Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lucky Me -

I'm lucky. My spouse Mark (yes we were married last year, woo hoo!) wears everything I make him. Well, almost everything. He has one raglan sleeve sweater in Malabrigo that I made in the round from the top down and he'll only put that on when it's in the single digits outside. This man sweats at the thought of wool. And he won't touch a hat, so I don't bother to make them for him, much as I would like to.

But for the most part, he picks out the yarn, scours the patterns and books in my studio and picks out what he wants. He just asked for the 6-button henley that's in KNITS MEN WANT. By the way, the photos for the book, including the henley shot below were taken by Jared Flood, AKA Brooklyn Tweed.
Mark picked a brown rowan wool cotton from my stash for his henley, a good choice for a guy who sweats. But like most men he hates fittings and I know better than to try and get him to try anything on. I measured an older sweater of his for the measurements, but didn't take into account that he's trying and succeeding in losing weight. I should listen more when he tells me his clothes are starting to hang on him. The body finished and the sleeves ready to be picked up and knitted down, I slipped it on myself to get a sense of size. You know that feeling when you put on a piece of clothing that fits so perfectly and hangs so well on you that you never want to take it off? Uh oh. If this fits me so well, his new slimmer physique is going to go for a swim in this sweater.

And here's where the lucky part comes in. He comes in to my studio, sees me in his sweater, sees how amazing it looks on me, and before I could even offer to rip it out and start again, he tells me that he would be delighted if I kept it for myself and just made him something else when I'm done. So what's he going to get? Probably the same henley, but in a different color than mine.
Which, by the way, has 1 sleeve left to go, then it's off to Tender Buttons on east 62nd street for the perfect finishing touch. I'll share pictures of that experience in a few weeks.

Monday, January 25, 2010

recycled cashmere

In my new book, KNITS MEN WANT, I offer all the rules women need to know before knitting for a guy. And my favorite is that NOT ALL MEN ARE WORTHY OF CASHMERE. In the book, I tell the story about a young woman who knitted a cashmere hat for her husband who thought it would make a great paper towel substitute. He drove her to tears and he never got another thing knitted with such fine fiber.

I have to say that as much as I love soft yarns, I'm just not a big cashmere wearer. It's warm and soft, yes, but it just doesn't have the weight behind it I like for a sweater. I want to feel that garment on my back, protecting me from the elements. It's the same reason I'd rather have 4 quilts on my bed in the winter than 1 thick down comforter. Sure I get the same warmth, but it's the weight, the comfort of the pressure that I look for.

Having said all that, I don't think there's a single fiber I prefer to knit with than Cashm
ere. It's lightness means my hands never get tired from holding a and turning a heavy garment while I knit. And it feels so wonderful being pulled through my fingers as I knit. But then there's the cost $12 for 45 yards - yikes! That's a $50 hat, forget about a sweater in a man's x-large.

So what's a knitter to do? Check out thrift stores and ebay.
On ebay today I found a bright red cashmere sweater in a women's medium for $5.99 and a gray cashmere hoodie for $7.25. When you get the garment home, dry clean or wash it before you start into deconstructing it - or even smell it—remember, not everyone's hygiene is as good as yours. Once the sweater is cleaned, you're ready to begin surgery. One disclaimer; you're going to lose a lot of yarn and that's okay, you've gotten it cheap and if you can get 500 yards out of it you've gotten a steal.

Start by taking apart the seams, to separate the arms, front, and back. Start this at the very top or bottom so that if you accidentally nick the garment you won't do it in the middle or a long run of working yarn. Pull the front and back away from each other and look at the seam. You should be able to see the thread that connects them. It only takes a clip at one spot to know if you got the right thread. Once you clip it, you can pull and see that the two pieces are coming apart. If see that stitches themselves are unraveling, you've cut the garment and not the seam. That's okay, it will just be a break in the yarn once you get going. Keep trying until you get it.

Once the parts are separate, look at the neck. If the neck or collar have been sewn on, just cut them off straight across, keeping your cut as close as possible to a straight line of stitches. Now, using a tapestry needle start to pick out the top row of stitches pulling out the scraps that have been cut until you can start to unravel the piece. I like to put it on my ball winder and simply watch the garment unravel as I wind. It helps to have a yarn meter so you'll know exactly how much yarn you have.

Now, most yarn that's used in cashmere sweaters is pretty thin stuff. So I like to double what ever comes out of vintage garments. That makes for 4 or eve six ply cashmere to work with. This yarn came from an old Lord & Taylor men's cashmere sweater that've had in my closet since high school. I got 500 yards of usable 2-ply cashmere and I've rewound it doubled for 250 yards of 4-ply cashmere giving my 5 stitches/inch on size 7 needles.

The hat I'm making is for a my friend John E, to thank him for a lovely weekend in the Hamptons with him and his wife Rainey last week. The pattern is the watch cap from my new book KNITS MEN WANT. And although NOT ALL MEN ARE WORTHY OF CASHMERE, when you can buy 500 yards for a mere $7, all men are worthy of a second chance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wrapping parks and trees.

In 2005, the artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude filled Central Park with orange nylon gates. It kept blurring the line between eyesore and masterpiece.

At least it was more colorful than their previous work in Riehen, Swizterland where they wrapped a stand of large trees in 1998.

This was clearly not a problem for my friend Richard's sister in Columbus, Ohio. Her tree wrapping is a work in progress, as she adds more to it all the time. The weather felts the knitting that surrounds the bark. And according to the knitter, the dressed up tree works better than any speed bump the city could ever have installed on her street. Tell me you wouldn't stop and look, feel, and start your own tree sweater as soon as you got home.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Circular needle organization

A few people have noticed my circular needle case hanging on the wall in my studio and asked me where I bought it. I didn't, I made it and it only took a few hours at the sewing machine. The frist step is to pick fabric. For that, I headed out to Traditions by Pamela Kline outlet in Claverack, NY. The fabric loft has amazing deals and if you ask to see the fabric scarps in the production studio you can buy as much as you want for $5 a pound. I picked some heavy velvets brocade that would hold up to the weight of all those needles without stretching out of shape.

I cut the fabric into 4-inch wide strips,
starting with the narrowest, making each subsequent layer 2-inches wider than the one below it. Hem the edges then lay out all the strips and pin them, together before sewing.

Next, I joined the fabric horizontally across all the layers starting at the bottom. Then measured up 2.5-inches for my size 13s, 2.25-inches for the 11s, 2-inches for 10.75s and 10.5s, etc, up to 1-inch for the 3s, 2s, and 1s. The smallest fabric strip in front holds the double point needles and I use the wider fabric slots for circular needles.

The clip on top is an quilt clip from Pottery Barn that I bought in the 80s. Now I have all my circular and double point needles at hand without tangles or mess.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Welcome to my studio.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m a chef and have had 18 cook books published in the past 12 years. Those of you who just met me know that I’m also a knitting teacher and am going to have my first knitting book published on April 1st, by Melanie Falick at Stewart Tabori and Chang, KNITS MEN WANT. So now I split my time between the kitchen and my cozy knitting studio.

Stewart Tabori and Chang is also publishing my book HAM: AN OBSESSION WITH THE HIND QUARTER in March. How do I write and publish this much? Well, I do it with my partner Mark. In our cook book world, I'm the chef and he's the writer. About 18 months ago, we were at a meeting in the New York office of STC with our former editor Luisa Weiss and she asked if I had made the sweaters we were both wearing. I had made them and that led to a meeting with the amazing Melanie Falick which led to my first knitting book.

And just when you think it can't get any better, Melanie suggested we get Jared Flood (aka Brooklyn Tweed) to do the photos. We shot half the book at my friend Barbara's house in Bloomfield, CT, and the other half in Brooklyn. I'm knitting a few pieces for Mark from the book and I'll share them with you along with a few outtakes from the book along the way.

This past year I've also designed a number of pieces for ShiBui, including hiking socks and a dropped shoulder sweater made with their luxurious merino worsted.

You can find me at TWISTED in Millerton, NY on Wednesday nights from 6 to 8 and on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 3. There's always a theme (reversible cables, magic loop, etc.) or bring any project you want help with. And to add to the excitement, I always bring something to eat from one of my cook books. So call and sign up and I hope to see you soon!