January 25, 2014

It's Another Vogue Knitting Live Debrief


By now I think you know I always go to Vogue Knitting Live NYC.  This year was no exception.  However, unlike at Rhinebeck I had a slightly different experience this year, so here's the debrief

You can't see it very well but there are tacks on Australia, Africa, and South America.  Someone in my class was from Vienna.  It's amazing how far people will travel to these things.
In General
The one thing that was consistent from last year was the overall feel of the event.  It was the same big, diverse, more fashion oriented but otherwise Rhinebeck-esq event it was last year.  I have no problem with this, so this was fine.  However, there were a couple of minor changes that I didn't like that made my experience a little less enjoyable than last year.  Next year I really  need to get the guide on Friday like someone in my knitting group did.  If I had I would have showed up earlier on Saturday.  I'll get to these in the relevant sections.

Like last year, I met up with my knitting group on Saturday and then went back on Sunday on my own.  Unlike last year I took a class instead of a lecture and didn't get to see as much of the free stuff.

The Lecture Class
At one point late last year a coupon came out for half-off Sunday classes at this event (the benefit of attending more than one year in a row is I get all the emails about the events).  Since that subsequently made attending a Sunday class close to the same price as the lecture package, I decided to go for it.  Sunday's my better day to do stuff like this anyway.  So I signed up for Designing with Cables taught by Carla Scott.

How can I say this nicely...the class sucked.  Ok, that wasn't nice.  But while the instructor was very friendly and seemed knowledgeable, she got distracted easily and let random questions completely derail the class.  Subsequently, very little got taught.  We covered gauge a bit and started talking about schematics, and then the class got so derailed nothing else on actually designing with cables were ever covered.  Even the random chatter faded out to the instructor chatting with a few of the students, and most of the class left thirty minutes early, including me.

This is not the way to run a class.  I get that instructor wanted the students to feel free to ask questions and she wanted to cover topics some of the students wanted to hear about, even if they didn't have much to do with the course.  But you can't let that prevent covering what the class was supposed to cover.  Actually, I'm not so sure where the class was going.  All I know is the few things that were actually officially taught I knew, and we never got to anything beyond that.  Conversations about, say, copyright and where we live and what x designer did are all great, except when that's all that happens.  I paid $42 dollars to learn nothing (well, ok, that was with the entry fee).  I could have paid $85, so I'm glad at least I didn't do that.

If I didn't know better, this would turn me off from taking another class here.  Luckily, I know enough people who have taken classes at this event and loved them, so it just means I'm going to be a lot more picky if I end up taking a class next year.

Fashion Shows and the Panels
Here's the other thing that sucked this year.  There were no fashion shows on Sunday.  You see, on Saturday I'm busy hanging out with my knitting group, and so I don't get to see any of the shows and panels.  I come back on Sunday mainly to do that.  Except most of everything was on Saturday this year, and that was different than last year so I wasn't planning on it.

This is what I meant about picking up the guide early (or even better if they could mail that schedule with the IDs to us who pre-order, that would be awesome, but I know that's a bit much to ask for).  If I had known that all the fashion shows would be on Saturday, I may have come in early to see a couple of them.  But since I didn't know this until after I had come in to meet my knitting group, I was out of luck. 

So I saw no fashion shows.

What I did do on Sunday after my class, well other than cruse the Marketplace again, was see a panel and a free lecture (again, a lot of them were Saturday, but at least there were Sunday ones).  The panel was one of those general interest, hear people in the industry talk about their experiences, ones, but I like those.  This one was the one titled 'Men at Work', and featured all male yarn industry professionals (well, except one of them was a former Project Runway contestant instead of in the knitting/yarn industry...an odd choice, but that shows popular or something so I get the rational behind it).  It was good in the same way most of these types of panels are: voyeuristic and funny.

The free lecture I went to was on the Trends in Knitting, and while the lecture was fine, all the trends were more about what was trending in fashion and they all were ugly as sin.  However, I already knew that big, bulky sweaters and clothing that looks like it's falling apart was coming back (and skinny pants are still here.  I'm still waiting for that trend to go away so I can finally buy pants that don't make me look like crap).  One thing the city is good for is seeing the new fashion trends before many others notice because people start wearing them here sooner. But I was expecting something more geared to the knitting world in general, but it was fun in the way that the fashion shows are fun: you point and laugh at the stupidity of it.

Also, I had a short but interesting conversation with a older woman that got the lecturer to admit that most of this was looking at the teen and young adult trends.  I pointed out to her that just because one was in that age group didn't mean they liked such things, and vice versa (you know...being that I'm in that age group and tend to hate most of the trends).  We got into a conversation about how if we were going to spend all that time knitting something it better look good a year from now, and that if one looked at pattern trends on sites such as Ravelry instead of liked pictures on sites such as Pinterest, such high-fashion trends didn't show up and it was more classic, timeless stuff.

I was bad this year and bought five skeins of yarn:

Ok, three are the same yarn.  I've been thinking about getting this colorway (Stargazing) of Madelinetosh for awhile now to do a sweater, and getting it here was an excuse to buy yarn from my old LYS (who was back again and still remembered me).

The other two are impulse buys.  The gray skein is Squishy Lace from Dragonfly Fibers.  It is very soft and squishy and Dragonfly Fibers had a lot of yarn I loved but I picked this one for some unknown reason.  I have never used Laceweight before, and I'm not really a shawl person.  Oh well, first time for everything.

The other one is sock yarn from Neighborhood Fibers, and I got it because it's such an interesting color.  Since I don't tend to get much outside of the blue/black/gray that I love, I got it.  I was looking for a color to go with some black sock yarn to maybe try some more colorwork, and this should work.  We'll see.

I also bought another Sock Rocket, so now I'm only missing one in the standard sock sizes.

Oh, and the third thing that sucked is that Soak wasn't there!  I'm all but out of the Soak I bought last year, and how perfect it was that it ran out right when VKL was going on again so I could by more and...they didn't have it.  Probably because Eucalan was one of the sponsors of the event.  I looked at the Eucalan and wasn't thrilled with the flower scent it came in (of course this is a personal preference; I'm sure some people love it and I can't speak to how it works).  I like some of Soak's scents better (I really love their Aquae scent, and Unleashed is nice as well), so now I have to go order it online today because I am officially out of it.

Overall, I did enjoy my time at Vogue Knitting Live.  One positive thing was the yarn selection this year was great...I was so tempted to buy more yarn than I did.  I'm just a little disappointed that it was worse than last year in the other aspects of the event...you know, the ones that make it VKL 

Well...to be fair, there was a lot of random items like this:

They were amusing and very VKL.  But other than that, I mean.

Well, there's always next year.

January 14, 2014

I Don't Think I'll Learn Though

So I'm currently knitting a sweater:

I should say, finally knitting a sweater.  It's been awhile, and I have a lot of sweater amounts of yarn in my stash.  Anyway, as you can see, I've been at it awhile, and have the main body of the sweater done.

This pattern, interestedly enough, suggests that I knit the button-band and collar before the sleeves.  I could have ignored these instructions, but I decided why the hell not (despite the fact that it also suggested working the fronts at the same time with two balls of yarn attached...not doing that again).  So I grabbed my needle and a crochet hook and started picking up stitches....until I got to the start of the V-neck and realized that I'm an idiot:

The needle cord I used to knit the rest of the sweater isn't going to be long enough to pick up all the stitches on both sides of the sweater as well as the neckline.  Damnit.  Time to rip it all out and...

Oh, wait.  I'm using interchangeable needles.  Maybe I'll just run up a longer cord with a smaller needle and switch needle heads and...

Oh crap.  Where did all my 47" cords go?

Notice a color trend here?
Where there's one.  Had to start that one recently, didn't I.  Ok, now I need to find where my other 47" cord went and...

Oh, right, I randomly bought a set of connectors ages ago.  So now I can just remove the head at the other end and attach another 40" cord and:

Problem solved.  I love interchangeable needles.

January 4, 2014

Knitting by Structure, Part 2: All About Stitches


As I stated in my series introductory post, the first step in learning how to knit by stitch structure is actually learning what stitch structure is.  After all, you need to know what you're aiming for before you learn how to do it.

Now, this isn't going to be an in-depth look at knitted fabric and how stitches behave in it.  I'll touch upon a few high-level items there, but that's not what we're really concerned about at the moment. What the student needs to get out of this is two things:
  1. A basic understanding on how yarn becomes stitches becomes knitted fabric, and
  2. The parts of a stitch, both active and in the fabric. 
For many people, a deeper understand will come with time and practice, so if you don't quite get it, it may be helpful to continue on and re-visit once you've gotten to the point where you have needles and yarn in your hand (or have knitted a thing or two after learning this, if you're already a knitter).

Fabric and Stitches

Simply put, knitted fabric is just a series of interlocked loops called stitches. This is easier pictured than described, so here's a diagram I found on Wikipedia (click to go to source):

Now, this happens to be the knit side of a piece of stockinette fabric, but it all works similarly (though looks different) so I'll ignore that for now.  Typical hand knitted fabric is produced by holding a set of 'active' or 'live' stitches on a needle, and using another needle to pull a piece of yarn (that is as continuous as you can make it) though the active stitch, creating a new active stitch.  You then drop the old active stitch and repeat the process on the next one.  What this does is what the red line above symbolizes: creates a row of stitches that is in reality a part of a piece of yarn looped through another part of the yarn to create a fabric.  These stitches remain active until you either create a new stitch through that stitch, or you complete a process called binding off.  To get the first set of active stitches, you complete a process called casting on.  Binding off and casting on are things you'll have to learn, but they're out of scope here.  The only thing you'll need to recognize with casting on is that it'll create a series of loops that you'll treat as normal stitches.

There are two major actions in hand knitting that one uses to produce a stitch, and unfortunately they're also called stitches (you'll find that there's a lot of things call stitches in knitting.  They are not all the same thing).  The knit stitch, as shown above, is when the working yarn is pulled through from the back to the front of the active stitch.  The purl stitch, on the other hand, is when the working yarn is pulled through the front of the stitch to the back..  You might notice something here, which is basically these actions are opposite sides of the same coin.  If you perform the action of a knit stitch on one side of the fabric, the stitch is a purl on the other side.  If you purl it, its a knit stitch on the other side.

And this is pretty much the whole basis of knitting.  Everything else is variation.  For example, I mentioned that the diagram showed a piece of stockinette fabric (which is also called stockinette stitch...yeah, I know).  Here's a real-life picture of it:

 Look at the diagram and/or the picture. Can you figure out how the stitches build to create that?  Basically, stockinette is just where you perform the knit action into another knit stitch for all the stitches (or a purl into a purl stitch, if that's what's facing you).  This causes all the knit sides of the stitch to face one way and the purl sides to face the other way.

Another common fabric type is called garter stitch, and it's the opposite of stockinette in a way.  Garter is produced by knitting into a purl stitch and vice versa, which creates rows of stitches that alternate which side is facing where:

Anything more complicated fabric type than this is the same way.  It's just an action creating a stitch where the knit and purl sides face specific directions in a repeated manner that creates a specific looking fabric. And even if you get away from that statement with, say, cables or decreases or some such, you'll still be preforming the same action in the end to complete them.  You either knit, or you purl.  You may switch direction and work through different loops, work through two or more stitches (or something that isn't a stitch), swap the order of the active loops, or whatever.  You still either pull the yarn through back to front, or front to back in the end.

Actually, there is one exception here.  It's call a yarn-over.  All a yarn-over is is an active stitch you created out of thin air with the working yarn by creating a loop without pulling it through anything.  It's works the same way as any other active stitch, and has the same parts.  Don't worry about it though until you get to increases or lace. 


The Anatomy of a Stitch

Every stitch you create, whether it's a knit or purl stitch, has four specific parts.  Let's take a stitch from that diagram above, shall we?

The first two parts are that the stitch has a front and a back.  The front of the stitch is the face of the stitch facing you (no matter what side of the fabric you are on...this is important.  The front of the stitch is not always its knit side) when it is lying flat within the fabric and open.  The back, of course, is the opposite side.

The second part is what we call the legs of the stitch.  The legs are the sides of the loop:

Well that's not the best quality there....but you get the point
They are named based on the front of the stitch, that is, the right leg is the leg of the stitch to the right when you are looking at the front of the stitch.  Same for left.

When the stitch is active, one of these legs is also called the working leg.  The working leg is the leg used to orient the needle you're putting the new stitches on. This has to do with the fact that when the stitch is active (that is, it's on a needle), the stitch doesn't lay flat and there's a needle going through the stitch.

To use an active stitch, we must guide the other needle on one side of the stitch or the other due to the holding needle.  The side used is the side with the working leg (in mechanical instructions, it's usually termed in terms like 'going x to y direction through the z side of the stitch').

This sounds complicated but it's not.  The rule to identifying the front side of the stitch and the working leg is thus: The working leg of the stitch is always the one closest to the needle tip, and the front of the stitch is always the side tilting towards you.  In this format, this does not rely on stitch orientation or style or stitch type.  For the sake of working a stitch, this also holds true if the active stitch below is twisted; that is, the stitch legs are crossed and therefore the faces of the twisted stitch is flipped in relation to what was shown above.  This is because that statement isn't in relation to the stitch itself, but the knitter working the stitch.


Wait, What's Stitch Orientation Mean?

I'll cover this a bit better in the next post as it's related to knitting styles, but the stitch orientation is simply the way the active stitch is sitting on the needle.  Different styles produce different orientations, but there are two main ones in use.  The important part about stitch orientation that you need to know is this: stitch orientation is dictated by what direction you wrap the yarn around the needle before pulling it through the stitch.  That's it. 

While most mechanical knitting instructions and patterns presume a certain stitch orientation, the whole point of this is that it doesn't.  So don't worry about orientation for now.


So there you have it; the basics of how stitches work and how they create knitted fabric.  If you don't take anything else away from this post before moving on, remember this:
  1. Stitches are loops and they have a front and back as well as a left and right leg.
  2. Fabric is created by pulling yarn through a previously created stitch in a specific manner.
  3. These manners of creating a new stitch are called 'knit stitch' and 'purl stitch' (or knitting and purling).
  4. A knit stitch and a purl stitch are opposite sides of the same 'stitch'.
  5. Active stitches are the ones on the needle that have not had a stitch pulled through them yet.
  6. On an active stitch, one of these legs is called the working leg.  It is used to guide the other needle.
  7. Stitch anatomy for all future instructions is based on the knitter's perspective, not the stitch's or fabric's.
  8. The working leg of an active stitch is always the one closer to the needle tip and the front is always tilted towards the knitter.
  9. Orientation is dictated by the direction you wrap your yarn to create a stitch.
Don't worry if it doesn't make complete sense now, especially if you've never knitted before; once we get to the actual knitting instructions, it'll come together. 

January 2, 2014

Knitting by Structure, Part 1: Um...What, Now?

Well that was a break I didn't intend to happen.  I'm behind on a lot of things.  Not my knitting so much, but everything else...yeah.  Happy New Year everyone.

Anyway, here's the start of something helpful for once. I've been meaning to do this post series for a bit, but since I'm lazy I just got around to it.  Might as well actually do something useful after some radio silence.

Knitting by Structure Series: The Part Where I Discuss What I Mean By This, Why You Should Read It, and What It Will Cover
(otherwise known as Part 1 - Introduction)

If you've been around the knitting realm a bit, you've probably noticed how most instructions for knitting are set up.  They usually go something like this: Step 1, do x motion.  Step 2, do y motion, Step 3, Profit.  That is, the instructions focus on the mechanics of the actions you need to complete.  They tell you what direct to put your needle, how exactly you should hold your yarn, and wrap the yarn around the needle, and so on. 

It makes the instructions simple, usually self-contained, and has a huge flaw in that it presumes one way of knitting is correct and makes the average student a slave to the instructions.  Ok, maybe that's a bit harsh, but you get the point.  A lot of people will read the instructions, mechanically follow them, and that's all they know.  If they run into an issue, or need to do something else, they have to go off and find more instructions.

I don't mean to pass judgement on the people that do this.  This is how many things are taught.  It makes it easier to learn as you just have to follow the process, right?  It's also how most of us will explain a new technique to other knitters...me included.  It's normal.

However, I propose a different method of looking at the action of knitting.  I think the focus should be on structure than the mechanics of the knitting process.

What do I mean when I say 'structure'?  Well, I mean the focus should be on the why of knitting, instead of the how.  That we should learn to knit by learning how a stitch works and how different actions influence it.  That the act of knitting should be taught by its generic algorithm, and that style (aka, how one holds the yarn and wraps it around the needle), should not be assumed by the instructions.  Make things modular; teach understanding and build up on that.

I will admit, this is a bit harder way of learning knitting.  The learning curve is steeper in the beginning, and you won't be able to jump straight away to producing results.  But the trade-off is that it levels out sooner.  Instead of just learning a certain set of mechanics, and having to learn to troubleshoot or a different technique after you make a mistake or want to change something, you gain an understanding up-front that makes it much easier to avoid some of the common mistakes one sees when learning to knit.  Or to understand enough to change things on the fly.

I will also admit that this line of thinking is a bias of mine.  I currently code for a living.  Condescending an activity to its essence, modularizing it so each part is semi-separated and re-useable, and building complexity on top of previous structure is good coding practice.  It reduces interdependence, makes things re-usable, can save time, and absolutely saves maintenance and enhancement effort later on. And that's the beauty of this approach.  You may have to put more effort in at first to understand what's going on, but later the whole arsenal of knitting techniques is open to you. To slightly extend another programming-knitting metaphor that someone else really came up with, we want to learn how to be more than compilers, reading instructions and changing them directly into fabric.  We want to be able to program the instructions a bit so that when the compiler reads something that doesn't compute, we don't have to spit out an error and leave it at that.

So with that justification out of the way, the following is the outline of Learning to Knit by Structure:
  1.  Learn the structure of a stitch.  What do we mean when we say 'stitch front' or 'left leg'?  How does each stitch interlock with others to form a knitted fabric?
  2. Become familiar with the knitting styles (this is things like English and Continental as well as Western, Eastern, and Combined).  How does each direct you to hold the yarn and wrap it around the needle (at this point we are not concerned on how to actually knit and purl)? 
  3. Learn and understand how each style effects the stitch orientation.  Why do we get the same fabric using different styles?  How do knitting patterns assume it works? What style do you gravitate to (at this point, you must pick a style to learn first).
  4. How do we knit and purl?  What must we do to read the stitch and know where to put the needle and pull the yarn through?  This will be presented in such a way it doesn't matter what style is being used.
  5. Certain things presume a specific structure and orientation in common knitting parlance.  What are they?  How do things such as directional decreases actually work?  Twisting stitches (that is, what does 'ssk', 'k2tog', and 'tbl' really mean)?
  6. There are other basic techniques that don't rely as much on such presumptions, but should still be learned as a basic: other decreases such as yarn-overs, increasing, picking up stitches, casting on and binding off (these may need to be taught before step 4, at least superficially).
At this point, a knitter that has learned and understood these steps can go off and use the multitude of resources out there to pick up more advanced skills.  Short rows?  Cables?  Lace? Shaping?  All these techniques build on the steps above: how does a stitch work, and how do we make it?  I purposed that anyone who has learned the ideas presented above will be able to pick up these kinds of skills no problem...even if all they can find is mechanical instructions.  As well, knowing the whys of knitting should guide you through any issues or mistakes...or even a shift in preferences.  Even when the fix is a hack.  Especially if the fix is a hack.

Now, of course really learning this comes with practice.  Mistakes will happen, something won't click for a bit, that's all normal.  Learning the basics of each step is enough to go on; once a knitter starts actually knitting, they should be able to learn with action as well as theory.  I know people learn differently, and they will gravitate towards what they find easiest.  Which may mean that a step will be done out of order.  That's ok.

However, if you want to learn this way (even if you already know how to knit), it does take one thing: eagerness to know why what happened happened, and a willingness to learn it...at least at the basic explanation level (after all, what is outlined here is skimming the surface a bit.  But we do have to balance why with how, and I get that most knitters don't have time for an academic-level discussion, me included.  Though if you want to go right ahead).  What I mean is that you can't just want the quick fix, just looking for the detailed instructions that you will follow to produce a result.  These are the people also running to someone when they got a virus again by downloading from a shady source a mistake occurs without even attempting to fix it. I get that you may not know off the top of your head (I don't remember much off the top of my head.  That's what the Internet and books are for), but you must be willing to try and learn at least where to find the answer.

Humans are pretty smart cookies.  Knitting isn't rocket science, or even programming.  You got this.