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Seed Lace

I’m always on the lookout for knitting inspiration, but I especially love when I take a quick look at something, read it as knitting, then give it a second glance and see that it’s anything but.

Check out this stunning lacework made out of seeds – yes, seeds. Artist Rena Detrixheby made this gorgeous installation back in 2013 using only sheer cloth and seeds. The final result is both breathtaking and inspiring. Read the original article here.

Heirloom: A Tablecloth Created with Lace-like Patterns of Collected Seeds by Rena Detrixhe




Heirloom is a 2013 installation by artist Rena Detrixhe created from thousands of collected seeds that were applied in lace-like patterns to a large piece of sheer fabric. The resulting tablecloth makes it appear as if the seeds are hovering just above the surface. You can see much more of her environmental and textile-based artwork here.


Color Psychology

Remember we talked a bit about color theory here, dear readers? As promised, today we’ll follow-up with a drive-by discussion of the psychology of color, which is equally important.

Screen shot 2010-04-11 at 8.24.12 PM

We’re told that, “color psychology is the study of color as a determinant of human behavior. Color influences perceptions that are not obvious, such as the taste of food. Colors can also work as placebos by having the color of pills be certain colors to influence how a person feels after taking them. For example, red or orange pills are generally used as stimulants. Another way in which colors have been used to influence behavior was, in 2000, when the company Glasgow installed blue street lights in certain neighborhoods which resulted in a reduced crime rate. Color can indeed influence a person, however it is important to remember that these effects differ between people. Factors such as gender, age, and culture can influence how an individual perceives color.”

I’d definitely agree with that, do you? Take a look at the spectrum wheel above (and take it with a grain of salt). It’s an interesting image tying together colors with emotions. Some of these tie-ins seem obvious – thinking about a beautiful light blue ocean can make you feel calm, orange traffic cones can make you feel anxious, remember the expression “seeing red” when talking about someone being angry? Some of these are cultural cues, some are perhaps ingrained and some are quite possibly nonsense.


Did you know that blue is the top choice for 35% of Americans, followed by green (16%), purple (10%) and red (9%)? Some other fun color facts are that a preference for blue and green may be due to a preference for certain habitats, color preference may depend on ambient temperature, research has concluded that women and men respectively prefer “warm” and “cool” colors, studies have shown that cultural background has a strong influence on color preference, children’s preferences for colors they find to be pleasant and comforting can be changed and can vary, while adult color preference is usually non-malleable. Some studies find that color can affect mood (ever notice that hospital walls are almost always extremely neutral?). However, these studies do not agree on precisely which moods are brought out by which colors.

Keeping all this in mind, let’s apply what we know about the psychology of color to branding and marketing. Color is used as a means to attract consumer attention to a product that then influences buying behavior. Color name can also matter (what sounds better: “I bought a red car” or “I bought a lipstick red car?”). I find this graphic fascinating:

Color_Emotion_Guide22Makes sense now, correct? Trying to drive the point home that your company or brand is eco-friendly? Using green is an obvious choice. Hoping to stand out and cater to a perhaps younger audience? Bring in the red. Want to convey that you are a lasting brand, one with history and dependability? Everyone loves blue. Companies spend billions on branding and marketing. There isn’t some person sitting in a room somewhere making doodles for logos – they’re incorporating market research, company identity, visibility, whom they want for their target audience and, you guessed it, color psychology.

So how can we bring all this information over to our knitting and apply it? We don’t even need to be talking about Fair Isle, intarsia, mosaic or any other type of color work knitting – we could be talking about a simple, monochrome ribbed scarf. Color matters. It seems like an obvious statement, but if your goal is to design an ethereal lace shawl inspired by the forests of Iceland, you probably don’t want to cast on with orange or red. That being said, there is of course a flip-side where sometimes the color of the yarn dictates the design. I found myself purchasing 2 hanks of crazy variegated yarn recently that part of my brain said “this is not your thing, Tanis, step away” while the other part (that eventually won out) screamed “bring me home with you, Tanis! I’m gorgeous!” I knew the crazy variegated was destined to live its life as mostly garter stitch – and I was fine with that because in this particular case, it was about the color, not the design. What do you want your design to convey? Maybe it doesn’t matter to you and you just want to knit a beautiful shawl – and that’s fine!

One of the most amazing things about knitting is that we create every single stitch. We literally take string and turn it into something wearable and useful. How great is that? Color psychology adds an additional layer to our knitting and it can enhance a design, hinder it (ever knit lace with a highly contrasting variegated?), add emotion or mood, blend in by being neutral or proclaim to the world “THIS IS MY KNITTING AND I LOVE GREEN!”


No, this isn’t my yarn stash, but isn’t it lovely?

So next time you stash dive or head over to your LYS, don’t just settle on a color. Cast on with intent and thoughtfulness towards your design. Give color a voice – listen to it, respect it, apply it and enjoy it. There are no right or wrong color choices – at the end of the day I think it’s mainly personal preference that makes a person choose one color over another. How those preferences came about is another story, but go to your LYS and look around with fresh eyes. You might surprise yourself with what you reach for!


Unwind Recap

I am back from my retreat, dear readers! My back is sore from a lot of late-night floor knitting, but it was a wonderful experience and definitely an interesting and inspiring one. If you’ve ever thought of partaking in a knitting retreat, I highly recommend it. You learn so much, make new friends, share experiences, enjoy meals and the conversations, knit anywhere and everywhere, come back with your head spinning from jamming so much fun and learning into a handful of days and leave knowing that you want to come back. There are so many knitting retreats, and no matter where you are in the country, chances are there’s one close to you. Henry David Thoreau said:


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

I definitely sucked the marrow of life at Unwind and am looking forward to next year.

Shetland ponies!!!

Shetland ponies!!!

One of my favorite things we did this year was pay a visit to Apple Hill Farm. The owner and operator, Lee, was in one of my classes, but she gave us a wonderful tour of her farm where we met alpaca, goats, angora goats, dogs, horses, Shetland ponies (squee!), a pig, donkeys, chickens and cats. Apple Hill Farm started in 2002 and is still a working alpaca farm, but they’ve opened their gates to the public and are now focusing on agri-tourism as their main focus. Their passion is creating an environment where their guests can develop a new and deeper connection with animals and the beautiful mountain they call home. Every animal on the farm and every crop in the garden is grown and maintained with a specific purpose. You felt nothing but mutual admiration between animal and owner while walking the property and the yarn from her own herd of alpaca was amazing. Lee has a lot of gumption and I enjoyed our time there! It reminded me of my first book, Knit Local, and the importance of buying local and loving the land we’re lucky enough to be part of.

small_ahf_12 small_ahf_11 small_ahf_10 small_ahf_9 small_ahf_8 small_ahf_7 small_ahf_6 small_ahf_5 small_ahf_4 small_ahf_3 small_ahf_2 small_ahf_1

I’ll be talking more about the science behind color psychology in another post soon, once I dig myself out from the laundry pile and get caught up.

Color Theory – A Primer

As you’re reading this, dear readers, I am driving my way south, headed to new, uncharted lands (by me, anyway) to the wilds of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I’ll be spending the next handful of days teaching at the Unwind Knitting Retreat, schooling knitters on all things Fair Isle, lace and picot. I’m looking forward to becoming deeply entrenched in the land of knit, surrounded by “my people” and trading stories, yarns, ideas and thoughts.

As mentioned in my last post, I teach a lot of stranded color work classes, both technique and in design. I like to throw in some information about color as well, because color and Fair Isle knitting go together like Wheat Thins and goat cheese (trust me, it’s a spectacular snack). Color theory and the psychology of color (coming in another post) are downright fascinating and whether you realize it or not, it sways your thoughts, your purchasing history, your mood, your body… Everything.

I get asked frequently about color and often, the next sentence to come out of that person’s mouth is “I have no idea how to choose colors, make them go together or even where to start.” While I could write a book on what I’ve learned, I’ll keep this knitting-friendly and just scratch the surface a bit in the hopes that you’ll hightail it to your library and check out a few books on color theory.

color wheel

So what exactly is color theory? Wikipedia tells us “that in the visual arts, color theory is a body of practical guidance to color mixing and the visual effects of a specific color combination. There are also definitions (or categories) of colors based on the color wheel: primary color, secondary color and tertiary color. Although color theory principles first appeared in the writings of Leone Battista Alberti (c.1435) and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (c.1490), a tradition of “colory theory” began in the 18th century, initially within a partisan controversy around Isaac Newton’s theory of color (Opticks, 1704) and the nature of so-called primary colors. From there it developed as an independent artistic tradition with only superficial reference to colorimetry and vision science.”

In knitting speak, it’s a way to balance colors of fibers so they play off of one another, work together to benefit the design to create harmony, rather than hinder it. In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it’s either boring or chaotic (and in knitting, it can start to look muddy). At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information. At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can’t stand to look at it. The human brain rejects what it can not organize, what it can not understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order. There are 3 basic types of color categories:


Primary Colors: Red, yellow and blue
In traditional color theory (used in paint and pigments), primary colors are the 3 pigment colors that can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.

Secondary Colors: Green, orange and purple
These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.

Tertiary Colors: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green
These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That’s why the hue is a two-word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.


We could go in even deeper and talk about lightness, saturation and hue (those terms probably sound familiar to you if you took Art 101 or ever played around in Photoshop) – lightness (light vs. dark, or white vs. black), saturation (intense vs. dull) and hue (e.g., red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple). We’ve also got our warm colors (red, orange, yellow) and our cool colors (green, blue, purple). We’ve got our pure achromatic colors (commonly known as the gray scale), tints and shades, split complimentary, complimentary, RGB vs CMYK, the list goes on and on. Learning about color is like learning about knitting – you’ll learn something new all the time.

So how do we apply what we learned above in my brief Color 101 lesson to our knitting? My advice – get yourself a color wheel. If you’re one of those people who struggle with color, buy a detailed wheel at an art store and keep it in your knitting bag, or throw it in your purse when you’re going to your LYS. Basic rules of thumb are this: things opposite on the color wheel (complimentary colors) ALWAYS look aesthetically pleasing and play well with each other. Same goes for your primaries, secondaries and tertiaries, if you plan on using more than 2 colors. Your split complementaries will look good as well. Draw a line from one color to another and they’ll work, make a triangle or a box and they’ll work, too.

I’ve noticed that some knitters have a hard time envisioning the fair isle project they want to knit in colors other than what is shown. After you’ve downloaded your pattern, print it out in black and white. Take all of the color out of the equation and start from scratch. Bring both your black and white print out and your color wheel to your LYS, lay fibers down in the color wheel sections and start playing around with them. Sometimes color is a feeling (as in “I love how this looks, this just feels right”) and sometimes it’s more scientific (as in “green and red are complimentary colors and I know that the colors will play off of each other well”). If you’re gift knitting, maybe keep in mind what colors your recipient wears and tends to stay away from, eye color, skin tone, climate, fiber preference, etc.

Using one of my recent Fair Isle patterns, the Simon Says Cowl, I’ve played around a bit with the colors in Photoshop. Here we have the original picture next to the same image in black and white with all color information removed:


Completely different feel, correct?

Now what if I played around with the hue and saturation settings?

cowlsWow! Not only does the look of the cowl change, but the feel of it does also. Color is amazing!

Growing up with an artist mother, I have been deeply submerged in the world of art and color since day 1. I suppose at some point I learned the technicalities of color and science, but when choosing colors, I go with my gut. I know what works, I know if the colors will play off each other or turn to mud when knit up and what to avoid. My #1 advice for color choices? BE BRAVE. Try something new! Yellow and purple freak you out? Guess what? They’re complimentary colors, they’re aesthetically pleasing. On the flip side, just because science tells us they’ll look good together, you may personally not like that combination, but that’s the beauty of walking into your LYS, making a choice, trying something new and coming up with a color combination you may never have gravitated towards.

Embrace color and don’t be afraid that you’ll “mess up.” It’s your project, your vision, your choice! What color combinations have you tried lately in your knitting that made you swoon?


Sweater Quest

March was a crazy busy month chock full of teaching, here at TanisKnits. Each weekend I drove to lands both near and far and spoke/taught/trunk showed/signed books at Knitting Guilds. Guilds are interesting – they’re not like a traditional 3-week class where you build a relationship with 6 students, really get to see what they excel at and what they need a little extra help with, learn about their families and in some cases, become friends afterwards. Guild are more of a drive-by situation where you come in like a tornado, teach or lecture anywhere from 1 hour to 8, with 10 knitters or 80, pack up and go home.

There are definitely some similarities… A bunch of knitters packed around tables, eager to learn, sharing stories, offering yarn and book suggestions, trading pattern names and showing off their latest finished knit. Both Guilds and classes have their own personalities and some are more serious than others, while some have more of a party atmosphere. Guilds and classes are like a box of chocolates (and I’ll let you finish off that sentence on your own).


give me Fair Isle or give me death!

What all of my Guild visits had in common, was they were all Fair Isle. At my LYS, I’m know as “the Fair Isle lady.” Stranded color work knitting is by far my favorite technique and I could knit and talk about it  ALL. DAY. LONG (and sometimes I do). I teach the technique most often and read every book about it I can get my hands on. While doing my “Guild Tour 2015,” a handful of students recommended that I read Adrienne Martini’s book Sweater Quest (2010). I had heard about it in the past (and thought that I had read it, but it turns out that I had not). After the dust settled, my Fair Isle teaching samples were put away, the books put back on their shelves and my teaching bag had a thorough cleaning, I remembered that I wanted to read this book. One Kindle download later, and I was immersed in her story.

The review states, “Martini decided to knit the extraordinarily complicated Alice Starmore Fair Isle sweater pattern, known as Mary Tudor, and now chronicles her 12 months’ experience. Shades of Julie and Julia? Well, yes, but Martini offers a deeper, more reflective narrative, one that showcases her interactions with other well-known stitchers; her book features family snippets and personal philosophies and her travels to places where knitters congregate, such as Toronto and Rhinebeck, New York. We meet Ann Shayne, coauthor of Mason-Dixon Knitting (2006), as well as Amy R. Singer, “Master of the Knitting Universe.” We learn a lot about the craft (or is it an art?) from statistics and these profiles of major figures as well as achieve an understanding of the community that binds knitters together. Marvel—even if you’re a nonknitter—at Martini’s way with words: “Scissors and knitting go together like mashed potatoes and chocolate syrup.” Purling through life was never so fascinating.”

After finishing the book a few weeks ago, I reached out to Adrienne via her blog (read it here) to see if she would do a Q&A with me about it here. She was kind enough to oblige and sat down to answer a few questions for us…


Tanis Gray (TG): You chose to take on a pretty drastic challenge – knitting an Alice Starmore Fair Isle cardigan design (arguably one of the most complicated things to knit) in a year and writing about it. This is an amazing feat for any knitter, let alone someone with children, a job, a self-imposed deadline and a life to live. Tell us about your journey.

Adrienne Martini (AM): It was a journey that started with feeling like my life had become about nothing more than routine maintenance that kept our general level of chaos at a minimum but didn’t have many (or any) creative challenges. Yes, not yelling at your toddler to just put her mittens on already is a challenge — but not really one that feeds the soul. The exact opposite, in fact. Add to that my natural instinct to make something twice as hard as it probably needs to be and — boom — sweater.

TG: Why an Alice Starmore design and not, say, a Kaffe Fassett or a Brandon Mably?

AM: Because I was a British royalty geek long before I was a knitting geek. Plus Starmore herself has such an interesting story that I couldn’t resist because it would let me talk about ownership and the law and small, windy islands.



TG: Alice’s designs are knit in very specific yarns in very specific colors. Some of the more hardcore knitters claim that if you change anything, it is no longer her original vision. In your book you struggle to answer the question “is it really an ‘Alice Starmore’ if you change some of the design elements and some of the yarns and yarn colors?” Do you still feel the same way about the conclusion you came to, looking back now five years later?

AM: I waffle on this one still. This tidbit that helps explain where I came to rest on that question may or may not have made it in to the final draft but — when courts were first faced with legally defining what “obscenity” was, one of the justices said simply “I know it when I see it.” That’s a completely useless legal argument but works well enough for talking about knitting and designers. Is a version of a Starmore design done all in fun fur an “Alice Starmore?” Nope. Is my version an “Alice Starmore?” Sure. But there’s a vast gray area in between and I’m not sure where the tipping point is. I am, however, pretty sure that I am likely one of the few who cares.


Author Adrienne Martini in her finished Mary Tudor Cardigan

TG: I love the author picture of you in the back of your book wearing the finished piece! You said the end goal was not to have a finished sweater to wear, it was more about the actual process of making it. Do you ever wear your sweater? Did the dog ever attack it? Did you ever knit something fair isle again? Do AS designs make you twitchy?

AM: The Sweater currently lives in a tote bag in my closet and only comes out for book events. Eventually, I might have it framed. But, to be honest, I’ll never wear it, not really. I’ve knit a bunch of small Fair Isle things — mittens, mostly, and a couple of ear warmers. True story: right around the time I finished The Sweater, my husband was flipping through Tudor Roses and talked about how much he’d like a Henry VIII. I kindly offered to teach him to knit so that he could make his own damn sweater. Strangely, it hasn’t come up since then.

TG: Funny how that works! In a battle to the death of Intarsia vs. Fair Isle, who would win in your mind?

AM: I’m not even sure why this is a question. Fair Isle is far superior, in terms of efficiency and pleasure, especially if you go big enough to require a steak, which is totally bad ass.

TG: Has any other designer or technique captured your imagination since finishing your book the way Alice or Mary Tudor (the cardigan design) did?

AM: Nope. It appears that I had just one knitting obsession in me. So far, anyway.


Reprinted edition of Alice Starmore’s Tudor Roses book, where the Mary Tudor cardigan pattern can be found, © Alice Starmore

TG: Alice Starmore is both an immensely private and immensely talented woman. Did you ever hear from her in regards to your book?

AM: Before Sweater Quest came out, the publisher’s lawyers let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to contact her beforehand, which was too bad because I really wanted to talk to her for the book, even if I had to fly out to her island and park myself on her doorstep until she either talked to me or had me arrested. Either seemed likely. After the book came out, I tried to convince the powers-that-were that a lawsuit would be great publicity and that we should send her a copy. That never happened, as far as I know. So, short answer, no. I’ve never heard from her directly.


Mary Tudor

TG: Being both a knitter and a “Type A,” I could relate to becoming obsessed with a particular design. How did the non-knitters in your life react when you told them what you were writing about?

AM: The non-knitters in my life shrugged. They are used to (and benefitted from) this sort of behavior by now.

TG: What would you say to Alice if you had a chance to meet her in real life?

AM: I don’t even know. I’d probably mutter something about how I think she’s a true artist and that we are all flawed human beings. That might be too deep for a first meeting, however. I’d offer her a baked good, likely, and hope for the best.


Alice Starmore

TG: Hmmm, I wasn’t offered any baked goods… What’s on your needles now?

AM: Two pairs of socks that I just kind of carry around with me and work on when unexpected pockets of time present themselves. A pair of Fiddlehead mittens using Barbara Parry’s yarn. A thing that started out as a scarf that wasn’t behaving and is now on the time-out shelf. And five balls of Muench Touch Me — there was a sale — that will be a scarf, once I manage to cast on.

Thanks, Adrienne!

If you haven’t already read it, I suggest picking up a copy of Sweater Quest. It was entertaining, interesting and if you’re like me and you have serious and incurable Fair Isle Knitting Disease (FIKD), get reading!