Monday, September 29, 2014

Do You Want to Become a Knitting Star?

Here's a little more from Josh Kaufman's book on learning fast, tweaked for knitting skill acquisition.

There's a pretty big gap between reading about how to do something and then actually doing it. I can read all the advice available on a particular topic but to truly understand the nuances of a motor skill I need to perform it, adjust, correct errors and practice to reach competency. 

Josh's principles for effective learning follow:

1) "Research, but not too much". I have a lot of reference books for knitting. When I need to check something I usually use two or three. I don't take the time to check every book I own. At a certain point reading about how to do something becomes redundant, you need to just do it.

2) "Jump in". Sometimes new things feel incomprehensible. I see this in classes with students often. They are afraid to pick up the needles and try something new. This is a good sign if you don't understand at all, it means you are about to learn a lot! Often you lack vocabulary and that is why you feel disoriented. Vocabulary becomes clearer once you get going. In my case Entrelac was a skill that wasn't easily conceptualized before I tried to knit it. Once I actually knit a sample under the instruction of a patient teacher I no longer had any issues understanding the written instructions. 

3) "Mental models and hooks". As you work through new skills you will acquire concepts that apply to help you learn. They are the labels and relationships. Think of the difficulty of remembering how to complete the knit stitch when you first learned. Insert the right hand needle from the front to the back through the loop on the left hand needle, wrap the yarn....that's a model. A hook will help you remember something by relating it to something else. Here's one for the directionality of decreases.

4) "Imagine the opposite". This is where you imagine everything that can go wrong. It helps you to avoid errors.

5) "Talk to practitioners". My students are way to hard on themselves. It is important to be realistic about what level a novice can work to. An experienced knitter can help you assess realistically how well you are doing. Stay focused and you will improve quickly.

6) "Eliminate distractions". All levels of knitters talk about the difference between easy TV knitting and focused knitting. If you are struggling, it's time to turn off the TV, the phone and find a place to be alone. You'll get "it" faster when you are focused.

7) "Spaced repetition". Moving memory from short term to long term storage takes repetition. You won't forget the first cast on you used when you learned to knit a few years ago, however I just had to go back to the reference source for a new one I learned recently and have used on only one project so far. Once I use it a few more times the movements will come back more easily to me. The image below is Edgar Dale's cone of learning, it gives percentage of learning loss over time based on your mode of learning.

8) "Scaffolds and checklists". Refer to lists of items of things you do everything you practice. Many are internalized so quickly, you may not realize you have a mental list. As an example, turn on your laptop, click on an icon, enter a password, open an application....Scaffolds refer to a list of the physical movements that lead into performance. They are used in sports and can provide a calming transition into becoming focused on your goal. When I start to knit, I adjust the lamp, get comfortable, sit up straight, and place my knitting so the yarn flows smoothly from the ball.

9) "Predictions and tests". Here I go again! Swatching. If you make and test predictions you will maximize understanding. Look at your work, what do you see? What do you already know? What could you do to improve performance? Test out your theory. When knitters started working cables without a cable needle they were challenging the way it was done in the past. I'm sure many found out quickly it works easily on sticky yarns but not on slippery yarns. However, under certain conditions it is a more efficient way to create cables.

10) "Honor your biology". I'm guilty of this one. I get caught up and forget to stop when I get tired, thirsty or hungry. There is some evidence that more than 90 minutes of focused attention becomes counter productive. Repetitive movements can cause injury. I try to do a quick hand stretch every 20 minutes when I'm knitting. There is also some science that shows sleep is especially beneficial for motor skill acquisition. So practice in the evening and consider evening classes. The sooner you sleep after practice the better it is for accelerated learning 

Part 1 is here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

An Interview with ... Andrea Jurgrau, Updated

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world. I first interviewed Andrea here in August of 2011. I recently read her latest book New Vintage Lace and wanted to ask her a few more questions. 
You can find Andrea here and here on Ravelry. 

All the photos in this post come from the book. You can see all of the other gorgeous designs here.

I've been told publishing a book is a long intense experience. Could you tell us more about how the process works?  
Well, it starts with a concept.  I really flesh it out fully, including designing and knitting some of the pieces before sending it out to a publisher.  Then they review and send feedback, maybe ask for some changes.  Then they decide if they want to publish it!  If you get lucky and they do want it, next comes a contract.  Then discussions about yarn and color.  Then requests for yarn support.  Then write it all, design it all, get the patterns and charts ready, knit the samples...then send it in to the editor and tech editor and wait.  Then get it back for review, send it back and forth a few times, then let go!  The publisher will then do photography, proof reading, more tech editing, layout.  Then off to the press after a final review of a print-ready copy.  The wait for the books!!  It takes about 18 months.

Please tell us about your focus on lace and the process of using vintage patterns to develop your gorgeous designs?  

I just love lace of all sorts, but knitting lace is my favorite.  The vintage patterns can be a real challenge, because they were written at a time when knitters did not expect to be spoon fed.  They are minimal and charted and you have to think.  And you might have to fix the occasional error that slipped in, which is part of the charm.  In the book I talk all about the process, with details that allow today's knitter to modify old patterns into shawl designs themselves.

I know you need a lot of ideas for a book. What’s your process for generating them and how did you choose what went into the book? 

I am a concept designer.  I started with the concept and then the designs flowed from there.  That is how I always work, and it seems to be good for me once I begin in a clear direction I can design way more material than I can fit in one book!

You also have a video workshop version of the book coming out soon, please tell us about what we can expect to learn in the video.   
The video is actually not directly connected to the book.  I do cover techniques required for the projects in the book, but you do not need the book to enjoy the video.  The video actually comes with two unique patterns to practice the techniques I cover in the video.  I cover center starts, a crochet edging, adding beads, and even blocking.

What are your plans for the future, will there be more lace patterns?  
I release new patterns regularly through my Ravlery pattern shop.  I have three designs in the new "Enchanted Knits" magazine from Interweave.  I have a design in the up-coming Downton Abbey Knits from Interweave.  And I am working on a second book, in the first half of the process I mentioned above.  I hope to have more to say about that soon:)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Do You Want to Become a Knitting Star?

I follow a few blogs related to learning and skill acquisition. If you are interested here's one of my favourites: and here's a list of lots of others to check out:

I've also read on this topic extensively. As a teacher and as a committed life long learner it's very important to me to understand the process for learning.  

I recently read Josh Kaufman's The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything... Fast! It's a fun book with some quick summaries of how to improve your learning which Josh demonstrates by taking on the challenges of learning to program a web application, play the ukulele, practice yoga, learn to touch type on an alternative keyboard, windsurf, and study the world's oldest and most complex board game Go. I was most interested by the advice regarding motor skill development and how I could translate this to knitting skills for my students.

Josh has 10 principles for rapid skills acquisition. 

1) Knitting teachers often have stories about novice students who tackle complex projects for their first project because they want the item passionately. Josh calls this choosing a "Lovable project".  

2) "Focus your energy on one skill at a time" Let's call that putting your new knitting skill on project status for a little while.  

3) He suggests that you "Define your target performance level". What exactly is your goal? Do you want to knit a baby blanket as a gift or knit yourself a sweater. Do you want to knit for stress reduction or be a social knitter to join the knit group at your coffee shop? Do you want to learn a new technique such as brioche or Orenburg lace? Be specific. 

4) Next is "Deconstruct the skill into sub-skills", what things do you need to learn to accomplish your goal? Does your chosen goal require a new cast on or perhaps you need to know magic loop?

5) "Obtain critical tools" Yahoo! a trip to your LYS is next. 

6) Eliminate "Barriers to practice" this refers to things like having your resources available, sending the kids out to play, ordering in dinner rather than cooking as well as overcoming the internal fears that turn up when we try new things. 

7) "Make time". If you want to learn new skill you need to carve out the time to do so. Take a class or spend some of your knitting time doing swatches to learn new techniques that are in your reference books or on YouTube videos. Plan out when you will use your 20 hours and make it a regular commitment.

8) "Fast feedback loops". Here I go again, swatch, it takes a long time to get to the last row of a project to test out three different cast offs for your project. By the time you get there you are likely to fall back to your standard version. Try them out first on samples so you can compare and improve your technique.

9) "Short bursts". If you are struggling with a new skill and it feels difficult, set a timer for 20 minutes and keep going until the timer goes off. Maybe you want to switch from English to Continental or Portuguese style knitting. You will need time to establish new muscle memory.

10) "Emphasize quantity and speed". Don't try to be perfect at first, skills build more with the quantity practice at the beginning stages of acquisition. 

I'll be sharing some principles of effective learning to help more with your skill development soon. Part 2 is here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Why don't You Wear What You Knit?

I think the real question here is do you look at knitting patterns and say "I want to knit that" or do you say "I want to wear that"?  Sally Melville raised that question the last time she spoke at the DKC. 

That's me at the top looking very happy wearing The Barbara Franklin Cardigan. You can see all of it in this photo.

I wear everything I design. If I'm not happy wearing it I assume no one else will be either. 

If you are knitting for yourself and then find yourself never wearing what you knit it's time to give your project choice a little thought.

Don't pick another project until you review your own closet. Ask yourself what shapes and silhouettes do you wear most often. I like clothing that skims my body without being tight. I like classic fitted shapes. Just to get you started I'll tell why I like this cardigan so much. I'm 5 feet 2 inches and on the curvy side. I like my necklines to show some skin and a V neck adds a little length visually. It has a set in sleeve which I consider to be the most flattering on all figures. It's even better on someone like me with short arms as you see the full length of my arm with a sharply defined shoulder that sits on the shoulder bone. The wide band allowed me to make the front bigger than the back, that accommodates the curvy parts. Using a shawl pin to close the front means I can create a little more of a waistline than I really have. Standard women's sizes have 8-10 inches in difference between the hips and the waist. I'm closer to 5 inches in difference. That covers why I like to wear this cardigan. Now look in your closet and analysiz the items you wear most often for their general characteristics.

Next let's think about what you like to knit. I like a mix of complexity but I can't bear to knit plain stocking stitch. I also like to knit several things at the same time for variety. I knit lots of lace especially in the form of shawls. I wear the shawls over coats and jackets. I love the contrast in mood of a shawl with a jean jacket. I even have jean jackets top stitched feminine colours like pink and red to coordinate the shawls with.

I also like simple repetitive patterns as in this cardigan that require some attention but will work as projects to work on when other things are going on. Now think, what do you want to knit and to wear?

Friday, September 19, 2014

An Interview with...Laura Chau

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Laura here and on Ravelry here. You can find Laura on Ravelry, Twitter and Instagram as cosmicpluto. Laura recently released a new ebook, you can find it here.

Where do you find inspiration?
As many places as possible. Yarns often inspire me, but I also look to architecture, art, mainstream fashion, and nature.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I kind of love just knitting stockinette stitch. Cables are a close second. I also love interesting constructions, whether it be for garments or accessories!

How did you determine your size range?
It’s very important to me to have a large range of sizes for my garments and accessories. I’ve known people on both extremes of the size spectrum, and it’s difficult for everyone to find the right size! I myself have changed sizes quite a bit since I began designing. I try to provide sizes from 28-60” where I’m able - I really don’t think it’s much more work to provide lots of sizes, and you can open up your market by making the sizing as inclusive as possible.As a large-haired person, I also size other accessories like hats - because not everyone has a noggin the size of mine!
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I think it’s important to know what other people are designing. I usually check Ravelry to make sure an idea hasn’t already been done, before moving forward with a design. Looking at other people’s work is a good way for me to steer my designing in a different direction.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I worked and taught in a yarn shop for many years, so I’ve seen all levels of knitter from absolute beginner to experienced. I think most people appreciate more information in a pattern rather than less, though unnecessary wordiness can be a problem if it hides the important info! Spelling things out is the easiest way to make sure you get your particular method across - but don’t go overboard.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I usually do all my knitting myself. I do have a couple of friends that I call on once in awhile to do some knitting for me, but in general I like to tweak and change things on the needles, which doesn't lend itself to sample knitters.

Did you do a formal business plan?
When I graduated from university, I was working in a yarn shop and designing already. My general plan was to see where it would take me, and get a “real job” if I needed to. I’m very grateful and happy that I’ve been able to make it work for so long, but I don’t really have a formal plan for the future. I prefer to wait and see how things develop organically.

Do you have a mentor?
Not formally, but I have many friends that I look up to! I would say my former boss, Megan Ingman (blog: greatly influenced my trajectory as a designer and maker. She’s always so creative!
Yes, of course. I’ve used the same tech editor for years, I love her and trust her!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I work a lot, but I try to keep my computery or math-intensive work to business hours. In the evenings I might knit, but I might also do something else like sewing or spinning to change it up.

How do you deal with criticism?
Over the years I think I’ve gotten a bit better at handling it. It’s easy to focus on negative comments, but they can be toxic to your mental health! Thankfully they are few and far between.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Difficult to say. When I began designing, I was in university, living at home with my parents, and also working in a yarn shop. Then after I graduated, I had a short window where I needed to write my book, Teach Yourself Visually Sock Knitting, which I probably wouldn’t have been able to do if I wasn’t living at home. Between working at the shop and designing, I was able to move out on my own a few years later and have been supporting myself ever since.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More on Stripes and the Science Behind the Fashion Rules

The scientists have worked hard on the issue of stripes and the question do they make us look fat. The answer is, it depends on how you run the experiment. 

The original experiment by German doctor and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz showed that a square made of horizontal stripes appeared to be taller and narrower than an identical square of vertical stripes. 

The modern experiment by Dr Peter Thompson, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of York, England showed participants pairs of drawings. Each pair showed line drawings of identical women, one wearing horizontal stripes, the other wearing vertical ones. Participants judged the women in horizontal stripes as thinner than the one in vertical stripes. Dr Thompson drew the conclusion that horizontal stripes make you look thinner. The theory behind this interpretation was explained, when we view vertical stripes on a waistline, we have to take in the constant contrast of black to white to black, and so on. This  tricks the brain into believing that the area is bigger than it actually is. In the case of horizontal stripes there’s a single unbroken line which simplifies mental processing so there is no confusion for the brain to sort out and no extra visual inches added to the body. It was found that narrow black stripes on a white background were most flattering and the best proportion is about 10 per cent black to 90 per cent white.

The experiment was performed again on 3D objects. Dr Thompson took cylinders and covered them with horizontal or vertical lines and asked people to decide which looked wider. Participants confirmed the previous results from the line drawings.

But here's where it gets really interesting. Val Watham's work overturned the previous experimental result. Val worked with  fashion students, who designed, produced and modeled dresses and shirts for the new experiment. Students produced garments in vertical and horizontal stripes. Participants rated how tall and wide the models looked in each outfit. The results this time confirmed that vertical stripes made the models look taller, while horizontal hoops made them look wider.

The new theory postulates the idea that stripes show the contours of the body underneath. Horizontal stripes may reveal contours more strongly than verticals, making people look wider.

My previous post on stripes is here.

You can read more here:

Monday, September 15, 2014

In the Category of Things that Make me Smile

Crochet shoes from Mayan Levi Ellentuck. She uses ready made shoes and crochets right on them, taking a regular shoe and turning it into a amusing fruit!

You can find them here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Interview with...Anna Sudo

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Anna here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I don't always get inspired in the same way. Sometimes it starts when I am inspired by something in the world like a texture or pattern I have seen some where in nature. Other times I have been looking through stitch dictionaries and something sparks a new idea for a design. And sometimes I just have two skeins of yarn that look amazing together and I then look for the best way to combine them.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love tubular cast ons and bind offs. I think they add so much polish to a garment.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love to see what other designers are doing. Often times I think to myself I wish I'd though of that and because of that they do have an influence on me. This influence pushes me to think more about the quality of my designs and reminds me to strive to be the best designer that I can be. And I still feel that my designs represent my unique vision. 
How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
In my day job, I am a teacher. One thing I have learned teaching is that everyone has different needs and so I don't really agree that patterns are being "dumbed down". The information is being presented in a different way. I think each designer can choose what they are comfortable with in terms of how they would like to present information and that may mean that their patterns will appeal to some and not others.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have used test knitters in the past. It is always a fun and interesting experience to see how other people interpret or react to your patterns. 
Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, tech editors are an invaluable resource. Their critical eye helps to make your pattern better.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I still have a day job so knitting is still something that falls into the hobby category. I knit as much as I can when I can.

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How do you deal with criticism?
I think it is very important to listen to your critics to see what you can learn from them. Then I decide whether or not what they have said is something that is a valuable for growth or it is something that is more about personal preference.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
It hasn't happened for me yet.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Have fun and keep doing it as long as you feel fulfilled by it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We're off to the Fair!

This weekend I'll be working at the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter's Fair.

You can find all of the details for this event here.

I'll be working with my good friend Patrick in his booth Signature Yarns.

Patrick and I met working at our LYS about 10 years ago. Working with him was always a great deal of fun as well as incredibly inspiring. He loves fashion, has an amazing colour sense and does fabulous display work. 

Patrick often refers to himself as a "yarn shop brat", he grew up working in his mother's yarn shop which has allowed him to develop a depth of knowledge about yarn that even experienced knitters envy. He later attended fashion school adding more layers to his understanding of garment construction.

Patrick will also be carrying my patterns in the booth. We have matched up yarns for some of my existing designs and will be doing more collaboration on future projects.

Please drop by and say "hello" if you are attending the event.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Martine Dubois Crescent Scarf - New Pattern Release

My latest pattern is a crescent scarf  which is worked bottom up. The edging is unusual but easy to work. The balance of the scarf is garter stitch, making it a simple project to execute. I used a larger needle than the yarn would normally call for, to showcase the edging. The pattern uses a crochet cast on to create an edge that matches the cast off, however any cast on technique may be substituted.

The sample shown used approximately 400 yds (365 m), 100 grams (3.53 ounces) of 100% superwash merino, single ply, fingering weight, hand painted in colour Raspberry Mocha from Yvieknits Yarns. I had some yarn left at the end. The project could be worked with any fingering weight yarn. You may remember I recently interviewed Yvonne of Yvieknits here.

This shape is very versatile. It can be worn in a number of different ways. 

The scarf measures 9 inches (23 cm) long from bottom at centre point to top edge and it is 61 inches (155 cm) wide, measured following curved top edge after blocking.

The name Martine Dubois comes from Agatha Christie's novel, 4:50 from Paddington.

It's here on Ravelry and will be up on Patternfish soon.