knitting ideas

Designer Crush: Irina Poludnenko

One of my most favoritist designers is Irina Poludnenko. She’s been around the knitwear design world for about 20 years, before the interwebs and Ravelry, so I caught her in Vogue Knitting.

A few years ago I knit* her #07 Slant Rib Pullover from Fall 2002 (which I believe is one of the best issues they’ve ever published).

Rina—which is what I would call her if we toasted each other at the VK Christmas party in NYC—is now an in-house designer for the yarn company Tahki Stacy Charles, and while her designs for them are rather fabulous, she’s been swinging for the bleachers since the beginning.

My love for her is infinite, but I’ve chosen a few stand-outs from her extraordinary body of work.

Diagonal Slit Pullover

She took a mid-century funnel neck pullover and went Jetsons with the ridges and rips. (And is that Joan Severance?)

Cabled Pullover

All. Those. Cables.

Two-Button Jacket

An homage to Pop Art that uses a mosaic(!) technique to create a fitted(!), shawl collar(!) cardigan.

Allover Cabled Cardigan

A deep, deep, deep v-neck cabled pullover with a ribbed hem to hold it all together. (+1 for the magazine’s styling of this design. The belt closes the deal.)

Alyce Cardigan

The upside-down horseshoe cables on the peplum and bell sleeves that flow into waist shaping with XO cables that flow into ribbing that flow into plaited cables on the yoke and fitted sleeves. And the horseshoe placket that easily accommodates the buttons.

Natalie Tank

Unusual construction of a standard tank top that looks like a weatherman’s map of a cold front moving SE from the PNW.

Sundance Cardigan

A Nehru silhouette knit side-to-side with a zipper and semi-circle waist detail that forms a full circle when you sew everything together. It would be a great design without the circles, but that little detail… See? That’s why Rina rocks. And the colors.

Parma Ridge Poncho

A poncho that uses two yarn weights to create texture. And sleeves! My absolute favorite design by her that I’ve never knit for the simple reason that I haven’t ponied up $6 for the pattern.

Ethel Mesh Stripe Pullover

I’ve been working on a similar design that has been submitted and rejected several times because I’m not Irina Poludnenko. Or more probably because—aha—I continued the lace pattern too far into the yoke. Also, mine has a better name than Ethel. (-1 for the magazine styling. Really? A collared shirt?)

Rosslyn Cowl

If you can get past the Shrek colored yarn and obvious lack of blocking, this is a brilliant execution of multiple complex knitting and shaping techniques.

Geghard Cabled Pullover

Cables that look like cousins, and without a heavy reliance on filler stitches.

Victoria Top

First, the colors. And b) elongated entrelac in garter stitch.

A lot of Rina’s designs don’t have many projects on Ravelry, and I think it’s because she’s on an elevated plane. She’s one of those people whose designs you knit because they’re interesting or they’re going to develop your skills, and with the price of yarn these days knitters tend to knit wardrobe staples.

She mostly lets her designs speak for her, but if you’re interested in more about her or are curious about what she looks like when she travels to Europe with her family, you can read a rather serious interview she did in 2012 with another knitter named Robin.

*I didn’t put this project on Ravelry because the armscyes were too tight. My knitting hubris, however, prevented me from trying on the sweater before I blocked the whole thing, and when I finally admitted defeat and tried to unpiece it, I had done such a good job of weaving in my ends** that I couldn’t find the place to start unravelling***.

**Knitting hubris indeed.

***I can’t go Gordian on this because I’m out of yarn and need to tink to save every centimeter of yarn.

To Ponder: Your circumstances aren’t holding you back, your decisions are. |-John Assaraf-|


Inspired by Art

Jared Flood recently posted about the inspiration for his Agnes pullover.

(c) Jared Flood

He says that this design was influenced by and named after the artist Agnes Martin, and he goes into how and why he chose the neutral color palette and how the color palette of other artists inspired the high-contrast version.

I like a little Mondrian here and there, but I’m mostly not into Modernist art because of its self-conscious aspect, which is what makes it (and people) boring. Sort of like a tire wrapped around an Angora goat that I learned about in an art survey class I took as an adult a few years ago.

Robert Rauschenburg – Monogram – 1955-1959

After rolling my eyes at that pollution, the art world was redeemed by the work of Adolf Wölfli, one of the most famous Art Brut artists, if not the most famous, in the world.

You may not like his style, but you can’t deny his genius.

He worked with colored pencils and any piece of paper he could get his digits on. Mostly newspaper because he spent much of his adult life in the Waldau Mental Asylum in Bern, Switzerland, where he died in 1930 of intestinal cancer.

Inspired and inspiring.

The detail, the color, the raw exposure. There is so much going on in his pieces.* What must his thoughts have been like?

Jared’s post reminded me that I once had an idea to design something** based on Wölfli’s art.

The idea scared me then, and it sort of scares me now, but as I was recently reminded by a friend while discussing another project: all you have to do is take the next step.

Okay, next step is to pull out my collection of Wölfli books.

I can do that.

*They remind me of another small obsession I have with Joan Steiner’s Look-a-Like books. She does a much better job than Robert Rauschenberg of using found objects to create intricate dioramas where nothing is what it appears to be. Look closely and you’ll see that sourdough bread loaves are mountains, a grenade is a pot-bellied stove, playing cards and cinnamon sticks make kitchen chairs, and a dollar bill is grandma’s apron.

Not just for kids.

I have spent many an hour marveling at her creativity, patience, and precision.

**Whatever I create, you can be sure I’ll name it something more vigorous than Agnes.

To Ponder: Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. |-Rumi-|

Inspired to Knit: Simple Shawls

The other day at the farmer’s market, a woman who came up to my stand was wearing one of my knitted scarves. She had bought it last year and was looking for something similar. “I just love it,” she said. “I wear it all the time.”

When someone gives me a compliment like that, I think I should be knitting more of whatever it is that earned it. I didn’t recognize it, though, because she had it tucked into her jacket. She took it off to show me, and I was surprised for the second time by that little thing.

It was a prototype shawlette I had knit up to propose to Knit Picks for one of their calls for submission. It had an architectural stair-step design in both the pattern stitch:

and the construction:

And I had knit it in KP’s Comfy Fingering, a cotton/acrylic blend, in Blackberry.

Sounds cool, right?

But Knit Picks didn’t think so, and the design eventually became my Fallingwater Scarf.

I do love fringe.

So, getting back to the surprises. Last year was the first time I had a stand at the farmer’s market, and the prototype thing got scooped up with all the fully formed hats, fingerless mitts, and scarves I could affix a pricetag to.

This beloved scarf wasn’t even a finished object as far as I was concerned. The yarn was too drapey for the sharp angles of the construction, and it wasn’t a full-sized anything. I had stopped knitting when I understood the pattern enough to propose it to KP, so it was really just a big swatch.

The first surprise was that someone bought it, and the second was to hear that the buyer loved it so much she wanted another one.

Now, do you think I came home and started knitting one?


I got a hankering to knit a shawl for myself, even though I never wear them. I also don’t enjoy knitting them because they’re usually made with laceweight or cobweb weight yarn on needles the girth of bicycle spokes, and have intricate lace designs that are easy to mess up. They have their own subset of knitting techniques, like nupps and garter tab cast-on, advise you to “block aggressively,” and have instructions like this:

540 stitches! 11 times!

Granted, not all shawls are lace, and some are knit on reasonably sized needles. Por ejemplo:

Not a yarn-over in sight.

1. Eyre of Romance Jane Shawl by Kay Meadors

2. #13 Ruffled Edge Wrap by Lisa Daehlin

3. Twisted Edge Shawlette by Cayenne DaBell

4. Citron by Hilary Smith Callis, which is what I cast on.

201 stitches on the needles.

To Ponder: Who begins too much accomplishes little. |-German Proverb-|

Submission and Rejection: Tee to Knit Picks

Here’s another there-and-gone design I didn’t blog about in real time: a t-shirt I submitted to Knit Picks for their Spring 2015 Garment Collection. Their mood board included a bunch of striped, shapeless, lacey beach-type wear in boring color combinations.

Texas beaches are too hot for sweaters.

But their color board had hints of excitement.

Actual color.

I don’t like stripes and I don’t like shapeless and I don’t like lace, so I already had a hat trick of strikes against me. But I do love a challenge, so I went to my stitch dictionaries and found a lace design that I could tolerate liked (only because it was a combination of two patterns, one of which was a solid band of ribbing).

I should know by now that Knit Picks almost never publishes garments in exciting colors. The mix of beige, cream, and grey represented by the color putty is what they prefer. (The color equivalent of George Michael’s girlfriend Ann on Arrested Development.) Nevertheless, I decided on Clementine and Cosmopolitan.

The first swatch I knit didn’t look like the picture in the book, and I had knit a couple of the lace sections, so I knew it wasn’t me. So after I held my mouth a certain way, I finally figured out that there were two rows missing in the published stitch pattern. (Sheesh!) So I knit a new swatch with the two rows and everything looked good. I also changed the ribbing a little while I was at it.

I first had the idea to submit an oversized tunic with 3/4 sleeves, alternating the colors of the lace and ribbing to make it striped. I even went so far as to create a schematic.

This took forever to create in Paint.

But I don’t like 3/4 sleeves. Plus, in the time it took to knit an oversized sweater in a sport weight yarn, little Prince George would be enthroned. But if I went with a heavier weight yarn to make it go faster, lace or no lace, the whole thing would weigh too much. Plus, knitting something that heavy in cotton, yoga or no yoga, would kill my hands and shoulders.

So I decided to submit a semi-fitted t-shirt instead. (There was one on their mood board, so I wasn’t completely going free range.) I created another schematic, without the color this time, wrote up the proposal, photographed the swatch, named it Padre Island Tee, and submitted it three weeks before the deadline.

A week after the deadline, Knit Picks sent me a very short email.

On the bright side:

  • I have another pattern to self-publish.
  • Knit Picks will probably accept it for their Independent Designer Program, and
  • they’ll send me free yarn with which to knit it.

Submission: Holiday Pattern for Knit Picks

A few weeks ago, Knit Picks sent out a call for holiday-themed patterns that they’ll offer knitters for free on their website this fall. They’re looking for items along the lines of accessories, toys, and home decor for Halloween, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc., and want them geared toward beginners—i.e., easy.

I hadn’t planned to submit anything because I have enough designs to work on, but we all know how plans go around here. Plus, they’re going to pay for the design, and who can’t use money to enhance the stash pay the water bill?

I thought I would just see if I could come up with a quick design, so I looked around on the internets, bathing my little gray cells in images and ideas. I always like to design something a little unexpected, so I let my right brain meander through its twists and turns, the way it does, considering this, investigating that, consulting with my left brain to see if it’s doable.

I finally hit upon an idea for the particular type of item I wanted to submit, but the design I put on it would need to be interpreted to fit the shape of the thing. It wasn’t as challenging as interpreting Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor according to the Pantone color spectrum, but neither was it as simple as casting Robert DeNiro as a mobster with anger issues in a Scorsese movie.

I created a board on Pinterest to store ideas, adding to it over the next few days.

Brain bath.

And then, after I ate some mustard and climbed a water tower, no fewer than six interpretations came to me. (None of them Nutcracula, but that would be fun, no?)

I don’t have a fancy design program on my PC, so I went old school with my FaberCastell Col-Erase pencils on paper (like daVinci!) to sketch four of the designs.

What on earth could they be?

After I finished admiring my third-grade coloring skills, I scanned the paper into a file, separated the images, wrote up a proposal for each item individually, and submitted them to Knit Picks.

As I wait for a decision, I’ll return to the question of whether G minor would be best represented by Rhubarb or Pomegranate.

Submission: Fingerless Mitts to Knit Picks

Even though I have a monster design to work on (or more likely because of it), I took another little side trip into Submissionville.

Because I am part of the Knit Picks Independent Designer Program, I get an email when they send out a call for submissions. They’ve put out a few lately, including one for a Spring 2015 Accessories collection. (It’s really hard to live in the moment when you have to think about next year’s spring season.)

I haven’t had much success with these calls, but I don’t give up. (Never give up. Ever. Whether you’re submitting short stories or poetry or songs or paintings or knitwear designs, never give up. Time + Effort = Success—and your talents are getting stronger in the meantime.)

I had already casually swatched a stitch pattern I found in Lesley Stanfield’s The New Knitting Stitch Library, but it didn’t inspire me, so I dropped it. When the KP call came out, however, I thought it was worth a second look.

I tried staggering the pattern repeats, then changing the needle size a couple of times, then adjusting the number of stitches in between thrice, but something still wasn’t working. Then I added a little twist (literally—ktbl) and that sealed it.

I knit up a swatch in the round, photographed it on my hand, wrote up the proposal, named the design (which always takes longer than I anticipate), and emailed the proposal to Knit Picks on the day of the deadline.

All that took 10.75 hours over several days.

They’re supposed to notify by May 29th. Send up some good thoughts for me, will you?

Absolutely no danger.

This weekend, there was a tree climbing competition at a local park. Sounds like something different and fun, right? That’s what I thought.

I went on Friday, but there was hardly anyone there except for the competitors and what appeared to be a few of their family members. I thought it would be them competing against each other, racing to the top of a tree or seeing who could save the most kittens, but they were basically doing individual time trials using expensive rigging and safety harnesses. The whole thing was as quiet as a golf tournament. A pickpocket could have done quite well amongst all of us looking up into the trees. I watched for about five minutes, then went grocery shopping.

What did you do this weekend?


Sometimes a Great Novel

I just last night finished Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, a story about logging and family and never giving an inch, but with an over-arching theme about the ruthlessness of living in the past and the dangers of making assumptions (and the life-altering consequences of acting on them). “When you sow the wind, you reap a whirlwind.”

I suck at book reviews, but I will say that this is in my list of top five favorite books. She also loves A Confederacy of Dunces and The Debt to Pleasure (which she judged and bought because of its cover) and reads them when she’s feeling literarily disturbed and wants to reclaim her mind and climb back into God’s pocket.

I can’t wait to forget it so I can reread it.

How is this related to knitting?

This morning, while the ending was gelling in my consciousness, I did a little browsing on the internets about the book and came across this photo of its author. As crisp and moody a black-and-white photo as ever there was. (You don’t get this depth with digital.)

Ken Kesey in a hand-knit-with-love Cowichan vest.

I have a certain obsession with Cowichan sweaters, and now I’m pretty sure I need one with dragons on it.

I’m getting closer to knitting intarsia, which doesn’t seem like such a great notion, but she could do it if she put her reclaimed mind to it.

What’s inspiring you today?

Master Knitter

There’s an organization called The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) that…well, I’m not really sure what they do. They don’t say exactly what they’re about on their home page, so I assume that they assume that you know what brought you there. Clearly it’s focused on knitting, and there are conferences and “correspondence courses,” but, oh wait, if you click the Join Today button, you see:

TKGA, with over* 10,000 members, is the largest knitting association in America and a starting point for knitters searching for new ideas, products, markets, patterns and fellow knitters who share the excitement of knitting.

*Should be more than 10,000 members because 10,000 is a countable quantity.

So, TKGA was the original Ravelry, but they now seem irrelevant except for their Master Knitting Program:

The Master Hand Knitting Program was announced in the Fall 1987 issue of Cast On as a way for members of The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) to have their knitting evaluated using specific criteria and guidelines. It was designed as an educational process, not a competition or contest.

I think that experience and ability are more important than a “degree” in knitting, but I have thought about enrolling in this program because I like recognition of achievement. Wearing something I knit is recognition of achievement by my friends. Publishing a knitwear pattern is recognition of achievement by other knitters. And the designation of Master Knitter (by someone other than myself) would be recognition by everyone throughout the land.

Also, I like school. A lot. I also like homework. And knitting homework? It could be made better only by having Keanu Reeves as my model, mannequin, and idea bouncer-offer.

Keanu as Johnny Utah with the eff-bee-eye in Point Break.

Upon completion of the program, you’re given a lapel pin that you can wear to Wurstfest or bunco night, but let us consider this choice of lagniappe for a moment. Knitters put pins in their knitting only when blocking. I would have to be threatened with a clown coming to my house with a box of hungry moths to ever stick a pin in a sweater I spent months knitting, never mind getting it near something as delicate as a lace shawl. (Which might be why some of the knitters look a little distressed in the pictures of the pinning ceremony. Yes, there’s a ceremony.) A ceramic yarn ball bowl or rosewood needles engraved with the Master Knitter’s name and designation would be a more appropriate and usable commemoration.

There are three program levels, but the requirements are listed on the TKGA website only for the first level, which tests a knitter’s ability to:

  • Look critically at your own work – How will they know if I furrow my brow or squinch my mouth when I assess my scarf or mittens?
  • Research different techniques – Research makes me happy.
  • Accurately follow directions and patterns – So overrated, but I could do it.
  • Accurately measure gauge – Gauge is as mercurial as a Gemini, which means that the gauge I get when I measure at home will be completely different from the gauge the judge gets after the item has traveled to Zanesville, OH. We’ll both be accurate, but we won’t be the same.
  • Understand the importance of gauge – It’s more important to understand that gauge lies like a four-year-old.
  • Knit garter, rib, stockinette, seed, and reverse stockinette stitch patterns with even tension – I knit seed stitch for breakfast.
  • Space increases evenly – Ah, a math word problem: if you have 100 stitches and you want to increase to 110 stitches, how often do you increase one stitch to space them evenly? Answer: k5, (m1, k10) 9 times, m1, k5.
  • Mirror increases – M1R, M1L
  • Mirror decreases – SSK, K2tog
  • Make yarnovers – I.e., make intentional holes in your knitting. I can do that.
  • Knit simple cables – I could knit the Celtic braids from Ragna while shucking oysters if they wanted me to.
  • Change colors – What does this mean? Stripes? Stranded colorwork? Imitating the blueberry girl from Willie Wonka?
  • Weave in yarn tails properly – “Properly” means different things to different people. I tie knots in my knitting, which crosses the border into heretical and would probably get my stash confiscated and me booted out of the program.
  • Write a simple pattern – I have a portfolio of patterns, none of them simple, but they might be accepted.
  • Knit a simple hat in the round – I’m choking on the “simple” part, but I could do it.
  • Properly block swatches – Again that word “properly.”
  • Discuss blocking techniques and care of knitted items – “Hand wash in cold water. Lay flat to dry. Don’t loan it to your little sister.”

The thing about a program like this is that knitting has more opinions than a German sausage maker. There are as many people who say “always” as say “never” as say “it depends.” Where the TKGA judge comes down on a particular knitting topic brings subjectivity to something that needs objectivity.

Whether in knitting or in life, I would want to know more about the person judging me. How does she weave in her ends? Is her tension even? Does she always knit a gauge swatch? If she doesn’t get gauge, does she start her project anyway? Does she let her little sister borrow her sweaters and get them back with pins in them?

Still, I might sign up one of these days.

Put Keanu on notice.

Environment Resistant

One of my favorite designers, Norah Gaughan, posted on the Berocco blog about Icelandic influences on her designs. She included a mini-slide show of a trip she took to Iceland about 10 years ago, along with photos of two of her designs.

Until reading that post and seeing the Iceland images next to the knitwear, I had never noticed how exactly Icelandic sweaters resemble the landscape. The images below (not Norah’s—you’ll have read her post) show the jaggedy silhouettes of the landscape with defined areas of color.

Not Texas.

You can see these same elements in traditional Icelandic sweaters.

Not rednecks.

I got to wondering about how my environs affect my own designs. I live in the Hill Country area of the Lone Star State, filled with dark green cedar trees year-round, bluebonnets in the spring, white-tail deer, gnarled and twisty Live Oak trees, windy dirt roads, and barking dogs and their redneck owners.

Not Iceland.

Looking at my designs:

  • I don’t use green yarn or the periwinkle color of bluebonnets, and, in fact, have very little of those colors in my yarn stash. (My stash shows a definite bias toward brown, but that’s because I look good in that color.)
  • I like clean, straight lines, regular intervals, and symmetry. (I do knit a lot of intriciate, winding cables, and I absolutely love twisted stitches, but that’s due to to all the cable stitch dictionaries I can’t seem to get enough of.)
  • My designs don’t feature dogs, does, bucks, or pickup trucks. (Yes, there are some reindeer and stars on my Harts and Stars cozy, but that’s a Norwegian influence.)
  • No camouflage, neither.

I guess my knitting and designs are just resistant to the influence of my environment.

The Thing About Ideas

A few weeks ago, when I finished up the pattern for my hat for Knitscene, I told myself that I wasn’t going to work on any submissions to publications for a while. I wanted to focus on my own patterns, which, ha, are my patterns regardless of who I design them for, but my reasoning was that I didn’t want to be constrained by someone else’s creativity. I wanted to embark rather than respond.

So I took the first step toward a thousand on my Aran sweater journey.

But I keep getting a notification from my online calendar [Mozilla’s Sunbird, which I love, but it looks like they’ve taken to calling it Lightning (sic)] that the deadline for submission for Knitscene’s Spring 2015 issue is coming up May 2nd. (And it’s actually a little before that because I have to USPS mail the swatch and proposal, and Knitscene isn’t clear about whether it needs to arrive by the due date or just wear the postmark.)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll get to it.

I hadn’t intended to submit anything because a) as stated, I’m done with submissions for a while, and b) spring and summer (and most of fall and some of winter) in south Texas are hotter’n the devil’s barbeque grill (ha, I just made that up), which doesn’t inspire me. Typically, these warm-weather designs are either lace, which all looks the same to me; or knit at a small gauge, which is fun only if you’re machine knitting; or made from cotton, which kills my hands to knit. So, I knit and design cold-weather items in wool at a reasonable gauge year-round.

I could have dismissed the notification and never seen it again, but I kept snoozing it for one day, and another day, and one more day, and after about a week, after I still hadn’t dismissed it already, I figured I better do something about it.

One of the “stories” for this issue is drapey cables.

I like my hair, not my clothes, to look like this.

Not my favorite kind of cable, but at least it’s a cable, and at least Knitscene gave designers a more concrete directive than “going seamless” to work toward. It’s hard to succeed with something like that because it’s open to interpretation. I mean, a swatch is seamless, but a publication would report you to the knitting police for submitting such a non-design. Oh, wait….

I also looked at other spring issues of the magazine and saw that they allowed wool garments, so at the end of the day, I skipped finishing Ken Kesey’s earthly delight of a novel Sometimes a Great Notion, and let my bedstand light shine on a couple of stitch dictionaries. I found one I liked, drapey, but not too, then went to sleep.

I woke up with an idea starting to form, so I began swatching. I thought it would be a quick swatch, which is ridonculous and I need to stop thinking that anything having to do with designing is quick, because the cable kept talking to me, as cables do, telling me what it wanted to be, and it was something much richer and complex than I thought I had stuck my fork in.

I ripped and reknit four times, which isn’t all that much compared to other ideas that haven’t known what they wanted to be and we had to figure it out together. After six hours or so, the cable was happy and I was happy.

Knitscene wants only a swatch and a sketch with your proposal, which makes for a quick submission, but I don’t like submitting ideas. I’ve seen too many of them do a 180 to entirely trust them. Usually the new direction the idea takes is better, bionic even, which is one of the great things about any right-brain endeavor, but when a publication buys your idea, you pretty much have to produce what you said you would.

An ambigram, not a 180, but you get the idea.

I much prefer submitting something I’ve already knit up because by then, all the things that make you want to forget about designing knitwear and get a job at a truck stop little challenges that come up with a design have been handled, but because I snoozed that alarm so many times and because I’m more than a few steps into my Aran sweater design and because I’m a slow knitter and designer, I have to either submit an idea or not submit anything at all. And even though not submitting was the idea I started with, that too has done a 180.

That’s the thing about ideas.