blog

books
  • the north sea

    I read a book a couple months ago called The Shetland Bus, which I picked up over Christmas break after someone posted about it on social media last fall. The phrase "the Shetland bus" refers to a British and Norwegian special operations unit who used fishing ships to carry supplies and refugees back and forth between Shetland and the west coast of Norway during World War II (as Norway was occupied by the Nazis, many Norwegians fled to the UK or the United States during the war). Shetland is due west from the west coast of southern Norway, with Lerwick and Bergen being on approximately equal latitudes, so it made sense as a home base for this type of special operations group.

    The book itself is fascinating for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it was first published in 1951 and the author was part of the unit that carried out these trips. The trips this group carried out were not in large boats, but fishing boats small enough to be unassuming and less likely to be stopped or questioned. And as the sun doesn't sink low enough below the horizon for total darkness in the summer time, these trips were carried out in fall and late winter, in the cold and under cover of darkness, often with stormy weather. Even having lived through my first Norwegian winter, I can't even imagine what it must have been like.

    Most of the action took place much farther south than where I live in Norway (Bergen sits at 60ºN while Tromsø is up at 69ºN) with the exception of chapter thirteen, which is one of the more incredible tales in the book about a seemingly impossible escape. Another chapter tells of the attempt to sabotage a German battleship in Trondheim - the attempt failed, but that battleship (Tirpitz) was later sunk just south of Tromsøya at the end of the war. The presence of a little bit of local history probably increased the impact of this book on me.

    I also found myself thinking about knitting at different points in the book. Now, nothing in this book is about knitting, but there's definitely a bit of shared history and tradition between Shetland and Norway - stretching back to the Viking age, of course, but also more recently. Both places are famous for their stranded knitting patterns, and though there are differences, there has always been a great deal of sharing of certain motifs between both places. As I neared the end of The Shetland Bus I found myself reaching for my needles.

    I wound up with a hat that I feel is part Norwegian in spirit and part Shetland-style, too. While the main motifs stand out in a single color, the background cycles through different colors. I've called it The North Sea in tribute to the fishermen of the Shetland bus, all of whom were incredibly brave, and many of whom found their final resting place at the bottom of that sea.

    I went down to Telegrafbukta to shoot the photos of the hat about two months ago, when it was still much snowier here. This park is one of my favorite spots in Tromsø, on the southwest side of the island right on the water. It was a windy day, so I found myself facing in one particular direction more than any other - it just so happens that I wound up looking toward the sunken wreck of the Tirpitz.

    Using multiple background colors with colorwork makes this an excellent hat for leftovers, and that is exactly what I used - leftover yarn I had on hand. It is for this reason that the hat is knit in an American yarn (Brooklyn Tweed Shelter) though I'd love to see it worked up in wool from Norway or Shetland as well. It's a great project for any worsted-weight leftovers you have in your stash. As written, the pattern uses a tubular cast on, but that can be swapped out for any other stretchy cast on you like, and otherwise it's quite straightforward.

    The one thing that's unusual is that normally I write hat patterns for multiple sizes, but due to the very large repeat used on this hat, the pattern is written for just one size. In this case I would suggest trying to adjust gauge by changing needles sizes if you'd like to make the hat smaller or larger, and keep in mind that gauge from knitter to knitter can vary substantially in stranded colorwork, so you'll probably find it useful to swatch first.

    The North Sea is available on Ravelry now. Head over to that page for all the technical details about the pattern.

    Comments
  • 42 norske kofter

    Today I'm thinking about kofter. This ubiquitous Norwegian word can feel difficult to properly translate, as it can describe several different pieces of clothing. Today I'm writing about it in the sense of "knitted cardigans" - you may have heard the word in connection with the famous lusekofte, or "lice jacket," from Setesdal. Kofte is the singular form, while kofter is the plural.

    Kofter are beloved here in Norway, and one glance at the knitting shelf of any bookstore will show it: titles like Kofteboken, Kofteboken 2, and Koftefest peer out at you. Last November another hit the shelves, called 42 norske kofter: fra Lindesnes til NordkappI saw it everywhere I went, and I finally picked up a copy for myself.

    This book was a project from Sandnes Garn, reworking many of their classic kofte patterns published in the mid-20th century by modernizing the fit, changing the sample yarn, or playing with the colors (while I don't have any of these old patterns in their original form, I do have a handful that were published by Husfliden and they're great fun). It also reflects the fact that patterns were often affiliated with specific regions in Norway, hence the subtitle "from Lindesnes to Nordkapp" (Lindesnes is at the southern tip of Norway while Nordkapp is the northermost point on the mainland). I've had some time to sit down with it this week and overall, I think it's pretty fantastic.

    Aside from the patterns, there's a lovely bit of introductory text at the beginning about kofter and their place in Norwegian history and society (seen in the photo above, with the heading "Kofter, yarn, and production"). It celebrates the resurgence of popularity these cardigans have experienced, and provides a nice quick historical overview as well as some information about the yarn production (specifically the production of Sandnes Garn, as they published the book). I love it when this type of information is included in pattern books, as it gets knitters thinking more about the production and sourcing of the materials they purchase at the yarn store, which can only be a good thing. Within the introduction, this quote stuck out (translation is mine):

    "Even though kofter are a Norwegian national treasure, the history of the kofte is actually quite international."

    I appreciate the acknowledgment that what's considered traditional to a place can often have far-flung roots. The authors write about the fact that the generally accepted origin for the word kofte is the Persian word kaftan, and they also note that the motifs and patterns used in these knitted cardigans sometimes came from or were inspired by people and traditions from abroad. 

    The patterns themselves are great, too. The forty-two patterns are effectively for 27 different cardigans, some of which are written up for both men and women, others of which are written up with two different constructions (one option for a drop shoulder cardigan and another for one with a round yoke). You get a glimpse of the original pattern photos and styling, which I think is fantastic too. 

    Eventually I'd like to knit at least one of the cardigans in this book, though I have a lot of knitting on my plate to finish before I can do that. Fortunately that means I have plenty of time to ruminate on my favorites and decide which would make the best addition to my wardrobe. (You can see photos of all the different cardigans on the Sandnes Garn page for the book.)

    The technical aspects are also fun to look at. Since this is a book full of cardigans worked up in stranded colorwork, you may have guessed that steeks are involved, and you'd be right. In the Norwegian tradition, though, two lines of reinforcing stitches are sewn by machine before cutting. In the case of a cardigan, it makes quite a lot of sense - machine stitches are excellent reinforcement for a button band that's going to see a lot of handling, and it's less bulky than a crocheted reinforcement. 

    Other technical information points to the self-reliance of Norwegian knitters. Having seen several patterns from the mid-20th century, I can say it's no wonder that the Norwegian word for a knitting pattern (as in "set of instructions to knit something") is oppskrift, the word for "recipe." The patterns in this book definitely contain more information than their original forms must have done, but still, only stitch gauge is given, not row gauge, and yarn quantities are listed in grams, not yardage or meterage (leaving the knitter to do some quick arithmetic if they plan to substitute yarns at all). I haven't actually worked from Norwegian patterns yet, so I find it interesting to compare these details with what I'm used to from the US.

    All in all I'm very excited about this addition to my knitting library!

    Comments
  • farm to needle: stories of wool

    If you’re familiar with Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington, you can probably imagine how I felt when I received an email from Anna Dianich earlier this year … there was a book project she was putting together, and would I like to be involved? It was a no brainer, of course - YES, I said, even though I knew I had an international move on the horizon and a pretty packed to-do list. Some things are easy to make time for.

    Anna described her idea for the book - a focus on yarns with that could be traced to the source, made from American grown wool, spun and dyed at American mills, often coming from single flocks. I’ve come to know some of these yarns through visits to Tolt and I’m so excited for the stories of who makes them to be shared in book form. I think many knitters have become increasingly interested in yarns from smaller producers over the last several years as they begin to ask where their fiber is actually coming from, a trend that parallels the farm-to-table trend in the food industry. When Tolt began producing their own Snoqualmie Valley Yarn (whose wool comes from a single flock of BFL/Clun Forest sheep), it was fitting that the labels said “farm to needle.” To me, this book project feels like such a natural extension of what Tolt does as a yarn store and as the core of a community. And appropriately the book itself, which will be released around Tolt’s second anniversary party on November 7, is titled Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool.

    Here’s a short blurb from farmtoneedlebook.com:

    "When we pick up our needles, cast on the first stitch, we become part of something much bigger than the project at hand. Farmers, shearers, spinners and dyers are working hard not only to produce the yarn we love, but to preserve a way of life that is at real risk of being lost. Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool invites you to join us on a journey; to peek behind the scenes of some of our favorite producers and gain a deeper understanding of the people, places, and animals at work. Discover Aspen Hollow Farm, Green Mountain Spinnery, Imperial Stock Ranch, Thirteen Mile Farm, YOTH, Saco River Dye House, and Twirl through patterns by Dianna Walla, Tif Fussell, Veronika Jobe, Ashley Yousling & Annie Rowden, Karen Templer, and Andrea Rangel. Photography by Kathleen Cadigan."

    I can’t tell you how thrilled and honored I am to be part of such a stellar lineup. We’re all looking forward to sharing more of the book with you in the near future - I’m quite proud of my pattern and I can’t wait for you to see it (it is, unsurprisingly, Norwegian-inspired, but that's all I'll tell you for now!). Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool is available to pre-order now at farmtoneedlebook.com and I hope some of you will be able to attend Tolt’s second anniversary party on November 7!

    Comments
  • a new year, tutorials, & yokes

    Happy 2015! I hope everyone's new year has gotten off to a good start. I must admit since getting home (and it is so good to be home again) that I've been swept up in the new-year-fresh-slate-mindset a little bit. I decided to give in to that impulse this year, knowing that some of the changes I've made this first week/month of the year will stick, and some won't; some will probably come and go depending on the weather/my mood/the time of year/any other number of things. It's hard not to feel good about taking steps to make positive changes in my life, though. Three mornings in a row of yoga (which is kicking my butt but still manages to make me feel amazing) followed by a huge green smoothie feels like a great start, even if I can't keep it up every day moving forward.

    I've been slowly working my way back into work this week - I always have a hard time getting back into a good work flow after traveling - so there's been a lot more studio organizing and a lot less hands-on work. The good news is that's given me a chance to start planning a schedule for the tutorials I'm hoping to start posting soon. I'm aiming to address a lot of the most common questions I get about my patterns, so there will be a definite focus on colorwork! I'm hoping to cover things like different provisional cast ons and grafting together ends (used for Pine Bough Cowl and Inkling), working the thumb gusset increases for a Norwegian-style mitt/mitten (as in Seven Stars), as well as some more general colorwork stuff like how to trap long floats and ways to combat tight colorwork. If there's anything in particular you'd like to see me cover, please let me know! I'll make sure to add it to my list. 

    --

    One of the most exciting things about getting home was finally being able to crack into my copy of Yokes, the beautiful new book by Kate Davies I've been posting about. I have no idea which sweater I'll knit first, or even when I'll have time to cast on for one, but in the meantime the wonderful essays should keep me busy! I had the opportunity to read through the second chapter, "Greenlanders and Norwegians," in advance; Kate and I did some writing back and forth about this topic and I was able to translate a few small pieces of one of the chapters in Ren Ull to help her find some information she was missing about some iconic Norwegian yokes. It was a thrill after helping her with the research to see how amazingly she tied everything together and was able to draw through-lines I wouldn't have seen otherwise, and I'm so excited to read the other pieces of writing in the book. Thank you so much to Kate for the engaging conversations and for putting such a wonderful book out into the world.

    You can view all 11 patterns from Yokes on Ravelry, and you can purchase your own copy here.

    Comments
  • magpies, homebodies, and nomads

    I'm very excited to have a sneak peek on the blog today of Cirilia Rose's upcoming book, Magpies, Homebodies, and Nomads: A Modern Knitters Guide to Discovering and Exploring Style (out this November on STC Craft / Melanie Falick Books; available for preorder here). My review copy arrived a week or two ago and I've been looking forward to it for so long that I immediately dropped everything to curl up on my couch with it. 

    Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Cirilia's a personal friend of mine, and I was actually one of the models for the book. Still, my glimpse at what the final product might be like was minimal at best. The patterns in the book are grouped into three sections, named in the title: Magpies (for those small amounts of precious yarns we inevitably collect), Homebodies (for time spent close to home), and Nomads (venturing into the world to meet friends and gather inspiration). I was a Magpie, along with our friend Kathleen (that's her on the cover up there), but each section was shot with different models on different days. This meant that the rest of the pieces, as well as the content of the book itself, were as much a mystery to me as for you until I got a copy in my hands.

    The photoshoot itself was quite fun, helped by the fact that we were shooting with Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed. Jared's photos are absolutely beautiful, as always, and I think he did a wonderful job of bringing Cirilia's vision to life (along with the outstanding hair, makeup, and style team). The layout and visual feel of the book is really gorgeous, as well; it's fresh, bright, and inspiring. 

    There's a lot of variety in the patterns: garments, accessories, and a few items for the home, as well (eleven garments, thirteen accessories, and two home items, by my count). My favorite parts, though, might be Cirilia's writing. At the end of each section are a few short essays on everything from where to look for inspiration to color choice, substituting yarns and thrifting. This is truly a knitter's style guide. Cirilia's writing is friendly and informative at the same time - you can tell how much she loves what she does, but you can also tell that she knows what she's talking about. I think the writing that accompanies each section is all helpful stuff for figuring out how to choose the right things to knit, and knit things that we (or our recipients) will love. I especially liked this bit, from the introduction ("Finding Your Inner Bricoleur"):

    "The past decade has seen a proliferation of knitwear designers, myself included, and we're all working from essentially the same sourcebooks, with the same basic resources: the knit stitch, the purl stitch, and a whole lot of yarn. So how does one innovate in an increasingly crowded landscape? The answer is, of course, through bricolage. The comination of elements from seemingly disparate cultural sources creates energy that didn't exist before, and when each of us cultivates our own unique concotion of referents, it guarantees more idiosyncratic knits."

    One of my favorite things about this excerpt is that if you deconstruct it further, the knit stitch and the purl stitch are essentially the exact same stitch, and whether it's a knit or a purl really just depends on your point of view or the way in which you're working it. One of my favorite things about being friends with Cirilia is that if you gave each of us the very same, identical garment on which to base an ensemble, the resulting outfits each of us would create would probably look very, very different from each other. I love to see her creative impulses because I think they're often coming from a different place than mine, and that idiosyncracy is exactly what she's talking about.

    I thought I'd share a few of my favorites patterns from the book, which all happen to be garments (one from Magpies, two from Nomads).

    This is the Isla Cardigan, a sweet little number worked up in Zealana Rimu DK, and of course, it's the cover star! It's a simple cardigan but the details are what I love the most: the high-wasited rib, the slightly puffled sleeve caps, and the subtle ruching at the front yoke. I'd love to knit this in a neutral, or possibly a soft blue. (Side note: we shot Magpies outdoors in Seattle's Discovery Park. If you've never been on a Pacific Northwest beach in mid-spring, it can be chilly. Kathleen makes it look serene!)

    Next up is the Gezell Coat, a cozy, oversized cardigan with pockets. This one's another simple piece with great details: the pockets, obviously, but also the bobbles at the hem and sleeve cuffs and the exposed back seam. I personally like the three-quarter sleeves, but the sleeve length would probably be easy to modify if they're not your thing (same goes for the bobbles). The thing I like most about this sweater is its lazy elegance; in a dark color like the sample shown above, it's slouchy and cozy but still manages to make Katie, the model, look totally put together.

    The last favorite I have to share today is the Reyka Pullover. A true lopapeysa, it's knit with Plötulopi, the unspun version of Lopi, the Icelandic wool, which comes in wheels. I love the traditional aspects of it, like the wool and the circular yoke, but I also love the hood (not really visible in this photo), the short-sleeve length, and the textured colorwork. Because the colorwork is purled instead of knit, it also manages to call to mind some of the Bohus knitting, even in only two colors. I think it's a sweet little piece with a lot of opportunity for modification - longer sleeves, extra colors, and think of all the possible color combinations! Brights, neutrals, darks, lights, they'd all yield such different results.

    If you'd like your own copy of Magpies, Homebodies, and Nomads, you can pre-order it right here on Amazon, here on the Book Depository, or you can ask your local yarn store to order it (it's out November 4th, 2014). Special thanks to STC Craft / Melanie Falick Books for the chance to review it! 

    And a quick reminder that this upcoming weekend is the Nordic Knitting Conference here in Ballard, and both Cirilia and I will be teaching! I hope we see some of you there!

    Comments
  • inspiration: books and pdx

    This summer has been surprisingly full of travel, and I'm only just getting around to projects that have been on the to-do list. In the meantime, I've been totally in awe of two new projects by Portland-based illustrators/authors.

    My friend Amy Martin recently relocated to Portland from Los Angeles. This coincided with the release of her new children's book, Symphony City, by McSweeney's.



    Amy's illustration is hugely inspiring for me - her work is saturated with color and her graphic style is appealing and very well-suited for everything from music posters to (you guessed it) children's books. What impresses me the most about her latest project is that she also wrote the book herself, and great children's literature is deceptively difficult. If you get a chance, pick up a copy from your local bookstore (it's also available on amazon.com).


    Another huge inspiration at the moment is the new project of Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy and Decemberists illustrator (and wife of Colin) Carson Ellis. I have long loved Carson's work, and so it's been incredible to see what she's come up with for their new book Wildwood, the first in a series of books known as the Wildwood Chronicles. Colin is authoring the texts, and Carson is illustrating. You can preview the first four chapters via the Wildwood website now. I think I'm most excited to see all of the illustrations Carson has come up with.




    Comments