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House of Faberge Cowl

Having an artist mother and a father who is very appreciative of the arts (and can draw a mean stick figure, hi dad!) I was brought up being very at home in art museums. We’d visit the MFA in Boston frequently, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, take day trips to museums further out, and pop into galleries. When at RISD I often found myself roaming the halls of the RISD Museum for inspiration and peace. Art appreciation is ingrained into my DNA and is such an imperative part of our existence.

There are a handful of shows that stick out in my mind as favorites – Picasso’s Blue Period, David Hockney’s Canyons, Monet’s haystacks, Takashi Murakami, The Art of the Tiara – all at the MFA in Boston, all of which my mom took me to. Gerard Richter at MOMA, Rothko at the National Gallery of Art. Another of my two favorites were shows I saw at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (yes, the Bellagio in Vegas has an art gallery, who knew?). My parents took me there for my 21st birthday (yes, my parents are that cool and it was an incredible trip) and Steve Martin’s art collection was on display (the man has impeccable taste in art). Another show I saw there a few years later was a collection of items from the House of Faberge and it was spectacular.

Faberge was of course made famous by the Russian Tsar Alexander Romanov III and the whimsical and priceless Easter eggs he commissioned for his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna. Our friends at Wikipedia tell us, “The House of Fabergé is a jewellery firm founded in 1842 in St. Petersburg, Imperial Russia, by Gustav Faberge. The firm has been famous for designing elaborate jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs for the Russian Tsars and a range of other work of high quality and intricate details.” Not only were some of the eggs on display, but jewelry, frames, snuff boxes, pins, etc. I do love shiny, sparkly things and this show captured my imagination. We went back twice!

It was this show that my mom and I wandered into by chance that inspired my latest design, the House of Faberge Cowl. Knit in Neighborhood Fiber Co’s Studio Worsted, this cowl uses all of the MC (blue) and most of the CC (ochre), giving it a very nice weight and drape. Begun with a provisional cast on and knit in a very long tube, the cowl gets folded into itself and kitchnered together, creating an endless design with no wrong side. The hand dyed yarn creates a look similar to the hand painted enamel that was part of most of Faberge’s creations, and the complimentary color scheme is bright and beautiful.

I’ve been very into slip-stitch colorwork lately, a technique that differs from Fair Isle because the colors are not stranded across the back, making it quick to knit. Only one color at a time is used while the other is left behind at the beginning of the round. Certain stitches are slipped and therefore elongated, creating an interesting illusion and texture. This cowl would be lovely in a gradient/solid combo, or even striped. I am completely in love with the weight of this cowl because it uses almost 700 yards of worsted. I brought it to a few of my workshops recently as an example of alternate colorwork and it was a crowd favorite! One student wore it the entire class and didn’t want to give it back!

Art is so important to our history, our culture, and our souls. I was incredibly fortunate to have parents that recognized this and cared enough to educate me and bring me to countless exhibits and galleries growing up. I wear this cowl and think of them, and hope my children will learn to appreciate art as much as I do.

Download the House of Faberge Cowl here.



Magically Delicious Hat

Frosted Lucky Charms? They’re magically delicious!

Lucky Charms have always had a place in my life. As a child, my brother and I were allowed to pick a “birthday cereal” – a box of cereal that the birthday girl or boy would choose and not have to share with anyone else in the house. If that wasn’t special enough, it was our one chance a year to get the cereal that had the highest sugar content possible without a peep from mom or dad, eat it at the table while smirking at the sibling who was not allowed to touch said birthday cereal, make it last for weeks – often to the point where it was stale because we just didn’t want that magic to end – run off to school with an epic sugar high, then wait for our birthday to roll around again and repeat the cycle. The short-lived Rainbow Brite cereal was my all-time favorite, yet most of the time, in the supermarket on my birthday I reached for that box of Lucky Charms.

My husband also grew up loving Lucky Charms (he still does), and we often find ourselves at Costco, him putting the giant double box of Lucky Charms in the cart, me complaining that it takes up too much room, he pretending that he’s buying it for our son (who also loves it), followed by weeks of me picking up discarded dishes of plain cereal around the house, picked clean of the Technicolor marshmallows that are peppered in with the boring oats. My BFF Heather from The Lemonade Shop also loves this particular cereal, so apparently it’s a national phenomenon.

While discussing Lucky Charms one day, Heather and I came up with the idea for a Lucky Charms-inspired hat. Enter in the Magically Delicious Hat, a slouchy hat bedecked with Fair Isle marshmallow motifs inspired by the cereal we all know and love in a riot of color – make that a SPARKLY riot of color. That’s right, not only is it magically delicious and rainbowtastic, this little beauty sparkles thanks to The Lemonade Shop’s Sparkle DK yarn in snow, bunny nose, pumpkin, duckling, grasshopper, sailor, and grapeape colorways.

Knit up on US 4 (3.5mm) circular needles, the corrugated ribbed brim jumps quickly into pink heart, orange star, yellow moon, green clover, blue diamond, and purple lucky horseshoe marshmallow motifs. Topped of with a jaunty pom-pom, this hat makes you a member of a secret society that proudly proclaims our love for Lucky Charms. The stranded colorwork chart is easy and is a perfect beginner Fair Isle project or holiday gift for your fellow cereal lovers. Did I mention that it sparkles?

If you find yourself at Rhinebeck’s Sheep & Wool Festival in New York this weekend, be sure to check out the unofficial start of the festivities at Indie Untangled on Friday night. This excellent gathering of indie dyers includes The Lemonade Shop and she’ll have exclusive Rhinebeck-only kits to make your very own Magically Delicious Hat!

Pour yourself a bowl of Lucky Charms and download the Magically Delicious Hat here.

Retrotastic Baby Blanket

I’m just home from teaching at Knitter’s Day Out in Harrisburg, PA. While my voice is a bit worse for the wear after 9 hours of teaching, I always come home from retreats feeling energized. I love meeting new students, watching people sit down apprehensively in a lace or Fair Isle class, then leave bursting with confidence. There was a wonderful marketplace and a few hanks of minimally processed, undyed wool ended up in my bag for some personal knitting. Using the natural colors of the sheep for colorwork is sometimes referred to as “Shetland knitting,” and I’m excited to get that going on my needles.

I’m an equal-opportunity colorwork knitter. While Fair Isle will always be my first love, and I’ll only knit intarsia when forced, I’ve really gotten inspired by mosaic or slip-stitch colorwork lately. What’s the difference? With Fair Isle or stranded colorwork, you carry both yarns across each round with you, making a double-thick fabric that strands along the wrong side. Intarsia is worked with wrapped bobbins over a small portion, and mosaic or slip-stitch has multiple colors, but only one is worked at a time while the other is slipped. This makes a less-dense fabric than Fair Isle, but the elongated stitches that were slipped create an interesting illusion, and in my opinion, it’s faster than the others and creates a unique texture.

Since I assumed we’d be getting into the full swing of autumn around here because it’s October (boy, was I wrong – the heat and humidity just won’t leave) I wanted to design a slip-stitch baby blanket that could double as a “lapghan” – bigger than your average baby blanket but smaller than an afghan. On cool fall evenings, we like to sit outside and watch our son run around the yard, playing on his swing set, the baby cuddled up against one of us and perhaps even a fire going in the fire pit. The leaves are falling, the air is crisp, and we have a lot of critters back there to watch – turtles, chipmunks, squirrels, and snakes. I like the idea of a blanket designed to keep the baby warm, but have it be big enough that I could wrap myself up a bit also and really trap that heat and warmth in.

I’ve knit with the Fiberists Audubon Worsted before and enjoyed the softness of the 100% superwash merino fiber, the bright colors, and the crisp stitch definition. I particularly like working with local dyers and Reggie and Spencer are just a few towns over. Armed with a throwback palette from my childhood – bright pink and purple – the Retrotastic Baby Blanket knits up quickly. Knit on US 8 (5mm) needles and a little over 600 yards of each color, this blanket is worked back and forth in the mosaic or slip-stitch colorwork technique. Each color is worked for 2 rows, then switched with the other. The result is a garter stitch diamond motif with plenty of contrast and texture to keep baby happy. Garter stitch motifs block out well and with a finished size of 31″ x 40″, there’s plenty of room with everyone with this brightly patterned blanket.

With a simple chart and only knits, purls, and slipped stitches, this is the perfect fall blanket (if it ever gets cold, that is). Imagine it knit up in black and white, red and pink, green and yellow… The possibilities are endless! The weather this time of year can turn on a dime, and I can’t wait to wrap my daughter and I up and have a retro-colored snuggle fest.

Download the Retrotastic Baby Blanket here.



Little Lungs & RSV – Crafting for A Cause

October is RSV awareness month. While my son never had RSV during his time in the NICU back in 2011 (read about his story here if you missed it), I was amazed at the lack of knowledge of NICU procedures in the general population. People were surprised that we couldn’t hold our son when we wanted to, that we had to scrub down every time we went in, that only 1 visitor was allowed in at a time, and that it is a very sterile environment. I’m hoping the below interview with the folks at the Little Lungs Initiative helps educate and spread knowledge, as well as get our crafty hands going for a great cause.

Tanis Gray (TG):What is RSV? As the mom of a preemie, most people don’t know what RSV is and why it can be deadly.

Little Lungs Initiative (LLI): RSV is a virus that can cause severe breathing problems and even lead to hospitalization. In fact, RSV is the #1 reason babies are hospitalized within their first year of life. While most children will get RSV by the age of 2 and will only experience cold-like symptoms, sometimes it can be more serious, especially in vulnerable babies. Premature babies are 2x more likely to be hospitalized with RSV disease. Babies with certain heart and lung conditions are also at higher risk for complications like pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

TG: October is RSV Awareness month! Tell us about your organization and about yourselves.

LLI: We are raising awareness with new and expectant parents and family members so they learn about RSV and can protect their families. We’re doing this through our facebook community, online through other media outlets, and in hospitals across the country. We’re also asking knitters to participate by knitting/crocheting items for preemies that will be delivered to NICUs throughout the country.

TG: I think knitting and crocheting for a good cause is so important. How can we knitters and crocheters get involved?

LLI: We are reaching out to knitters everywhere to lend their time and materials to knit or crochet preemie items – hats, booties, blankets, etc – and send them to us. Knitters are welcome to knit or crochet individually or hold their own “knit-ins” with a group. Knitters should take a picture of their knit-in or creations and post online with the hashtag #LittleLungs. There are also social media badges on our website to take and share on social media platforms/blogs for participating. Then just send us the baby items and we’ll take care of the rest!

TG: What kinds of knitted projects are you looking for and in what materials?

LLI: Knit or crochet infant clothing (blankets, hats, booties, etc) with your friends and family, using peach and/or mint green yarn if you can. Please use machine-washable materials and avoid wool if possible. Consider the smallest pattern size possible for these little babies—some suggestions or ideas for patterns can be found here.

TG: Can non-knitters do anything to help, too?

LLI: Yes! We’re asking everyone to share 2 things out to their social media networks so that we get the word out about RSV:

  • Our Knit Bit for Little Lungs initiative – ask your social media network if they would consider knitting or crocheting preemie items and sending to us so they can make their way to NICUs. These items will provide some love and comfort to those vulnerable infants and their families who are spending extra time in the NICU this winter. They can also share this flyer about the initiative that provides all details.
  • Our Thunderclap “social media wave” initiative – On October 23, we want our collective Thunderclap message to populate all across social media to help raise awareness for RSV! Please sign up for it here and then share the link on your social media platform of choice so that you can encourage your friends/family to sign up. It’s quick and easy and we need to reach a goal of 500 people in order for it to work, so every supporter counts.

TG: You’ve had crafty folks from 12 states participate in the program so far. What’s your goal?

LLI: Our goal this year is to double our participation across the board. We want knitters from 25 states to participate in our initiative. Last year we received ~250 knitted/crocheted items. This year, our goal is to receive 500 knitted/crocheted items to be able to deliver some love to preemies and their families in NICUs.

TG: I spent about a month in the NICU with my first born who arrived 2 months early. The NICU is a scary place where time stands still and you wait for news. It was the most harrowing time of my life and the people that helped me through it were rock stars. A lot of people didn’t realize when they came to visit that they were not allowed in the NICU and all the precautions that are taken both there and when you finally get to come home. That’s why this initiative matter to me. Why is RSV near and dear to your hearts? 

LLI: RSV is the #1 reason babies are hospitalized within their first year of life, yet most parents don’t know it exists until it happens to them. It can be frightening for parents when they aren’t prepared. The RSV virus is easily spread and lives on surfaces for up to 6 hours. Serious RSV infections have been associated with asthma and wheezing later in life. But there are some simple steps you can take to help protect your family. We want to make sure every new and expectant parent knows what to expect and talks to their healthcare provider about how to protect their baby.

TG: Where can people go to find more info about Little Lungs and RSV?

LLI: Please visit our website here for more information about Little Lungs, RSV, and our Knit Big for Little Lungs initiative. Please join our facebook community here of parents and supporters who raise awareness and education about RSV and also share personal stories and advice.

TG: People can also check Ravelry and find any pattern for preemies to knit and donate. I found some cute options here. Happy knitting and please help spread the word!