Thursday, January 29, 2015

Crazy Quilt Swatch Blanket - Sneak Peek from Crafting a Colorful Home + a Story

Photo by Rikki Snyder from Crafting a Colorful Home, Roost Books 2015
I'll begin with this - I have always been a "saver" - even before I lived in frugal New England. Good and bad I suppose but that is the way I am. Do you know the book by Donald Hall "String Too Short To Be Saved"? I have always loved it.

When I worked for Classic Elite, one of the big parts of my job was to develop and test new yarns. That always began with a swatch. After we decided to purchase the yarn and put it into the line, I would have to design sweaters for each yarn (along with my co-workers Cathy Payson, Linda Pratt, Lori Gayle, Pauline St. Germain, and Susan Mills). Mostly I would swatch at night while watching t.v. 

For me, the challenge of designing a piece of knitwear is in getting the swatch right - matching up a particular stitch pattern with a yarn. The swatch is what speaks to me and determines the type of garment to be made. After that, it is all a bunch of math. The designs would be sent to our fantastic team of test knitters. 

Because for me, a design is always about the swatch, I held onto my swatches for years and years and years. I moved them to this house 16 years ago, stuck them in a closet in a plastic bag and forgot about them. When the Crafting a Colorful Home book came about, I knew that I had now found a purpose for all those saved swatches. I would make a giant blanket out of them and I would call it my "lifetime" blanket or something along those lines. 

First off, I separated the swatches by color. For the past 20 years or so, I have been designing with saturated, bright colors and darker earthy tones. I had a bunch of off white, tan, brown, and other colored swatches that just would not fit the scheme of my decor or fit in with the other swatches. I called my friend Gail Callahan (aka The Kangaroo Dyer and designer and producer of the Color Grid) and asked her if I might be able to use her awesome dye studio to dye some swatches. Gail said "come on down" (she lives only 10 minutes from our farm) and one afternoon, Gail spent a couple hours with me dyeing swatches. Thank you Gail! (Note that I only used animal fibers - wool, mohair blends, no synthetics so I knew that the swatches would take the acid dyes nicely). Here is Gail with the finished newly colored swatches. 

Here are the swatches drying outside my studio.

I started piecing the Crazy Quilt Swatch Blanket together on July 18, 2013. I know this because Kevin Ford was shearing our sheep in a field behind someone else's house. I was helping. Between picking up fleeces, there is a lag time of about 5 minutes or so. I get bored very easily and so I decided to bring some swatches with me to start the blanket while I waited for the fleeces to be sheared. Here's Kevin shearing the sheep......

Here is the first section of the blanket on the grass outside the shearing enclosure.....

Once I started, it was hard to stop. I had two very large bags of swatches to work with. I kept sewing sections together, piecing the swatches in random fashion. Sometimes row to row, sometimes stitch to selvedge edge. 

I started with small sections, piecing them together not really knowing how it all would shake out. 


Oh, and I forgot to say - before piecing, I washed all the swatches so they were nice and clean. And because we have cats.


Once in a while I wanted to use a swatch but it didn't fit. I got out my sewing machine and in steeking fashion, zig zagged a straight line and chopped off the piece I didn't need. I showed you that on August 2, 2013 here.

Once in a while, there was a bit of moth damage to a swatch. I either embroidered over it or crocheted a small circle.......

or odd shape to sew on top of the hole. 

or just whipstitched it - which I really want to fix.

On some of the swatches I added a bit more embroidery to make them more fun. 

Many of the swatches were made during the design time for my books Kristin Knits and Color by Kristin. You may recognize some of the patterns. Maybe you have knit some of them? Some of the swatches go back to the pages of Vogue Knitting. (BTW, Thank you TRISHA for that write-up about Crafting a Colorful Home on the VK FB page!)

Some of the swatches are over 20 years old and the yarns have been long discontinued. Sadly, I know that many of the mills that made the yarns have also now gone out of business. 

I've got a lot of memories in this blanket - of a career I loved working for a small business, learning the ropes of business. 

Of learning to chart and draw patterns using Adobe Illustrator.

Of typing patterns to be typeset by a typesetter in his basement before the days of desktop publishing.....

Of trips abroad to mills to procure yarn...

Of trade shows, awful airline flights - 2 things I really do not miss.

But one of the nice memories that I have from working on this blanket is the memory of the friends I have made through the yarn business. My co-workers and colleagues (you know who you are), our old boss Pat Chew who passed away a few years ago, of the fire that devastated our business in the late 1980's and all we learned to be able to keep the business afloat because of the kindness of vendors, customers, and a big old SBA disaster loan. 

When I am working on a book, I get rather frazzled (okay, not rather, extremely). I do this all alone and sometimes I just wish I had help. Luckily, my great friend Cathy Payson (who also used to work at CEY) asked if she could help with anything and I said YES. Cathy took the train from Boston where she lives and we spent a weekend sewing swatches together. 

We had the absolute best time, reliving crazy stories, sharing new ones, talking about people we knew through CEY and wondering how they were. It was a great couple days. 

Here is the progress we made. As the pieces grew we used the large table in my studio as a base to sew against. The blanket started getting heavier. To manage it all, we made 3 separate sections. Where there were gaps, we sorted through the stacks of swatches and picked ones that fit in the holes.

It was really quite a puzzle - but a good one. 


Cathy left and I kept sewing until the blanket was big enough for a double bed. I loved what I had made and envisioned how it would look in the future book.  Here it is outside on the fence - before the blanket's big moment. 

So there you go - the story behind the Crazy Quilt Swatch Blanket - my knitting life and work and personal life all rolled into one giant blanket. Maybe you might like to make one? See - there is a reason to make a swatch besides the obvious reason. 

You can purchase my book on my website here. I'm offering FREE Shipping, a Kristin Illustrated Bookplate, and some free Kristin photographed postcards.  My family and I really appreciate the support by direct sales of books to you. You can read a little more about that here.


llhymes said...

Thank you for the background of this beautiful memory bedspread! I've been thinking of doing the same with all of the cross stitch I have done.

Pammie said...

great post - I am loving the book!

Kate said...

This is so gorgeous and AWESOME!!

Auntie Shan said...

I *LOVE* this Thing!! -- And I know how HEAVY it probably IS! Washing it is probably a 2-person job..?
I have a similar "legacy"-project that I've been crocheting for about 45 years on & off with SEWING-THREAD! I call it "The CASSANDRA PROJECT", as there are sections that have been undone *several* times. At least half of it has thread that is over 50 years old or more. Sadly, I haven't had a chance to work on it in the past few years [too busy knitting] but it's about the size of your quilt now, in one *whole* piece with *miles* more of thread to be yet added - [2-strands chained, then that Single-crocheted]... It weighs a TON! The "final" Washing *will* have to be done in the BATHTUB! - I used to bring it along on my travels decades ago [UK, NZ...] but it's gotten too cumbersome for that [never trusted to pack it in my "checked" luggage!]. Now, it sits in a box...
BTW, you'd love the mixes of enterlac-esque 3-inch squares!

Anonymous said...

The blanket is wonderful in appearance but it's the threads of time and friendship in your description that make it special.

Auntie Shan said...

BTW - just curious - what does the BACKSIDE of your QUILT look like?

gale (she shoots sheep shots) said...

You know I love everything you do, but this blanket is on a whole new level! Truly a masterpiece and heirloom, too.

penny said...

I think gale said it best. I believe that everything you do Kristin is lovely and inspiring. This blanket is at a whole new level of love.

Marlaine said...

Your blanket is nothing short of amazing! I thought that I might someday do something like that with all my swatches but just never tried it. Your work is truly an inspiration!!

Emilia Barbosa said...

I have been following you via your blog for a while now and I also have your books. I just bought the new one and I keep checking the mail everyday to see if this is the day it's coming, not lucky so far, but I know it's on its way. I felt in love with your work several years ago because of your color. I love color! I was imediatly attracted to the way you mix and put colors together. I've learned how to do all types of things with knitting through the year, and your books have always been handy as far as inspiration and also to tell others, better to show them, what can be done with a simple pair of sticks and yarn. The possibilities are endless! I also love your blog postings on life on the farm, sheep raising, cooking, embrodidery, paper crafting, basically your creative energy and love and I am dam sure the world's a better place because you're here to keep on inspiriring us all! Thank you,Kristin Nicholas! You're awesome!
Best of luck,
Emilia Barbosa

P.S. I love the swatch blancket and heck, you've just encouraged me to swatch more and hold on to those beauties!

Kristin Nicholas said...

Hi Everyone! Thanks for the comments on the Crazy Quilt Knit Swatch Blanket. I will take a photo of the backside and share it next week.

Emilia - Thanks for your lovely comment. Your book is definitely on the way. I shipped it last Monday along w/ everyone's who ordered the the 18th and before. I fear it got held up with the massive storm here on the east coast. This storm has been a lesson in patience, for sure. I have had more books held up - still. I'm hoping everyone will be patient. I can't wait to package them up and get them on the way to everyone. Nothing more I can do about it except wait. UGH - more snow coming Monday! Stay warm.

Erin Fanning said...

Your lovely posting matches the equally lovely (and gorgeous) blanket! Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Wow just made it under the wire for free shipping! Love the story of your blanket. Again, you give us permission to color outside the lines. Thanks

Betz White said...

Beautiful! Now I know what to do with all of my swatches I'm creating on the knitting machine! :)

Nicki said...

What a glorious blanket, and great tales and memories to boot. I have my swatches from various projects in a couple of big ziploc bags in my closet, but there aren't nearly enough for a blanket yet. A few more years worth, I 'spose. Great post!

Say It In Color said...

WOW, so beautiful!! You have stirred in me the creativity that has been sleeping with a few years of moving and is waking up and with this new book I will do wonderful bright and color filled things!! This book will also be gifts to friends to help brighten their world!!! Thank you for sharing your life and home in intimate colors and efforts.

Mamacessories said...

I just started following your blog today and this is the first post I found and it is wonderful! What a beautiful blanket and how wonderful to have "stitched" your memories together.