Meet the Designer: Barbara Benson

If you haven't heard yet, we are so excited about the booklets coming out from Stitch Sprouts that feature 3 of our most popular yarns - For Better or Worsted, Cricket, and Squishy! Over the next few weeks we will be introducing you to some of the designers who contributed to the booklets. Today's spotlight is on Barbara Benson of Tumped Duck.

What drew you to designing?

In a word: Ravelry. Once you find Ravelry isn’t it all down the rabbit hole from there? What happened was I decided that I wanted to make a certain project. I knew exactly what I wanted so I spent a fairly ridiculous amount of time combing through the database and simply could not find precisely what I wanted. One pattern would have the right stitch pattern and another would have the right shape. Finally I decided that I could finagle this element from this pattern with that element from that pattern and then make it a different size to fit me, yadda, yadda, yadda POOF I had what I wanted. After that I discovered stitch dictionaries and I was unstoppable. My brain wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept asking, what if I did this? What would happen if you moved the point of increase every row? Why can’t I do color-work and lace at the same time? The mad scientist in me is irrepressible and if I don’t try and work out these questions I lose sleep, and possibly sanity.

Zagless, knit in Squishy, shown in Aspen and Prudence.

Zagless, knit in Squishy, shown in Aspen and Prudence.

How do you encourage a novice to take up knitting?

A lot of knitting in public. Also, I am always inviting people to join my Friday night knitting group. We are a raucous and fun bunch of personalities who are always willing to encourage and enable new knitters.

Favorite Anzula colorway? Line?

I want all the colors! Seriously, asking that is pretty unfair. Color preference always depends on what mood I am in at the time. One thing I can always get behind is a deep and nuanced gray - so if pushed to the wall I am going to say Elephant.

Picking a favorite line might be even harder. It all depends on what I am fixin’ to work on. But one thing I can say that I adore about Anzula is the availability of “exotic” fibers. Being in the South it cannot be all wool all the time. Vera and Breeze with their Silk/Linen blends are perfect for warm weather knitting. Add in the Milk Fiber, Bamboo, and Tencel available in other yarns and you have a wonderful mix to choose from if you are looking for “not-wool”. 

Tell us about your project in the booklet!

I actually have two, one in Cricket and one in Squishy. 

Embowed Cowl, knit in Cricket, shown in Pesto.

Embowed Cowl, knit in Cricket, shown in Pesto.

My Embowed Cowl in Cricket is the result of manipulations on an existing stitch from a stitch dictionary. The questions again; can I flip this? Can I make it stagger? What would happen if I finagled this wee bit? The leaf is a pretty common motif in knitting but this one is different. Instead of being symmetrical it bows to one side, creating dynamic motion in the piece. I then fiddled with it until it bowed to the other side. Once that happened I realized that I could get a sinuous line flowing down the length of the cowl, bowing one way and then another. 

I like curves; swoopy, twisty, just make it move. 

I am particularly fond of the integrated I-cord edging on the cowl (which sounds waaay more complicated than it actually is). When you take the super softness of Cricket and add an extra roll on the top and bottom you get this luxurious, snuggly effect close up to the neck. The almost ribbed effect of the lace pattern in a field of stockinette also plays to this strength of the yarn. It is the main reason that I kept the cowl short as opposed to one of those long infinity jobbies. I wanted all of the softness where I could feel it. If you like a longer cowl you can always work as many repeats as you have yarn for!

Zagless, knit in Squishy, shown in Aspen and Prudence.

Zagless, knit in Squishy, shown in Aspen and Prudence.

In the Squishy booklet I have a shawl called Zagless. It is a slightly silly name, but it reflects the pattern in the color-work. You have lines of color that zig and then go straight down, zig again and then straight down. Zig, straight, zig, straight - but never a zag in the lot. It is Zagless! (I crack myself up).

This shawl is almost an optical illusion. I like to make patterns do things that you think that they should not be able to do. The shawl is worked from side to side in stripes, starting with a wee point. By all rights there should be curves of stripes radiating out from that point that get bigger and bigger. Instead I used strategically combined slipped stitches to make the stripes go in wonky directions. Because of the way the shawl is constructed I was able to make the stripe drop straight down from the neckline and then I shifted the color-work to make the stripe zag against the direction of the knitting.

While I usually have the urge to throw some lace into just about everything, as with the cowl I wanted to highlight the amazing softness of Squishy. I wanted a shawl that was solid and functional as something to keep you warm while at the same time being beautiful. It is worked on a larger than normal needle to keep the drape supple so you can really wrap up in a cocoon of softness.

Favorite TV show to watch / music to listen to while knitting?

I listen to a lot of books and a few select pod casts. The pod casts of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and The Splendid Table are always queued up and I am a huge fan of Welcome to Night Vale.

Embowed Cowl, knit in Cricket, shown in Pesto.

Embowed Cowl, knit in Cricket, shown in Pesto.

What's the most overlooked aspect of designing or knitting a finished piece?

I am mildly obsessed with blocking. Blocking is magic. Blocking can make the difference between a nice FO and a fabulous FO. Blocking can change the entire dynamic of a piece. Did I mention Blocking?

Do you teach classes? Where?

This past fall I taught at a local knitting retreat called Wine & Wool, it was a blast. My class was a 3 hour examination of blocking. I know - sounds sooo exciting, but it really is. I believe I actually had quite a few converts over to the blocking side. Luckily I just started working at my LYS and hope to be teaching classes there soon. Developing classes is a long process for me, I am so particular and want everything to be Just Right

You can catch up with Barbara on her website, Tumped Duck, and her Ravelry page. 

Thank you to Barbara for the interview! You can get your booklets right now on Ravelry, or soon at your LYS. Watch for more designer spotlights coming soon!

Stitches West 2015

As you read this, we are setting up in Santa Clara for this year's Stitches West. Hopefully you are on your way, because this is going to be a great weekend! This year we are bringing fewer lines of yarn, but more colors. Squishy and Nebula will be showcased in all of our colorways!

This is the "before" photo - packing yarn at the warehouse - check our Facebook for the "after" - set up in Santa Clara!

This is the "before" photo - packing yarn at the warehouse - check our Facebook for the "after" - set up in Santa Clara!

It's difficult to prepare newbies for the madness that is Stitches; if you haven't seen it, this video from New Stitch A Day will give you a little taste.

A lot of attendees want to take the first day to walk the floor and the next day to shop, but there are a lot of indie vendors that might not carry deep back stock in everything they offer, so you probably want to pick up anything you feel you can't live without as soon as you see it! You probably also want to make a plan using the map of the floor so you can see your favorite vendors first. (Be sure to mark us on your list - booths 740, 742, 839, 841, 843!)

We have a few special things of note going on this year:

  • Fiber tasting in the booth - there will be a bank of spinning wheels in the booth so you can try-before-you-buy!
  • Playing the Passport game again this year - you can download your Passport here and get ready for the chance to win $1,000!
  • Meeting designers! (Times subject to change, are you following us on Facebook & Instagram?)

We also love Stitches because, as Sabrina says, "it's like coming home!" It's a fiber family reunion, as we get to see lots of vendors we might only see once a year. And we love seeing you and all the amazing projects you bring by the booth!

Project Spotlight: Elena's Asunder in Haiku

Stitches West is this weekend! I thought this would be a good time to spotlight a gorgeous shawl that was born last year at Stitches. I asked Elena if she would allow us to share her project, and let us know more about it, and she graciously agreed.

I met Haiku at Stitches West last year. I usually buy yarn with a project in mind. When I go to Stitches I take with me a list of projects I would like to knit with notes about yarn weight and yardage required for each project. Asunder shawl was on my list.

I seem to have a soft spot for large shawls with clean simple lines. What I like about Asunder is that it’s elegant and modern at the same time. In particular I was attracted by its dropped stitch sections, those made the shawl look different from others I knit before.

When I saw Haiku as I was walking into the Anzula booth, I fell in love with the yarn. I was definitely taken by the amazing colors. I mostly like solid or subtle variegated colors and Haiku was just perfect. It had the right amount of light and darkness, enough to give the yarn a beautiful depth.

I knew I wanted a darker color for the main body and a lighter one for the dropped stitches stripes. I chose the colors Bark and Lenore and I must say the choice was surprisingly easy. Those colors looked so good together!

Only afterward I realized my color choice was probably unconsciously influenced by other people’s Asunder. I was quite surprised to notice that, because I had no specific color plan when I chose and bought the yarn. Some people before me used a golden color combined with a cooler shade though, so I guess that stuck in my head.

I really enjoyed knitting Asunder with Haiku. I think the shawl turned out great, it has soft sheen and a lovely drape thanks to the bamboo content of the yarn. I find it extremely gratifying when I am able to spot a good yarn-pattern match.

I can't wait to see what beautiful projects originate at this year's Stitches West, this weekend in Santa Clara, CA. This is our one retail event each year, and we offer our most comprehensive selection of yarns during this event.