Friday, August 21, 2009

In Praise of Test Knitters

Every business has people who work behind the scenes, largely invisible but vital. In the world of knitting patterns, test knitters and tech editors are just such people. They take my designs, knit them, proof read them, and clean them up so that when the pattern gets to your hands it is easy to understand and free (I hope) from mistakes.

When you were in school, did you ever have to do that exercise where you write instructions to tell a Martian how to tie his shoes or make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I had to do it in tenth grade. Our teacher decided to have each student read another student's instructions for tying a shoe and follow each of the steps in front of the class. My instructions fared pretty well right up to the point that James Flynn got to the line, "draw half of the folded right shoe lace through the ensuing loop in the left shoe lace."

James looked up and stared right at me across the classroom. "Ensuing?" he said. "If I can't tie a shoe lace how the heck am I supposed to know what ensuing means?"

Writing a knitting pattern is a little like writing shoelace instructions. Unlike the hypothetical Martian, most knitters don't need to have the concept of "yarn" and "knitting needles" explained in the directions. On the other hand, each of us brings our own experience and learning style to our craft and so as I up my patterns, I try to use the most standard terms and clearest instructions for the project. Nevertheless, the occasional "Ensuing Error" slips by to be caught by my invaluable test knitters.

Test knitters knit each pattern from the written directions, just as they are written. Sometimes, if I have omitted a key detail, they get some very funny results. Process knitters all, they will spend hours (occasionally days) knitting a pattern checking it line by line. Though their efforts, I remember to specify whether those slipped stitches had the yarn in front or back or help me explain more clearly how to attach a lace edging to a shawl.

So let's raise our glasses to four wonderful ladies: Cyndi and Wendy, Betty and Michelle, soldiers in the trenches of knitting patterns, without whose help Fiber Tree Designs would not exist.

Walking Meditations
It has been unseasonably cool in Iowa this summer. I missed most of July because I was traveling, but have been able to get out more this month. The late August color scheme for the woods along our bike path is gold and green. Fields of all sorts of yellow flowers bloom in the shade of the trees.

One day this week, I went out for my walk especially early while the dew was still on the grass and I caught some local "knitters" at work. All across the fields, the local fairies (or spiders if you prefer) had laid out nature's original circular lace shawls to block and be decorated with dew beads. The delicate craftsmanship gives me something to aspire to.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

For the past three months, the Fiber Tree blog has been sadly neglected. Perhaps my training in history has taught me at some deep level to write about things that have already happened rather than about events as they occur. Perhaps some things just happen too quickly to write about at the time.

Over the summer, I traveled to four different states, sent in pattern and article submissions to KnittySpin, Interweave Knits, and Knitter's Magazine, developed five patterns for self-publication, and discovered Idyillium.

This is particularly a red letter summer for two reasons.

#1: Pattern and Article to Appear in Autumn KnittySpin
In June, an article that I wrote about processing Shetland fleeces and an accompanying pattern for using Shetland wool to make wrist warmers were accepted for the autumn edition of the online magazine KnittySpin. The article was inspired by an 18th century monograph on wool from the Shetland Islands. It is amazing how similar some aspects of handspinning are after three hundred years. The article and pattern will be published online during the first week in September. You will be able to view it here in a few weeks: For the moment you an check out their current summer edition which has some really good patterns and articles.

In the process of researching Shetland sheep, I had the opportunity to visit my friend Carol's farm and see her three Shetland ewes. They will made great models for the article.

#2: Idyillium and Leah
Every year since I was five, my family has spent at least a week in Bar Harbor, ME. We hiked in Acadia National Park, played with cobble beach stones along the shore, and wandered through town in the evening. This year, I discovered a brand new shop called Idyillium.

It's window looked like a museum display of textiles and textile-making tools. It was full of handcrafted knitwear, rugs, weavings, and its own brand of organic, made-in-Maine yarn.

Best of all it had owner Leah Estell, who grew up in Maine and has just moved back to the East Coast from several years working in the artisan store scene in San Francisco. Her family owns and operates Starcroft Fiber Mills, a "micro-mill" that spins wool from sheep living wild on Nash Island off the coast of Maine. The fiber is hand-fed into the spinning mill and hand dyed by her mother in a glorious range of semi-solid colors.

I bought some of the lobster yarn and took it straight back to my hotel room to swatch. The story of the island sheep and the deep red of the Lobster Bake colorway conjured up images of the net in lobster traps and lobster buoys. Two days later, I was back at Idyillium to show Leah my Lobster Net Wrist Warmers. She was so impressed that she invited me to design patterns for her shop.

This week I mailed the first print copies of the Lobster Net Wrist Warmers to Idyillium. So far, my plans for the Nash Island Yarn collection also include a scarf matching the wrist warmers and a simpler scarf and wrist warmer set. The Lobster Net Wrist Warmers, along with several of my other patterns, will be available for sale online by the end of this month. More patterns will be added over the next several moths as well.

Walking Meditations
As busy as this summer has been, I had a hard time finding a quiet moment to walk and meditate. One exception to this was the week that I spent in Hiawassee, GA at my husband's family reunion. We took several notable walks and I even remembered to bring my camera on a few of them.

When I was growing up in Atlanta, my family and I went hiking in the North Georgia mountains almost every weekend. My father collected pictures of waterfalls and we would drive immense distances over dubious roads and hike miles of trail for a good shot. Since I have moved to the Midwest, waterfalls have been few and far between, so I stocked up on memories this trip.

Amicalola Falls State Park

Helton Falls

Vogel State Park