Friday, October 19, 2012

Van Gogh and Yarn

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the Denver Art Museum to consult with them on a project for the Becoming Van Gogh Exhibit that opens there tomorrow.  It seems that the brilliant painter and colorist used balls of yarn in his color studies.  Who knew?

 A  red lacquer tea caddy containing small amounts of yarns wound together with what is a recognizably Van Gogh sense of color and balance was found among his belongings in his studio.  The original box is in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.  Above is the replica  my husband and I created in our studio.

This was truly a labor of love.  After meeting with the DAM committee and having the opportunity to  analyze photos of the box and it's contents, I spent some time winding sample balls of yarn from my stash to show them how their display department could accomplish this same look.  I came back to the studio bubbling with excitement;  Van Gogh, arguably one of history's greatest colorists, actually used yarn as a way to  explore the mysteries of color interplay! 

My husband Gary, a painter and faux finish artist himself, caught my enthusiasm.  Having long  created boxes as upcycled art pieces, he pulled the perfect container from his collection and proceeded to transform it.  Photos of that amazing process are below.  From modern French wine box to 100 year old aritist's tool in a few hours.....

 And then I got to wind some balls of yarn and place them inside.  What an outstandingly cool way to play with color, don't you think?   The artistic process never ceases to amaze me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Last Minute of the Season

     Autumn blew in last week in a huff.  It reminded me it's time to get going on my winter projects, looking toward those long pale days of chill and snow.  There's a sense of urgency in the air that makes me want to clean and sort and knit from stash yarn.  So while I continue knitting on the shawls for the new books, I've launched a project to knit all of the Elizabeth Zimmermann sweaters from my long list of admired designs.  I've already been working on the Hurry-up Last-Minute sweater from Knitter's Almanac.   

        One of the guidelines I hope to follow in this project is to work from stash as much as possible.  I have such good, solid, beautiful yarns in my stash, I like to think that Elizabeth would appreciate that.  Burly Spun in a charcoal heather is my choice for this one.  It will be a real "get outdoors and enjoy the day" kind of a sweater, I can tell already. 

    I'm not used to knitting with such bulky yarn, and as EZ predicted, the going is slower than you'd imagine.  I am planning, after completing this version, to experiment with the shaping in another gauge as well just to figure out why, according to Elizabeth, it only works in a macro gauge.  All very curious.  This is one of the reasons I love working with the designs from EZ; even those that appear to be the most simple have a depth of technique and interest that warms my knitting nerd's heart. They never fail to inspire and to expand this "thinking knitter".

      Here's some of that thinking going on.
      I used an provisional cast on for both the sweater and the sleeves. These will both be finished with a hem and having the stitches remain live until I'm ready to knit the hem eliminates the need to pick up on the cast on edge and will, I hope, also eliminate some bulk at that point.  I use provisional cast on a lot.  I like options when I'm ready to finish.  Maybe I'll end up with seed stitch instead.  Or lace! A provisional cast on gives the knitter choices.
      I like the provisional cast on that is called Crochet-over-the-needle and directions for it are below and included in the technique sections of all three of my books.  It is easy to start, the stitches are easy to count, and it comes out quickly.  Basically you just crochet a chain ( hey! I can do that!) that has the knitting needle stuck in the middle of the process.

Be sure to start with the slip knot on the hook, not on the needle;  this is the tricky bit that I usually correct for first timer's on this technique.

     Go over the top of the knitting needle and pull the scrap yarn through the loop.  throw the scrap yarn to the back of the needle again and repeat....  but wait!  Here's a refinement that I learned from Susanna Hansson ......
     After following the instructions as written, when the the first stitch is on the needle, instead of placing the yarn behind the knitting needle every time, just wrap it around both the needle and the hook and then pull straight down.  Repeat.  Brilliant!  Give it a try.  Exercise your options.

Crochet-over-the-needle Provisional Cast On 
With contrasting smooth cotton scrap yarn, make a slip knot and place it on a crochet hook.  Hold the yarn in your left hand and the hook in your right.  Hold a needle on top of the long strand of yarn in your left hand.  *With hook, draw a loop over the needle and through the slip knot. You will now have pulled the yarn over the knitting needle and cast on a stitch.  Place the yarn behind the knitting needle and repeat from * until you have the required number of stitches on the needle. With the last loop still on the crochet hook, cut the yarn and slip the tail through the loop on the hook.  Pull up loosely.  When you’re ready to take out the cast-on, pull the tail out of the last loop and tug on it to unchain the cast-on edge and place the stitches on a needle.