Friday Finds: Chick-Lit Designs

The awesomeness is blinding over there on etsy at Chick-Lit Designs. Ipad and Kindle covers made from old hardcover books plus the cutest purses ever for us wannabe librarian types. Check it out....

Have a great weekend everyone,


Bad Patterns

Regardless of how one encounters them, bad instructions make for a bad experience.

Exhibit #1: IKEA "assembly instructions" for putting together any piece of furniture.

Ouch! My head hurts.

Who of us hasn't cursed the Swedes while in the throes of trying to make a chest of drawers actually look (and work) like a chest of drawers? The complete lack of words coupled with the pretentiously well-intentioned illustrations are really just harbingers of doom. They speak to the fact that, if you misinterpret a picture (god forbid you're not a visual person) you may end up with a chest of drawers that falls to pieces the first time you try to use it.

IKEA's a big company. You'd think they could afford to make instructions with words - in various languages.

In recent months, I've had a run of bad luck with knitting patterns. The same basic issue applies as with the IKEA example - if I misinterpret the pattern, my finished object is going to be seriously wrong. And, when you spend time and money to knit something by hand, you want it to be right.

So, what does one do when faced with a bad pattern?

In my case, the minute I realize that the pattern is written badly, I shift my entire approach to the pattern itself. A well-written pattern means that I can sail along without paying much attention. I simply read the next row and do what it tells me. But, if I encounter a line of confusing instruction, I immediately put down my work and read through a big chunk of the pattern to see if the writer repeated the offending communication. Generally, they have. Then, depending on how badly the instruction is written, I either rewrite it or make a mental note of the writer/designer's particular tic (often its the same thing over and over) and just adjust my knitting when I encounter it again.

I have, more than once, contacted a designer and asked for help. My success rate with this approach has been 50/50. Sometimes the designer will say, "Oh yeah... that's a common problem. I need to rewrite the pattern." But, just as often, the response is equally as confusing or (even worse) seriously defensive because I questioned their pattern.

Cassandra and I strive to make our patterns as clear and understandable as possible - whether it's knitting, embroidery, sewing, or anything else. This is at the top of my mind right now because I'm in the process of editing two patterns that are going into a book. We wrote them as we created them but now they have to be "cleaned up" to match the publishers style guide and to ensure that we're consistent with how we reference certain instructions. For example, I might write this:

Row 10 and all even rows through 20: K

Cassandra might write the same instruction like this:

Rows 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20: K

Both are understandable, but we have to be consistent in how we say it. So... I picked my way, of course. LOL

Regardless, we want to make sure that anyone can understand what we're trying to get across. Interestingly, trying to make a pattern easy-to-understand can also come across as "dumbing down" a pattern. If you've been knitting for twenty years, you've probably seen every iteration of how to write an instruction. However, I feel like we have to write for the person who may not be as adept at interpreting pattern writing. Hopefully, we can strike a balance so that everyone understands the pattern and no one feels like we're pandering.

So, if you ever download one of our free patterns or end up owning one of our patterns - regardless of what craft we're writing about - PLEASE don't hesitate to contact us if you can't understand an instruction or if you have a suggestion for how to make an instruction easier to understand. I swear, on the graves of my foremothers, we will never get defensive, we will listen to your concerns, and we will accept all constructive criticism with grace. In the end, the most important thing is that we become the best pattern writers we can be.

- Alex (a writer and editor 'till the end)

This has nothing to do with today's post but I thought you all might enjoy it since, you know, it's Thursday and we knit.

That's Life

Sometimes I'm guilty of not being honest with you here. I like to hide behind this cyber reality that was born from Alex and my imaginations. It's a "safer" place for me. I usually just tell you about the work in my hands or maybe share something beautiful or yummy I found. But today I feel bleh, and it's my turn to write something for you all. Lucky people, you get the real me.

Today the anxiety over all my "to-do's" has reached it's tipping point. At the risk of reenacting that scene in Coal Miner's Daughter where Loretta breaks down on stage and Doo has to carry her off...I will share with you some of what is cluttering my head:

School has started and my Kindergartener is having some issues (exhaustion, and a weird personality shift) dealing with a full day in the classroom. Workdays at Company X have been leaving me feeling creatively drained. The pile of have-to knitting (loose ends from upcoming book submissions Alex and I are fortunate enough to be involved in) is lingering. Every weekend has been activity-filled. For some reason cooking is not the escape that jars me out of my funk this time, I actually have been avoiding it. Stomach aches. Tired. And don't actually get me started on my current thoughts about cleaning.

I am guessing that I am suffering from toomuchtodoitis. I need to slow my life down a notch. It's time to prioritize what is the most important stuff and jettison the rest. I am one who prides herself on handling whatever comes her way with a stiff upper lip, so this isn't easy for me. This is my battle-plan for reclaiming my balance...

1. Strip the calendar clean of 1/2 of my obligations. I think this needs no further explanation :)

2. Make lists. This is something that I've done for years and years. I think it stems from having to "prioritize" my work at my jobby job. Nothing calms me down more than writing all the tasks ahead of me down and then ticking them off one by one.

3. Get outdoors. Stewing in my own juices happens indoors. Getting outside in the crisp fall air is the best way to raise my spirits. Get out of the house, take the chirren over to the ice age trail and hike until we find our centers.  (Woo...that sounds REALLY "Madison", doesn't it?)

4. Meditate. One of my buddies is really getting into meditation. I'm going to hit him up for some guidance here. This subject is new to me which probably means I will eventually be writing about it here!

5. Vision board revamp. What is it that I want out of life? A vision board always helps me get in touch with the key things that are important to me right now. It is actually a big helper when it comes to prioritizing in Step 2.

And it wouldn't be me without talking about my craftiness...

The monster quilt is actually coming along. The pieced-blocks are all pretty much finished and now I am on to the embroidered/appliqued blocks. I have no experience with applique so at the moment I am reading books and watching YouTube videos...gearing up for the task at hand sort-to-speak.

Take it easy folks, treat yourself well and get outdoors.


"Look! I'm a Farmer!"

On a glorious, sunny day a couple weekends ago, Alex and I took my boys tomato picking at a local organic farm. At one point, as my older son dragged his tomato-heavy sack along the path, he exclaimed, "Look! I'm a farmer!". And, if fact, we did all feel a little closer to the earth that day. We had a blast. See for yourself...

Vermont Valley Farm

Purple Basil

They had lime and lemon basil too! All we could pick for free.

Here come some pickers.

Folks making pesto right on the farm.

Carrying heavy bags of tomatoes wears boys out.

All heritage varieties.

The aisles.

I am being shown how the slope of the tomato is the same as the hills around us.

Alex showing us how to pick a ripe tomatillo.


Alex showing my big boy how to find the good ones.

Stunning views.

Little bear loved the goats.

My booty waiting to be canned.

If you have the chance, get to a local farm that has pick-your-own days. There is something extremely satisfying about picking large amounts of something to put up for the winter while chatting with your loved-ones and like-minded strangers. 


It's Not Even My Hobby!

Weekend before last, Madison hosted the annual Quilt Expo, sponsored by Wisconsin Public Television and Nancy Zieman of Sewing With Nancy fame. This four-day extravaganza of all things quilting was something I'd always been fascinated by but never attended because, you know, it's not my hobby. However, as you all know, it HAS become Cassandra's hobby this year (The Year of the Quilt, remember?) and, being the lovely, supportive friend I am, I agreed to go with her this year. This served double-duty as it meant that her husband didn't have to get dragged along for once. :) And, truth be told, I'm sure I'll end up making a quilt at some point. I just haven't gotten there yet.

And, speaking of husbands, I wish I'd gotten a photograph of the "wall of husbands" sitting in folding chairs, waiting for the wives to scour the aisles for fabulous quilt-y goodness.

Interestingly, the Quilt Expo helped pique my interest in this particular craft because, holy cow, these quilts were A-MAZ-ING. Plus, it helped me to define what I like in a quilt and what I don't - thus, getting me closer to actually picking a pattern and fabric. The one thing that both Cassandra and I agreed upon is that, regardless of whether a quilt was done in a style we liked or not, we could really appreciate the craftsmanship and work that went into each.

So, we played hooky from work on Thursday afternoon and basked in the glory of gorgeous quilts and amazing talent. One high point of the day was as we were leaving the Expo hall, I was looking at something and Cassandra suddenly said, "It's Nancy! You're Nancy!" and then we proceeded to go all fan-girl on Nancy Zieman and I think we scared her. She sort of smiled and backed away (in horror). So, herein you'll find our photo-essay of our day at the Quilt Expo 2012, minus a picture of us with Nancy.

The first thing we saw, above, was a bunch of women tailgating outside the entry to the Expo Center. Yep, if there's an event and a parking lot, a Wisconsinite will tailgate...

An understated entry for such an majestic event.

One of our favorites - Blue Underground Quilts - doing wonderful, graphic, modern designs.

Buttons, buttons, buttons

We were, honestly, at the young end of the demographic.

A basket of wool quarter-flats.

We really adored Cottage House Primitives wool quilt designs. Very different from most of what we saw at the event.

Well-crafted and great use of technique.

This woman was doing a latch-rug. Very cool process.

We fell in love with these quilters - Sew Mod. Their style sense, fabric choices, and modern variation of classic design was outstanding. It really set them apart.

Cassandra loves this "bug in a jar" fabric. Quilt from Sew Mod.

Outstanding use of color and fabric. Another favorite.

Also from Janie Lou (above). Note the contrasting, black quilting.

Modern Quilts Studio publishes books and patterns of their own design. This husband and wife team has some of the most original designs we saw.

More from Modern Quilts.

A beautiful example of a wall-quilt. The quilting was done on a long-arm.

More detail.

Note the bunny shape in the quilting itself.

We loved the composition and color of this winner.

This was our favorite quilt of all the entries into the competition. The amount of design work that went into this piece is astounding. If you expand the photo below, you can read a description of the quilter's inspiration. It's a lovely story.

Cassandra's haul of fabric which will be used to make a quilt for her daughter.

Friday Finds: Anthopologie's Fall Housewares

I love Anthropologie enough to marry it. Admittedly, I usually b-line over to the clothes section...but this fall's houseware line has captured my imagination. Could it be because it is a woodland animals inspired collection called "Wild Things"? (Ahem) Some of my fave's:

Love these lines...and if you look closely, the fabric is a really natural cotton.

Natural World dessert those bugs.

Rustic Romp Taper Holder. I can't live without this.

Flight Navigation still my heart.

Fox Forestry Hook. I know exactly where I want this.
Aqua Ombre Velvet Pillow. No one would be allowed to touch this but me!

Have a few moments? Hop over to Anthopologie and bask in the chic-ness of it all. :)