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Nakia Cowl

When my second child, Astrid, was born in March, I hardly picked up knitting needles for the first couple of months – I was too busy getting my baby snuggle on. As she started getting a smidge bigger and my healing was well under way from my second c-section, the yarn and needles came back in full force.

Fall is definitely in the air and for many folks who tuck their project bags and knitting away during the summer months, whether due to lack of time, not wanting wool in their laps (weirdos), or other crafts taking center stage, we get almost a power surge to the system to get the needles going again once school begins. We just came back from our annual trek to New Hampshire and on our daily hikes through the White Mountains, I noticed many trees already showing off their fall colors of orange and red. Here in northern Virginia we have a ways to go until we get there, but with school starting next week, final playdates being squeezed in, last evenings spent lazing by the community pool, and shouts across the neighborhood of “I’ll see you in class!,” there’s definitely that feeling of summer coming to a swift close.

I’m delighted to begin to roll out a dozen patterns I’ve designed and knit since Astrid’s birth. Mostly cowls – because cowls are versatile, squishy, one-size-fits-all, wonderful stash busters, and an always welcomed gift, I feel that crisp sneaking into the air at night and I am anxiously awaiting the time that my morning checklist is, “keys, phone, wallet, cowl, diaper bag.”

First up is the Nakia Cowl, an easy Fair Isle cowl worked seamlessly in the round from the bottom up. Flanked by corrugated ribbing, this colorful beauty is what I like to refer to as “Faux Isle.” By using a gradient yarn as the background color and a solid for the foreground, it looks like you used a lot more colors and did a lot more work than you actually do! I love working with Freia Fibers for so many reasons, but I love, love, love a single ply gradient and Tina Whitmore dyes one up like no other. A single ply offers a thickness that allows the cowl to stand up rather than flop down, showing off all your hard work.

This aran weight cowl knits up on US 8 circulars and is a quick knit once you power through the ribbing. I’ll also be teaching this cowl at my LYS, Fibre Space, towards the end of October as a beginning Fair Isle project where we cover Fair Isle techniques for English, Continental, and Combination knitters, chart reading, corrugated ribbing, and finishing over 2 classes spanning 2 weeks.

While I’ll miss the last lazy nights of summer where we stay up too late, walk around barefoot, and gorge ourselves on  strawberries and cherries, I welcome autumn in with open arms, (almost always Fair Isle) knitting in hand.

Download the Nakia Cowl here, and stay tuned for a lot of new patterns coming your way this season from TanisKnits!

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Figural Lace Sculptures

You know I love when people do clever things with traditional materials, yes? This crazy talented Hungarian artist, Agnes Herczegby, is no acceptation and when I saw her work it stopped me in my tracks. With string and branches she creates mind-blowing art. Enjoy! Original article found here.


Figural Lace Sculptures Attached to Found Wood by Agnes Herczeg

Hungarian artist Agnes Herczeg creates figural lace works of female forms, capturing figures in moments of contemplation or work. In one piece the subject stands at a loom, appearing to weave herself from the included fibers. In each of her works Herczeg uses all natural materials, incorporating small pieces of wood or other found materials to serve as a sculpture’s bed frame, hair accessory, floating vessel, or small shelf.

Herczeg studied textile conservation at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts, and over the years has gathered several methods of embroidery and lace-making to use in her work such as needle lace, pillow lace, macramé, and more. You can purchase her lace sculptures directly from her website, both attached to found natural objects and as individual lace works.

Today Is the Day!

Greetings, dear readers! Today is the day! I’m so pleased to announce that my latest Craftsy class, Fair Isle Holiday Ornaments goes live today!

A few months back I travelled to Craftsy studios in Denver, CO to film, suitcase bursting with Fair Isle bits and notions. I love working with their crews, their sets, and the company. They embrace the lifestyle of us crafty folk and know that no matter how much knowledge we possess, a true crafter never stops learning.

I’ve been on both sides of a Craftsy class – filming and teaching one, and taking many from the comfort of my own home. What I like most about Craftsy classes is they are 100% satisfaction guaranteed, can be watched anytime, anywhere (a class I can watch in my pajamas at midnight while eating ice cream? Sign me up!), and the instructors are truly wonderful about responding to all student questions. They have the best of the best and I am honored to be part of their instructor team.

My previous class – Fair Isle Fundamentals – was an in-depth Fair Isle technique extravaganza with a supporting hat project. I covered all things Fair Isle and threw enough knowledge at the viewer to release them into the wild and knit any kind of stranded color work project they wanted. This class is a little different. Designed to be just under an hour, Fair Isle Holiday Ornaments covers Fair Isle technique without the extra frills of color theory and psychology, fiber info, and blocking and finishing tips. You end up with a fantastic holiday ornament designed by Sunne Meyer.  Think of it as down and dirty Fair Isle! If you’ve wanted to learn about Fair Isle but not get involved in a bigger project like a hat or sweater, an ornament is just the project for you and very manageable. You can also gift the class to a friend who you know wants to add Fair Isle into their knitting life! Click here to watch the trailer.

With a dozen or so charts to choose from and two different ornament shapes, Fair Isle Holiday Ornaments lets you decide which one to knit, while following along with me to get the technique down. Knit one or knit enough to fill an entire tree, this is a class designed for all, no matter if you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Festivus. You’ll leave feeling confident in your Fair Isle knowledge to go out and knit all those projects you have queued up but weren’t ready to cast on for. Of course, if you want to submerge yourself even deeper into stranded color work, you can check out my other class as well.

As a special for you, dear readers, this class will be 25% off through Friday. Use the link here to take advantage of this offer (you will see the regular pricing listed, but once the class is added to your cart the discount will be reflected at checkout). Happy (almost) holidays and happy Fair Isling! 🙂

 

Classic Knit Shawls + A Giveaway!

UPDATE 7/31/17: Congratulations to winner Christina F! Check your email!

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Like many knitters, I love shawl knitting.

It’s funny when non knitters ask me why I like to make them because they have this preconceived notion of little old ladies bent over their needlework, hair in a bun, sitting on a rocking chair, slippers on their feet, wrapped in a shawl. Well, actually, I do all of those things, but shawls are such a great project because of their portability and versatility (and I’m not that old). I never wrap them around my shoulders but instead put them around my front like a bandana and wrap them around my neck that way – there are so many ways to wear them! With all the incredible yarn and pattern choices for shawls, I think we knitters look hip, crafty, and definitely not that preconceived notion of an old school grandmother.

Interweave recently sent me a copy of their new book, Classic Knit Shawls: 20 Timeless Designs Featuring Lace, Cables, and More (Interweave Press, 2017, $22.99). I was delighted with the patterns featured (all previously published in Interweave books and magazines) and recognized a few that I had dog-eared in my magazine or added to my Ravelry queue previously.

I particularly like that this book covers all sorts of skill levels, techniques, yarn weights, and occasions. The photographs and charts are large so you can actually see the stitch patterns and read the charts with ease. There are multiple images of each project and a brief write-up on each. There are lots of familiar designer names as well as a few I wasn’t familiar with, making this an exciting, well-rounded collection.

Kerry Bogert, the Editorial Director of Craft Books at Interweave, was kind enough to sit down with me and answer of few questions…

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Tanis Gray (TG): This is a marvelous collection of 20 shawls that have been curated from books and magazines throughout the years from Interweave. Why these 20? How did you narrow it down? 

Kerry Bogert (KB): Great question! We have a lot of amazing shawls in the Interweave library, so it was tough to narrow it down. We looked at a few different things when we were making selections, the most important being what are the types of shawls knitters are enjoying making right now. We see tons of gorgeous colorwork shawls at the top of Ravelry’s “What’s How Now” list, so we were sure to include projects like Ship That and Orangery. Lace is always incredibly popular as well, so projects like Grand Army Plaza, Lale, and The Purple can be found here too.

Grand Army Plaza Shawl by Melissa Wehrle

Ship That Shawl by Megi Burci

TG: Knitters are obsessed with shawl knitting – myself included. Why do you think this is?

KB: I don’t know about others, but for me, and some of the gals in my knitting group, shawls are perfect for travel knitting, trying out new techniques on a smaller scale, and showing off favorite skeins of special yarn. It can be difficult to stuff a sweater’s worth of yarn in a carry on bag, but a shawl project is perfect to keep the needles busy on long flights or when stuck in terminals. And who wants to try a really complex cable for the first time on a full size garment? Really, a shawl provides the opportunity to try something new without a lot of pressure. Since so many shawls need just 2-3 skeins of yarn (or just 1 one some cases!) I love using special skeins for them. 

Darjeeling Shawl by Joan Forgione

TG: Do you remember when you knit your first shawl? What was it like and what yarn did you use?

KB: Yes, I do! And even though my swatch said I had gauge, it turned out so small. HA! I made a Color Affection Shawl and adored every moment of stitching it, it just wasn’t that big when I was done. I’ve learned so much since that first shawl project and they turn out the right size these days.

Ilme’s Autumn Triangle Shawl by Nancy Bush

TG: I appreciate books that offer a wide variety of techniques and this book is no exception. Lace, cables, short rows, texture – this book has it all! What’s your favorite shawl knitting technique and why?

KB: Oh, I love short-rows and color blocking. They’re my favorite to combine together. The interesting shapes and effects that can be achieved are always stunning. 

The Purple Shawl by Andrea Jurgrau

TG: After looking through this book, there were a handful of shawls that I decided I MUST KNIT NOW! My favorites are Corrina Ferguson’s Lale Shawl and Andrea Jurgrau’s The Purple Shawl. Do you have a favorite in this collection and why?

KB: It’s so hard to choose!! But I lean towards Trillium by Manda Shah. And that’s not just because the model reminds me of Rachel Barry from Glee. The lace is just stunning and the Anzula yarn is scrumptious. 

TG: How do you feel about beaded shawls? I for one am very pro-bead.

KB: They’re beautiful and I wish people made them more. I hear so many complaints around how challenging adding beads to shawls can be, but it’s really not that hard and they can add such amazing detail to the finished project. Full disclosure though, my background is in jewlery arts, so I know the massive spectrum of colors that seed beads come in, so I’m bias. I like having a new way to combine two loves. Yarn stash met bead stash… I think you two are going to get along smashingly. 

Trillium Shawl by Amanda Shah

TG: Do you see the shawl trend continuing on forever or something else taking its place?

KB: The big trend right now is definitely color-shifting shawls with gradients and other color blends. I see that continuing for a while.

TG: That’s good to hear since my book coming out in the fall is all about gradient knitting! Neutrals or Brights for shawls in your opinion?

KB: Oh that depends on the occasion!  I recently finished a bridal shawl in a wool/silk blend in the crispest white. I kind of don’t want to give it to the bride at her shower in a few weeks. I want it for myself. In general though, I tend to favor brights. I love the pop of color they can add to your outfit. 

The Orangery Shawl by Carol Feller

TG: What advice would you offer to someone who is afraid to take the leap from scarf to shawl knitting?

KB: Pick a shawl that has a large field of garter stitch. You know how to knit, right?! So you can start knowing something you’re really comfortable with and add your courage will grow as you knit towards a beautiful edging. Darjeeling by June Forgione would be perfect for that. 

The Return Journey Shawl by Lisa Shroyer

TG: What’s next on your shawl knitting list?

KB: I recently added Andrea Mowry’s Rose Gold to my queue. It’s two color brioche and includes some color fading as well. I can’t wait to cast it on for this fall. 


Thanks so much for answering all my questions, Kerry!

And now for the giveaway! Interweave is giving away a copy of this lovely new book here on my blog. Answer the trivia question below correctly and you’ll be automatically entered in to win. A winner will be chosen at random on Friday, July 28th. Contest open to US residents only.

How many staircases does Hogwarts have?

Happy shawl knitting!

Paradise Fibers Yarn of the Month Club!

I LOVE getting surprises in the mail! It’s like Christmas or a birthday when a box full of unknown goodness arrives on your doorstep with an air of mystery surrounding it.

One such package arrived on my stoop and I couldn’t wait to open it! Paradise Fibers out of Spokane, WA, has a Yarn of the Month Club, and July’s box arrived last night! I was delighted to be asked to do the reveal and find a skein of Yamhill (434 yards, 75% superwash Corriedale/25% nylon), a fingering weight in a club-exclusive color way Crocodile Tears (huzzah for green, my favorite color!) and a Lotus mini skein of Wild Watermelon (48 yards, 60% merino superwash/20% yak/20% silk – luxurious). Both skeins offer up enough yardage to knit the Vanmelon Hat, the pattern included in the box. My watermelon-obsessed husband – who happened to be eating a watermelon when I opened the box – was very excited about the colors!

What I liked about this club was the newsletter itself, giving me an explanation of the fibers in the yarns (I always find fiber content and breed-specific info very interesting), as well as info on the colors (the green is the Pantone color of the year). While I don’t foresee myself knitting the hat pattern provided in the box, the green is gorgeous and summery and is calling out for me to make it into a lacy shawl of some sort. Tucked in the bottom of the box was a very handy pair of tiny scissors called Little Gems – perfect for travel knitting. We do a lot of driving in the summer and I do a lot of knitting on the go, so small blades that are easy to bring with me and tuck in a pocket or small bag when I fly are a must. I loved the mystery element of this club. Not knowing what kind of fiber or color I was getting had me anxiously awaiting the box’s arrival. I love knitting surprises and was not disappointed!

I’m always wondering what to get my knitting friends for the holidays, and the Yarn of the Month Club would be a great gift. Each monthly box is $31.95 (US, includes shipping) and includes a custom dyed yarn by Paradise Fibers or other brands like MadTosh or Ancient Arts, a supporting pattern, a newsletter, a fun goodie, plus a 10% off regular-priced yarn purchase through Paradise Fibers. If you post pics of your yarn box on Instagram or Ravelry, you have chances to win Paradise Points that can be used for future purchases.

Thank you to Paradise Fibers, who sent me this box in exchange for my honest review.

Hungry For… Felt?

Check out this amazing convenience store made entirely out of felted objects! I get hungry just looking at the pictures! Original article here.


Artist Lucy Sparrow Opens an Entire Convenience Store of Handmade Felt Products in Manhattan 

If you have a late-night hankering for some felty gefilte fish or a bottle of fermented fabric, be sure to stop by 8 ‘Til Late, the newest temporary installation by British artist Lucy Sparrow known for her felt recreations of everyday objects. Located in Manhattan at The Standard, High Line, the bodega is filled from floor to ceiling with thousands of objects you might find at a typical corner store from breakfast cereals, a deli counter brimming with meats, frozen foods, and spirits—all made from felt and a bit of paint. And just like a real store, every last thing is for sale.

Over the last few years Sparrow has exhibited her felt objects in galleries and art fairs around the world including Art Basel, Scope Miami, and the New York Affordable Art Fair. 8 ‘Til Late is a companion piece to her 2014 installation in London titled The Corner Shop with a similar concept but with Eurocentric products. We have word that lines stretched around the block the last few days and every object in the store has since sold. While originally scheduled to be open through June 30th, the exhibition is ending early, specifically 10pm tonight. So if you’re nearby, now’s your chance. Maybe?

You can see the finer details of some 400 individual items from 8 ‘Til Late on Sparrow’s website.

Knitting in Code

My mom’s book club read a book called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan years ago. She saved it for me to read and it was one of those stories that stuck with me. Without giving the plot away, a 19th-century Chinese girl exchanges secret coded messages back and forth on a silk fan. It reminded me of knitting and how easy it would be to tuck secret messages into the knits and purls, just like knitters did during WWI and WWII. I came across an article recently on just that and wanted to share. We always knew knitters were clever! 😉 Original article found here.


The Wartime Spies Who Used Knitting as an Espionage Tool

Grandma was just making a sweater. Or was she?

A woman knitting, Washington DC, 1941.
A woman knitting, Washington DC, 1941. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-USF34-014621-D

DURING WORLD WAR I, A grandmother in Belgium knitted at her window, watching the passing trains. As one train chugged by, she made a bumpy stitch in the fabric with her two needles. Another passed, and she dropped a stitch from the fabric, making an intentional hole. Later, she would risk her life by handing the fabric to a soldier—a fellow spy in the Belgian resistance, working to defeat the occupying German force.

Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. “Spies have been known to work code messages into knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, etc,” according to the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals. During wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies; a pair of eyes, watching between the click of two needles.

When knitters used knitting to encode messages, the message was a form of steganography, a way to hide a message physically (which includes, for example, hiding morse code somewhere on a postcard, or digitally disguising one image within another). If the message must be low-tech, knitting is great for this; every knitted garment is made of different combinations of just two stitches: a knit stitch, which is smooth and looks like a “v”, and a purl stitch, which looks like a horizontal line or a little bump. By making a specific combination of knits and purls in a predetermined pattern, spies could pass on a custom piece of fabric and read the secret message, buried in the innocent warmth of a scarf or hat.

Women in Berlin knitting for soliders, 1914.
Women in Berlin knitting for soliders, 1914. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-DIG-GGBAIN-18341

Phyllis Latour Doyle, secret agent for Britain during World War II, spent the war years sneaking information to the British using knitting as a cover. She parachuted into occupied Normandy in 1944 and rode stashed bicycles to troops, chatting with German soldiers under the pretense of being helpful—then, she would return to her knitting kit, in which she hid a silk yarn ready to be filled with secret knotted messages, which she would translate using Morse Code equipment. “I always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk—I had about 2000 I could use. When I used a code I would just pinprick it to indicate it had gone. I wrapped the piece of silk around a knitting needle and put it in a flat shoe lace which I used to tie my hair up,” she told New Zealand Army News in 2009.

A knitting pattern, to non-knitters, may look undecipherable, and not unlike a secret code to begin with. This could cause paranoia around what knitting patterns might mean. Lucy Adlington, in her book Stitches in Time, writes about one article that appeared in UK Pearson’s Magazine in October 1918, which reported that Germans were knitting whole sweaters to send messages—perhaps an exaggeration.

An American Red Cross knitting class during World War One.
An American Red Cross knitting class during World War One. NATIONAL ARCHIVES/20802186

“When the German authorities carefully unraveled such a sweater, the story went, they found the wool thread dotted with many knots. By marking a vertical door frame with the letters of the alphabet, spaced an inch apart, the knots could be deciphered as words by measuring the yarn along this alphabet and marking which letters the knots touched.” Adlington writes, adding that the magazine described this as “safer, and not apt to be detected.” As with many things spy-related, getting the proof and exact details on code knitting can be tricky; much of the time, knitters used needles and yarn as a cover to spy on their enemies without attracting suspicion. Knitting hidden codes was less common.

The Pearson’s account of code knitting seems a bit convoluted, but the rumors were not pure fantasy. Because women were encouraged to knit socks, hats, and balaclavas for soldiers during many conflicts, including the American Civil War, and the World Wars, knitting and textile work was a common sight—and one that could be easily used to the spy’s advantage. In Writing Secret Codes and Sending Hidden Messages, Gyles Daubeney Brandreth and Peter Stevenson note that after Morse Code was invented, it was soon realized that string or yarn suit it well. And “an ordinary loop knot can make the equivalent of a dot and a knot in the figure-eight manner will give you the equivalent of a dash.”

Bed-ridden soldiers knit during World War One.
Bed-ridden soldiers knit during World War One. NATIONAL ARCHIVES/165-WW-265B(17)

The most famous example of knitting in code comes from fiction; in A Tale of Two Cities, a bloodthirsty French woman named Madame Defarge knits coolly among the audience while the guillotine beheads French nobles, and zealously creates a series of stitches to encode names of nobles that will be executed next. “Despite involvement of Madame Defarge to take up knitting as a source of code, the use of knitting in espionage has nonfictional roots in the United Kingdom during the Great War,” writes Jacqueline Witkowski in the journal InVisible Culture. During the same time that the UK banned knitting patterns for fear of hidden messages, British Secret Intelligence agents hired spies in occupied areas who would pose as ordinary citizens doing ordinary things, which sometimes included knitting.

Madame Levengle was one such woman, who “would sit in front of her window knitting, while tapping signals with her heels to her children in the room below,” writes Kathryn Atwood in Women Heroes of World War I. Her kids, pretending to do schoolwork, wrote down the codes she tapped, all while a German marshal stayed in their home. The Alice Network, a collection of spies and allies in Europe who were experts in chemistry, radio, photography and more, employed “ordinary people who discovered unusual but extremely effective ways to collect information,” Atwood explains.

A World War One poster to promote knitting for soldiers.
A World War One poster to promote knitting for soldiers. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-USZC2-670

In many cases, just being a knitter—even if you weren’t making coded fabric—was enough of a cover to gather information, and this tradition continued decades later during World War II. Again in Belgium, the resistance hired older women near train yards to add code into their knitting, to track the travel of enemy forces. “This enactment led to the Office of Censorship’s ban on posted knitting patterns in the Second World War, in case they contained coded messages,” Witkowski writes. Knitting used by the Belgian Resistance during World War II included dropping a stitch, which forms a hole, for one sort of passing train, and purling a stitch, which forms a bump in the fabric, for another, which helped the resistance track the logistics of their enemies. Elizabeth Bently, an American who spied for the Soviet Union during World War II and later became a US informant, used her knitting bag to sneak early plans for the B-29 bombs and information on aircraft creation.

Female spies during the American Revolutionary War also used the “old women are always knitting” stereotype to their advantage. Molly “Old Mom” Rinker, a spy for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, sat on a hilltop and pretended to knit while spying on the British, according to An Encyclopedia of American Women at War. She then hid scraps of paper with sensitive information in balls of yarn, which she tossed over a cliff to hidden soldiers right below, under the noses of the enemy.

Knitting, spying and secret messages so often go hand-in-hand that knitters around the world have figured out ways you, or the knitter in your life, can make your own secret knitting codes. Non-spying knitters make gloves and scarves from the Dewey Decimal system, Morse code, and binary programming language for computers, treating knits and purls like zeros and ones. The possibilities are so apparently endless, it might even be worth learning to knit to give it a try. Plus, if you do pass on knitted code, you’ll be joining a longstanding tradition of textile-making spies.