can usually knit a prototype and a final version with the final yarn. But that won’t work for a project as big as The Sweater.

I have a lot of skeins of Northampton in my stash, but not enough of one color to knit another sweater, so I had to buy more yarn.

This yarn is a bargain at $5.99/skein, but I rarely pay that much for it. WEBS, the company that supplies Valley Yarns (and pretty much every other commercial yarn on the planet), has a deal-of-the-day that they post on Twitter. I don’t text and I don’t own an iAnything, but I can see public tweets online, and WEBS often makes deals on this yarn line.

I’ve been waiting for-e-ver for Northampton to be WEBS’s deal-of-the-day, and last weekend, it finally went on sale for $4.19/skein.

Why it had to be during the month of July—the month I had to shell out $1K to a shady mechanic and my income was cut almost in half because no fewer than 12 of my there-every-single-class yoga students were gone traveling for most of the month—I don’t know. But if I didn’t buy it then, I would have to pay $14.40 more.

It’s a good thing I did, too. Because a few days later, WEBS tweeted this:

Just because they can, I guess.

I don’t want to have two sweaters exactly the same color, so I chose a different one. Which one of these do you think I ordered?

To Ponder: You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions. |Naguib Mahfouz|

Decision: Happy Hat by Little One-Skein Wonders

Yesterday afternoon, after spending the morning listening to different auto mechanics give me convincing but conflicting opinions about the exact same thing, and realizing that the reason my car is vibrating while driving is not even remotely related to the diagnosis another auto shop gave me and charged me $998.16 to fix*, I came home to an email from the editors of 101 Little One-Skein Wonders that my Happy Hat was accepted for publication.




To add to the glory, this is my first acceptance by a book that will be sold in bookstores and, more importantly, on Amazon.

The idea behind these one-skein books is that patterns use only a single skein† or less of yarn, so they’re usually accessories, like hats, scarves, mittens, fingerless mitts, purses, booties, blankies, etc. But the designer gets to choose the skein she uses. Some skeins have less than 50 yards of yarn and some can have more than 450 yards, and you can do lot with that much yarn.

There are several 101 One-Skein books in the series published by Storey Publishing and edited by Judith Durant. The first one has a general mix of patterns and yarns, and then later ones in the series have a specific focus: designer, sock yarn (i.e., fiddley) luxury yarn, (i.e., expensive) and lace. And if anyone is interested, there’s also one for crochet.

(Those are all Ravelry links; click the pic below to see the books on Amazon. )

The company I’ll be keeping.

This Little One-Skein Wonders collection is for babies and toddlers, and their mommies, and while I don’t know anything about any of that, I do know how to make a small hat.

I submitted my pattern way back in February, and they said they would notify everyone by early spring. Seeing as we’re a month into summer in the northern hemisphere, this added a mild shock to the surprise of the acceptance‡.

In the call for submissions, they had asked that you supply an SASE with enough postage to cover the return of your sample if it wasn’t accepted, but I didn’t do that. I told them I didn’t need it returned to me and suggested they donate the hat to a hospital. (Not because I’m altruistic, but because I’m frugal.) Plus, if I decided to self-publish the hat, I would knit it in wool rather than the neon green washable nylon/acrylic blend I used for this submission.

Publications usually email when it’s a yes and return your sample or swatch when it’s a no, so when I first saw the email from them, I figured they made an exception because they, too, were too frugal to spring for return postage.

A taste of Happy.

The best part is that I don’t have to do anything. They wanted you to submit the completed pattern, along with the knitted item for them to photograph, so all the work has been done.

They’re going to get back to me in February with contracts and pattern layout for review.

Let’s hope they photograph it on a baby who is charismatic enough to make the cover.

*You’re welcome, “Christian” Brothers, for my help in earning you another award for profitability from the corporate office. Too bad they don’t issue awards for integrity.

†Yarn also comes in balls and hanks, and those would be acceptable for this collection, but the title One-Ball Wonders can be construed too many other ways and One-Hank Wonders is just silly.

‡There might be one small glitch, however. Remember how I just told you that I combined the stitch pattern for a hat that a book didn’t want with a tank top shape for my proposal to knit.wear? Um, yeah.

p.s. I would have congratulated myself with this, but I need to save up money to get my car fixed properly.

To Ponder: We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself. |Lloyd Alexander|

Adios #23 Sleeveless Top

After three false starts and 35 hours of working round after round after ever-lovin’ round of stockinette on the sleeveless top that led me to discover a wine glass that holds an entire bottle of Pinot Noir—the top that was about 90% done and around which I had created an entire outfit to wear to my volunteer shift at the library—it took only nine minutes to frog the whole thing straight onto my ball winder.

Like it never existed.

Here’s what I would like to say happened: I’m on a strict yarn diet and cannot bring any more yarn into my house for any reason (not even if WEBS has a two-month-long anniversary sale, which they did, and I resisted, but just barely), but I’m working on a new design that requires yarn I don’t have in my stash (I know, I can’t believe it either), so I made the sacrifice and reclaimed the yarn so I wouldn’t have to buy more.

Here’s what really happened: With 1/4 of the yoke to go, I ran out of yarn.

I didn’t even take a picture of how far I’d gotten, because why take a picture of something that’s 90% finished on Thursday when I can take a picture of it 100% finished on Friday?

I also expunged the project record from Ravelry. There’s a “Frogged” status you can use, but what’s the point? As a mocking reminder of my inability to calculate yardage?

For me, if it’s not a WIP or an FO, it’s gone.


p.s. Not only do I still listen to CDs, I have a cassette player.

p.p.s. I love that one of the South African national news sites has a section devoted to Horses.


Submission and Rejection: Tank Top for Knitscene

I’ve been making so many submissions lately, I don’t think I blogged about a cabled tank top I submitted in May to Knitscene for their Spring 2015 issue. One of the stories in their call for submissions was for big, drapey cables. Not my favorite type of cable, but I’m not one to pass up a chance for fame and glory, so I went into my briar patch of stitch dictionaries and found one with an unusual construction.

I swatched it up using yarn left over from the hat Interweave Knits is going to publish in their Winter 2014 issue, wrote up the proposal, named it Adelante, and mailed it to them. (I make it sound like all that happened in about five minutes, but it took a few hours over a few days). Knitscene notifies in 2–4 weeks for an acceptance, which comes via email, and 4–6 weeks for a rejection, which is your original swatch in the mail.

After six weeks, I still hadn’t heard from them, and I was hoping they were behind with acceptances because they were dealing with the tumult of moving offices, but apparently they were behind with rejections because yesterday, the postman delivered my swatch.

Here’s a glimpse of the cable.

A nice drapey cable.

In the meantime, I was avoiding working on my cabled sweater design so sure that Knitscene would want it, I knit up a prototype in the only other DK weight yarn I had enough of, which was some Knit Picks CotLin, a 70/30 cotton/linen blend in a beautiful dark teal color called Planetarium.

I washed and dried the tank top like you’re supposed to because linen softens the more you launder it, and this is what was waiting in my lint trap.

Half my tank top and all the color.

The tank looks like I wore it while swimmming in the Gulf of Mexico every day for the past three summers.

On the bright side:

  • My dryer works.
  • The tank did get softer.
  • I have new beachwear.

The Russians Used a Pencil

There’s a story that goes:

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 million developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300C*. When confronted with the same problem, the Russians used a pencil.

Even though this anecdote isn’t true (partly because of the problem of graphite dust in the space capsule), it points to the elegance and obviousness of using something pedstrian rather than a bloated Rube Goldberg-type solution.

Rube Goldberg could have worked for NASA.

I practice voluntary simplicity, which is how I can fund my life by teaching yoga so I can stay home all day designing knitwear. I don’t have an iPhone or an iPad or any other iThingamabob (and its associated costs), so I don’t use any apps.

I do, however, know of several knitting apps—knitCompanionVogue Knitting iPhone App, JKnitBeeCount, etc. that enable you do such things as count rows, view charts, store patterns, take notes, keep track of yarn stash and needles, and advise you on the best snack to eat while knitting a lace snood. They’re mostly designed for usage on-the-go, but I knit and design at home. Plus, I’ve been knitting long enough to know how much yarn I need for a sweater, so I don’t need to consult an app if I stumble upon a sale at my LYS. And except for counting rows and viewing charts, I use Ravelry (free) for all the other stuff.

When it first came out, this Sirka™ counter made all the knit blog rounds.

Tracks three different counts AT THE SAME TIME (all caps theirs).

I appreciate the thought that went into its design, and I love that it’s analog, but it comes with a manual and video tutorials, which makes it twice-removed from obvious and pedestrian. Plus, it’s $20.49 + $2.49 shipping, so almost $23.00** for a dedicated device to do something that can be accomplished thusly:

Tracks as many counts as I need AT THE SAME TIME (all caps mine).

That’s Clover’s clicky analog Kacha-Kacha row counter [which isn’t absolutely necessary, but it speeds up my knitting (until I can learn to make tick marks with a pencil held between my toes)], some graph paper from a custom cabinet maker that I got for cheap at a thrift store, and a pencil. [Yes, it’s a mechanical pencil. (Graphite dust in my space capsule and all that.) And apparently, I like things that click.] Plus, I can use all three items for other things, like counting the number of times my redneck neighbor’s Doberman barks in the middle of the night and writing a note to them to please teach him that white-tail deer are not a threat to his safety.

When I use charts, which is often because I love cables and stranded colorwork, I make copies of them and pin them to a Lo-Ran Magnetic Board set against a music stand.

Pedestrianism at its best.

With this setup, I see the entire chart and can easily flip among multiple versions of a chart I’m testing for a new design. Can you do that with an app?

I’m not anti-technology. I own a computer and a netbook; my car has electric windows; I have a flip phone; my house has central heating and air conditioning; and I would save my Cuisinart in a fire. But I want technology to make my life simpler***, which is why when it comes to my knitting, I’ll always используйте карандаш.

 *Astronaut or not, if I’m in a 300C-degree environment, I’m not going to care if my pen works.

**With the right sale, I could buy a sweater’s worth of yarn for $23.

***I acknowledge that technology does enhance other people’s lives. My friend Angie uses an app on her iPhone to track her rows, because with two dogs, three kids, five cats, and a ferret, a Kacha-Kacha counter would get kachewed, kaclicked, or kahidden, and she’d never finish anything.

Divested Buttons

One of my favorite forms of entertainment is thrifting, as in shopping at thrift stores. I especially love small-town stores because they haven’t been picked over by everyone trying to pay their rent from eBay or Etsy sales. I’m blessed to live in the country, surrounded by other small towns and their thrift stores, so an entire day of thrifting can fill my car with treasures.

I recently donated some items to the little thrift store in my town, then wandered the aisles not really wanting to shop, but not wanting to miss anything. I have a certain route I follow, starting with the crafts and crafting books section (there was no knitting-related anything, though there will be after they put out my donation); then the coffee cups, looking for anything with a Starbucks logo (which goes for Seriousbucks on eBay); then the women’s tops in search of vintage sweaters; then the scarves and belts hoping to duplicate my find of the decade—a Gucci silk scarf for $1 that I sold on eBay and paid my mortgage; then the vests and “blazers.”

I have been known to wear blazers later than 1985, and I like and wear vests (it sounds much classier to call them waistcoats), but when I’m thrifting, I don’t look at these garments, I look at their buttons. They’re usually well-made, of good size, plenty, and coordinated. (Well, okay, I’ll make my first pass through the garments, assessing for possible inclusion in my wardrobe, then I make a second pass looking for buttons.)

Have you priced buttons lately? A quantity of yarn for a cardigan can cost less than the buttons. (I don’t knit cardigans; maybe this is why.) But a thrifted item goes for$1-$5, which can take the cost per button to well under $1.

I used thrifted buttons on my Irene Adler Pillow. Metal, embossed, shank buttons with a white patina that look like coins of the realm.

Regal detail on these buttons.

On this thrifting trip, I found a vest I liked for $2 that had worthy buttons. (Yes, I like this vest. Even if I hadn’t been watching reruns of Northern Exposure, I would like this vest. I’m not influenced by television shows.)

Yes, I actually like this vest.

Even the checker at the thrift store likes this vest.

Who can resist a grizzly bear on a patch of snow?

But the vest didn’t fit me. Too small. So I snipped off the buttons and reclaimed these beauties.

These buttons are dirty, not corroded.

A few light scrubs with Bar Keepers Friend, and:

After the magic of Bar Keepers Friend.

I have five clean, pewter 1-1/8″ shank buttons ready to adorn a handknit sweater or jacket.

As for the vest, I think I’m going turn it into a pillow for the little cabin in Alaska I’m strangely eager to live in some day.

It’s Who You Know

Last week, I got an email from one of the librarians at my library. She’s the one who handles inter-library loans (ILLs), so I often get emails from her that one of my requests is ready to pick up. Sometimes I request books that I’m thinking about buying, especially out-of-print knitting books. Sometimes I request books that our library should have, but doesn’t, like Dante’s Inferno*. But lately I’ve been ILLing The Rockford Files and Columbo DVDs. I was between series and rewatching Numb3rs  until one or the other came in.

But that wasn’t what this email was about. This gem of a friend, who is also a knitter, was writing to tell me that someone had donated “a bunch of knitting books” to the libary. She decided not to add them to the collection, so she saved them for me.

A lot of retired people live in my city, and about once a week the library gets a large donation of mildewed books without dust jackets when people move, or, more likely, after someone passes away. I figured a bunch meant five, and I’d find one I’d like to keep.

I was there as soon as they opened the next day, and the librarian led me to a storage room in the back. She told me that some friends of a board member donated the books that belonged to their daughter who had died suddenly. I sent up a prayer for their loss, then did some quick maths: daughter = young = Stitch ‘n Bitch**.

Here’s what I saw in the closet:

Christmas in March.

Here’s what shut my mouth:

Ethnic Socks and Stockings  by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts

Viking Patterns for Knitting by Elsebeth Lavold

Simply Socks: 45 Traditional Turkish Patterns to Knit by Anna Zilboorg

I’ve wanted these books for so long, and the covers were so familiar, I actually thought I owned them. But of course I didn’t because they were out-of-print, rare, and expensive.

For those who love detail, I also got Folk Bags, Swedish Sweaters, Learn-to-Knit Afghan Book, Best of Lopi, Big Knits and Great Big Knits by Dawn French (how cool are patterns by The Vicar of Dibley?), Celtic Knits, Enchanted Knitting, Family Knits, The New Knitting Stich Library (hardcover), Kids Kids Kids, Colorful Knitwear Design, Knitting Lace: A Workshop with Patterns and Projects (I don’t enjoy knitting lace, but maybe I will after working through this), Vogue Knitting American Collection (which I own, but this was a nicer copy), Jean Moss World Knits, Charted Knitting Designs (hardcover), A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (which I own, but this is the 1968 version), and two German books: Burda Handarbeiten Leicht Gemacht I and Perfekt Stricken. Twenty-two books in all.

On my way home, I thought about this daughter whose library I was hauling home. From the titles, I knew that she was an accomplished and ambitious knitter, and that she was probably someone I would like to have known. My own library has similar types of books, heavy on the colorwork and cables. Like her with her German knitting books, I also have some fun vintage ones (it pains me that the 80s are considered vintage), like Knitting Wildlife and Around the World in Eighty Sweaters.

I wondered if she ever knit any of Anna Zilboorg’s Turkish socks or Elsebeth Lavold’s Viking pullovers. Or, if, like me, she wanted those books because they were beautiful and inspiring, knowing that she could knit a pair of Crazy Curl socks or Ragna one day if she had the time and the yarn, and wanted to put in the effort.

If she did knit those things, I hope her parents recognized them as accomplishments and kept them as they would her first finger painting or spelling bee trophy.

Thank you, daughter, for these books. I’ll treasure them and take good care of them, and I’ll think of you, knitting in heaven, every time I use them.

*I’ve never ILLed Dante’s Inferno, but still.

**There’s nothing wrong with Stich ‘n Bitch, but a) my library has it in their collection, and b) my knitting skillz are a little more advanced. (Also, the title of the book should have two apostrophes thusly—’n’—to represent the a and the d missing from the word “and.”)