Even as I'm preparing to plant my first real seeds of the season, my next pattern collection is rapidly growing. 

I'm now less than a month away from launching WILDFLOWER, which means I'm neck-deep in partially-finished samples, pattern edits and kit supplies. Mr. Cleaver is being extremely patient about the number of project bags and cardboard boxes littering our house at moment. 

But even in the midst of all this chaos, the beauty of it all, like a bud peaking out of the dirt, is apparent and I'm relishing all the time I'm getting to spend with these beautiful threads and yarns in their vernal greens, pinks and purples. 

To be the first to know when this collection launches, which includes some limited-edition hand-dyed kits, sign up for my newsletter below. You'll receive a special discount and a free garden planning template (excel) as my thank you to you!

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Planting Seeds for WILDFLOWER

The WOODLAND collection came together as a collection more or less by accident. I had a few designs I wanted to do and as I was working on them, I realized that they had a similar theme, so I decided to go with the flow. That said, I quickly learned that I liked working in the collection format - even if it mean photographing a half dozen things in about 45 minutes. So when I starting thing about where I wanted to go with my design work, doing more in the collection format immediately sprung to the top of list. 

And so, in December, I started thinking Spring. 

WILDFLOWER seemed like a good good follow up to woodland theme, so I started gathering images and thinking about what the collection would be. I also knew I wanted my work to be more collaborative this year, so I'm partnering with indie dyers NabiWoolStudio and RedSockBlueSock for two of the knitwear designs. At this point, all the planning stuff is pretty much done and I'm deep in pattern writing and sample making. There will be three new knitwear designs and three embroidery hoops and it's all going to be so pretty!

So wish me luck as I furiously stitch and try to find a spring-esque photoshoot location in Maine in Feb/March!

Inspiration images from top to bottom:

  • Andrew Wyeth's Around the Corner
  • Old farmer sowing seeds from traditional apron, Hilltown, Co. Down, 1970s, Bobbie Hanvey, photographer.
  • "Miss Rumphius" by Barbara Cooney

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My Body Model - Designing on Real Bodies

Renovation Cardigan
Reno Swatch
Prairie Wife Sketch
Atlee Original Sketch
Lady Heartrose

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen me mention mybodymodel a handful of times.  MyBodyModel is the brainchild of my friend Erica, and is a web-based tool for building sketching templates, also known as croquis, to your exact measurements.

I can't tell you how excited I am by this project. As a designer, I use croquis all the time in sketching out my design ideas. It sames me time from having to redraw the figure and allows me to focus on the clothing design. For quite some time, I've been using the same croquis, seen above in the sketches for Prairie Wife, Atlee and Lady Heartrose. I found it by doing a Google image search for "plus size croquis."

If you click on that Google search, you'll find that the fashion sketch definition of "plus-size" feels not quite right. The croquis I've been using seems much more in line with the 34-inch bust standard most of my samples have to been knit in, than anything resembling plus-size.

So while my standard croquis gets the job done for basic communication purposes, it falls short in several ways.

First, it's not a great tool for scaling designs. When I grade, I work off a spreadsheet and make some general assumptions about how to grade different design elements - for example, is the button band the same width for all sizes, or would it look better if it's wider on the larger sizes? Sketching on different body types helps me make that decision in a more informed way. 

Second, I often see comments when new designs come out along the lines of "that's nice, but not for my body." Unlike sewing, where additional samples can be made in the span of hours, new knit samples usually take weeks. Which means having samples photographed in various sizes is often not possible, so makers may have to wait months to see someone close to their body type post a finished object photo to get a sense of how a particular design would work for them.   MyBodyModel helps with both of those shortcomings.

MyBodyModel is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter fundraiser, and I've backed at the designer level to get access to 3 custom croquis. For me, I would use the following measurements for my croquis:

  1. The standard set of measurements I use for my 34"  sample
  2. My own measurements as a "middle of the range" example
  3. The largest set of measurements from my grading spreadsheet

By doing this, I would have a range of body types to sketch on and design for. 

Even if you're not a designer, having a sketching template of your own measurements would be highly valuable. You could plan adaptations like sleeve or skirt length, and "try on" a number of different styles without actually having to commit to making items.

As some examples. I've used MyBodyModel's sample sheet of croquis, developed from real testers measurements to sketch out two of my designs - the upcoming Renovation Cardigan (above) and the Lamina Pullover (below).

If MyBodyModel successfully funds its Kickstarter, I'll be testing the Beta phase of the software and I can't wait to give it a try. If having more realistic sketching figures seems like a good idea to you, I  highly encourage you to go chip-in on the Kickstarter, which runs until August 24th. 

Lamina by Leah B. Thibault
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Your Questions - Part I

My Studio

I recently ran a little giveaway on Instagram and one of the contest requirements was to either 1) suggest a tutorial or 2) ask me a question. Yes, I shamelessly pump my followers for blog content ideas! For tutorials, a beginner's guide to embroidery was the overwhelming ask and is currently in the works, but in the interim, I thought I'd answer the non-tutorial related questions. 

Here's a question for you:  how do you balance your work as a maker with your domestic and family life? You seem to have a great time doing both! - Carneykar

Balance.  That's the eternal question, isn't it? Ask any tightrope walker and they'd tell you that balance isn't a one-time trick and you've got it all figured out; instead it takes focus, constant adjusting and having a big stick to help even you out doesn't hurt. At least, that's what I'd guess they say, I don't know any tightrope walkers. 

In terms of mindset, making is a priority for me. You first make time in your life for what you need, (i.e. go to work to make money to feed your family and pay your mortgage, clean laundry, etc.) and then you prioritize (I hope) what you love, and I love both my family and making things.  

Making is as habitual for me as brushing my teeth, so I always have a variety of projects or ideas in the works and I give myself tools to work on them whenever an opportunity arises. Most of my sample knitting is done either on my carpool days or while I'm watching tv at the end of the day. I  always carry a knitting or embroidery project in my bag so I can stitch during lunch breaks or while waiting for appointments. I keep paper around to draw out new ideas and a notebook in my nightstand to jot down story ideas. I'm almost always doing something, but the majority of the time, making is how want to spend my "me time," even if it's for work purposes.

My daughter's playroom and my studio share a space - so we can "play" together. I've learned what I can and can't do with my daughter around: gardening or baking together - a hearty yes; tracing sewing patterns while she's coloring - yes;  cutting out fabric - no way. I've also learned to do everything in bits and pieces. When I really need to focus or do computer work, I work during naptime and I'm usually the last one in the house awake by a long shot. 

As much as I (mostly) enjoy all the aspects of my handmade business and want to grow it, I try to be forgiving of myself when I choose not to work.  I stayed up late last night weaving in ends and blocking a sample that is due shortly. I've got three more projects with deadlines in the queue, but if my daughter asks me to nap with her on the weekend, I probably will, because I know those chances to snuggle and plan her epic "Happy Heart Day" party before we fall asleep are short-lived.

I would also be remiss if I didn't give HUGE credit to Mr. Cleaver. He does 90% of the cooking and laundry in our household and the majority of things like grocery shopping as well. This means when I get home from work, I get to spend time with my daughter instead of rushing to make dinner and I can clean up the dishes in stages across the evening. I work from home one day a week now, which means I can help out more on the laundry/dinner/shopping front and try out fancy new recipes - which again I do in pieces. For example I made some spaetzle with pesto the other day - I made the pesto first thing in the morning before my workday started; mixed the dry ingredients and set out the pots I needed at my lunch break; and then dove into making it while Little Miss Cleaver watched My Little Pony after pickup from preschool. 

I'm certainly not prefect. Somedays I'm not as present with my family as I want to be. I'm terrible at actually taking a break. I wouldn't recommend eating off my floors.  It often feels like it takes me twice as long to get something done as I'd like it to. But I've also become more aware that life has a rhythm and an ebb and flow. So I keep my eyes on the wire, adjust as necessarily, and allow myself to be supported by those who help bring balance to my life. 

Beach Beauties in Progress

 I would like to know what is the inspiration for your designs? - cclynn14

A writer friend of mine introduced me to the phrase "plot bunnies" - the definition being that once you get one idea, it seems to multiply like rabbits until you have more ideas than time. I'd say the same is true for both my knitting and embroidery design.

Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to open and patient. I'm constantly seeing something that triggers an idea for a new design and that trigger can vary widely - I've designed four shawls based on bird-titled songs from my favorite bands, I've got a colorwork sweater in the works that came from a peeling wall paper image I saw in a friend's Instagram post about their home renovation.

Of course, if I didn't tell you that, you probably wouldn't see the connection, even if I placed them side by side. I find inspiration almost works like a dream - it takes familiar things, takes and element or two of familiarity - a mood or a color -  and shifts it into something different. With that wallpaper sweater, there's a muted color palate similar to the original and both have patterns with a circular quality, but that's about it. The songbird shawls set out to capture a mood (Leading Bird), a rather literal translation of the lyrics (Paper Bird and Tributary, aka "Cage the Songbird"), or the layout of the performers on stage (yet to be released Darlingside-inspired shawl).  

My embroidery designs are much more illustrative, and more literal in translation from concept to final design.  Often when I introduce someone to embroidery, I'll teach them by drawing a daisy on the fabric for them to trace- the Coneflower design took that idea and made it a bit more formal. (That pattern is also a secret sampler, which you'll see in the Embroidery 101 series coming up). With my embroidery designs, I'm often illustrating my dream life - something slightly agrarian and rooted in a sense of place, with a timeless quality. When I wanted to come up with a summer-themed hoop, I started thinking about all the things that would be a dream summer to me - inner tubing on a lazy river, rope swings, leaping off a dock into a lake, sun hats on the beach. Of all those ideas, the sun hats won out (see design in progress above), but it doesn't mean I won't revisit the other ones next year.  

One thing I've had to adjust to in designing is the forward-looking nature of it - as soon as I hit my current deadlines, I'm going to be working heavily on Christmas/Winter designs, in August.  Magazine work generally works on a 6-9 month lead time, so I'm designing summer sweaters in January and am knee deep in wool in July.  In those cases, mood boards from the call for submission are a great help, or I'll use Pinterest to make my own.  I'll often collect images for years before they coalesce into something - I'd been collecting images of strong rural women in early 20th paintings and photographs for sometime before it was translated into the Prairie Wife Cardigan and I'm far from done playing with that concept.  I still have a treasure trove of inspiration I've yet to translate yet - art from Andrew Wyeth and Barbara Cooney, Anne of Green Gables and my love of 1950s sci-fi - all hundreds of design bunnies, just waiting to be born. 

Something else you'd like to know? Ask in the comments below and I'll include it Part II.

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What is Ease? (Or How to Choose the Size you Want)

What is Ease.png

What is Ease?

In a lot of knitting patterns for garments you'll find something that looks like this:

Sizes 41 1/2 (44 1/2, 47 1/2, 50 1/2, 53 1/2, 57)" bust circumference; shown in size 41 1/2", modeled with 8 1/2" of positive ease

If your pattern includes this, fantastic!

If it also includes something like intended to be worn with 8-10" positive ease, even better!

These two bits of information are going to be very helpful in choosing a size. 

Ease is all about Fit and Style

When I first started knitting, I thought you just picked the size closest to your bust measurement and went from there. That's certainly an option, but it probably won't get you the best fit. 

When I design a garment, I think about two things related to fit (well more than that obviously, but stick with me here) - wearing ease and design ease. Every body has measurements. These measurements are the basic starting point for a good fit, but then as a designer, I add extra fabric to those measurements for ease of movement and style.

Oakdale, designed by me, with zero ease

Oakdale, designed by me, with zero ease

Demonstrating Negative Ease

Demonstrating Negative Ease

Positive Versus Negative Ease

Positive ease means that the garment measurements are larger than your actual measurements. For example, a 40" sweater on a 38" bust has two inches of positive ease. A 37" sweater on that same 38" bust would have 1" of negative ease. A 38" sweater on a 38" bust would have no or zero ease.

Wearing Ease 

Wearing ease contributes to ease of movement. Think of cutting out a piece of sturdy paper to your exact bust measurement and taping it on. Now try taking a deep chest breath, or bending over to pick something up, or reaching forward. We move a lot and moving requires ease, or a little bit of extra space to allow for that movement.

Now a piece of paper is stiff and inflexible, woven fabrics can be fairly rigid too, which is why wearing ease is more important in woven garments. Fortunately knitted fabric has a bit more give, it stretches as you move, so you can get away with little, no, or even negative ease, depending on the flexibility of your knitted fabric. So that super snug, ribbed Lana Turner-esque sweater? The fabric has a lot of give, so you can still breathe, hooray!

But just because you don't necessary need wearing ease in the bust, doesn't mean that you wouldn't want in other places, like the sleeve and  armhole. Because we all like to lift our arms right?

Also, in general, I think that unless you're reinforcing your buttonbands, you want cardigans to have some positive ease so you don't have button-band gappage. (Because nobody wants that)

Cormac with 8 1/2" of positive ease

Cormac with 8 1/2" of positive ease

Toulouse with several inches of positive ease as modeled in Knitscene

Toulouse with several inches of positive ease as modeled in Knitscene

Toulouse with slight positive ease as knitted by  Orlaflo

Toulouse with slight positive ease as knitted by Orlaflo

Design Ease

If wearing ease is about how you move, design ease is about how you look. Fashion goes back on forth a lot on what silhouette is in. In the 1940's, like the photo about, the snug "sweater girl" look was the thing, and they used zero or negative design ease to achieve it. Nowadays, we sport a much more relaxed look, and to create it you need to add design ease on top of the wearing ease.

I recommend about 8" of ease for the Cormac sweater. Clearly you don't need 8 extra inches of fabric around your bust to move,  so this is largely design ease. If you want your sweater to look similar to the one in the mag, you're going to need to choose a size somewhere 6-10 inches larger than your bust measurement. The smaller your bust, the less ease you'd need proportionally than larger bust, i.e. a 32" bust would be fine closer to 6" extra, while a 42" bust would want closer to 9 or 10"  

For a good look at how ease can change the final look, check out the 200+ examples of the Toulouse pullover.  In the magazine it was styled with a great deal of positive ease, which result in a slouchy/boho look, but many knitters have chosen to knit it much closer to their actual measurements with very little positive ease, like the example from Orlaflo on the right.  Both options are equally "right," depending on what you want the final look to be.

One note of caution: if a pattern indicates a "to be worn with xx inches of ease" it usually means that the underlying body measurements used to design the piece are that many inches smaller. For example, if I design a 40" sweater to be worn with 4" of positive ease, it means that when I do my baseline calculations for that sweater I'm starting with the standard measurements that go with a 36" bust, so if you chose to do less ease or more ease than suggested it may not fit as well in the shoulders or arms. 

In Conclusion

With these two types of ease in mind, and good pattern information, you can confidently choose a size that will get you the finished fit you desire!

Cormac and Toulouse Photos courtesy of Knitscene/Harper Point

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Design Diary: Lady Heartrose - Grading and Calculations

Design Spreadsheet by Ms. Cleaver
Design Spreadsheet by Ms. Cleaver
Design Spreadsheet by Ms. Cleaver
Design Spreadsheet by Ms. Cleaver

I've always considered one of my greatest strengths to be the fact that I'm pretty much equally right-brained/left-brained, analytic/artistic, or concrete/creative. 

While it makes me a great utility player, this dichotomy has it pros and cons. When I worked in a primarily creative environment, the highly creative folks pushed me into more administrative positions, but now that I work with primarily analytic people I get to do all the fun wacky creative things. It's been much more rare to find something that scratches both those itches, however.

And then I met knitwear design...

Textiles and drawing and geometry and Excel spreadsheets! When I design a sweater, I get to do it all.

As many designers will tell you, making something in one size is easy (especially if it's your size), making it work across 8-10 sizes? That's the difficult part and the reason why you'll see so many free patterns that are one-size only.  

Grading can be terribly time consuming, but I derive genuine pleasure from a well-designed Excel spreadsheet.At it's most basic, the spreadsheets take the body measurements and translate them to stitch counts based on my swatch, but after 5 years of designing, my template sheets have gotten increasingly complex and sophisticated and I'm pretty pleased with my latest iteration.

My sizing is all based on ASTM International Standards for Body Measurements (from a few years ago), which gives me more confidence in my sizing than when I was mushing it together from various sources.My current version also shows ALL my calculations (See the screenshot for an example), as well as regular confirmations that I'm still on stitch count and within my desiring sizing.

It helps me make sure I'm not missing anything and is a helpful bit of information to have on hand for tech editors and pattern support requests, especially when the latter comes months or years after I released a design. 

At this point is also when I lock down the nitty-gritty of the design details - width of the button band, depth of the ribbing at the sleeves/hem etc. My highly scientific method for determining these? Holding my index finger and thumb apart to what looks like a good width/depth and measuring the space with a ruler, making sure it looks relatively proportional to my sketch. Similarly when it comes to ease, I take a cloth tape measure and myself or a mannequin and see what looks right and matches the sketch. For this pattern, I wanted the hem to be fairly swingy, so there's 7-10 inches of ease at the hips (with the larger amounts at the top of the range). 

 It often feels like overkill to do the full grading before I cast on, but I like my instructions to flow fairly smoothly from one size to the next, so if I have to make a bunch of adjustments to half the sizes, I try to even it out across the size range as much as possible. Of course, that's not to say I won't calculate a portion (like the body) just to be able to cast on - I'm only human after all.

Any questions about the grading process? My favorite Excel formula? The trickiest bit to calculate? Put them in the comments below!

Next up - Sample Knitting!

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Design Diary: Lady Heartrose - Swatching

Heartrose Swatches by Ms. Cleaver
Heartrose Swatch by Ms. Cleaver
Heartrose Swatch by Ms. Cleaver
Heartrose Swatch by Ms. Cleaver
Heartrose Swatch by Ms. Cleaver

Usually I sketch before I swatch, but in this case, since I worked a little backwards.

The yarn here is Swans Island DK Washable Wool Merino in Malbec. The original child's cardigan was in a hand-dyed fingering weight washable wool from the Woolen Rabbit. For the grown-up version I wanted something with similar properties, but in a slightly larger, more knit-able, scale. For that, the Swans Island was a perfect match, with the Malbec a nice feminine, but grown-up colorway.

[Full disclosure: I had ID'd this as my dream yarn a while back, and then earned access to some  yarn support from Swans Island following the publication of my  Breakwater Pullover].

Unless I know I want a particularly dense or flowy fabric, I generally begin swatching with the needle size indicated on the ball band. The swatches here are done on US 6/4.0 mm and US 7/4.5 mm. I learned to knit on size 7 needles, and as such, I've always had a bit of a soft-spot for them.

While the 7s resulted in a bit looser fabric, the main difference in these swatches is the scale of the cable pattern. The size 6 swatch uses the same cable pattern from the childre's cardigan, while the size 7 swatch doubles the thickness of the rib and cables. 

I gently washed and blocked both swatches (just flattening and not stretching), which is extra important in super-wash yarns, which I've found have a tendency to grow. Then I pinned on various place of my unnamed dress form  to see how it hangs and feels in scale to the body. Unless I'm doing a sample for a publisher, I usually keep the form at my own measurements, which is a 38-39" bust. 

Scale is the key here. If Lady Heartrose was a fall/winter cardigan, I'd go with the thicker version in a heart-beat, but for a spring/summer garment, I want something more delicate, so the thinner cable it is. The size 6 fabric also just looks a bit "cleaner" to me, so size 6 swatch wins overall!

Next up - practical math and complex spreadsheets!! 

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Design Diary: Lady Heartrose - Sketching

Lady Heartrose Sketch

Just in time for Valentine's, a design with a little love - Lady Heartrose and my first post chronicling my process of pulling together a new knit design.

Oftentimes I swatch first, sometimes I sketch first, but usually by the time I get around to sketching a design, I already have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to do, so I don't tend to make more than a few versions, mostly to tweak things like necklines. 

This one, being based, on the child's cardigan was even easier. The questions are pretty basic - aline like the original, or fitted?  A-line. What kind of sleeve? Something a little fuller and 3/4 length, because I think it's the most flattering/wearable. Still raglan, still crew-neck.

I usually use this "plus-size" croquis for most of my sketches, though sometimes I'll trace over a  photo of a celebrity or blogger if they provided some kind of inspiration or if I have a certain type of "ideal wearer" in mind. .  Here I just wanted something simple, sweet and lady-like. So she got a bob and a pencil skirt. She's probably looking over at a cup of tea and a slice of sweet quickbread or cake. 

Next up: Swatching!!


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