Known for her keen sense of color, Hoverson includes instructions for classic gifts like baby booties and bonnets, sweaters, and scarves, plus imaginative options like a cashmere tea cozy, a felted yoga mat bag, floor cushions, and a poncho-surely something for everyone on the gift list. And to make each present extra-special, Hoverson offers easy tips on how to incorporate knitting and other yarn embellishments into the gift wrap.
About the Author
Anna Williams is a freelance photographer based in New York City. Her work appears frequently in Martha Stewart Living, Oprah Winfrey's O magazine, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Real Simple, In Style, Elle Decor, and other national publications.
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Last-Minute Knitted Gifts
By Joelle Hoverson, Melanie Falick, Anna Williams
ABRAMSCopyright © 2010 Joelle Hoverson
All rights reserved.
Customers at Purl are usually mesmerized when they walk into the shop for the first time and see the vibrant colors of yarn that line nearly every inch of wall space. Particularly in urban environments like New York City, the experience of being surrounded by a wide spectrum of rich and subtle color can be remarkable and joyful. And yet I find even customers who love color are often wary of working with it. Many seem to feel overwhelmed when faced with a lot of choices. Some believe there is a right and wrong way to mix and combine colors—and they're not confident in their abilities. When choosing yarn for gifts, they face the added challenge of selecting colors they like to work with and with which the gift recipient will be pleased.
Personally, I believe color is a gift given to all of us by nature and is something we can take great pleasure in sharing with others. Part of the reason I opened Purl—and decided to write this book—was to share my passion for color and to inspire people to explore it in ways that are new to them.
A New Perspective
When selecting color for a project, people often approach their decision-making by looking for colors that "match" or "go together." I often find it more helpful to look at colors from the perspective of how they are different. To heighten my awareness of how colors differ, I think about the concepts of color relativity, complementary color, related color, chroma, and value.
Understanding Color Relativity
Early in our childhoods most of us are taught how to identify the primary colors, which are red, yellow, and blue. If we're lucky, we are also taught that by mixing two of these primary colors together, we'll get the secondary colors, specifically, red + yellow = orange, yellow + blue = green, and blue + red = violet. However, one thing many of us are surprised to discover is that there really isn't such a thing as a "pure" or "true" color. To understand this concept, ask a group of ten knitters to find yarn that is "true primary red" and compare the results. Most likely you'll be looking at ten different shades of red. If you look at these ten reds together you will start seeing how they differ from each other. Some will look more violet, some more orange. Some will be quite vibrant, others will appear to be dull. This is because our experience of individual colors changes according to their context. This changing perception of individual colors is called the relativity of color.
Relativity can make color seem mysterious, unpredictable, and sometimes intimidating, but it also plays a big role in what ultimately makes working with color so rewarding.
Using the Color Wheel to Understand Complementary and Related Colors
The color wheel is a helpful tool in fostering our understanding of color. On a basic wheel, red, yellow, and blue make up the primary colors from which every other color is made. The secondary colors are made of mixtures of the primaries, as explained earlier. Starting with yellow at 12 o'clock, blue at 4 o'clock, and red at 8 o'clock, the secondary colors would fall like this: green would be at 2 o'clock, violet at 6 o'clock, and orange at 10 o'clock.
I have put together a color wheel of yarn samples that follows this arrangement (see right), but you can see that in many places the samples don't necessarily flow perfectly from one color to the next. This is because in practice both pigments (the minerals and plants that actually constitute dyes) and fibers have irregularities and impurities in them that give us colors that are more complex than simple red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, and these complex colors are often more beautiful as well. Notice that the yellows are directly across from the violets. Yellow and violet are complementary colors. The same goes for blue and orange as well as red and green. The colors between the primary and secondary colors (known as the tertiary colors) are also directly across from their complements. Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are described as complementary colors because the visual relationship between them is very dynamic.
Oftentimes complementary colors can seem to vibrate when placed next to one another. If you look at paintings by Claude Monet you will find that he often used combinations of complementary colors in his work, which is one of the reasons why his paintings are so striking. The Child's Rainbow Scarf (see above) is a good example of knitting with complementary colors to create a very dynamic relationship. Part of what makes this scarf fun is that the colors of the yarn are bright and hot, but what really makes this project zing is that these vibrant colors are just about true complements of one another, so that each stripe visually vibrates against the next.
Working with colors that neighbor each other on the color wheel can produce more subtle results. Between yellow and orange you can find an infinite number of colors from yellow-orange to orange-yellow. These are related colors, or colors of the same family. Working with many colors of the same family in one project is a great way to add depth to the overall color of your project; your mind's eye seeks out the difference between the colors and mixes them together, creating a visually rich experience. This way of working with color is what inspired me to create the Purl Scarf. In the Venetian red version of this scarf (see below), the base color is a pink tone, and it is blended together with a vibrant orange laceweight mohair, as well as a brick red worsted-weight mohair. Together, the effect of these three colors is both rich and quiet. In the celadon version of the Purl Scarf (see page 80), the colors are more closely related, and the effect is more subtle. Adding a strand or two of laceweight mohair not only makes this project softer in texture, it also adds softness to colors that are flat or monochromatic (monochromatic means one-colored, and fibers that are monochromatic are those that are not heathered, and those whose color does not vary as hand-dyed yarns do). The Super-Easy Leg Warmers (see right) also benefit from this technique. The base yarn is a monochromatic medium blue, but it is knit with a strand of very fine mohair in a slightly richer blue. The ribbing in this pattern adds its own depth to the overall color of the piece, but with the mohair knit in, the color takes on a very special quality. The final color almost seems to glow as the lighter color shines through the slightly richer mohair. If I had added a strand of laceweight mohair in a much darker blue or in a complementary color, the result would not have been as luminous, but would have, instead, looked more like an allover heathered color (which of course is an effect with its own beauty).
Practically speaking, when looking at colors to blend together, it is helpful to twist the separate strands together rather than just holding two skeins next to each other. You'll often be surprised by the results. Usually I find that customers end up selecting more vibrant colors when they explore the relationship between the colors by twisting strands together.
Another color concept at work in the Venetian red version of the Purl Scarf is the contrast of chroma. To understand chroma, think of a ripe Meyer lemon, then think of freshly squeezed lemonade. The bright and vivid yellow of the lemon is much more vibrant than the lemonade. The difference between these colors is their chroma. The lemon is high in chroma; the lemonade is low in chroma. Conceptually, a highly chromatic color is one that hasn't been mixed together with its complement. In the Venetian red Purl Scarf, the brick red mohair is much lower in chroma than the bright orange laceweight mohair, or even the slightly earthy pink of the handspun wool. The more vibrant colors of the pink yarn and orange laceweight yarn are luminous underneath the less chromatic brick red mohair. A color that is low in chroma is one that is made when its opposite color is mixed in, which slightly "grays" or breaks the color.
All grays are made up of primary colors combined with relatively equal amounts of their complements. For example, gray can be made up of red mixed with green. The same is true of blue mixed with orange and yellow mixed with violet. When we think of gray we often imagine a flat lifeless battleship color, when in reality gray, being made up of complementary colors, can be one of the most rich and beautiful colors of all. Imagine a naturally warm brown fiber dyed in a bath of vivid green. This will result in a kind of gray that one would hardly call dull and lifeless!
Browns, similar to grays, are made up of mixtures of the primary colors. Unlike gray, which is a mixture of two complementary colors in relatively equal amounts, brown is made up of all three primary colors in similar amounts, usually with one slightly dominating the others. Compare dark chocolate with milk chocolate, for instance. Dark chocolate is more blue; milk chocolate is more red. Because it is really a mixture of all three primaries, brown, like gray, exists in an enormous spectrum of rich variations.
Understanding Color Value
All colors can be light or dark, which is known as the value of the color. Whites and most yellows are inherently light in value though some are darker than others; blacks and deep blues are typically the darkest in value. Most basically, color value is changed by adding white to a color (or using less pigment in the case of dyeing), which lightens it. All colors can appear in an infinite range of values. I created the Ombre Alpaca Blanket (see above) to explore the relationship among browns in different values. This project creates a rich spectrum of browns, in which your mind's eye begins to seek out the different color relationships among the browns. You might notice that the darkest brown begins to look slightly bluish, the medium looks a bit more red, the camel color seems to be quite yellow. When I was working on this blanket I kept thinking of it as a "brown rainbow."
Color is full of surprises. If you're in a hurry when you are picking out yarn for a project, playing around with color might not be an option and you might want to stick to the colors suggested in the pattern without trying anything else. But if you have some time to explore, I encourage you to try playing with color, applying the theories and ideas I've described here. But don't let any of this convince you that there is a right and wrong way to put colors together. Think of your understanding of the relativity of color, complementary color, chroma, and value as a set of tools that helps you make color choices.
When shopping for yarn, or when going through your stash for a project, explore a variety of color ideas by pulling several different skeins out, placing them next to one another, moving colors around, and substituting different colors to produce new relationships. Notice the relationships between and among the colors whether you like them together or not. When you find something that pleases you, try twisting different strands together to see the effect. You might discover that you have an affinity for playing with chroma, or perhaps you prefer to mix complementary colors together more than you like staying with a single color family. Whatever the case, the main point of the exploration is for you to find what works for you. The more you work with color in your knitting the more you will find your own unique method for applying it in your projects. Ultimately, the more you develop your own idiosyncratic understanding of color, the more joyous your knitting experience will be.CHAPTER 2
As a yarn shop owner, I spend a lot of time answering the same questions posed by different customers. In this chapter, I have tried to address many of these questions clearly and simply. For more in-depth discussions of these topics, refer to your favorite reference books or the books I recommend on page 138.
Even the most quickly created simple project can become a treasured gift if made with beautiful yarn. I love natural fibers and that is mainly what I knit with and sell at Purl. Although the occasional synthetic fiber has its place and use, I am much more drawn to the unique beauty of the fibers given to us by nature. Many people worry that natural fibers are difficult to clean and maintain, but by following a few simple guidelines (see page 22) natural fibers generally age beautifully. Following is an overview of each of the fibers used for the projects in this book.
Many people immediately think of wool when they think of knitting; in fact, some people mistakenly call all types of yarn "wool." Wool is shorn from sheep, each of the hundreds of sheep breeds growing fiber with its own distinct characteristics. In fact, you could probably spend a lifetime learning about all of the different types of wool. Merino is generally considered the most luxurious wool because it tends to be especially fine, soft, and smooth. Wool is highly durable, warm, and insulating and is able to hold its warmth even when saturated with water. Because of its natural elasticity, I think wool is the perfect fiber for beginners.
The alpaca is a smaller relative of the camel and the llama. I love alpaca yarn because it is very soft, warm, and smooth, and feels so lovely slipping through my fingers while I am knitting. Alpaca has a plush quality; it is more fuzzy than wool, but less fuzzy than angora or mohair. Because of its warmth, luxurious hand, and relatively inexpensive price, some people call it "poor man's cashmere." Alpaca comes in twenty-two natural colors, ranging from off-white to rich black, and when dyed the colors are especially rich. Knit at the correct gauge, alpaca drapes elegantly, which gives pieces made with it an added feeling of luxury. Because alpaca fiber is very dense and can be very heavy, it is often blended with other lighter fibers. Alpaca is not necessarily a great yarn for beginners, as it is slightly slippery, requiring a little practice to achieve even stitches. It is also easy to tighten alpaca stitches too much if you tend to pull firmly on your yarn as you work. If you are a tight knitter, try knitting alpaca on a needle slightly larger than the size recommended for your project.
This deluxe fiber comes from a particular type of goat, but there is no such thing as a pure cashmere breed. Most goats, with the exception of angoras (who produce mohair), have a dual coat that consists of outer guard hairs and a downy undercoat. The fine fibers of this undercoat must meet strict industry standards to qualify as cashmere. Good-quality cashmere is seductively soft, silky, warm, and lightweight, and drapes beautifully. It is generally a dream to work with (although some of the finer kinds can be a bit slippery and delicate), but it can be very expensive. Fortunately, there are a variety of cashmere blends that have many of cashmere's endearing qualities but are more affordable. A good way to evaluate the softness of a cashmere yarn (or any other yarn being considered for knitting) is to hold it up to a sensitive area of your body, such as your cheek or neck.
Mohair, a wonderfully fluffy, lustrous fiber, comes from the Angora goat. Kid mohair, which comes from the first and second shearings of the goat, is generally softer and finer than adult mohair, which can be a bit coarse. Fluffy mohair looks dramatic knitted on its own, and because it has a lustrous sheen and takes dye well, it is also blended with other fibers to give matte colors more depth and texture. The fuzziness of mohair obscures mistakes (at times, it can even keep a dropped stitch from unraveling), but it can also be challenging for beginners because it is difficult to see individual stitches. I have found that beginners have better luck when they combine mohair with a yarn made out of another less- fluffy fiber, such as wool, or when they knit it on larger needles than the label recommends.
Silky, soft, lightweight, very fluffy, and very warm, angora is the fur of the Angora rabbit. Because its fluffiness can obscure stitches and because it is very slippery, angora can be challenging for beginners. On the other hand, the fluff of angora can also hide mistakes. It is great to use for details around garment edges, such as at the wrist or collar, or for small projects like baby booties. Pure angora typically comes in a rich array of jewel tones. Angora is usually sold in small quantities because it is expensive to harvest and spin. Often, to get the effect of angora without spending a lot of money, I'll choose an angora blend. One of my favorites is Classic Elite's 50% angora, 50% wool blend called Lush.
Most commercial silk comes from a domesticated silkworm (actually the caterpillar stage of the silk moth) called the Bombyx Mori. Because of its intense luster and smoothness, silk looks almost jewel-like when dyed. It drapes beautifully, but its lack of elasticity can make it a challenging fiber for beginners. I reserve silk for special projects that call for a bit of glamour and shine. Be sure not to knit silk too tightly as the result can be unpleasantly stiff.
Excerpted from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson, Melanie Falick, Anna Williams. Copyright © 2010 Joelle Hoverson. Excerpted by permission of ABRAMS.
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Table of Contents
Wrapping Handknit Gifts,
Other Techniques and Abbreviations,
Sources for Supplies,