Introducing my last contract design … for a while, anyway.

One of the perils of being a newly-successful (for some values of successful) knitting designer is that people see your work and say “Hey, I want to get in on that”. Shortly after my book came out, yarn companies, publications and even shops began to see my work and said “Ooh, we’d love it if you designed something for us!”

And I was flattered, and I said, “Sure! I’d love to!”

So if you’re wondering why I haven’t been designing much lately, that’s why. I got bogged down in design contracts, and put my own work to the side. The Parallax eBook had literally been pushed aside for more than a year, while I designed things for yarn companies and other folks. I’ve always put a lot of stock into keeping one step ahead of the crowd, so that you’ll always have something to learn from me, but I’ve been stagnating a bit and I need to get back to what’s important to me — pushing the boundaries of double-knitting for the benefit of the knitting community at large.

Now don’t get me wrong — I did the contracts because I was interested, not because I felt forced into it. I wanted the opportunities, I wanted to get my name out into other areas of the knitting world, and I wanted to get out of my niche a little bit. I designed things that were (gasp) not double-knitted! But I took gambles, and in some cases I lost. The pieces were mostly good, but they didn’t reach as far as I wanted them to. They didn’t help expose the rest of my work all that well. But I’m glad I did them. And I’m also glad that I’m not going to be doing as many from now on.

Severn-Thicket-1

All that said, I’m pretty proud of the last one I designed. Back in early 2013, I was invited to teach at the Knitting Boutique in Maryland, under their “Famous Knitters” program. I was flattered, of course, to be considered famous enough for that. While I was there, Dianna (the shop’s owner) unveiled a bag of new yarn samples — a new line of yarn she was going to be releasing in the Fall. I gravitated, naturally, to the one which was a BFL and silk blend. Dianna, for her part, gravitated to a sample I had brought with me, which I use to illustrate double-knitting cables. It is, of course, based on the iconic Barbara Walker “Twin Trees II” chart. Dianna wanted me to do a cowl in her new yarn, based on that chart, but simpler. I told her I’d be able to start designing in January, when the rest of my contracts were done, and I did. Also, in another first for me, I contracted a friend who has test-knit for me in the past to sample-knit this time — saving me yet more time to work on other things.

The pattern isn’t released yet (sorry) but I wanted to show it off before I mailed it in. As soon as it’s ready for primetime I’ll let folks know. I assume they’ll be selling it online as well as in the shop, but we’ll see.

Severn-Thicket-2

In other news:

  • If you’re in Western Mass and want to learn two-pattern double-knitting, WEBS still has a few slots left in my Saturday afternoon class on April 12th
  • If you’re in New England in general or want to travel here to take a bunch of classes with awesome designers (myself included), come to Interweave Knitting Lab, May 13-18, where I’ll be teaching all 6 of my workshops.
  • And finally, I registered a new domain: metapixels.net. Bookmark it! Something interesting will eventually show up there.

MusicBlox: Khepri

Occasionally I’ll trip over something unique in my erratic stumbling around the web. Tonight, I found myself listening to some sound samples of a band I hadn’t, for some reason, come across before.

There is a genre called “Oriental Metal” — I prefer to think of it as a subgenre of Folk Metal — which uses eastern and middle-eastern influences alongside distorted western guitars. The trouble I have with this, as with much modern metal, is that even if the 30 seconds of preview is excellent, there’s a decent chance that somewhere a little further on there’ll be a lead vocalist screaming/growling/coughing up a lung. This, frankly, ruins it for me most of the time. But not this time.

Featured Artist: Khepri

KhepriAscension

This time, I checked YouTube to hear a whole track. Lo and behold, there are no vocals! This is a blessing — vocalists in metal are risky. A rare few have real talent and musical ability; the others, I find, detract from the music I’d rather be listening to. So when an artist or band, through choice or simply lack of a better option, chooses to put out an instrumental metal album, I’m usually glad to snap it up. These albums put their instrumentation front and center, and more often than not when a band is willing to do this, it means that they feel their music is strong enough to stand up without vocals.

This is certainly true of Khepri. Okay, the production value may not be as high as some of the major bands out there, but it’s clear the artist knows what he’s doing when it comes to the guitar — not to mention the doumbek. I can’t find any info on who exactly is playing, so I assume this is a one-man-band type of project.

I have a fair number of friends/acquaintances who bellydance either professionally or recreationally. Here’s hoping one of them latches on to this artist and blows some minds at the next party. It’s certainly going to be different from the usual Beats Antique or Azam Ali accompaniments, and while I love both of those, I definitely feel some shaking up is in order.

Check out Khepri’s website for more info

Buy digital versions of Khepri’s albums on Amazon MP3 (but be careful, the search algorithm has dropped some red herrings in the playlist) or Emusic.

Buy Khepri’s CDs on CD Baby

 

Cookbook Challenge: Panch Phora Aloo

If you’ve spent much time around me and food has come up in the conversation, you probably know I have a passion for Indian food. Once upon a time, I set out to try every Indian buffet in the Boston area (there are over 50 accessible by the T, to say nothing of those accessible by the bus system) and documented my findings on a short-lived blog called “The Phantom Buffet”. During my journeys, I got to try all sorts of new dishes (and compare some ubiquitous dishes, served at almost every buffet).

Prior to that journey, however, I had spent 4 years in Maine as a cook at 2 well-regarded restaurants in a town full of good restaurants (and not just the seafood variety). I got pretty good, and some of the dishes I designed for one restaurant remain on the menu today.

So, as I wound down on the Indian buffet venture, I began to work on reproducing some of the dishes I enjoyed most. Some are too far from realistic for a home cook (I hope someday to have a kitchen with a tandoor, but not today) but others are eminently doable. Through several cookbooks, I have tried many recipes and discovered more and less successful ways of doing some of my favorite dishes, and have approached restaurant-quality meals in some cases. Last week, I finally decided to tackle an elusive favorite dish which I had yet to discover a viable recipe for: Jeera Aloo (and its delectable cousin, Methi Aloo).

The dish is simple in concept but less so in execution. Basically, they’re Indian homefries with whole spices and a really complex flavor that’s soaked up by perfectly-cooked potatoes. There are some complications: First, “perfectly-cooked” potatoes are hard to do. Mashed is easy, undercooking is woefully simple, but getting nicely-formed cubes that are fully cooked without being mushy is difficult. Second, getting the right flavor is hard because you can’t taste the potatoes until it’s too late to re-season them.

Another monkey-wrench thrown into the mix is the Cookbook Challenge. This is something my wife put me up to in order to help me trim my wall of cookbooks. She said, “You have 1 year. Make something out of every cookbook you want to keep. If you fail to make something out of a cookbook by the end of the year, the cookbook goes.”

Enter the Spice Bible. This is a book I was gifted some years ago and have glanced at but never really used. It’s unique in that it organizes its recipes by the dominant spice in the recipe. It also goes into some unusual spice mixes and pastes toward the end. And under one of those mixes, I found my recipe.

jeera-alooPanch Phora Aloo is a dish very much like Jeera Aloo, but with a more complex flavor palette. Instead of just jeera (cumin), it uses a spice mix consisting of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, nigella and black mustard seeds (in equal amounts). It also uses copious quantities of ghee.

The first batch I made I followed the directions on but didn’t think too hard about seasoning. Salt would have been important but I didn’t use it until it was too late. The spice balance and heat level was good but salt brings the flavors to the forefront and the result was an unevenly-flavored dish that I was convinced I could do better.

I took a risk. Last Tuesday I had heard some old friends were all coming to the Tuesday Night Dinner — a potluck at the home of another old friend. When I can make it, people know that whatever I have to offer will be one of everyone’s favorites and the host will probably end up scraping the bottom of the dish and eating it right off the serving spoon. So I had to do it right. I changed one thing about the recipe: after sauteeing the panch phora and onions until nicely browned and fragrant, I added a liberal quantity of salt (about half the amount of whole spices) at the same time as adding the powdered turmeric, freshly-roasted and ground cumin and chili powder. This made the oily paste (sounds appetizing, right?) extra salty and flavorful just before adding the parboiled potato cubes and garlic. The naturally bland potatoes and the oversalted sauce combined to create — voila! — a perfectly-seasoned dish. After sauteeing for 15 or 20 minutes, the potatoes cut nicely and a taste test confirmed all was well. A bit of lime juice and cilantro tossed in at the last minute and the dish was ready.

At the Tuesday Night Dinner, it was one of only a handful of vegetarian dishes and therefore much appreciated by the handful of vegetarians — but lauded by many others as well. In the end, the score was Potluck: 1; Cookbook Challenge: 1; Phantom Buffet: 0. That’s one more dish I don’t need to search out on the buffets and menus of Boston — now I can do it myself just as well or better!

I hope you enjoy my culinary adventures. Remember, if you want to turn these off and just read my music or knitting content, use the “Choose Your Own Adventure” floater to your right.

Introducing Parallax v3.5

Parallax v3.5-2

You’ve probably already heard about my Parallax project. If not, go check out the recent post about it, as well as the eBook I just published.

While I was working on the concept for Parallax v3.0 (the three-color scarf in the eBook), I began playing with some other three-color ideas. This is the one I really wanted to knit from the beginning, but I knew I had to start (relatively) simple.

But as soon as the eBook was published, I chose colors and cast on for the one that I’d really been waiting for. This one, you see, really shows what I’ve been trying to prove with my multi-color Parallax concepts: In two colors, a checkerboard is still just a checkerboard. In three or more, new options are available. Sure, you’ve got an extra color to play with, but also new shapes. I’ll expound on this more later — but suffice to say, I can use the third color to emphasize different parts of the design that would not have been immediately visible with only two.

Take, for example, the scarf in the picture. There are two distinct alternating patterns. Would you find it surprising to learn that both of these patterns are based on the same warped-checkerboard grid? It’s hard to see — but it’s true. The same gridwork repeats throughout the entire scarf — only the way the three colors are used is changing.

As usual, Parallax v3.5 is done in Kauni — but this time, I’m using a more subtle trio. One color is a Kauni Solid; one is the very subtle Kauni Effektgarn EN; and the last is a slightly less subtle Kauni Effektgarn EF. I chose subtle colors for this one because I wanted the pattern to stand on its own merit, not necessarily as a celebration of unpredictable colorways like v3.0.

Finally, for those who want to know when this pattern is coming out, I have mixed news. It’s likely that I will not release the pattern for this anytime soon. It’s very complicated and I am under no illusions about the marketability of complex patterns. However, enough people have told me that my recent work “belongs in a gallery” that I am going to begin working on a new body of work that will be Parallax-based, very complex, and geared toward eventual display and sale as art pieces, not patterns. Depending how this venture goes, I may choose to release select individual patterns later, perhaps in a book dedicated to my Parallax explorations. But that won’t be for many years to come.

Parallax v3.5-1

MusicBlox: Boxcar

Featured artist: Boxcar (not Boxcar Willie or Boxcar Racers, just Boxcar)

IMG_0283Sometime in the early 90s, I was visiting my grandparents’ summer house in the mountains of New Hampshire, and we had gone down the hill to town for some provisions. In the grocery store, there was a kind of bargain bin of cassette tapes. I think they may have been $1.00 each. I dug through the bin — I have had great luck finding gold nuggets in other people’s cast-off music — and came up with two tapes which ended up being favorites of mine for many years to come. I chose them because the covers looked interesting, and for $1.00 that’s a gamble I was willing to take. The first was “Blind” by the Icicle Works; I picked it because the cover featured a guy with fish for eyes. I figured such surreal cover art couldn’t steer me too far wrong and I was not disappointed.

But the album that made me really sit up and take notice — and has been on my regular rotation ever since, repurchased several times over in CD, vinyl and finally, when the band re-emerged from limbo onto the internet, in bulk with several other hard-to-find bits in MP3 format — is “Vertigo” by Boxcar.

For years I searched for more Boxcar, but as they were an Australian group that never really gained any footing in the US, most of their work was only sparsely available on these shores. I asked friends and family who went to Australia later in life to keep an eye out for Boxcar, but by then even the land down under was short on this amazing stuff.

I had Depeche Mode and New Order and early Nine Inch Nails in my rotation as well, and I felt that Boxcar fit snugly into all of that. They felt like Australia’s answer to New Order, but far less prolific. And their producer was behind some of my favorite stuff from Severed Heads, and, as it turned out, in some way connected to Single Gun Theory as well (another amazing Australian act I was, eventually, lucky enough to see live on their first and only US tour).

Boxcar is, happily, still somewhat active if not really creating much new music. You can find them on their website as well as on Soundcloud. Digital versions of pretty much everything are available direct through them and that’s always the best way to support an artist you love.

Enter the Carousel

My lovely wife just passed a milestone (it’s like passing a kidney stone, but less painful). As of yesterday, she’s joined me in the 30-something crowd. Some years back when I did the same thing, she planned an ingenious surprise party for me, managing to get old friends of mine to travel in from several states away. Her original idea, however, was even more ingenious — to do a Logan’s Run themed 30th birthday party.

Spoiler Alert: For those who haven’t seen Logan’s Run, and enjoy campy 80′s sci-fi B-movies, I recommend it. But if you don’t want to sully your pristine mind with such things, I’ll tell you the basic plot. There’s an isolated underground society where everyone is under 30 years old. When they reach 30, they participate in a ritual called the Carousel, where they ascend to a higher plane or some such. Of course, someone in the society figures out that the computer in charge of all this is just killing them off. His name is Logan, and of course on his 30th birthday, he runs rather than subjecting himself to the Carousel.

Logans-RunThe Carousel itself looks like a giant red modernist jello-mold or, more relevant here, a bundt cake. So the idea was to bake a cake using a sufficiently-geometric bundt pan, and maybe get all our friends together in white robes and fly around above the cake before exploding in showers of bad special-effects. Or, you know, just eat cake.

Anyway, on her 30th birthday I also failed to get a Logan’s Run-themed party together — partially because I am not a good party planner and partially because she had already planned something equally awesome for herself. However, as the day approached, I figured I could at least bake an appropriate cake. I am, after all, the chef in the family.

I had a devil of a time, however, finding an appropriate bundt pan. I feel like, some years ago, such a thing existed. But some bundt designs are timeless and some are less so, and it appeared the one that looked like the Carousel had reached its 30th birthday and expired.

So instead, I went with clean, beautiful, awesome geometry, like what might have been if Logan’s Run had been remade in the modern era (don’t do it, Hollywood! Please don’t!). I bought the Nordicware Jubilee pan, admittedly one of the more difficult bundt shapes to get right, and hoped for the best.

I figured I’d have the best luck with a King Arthur Flour recipe, and I dug around on their site until I found this one. I had some other errands to run so I went out and fetched some high-quality baking cocoa from Burdick’s and some real Maraschino cherries from Cardullo’s. I already had a bag of mixed dried cherries from my recent trip to Seattle. While my wife was out on an errand of her own, I whipped up the recipe and tossed it in the oven.

Bundt-1The recipe was for a 12-cup bundt pan, and the Jubilee is a 10-cup design (probably due to all the lost space from the geometric spikes) so I was afraid I overfilled it — but while it did overflow a bit, it didn’t make a mess and only took an extra 20 minutes in the oven to get to the right consistency. After some cooling time, I loosened the bottom, flipped it onto a plate and voila! it worked perfectly the first time!

The next issue was frosting. I wanted a lurid red glaze, but it had to be opaque enough so that the chocolate cake underneath didn’t show through. Some research indicated that red glaze is next to impossible if you also want the flavor to be good — too much food coloring makes the glaze bitter and the Maraschino liqueur I was using isn’t actually bright red like the artificial stuff you usually see. So I settled for pink and good flavor rather than red awfulness. Regardless, the glaze pools in the indentations and even if the resulting cake doesn’t look as beautiful as the one fresh out of the pan — and certainly doesn’t resemble the Carousel very much — it’s going to taste awesome.

Bundt-2So I give you: Alasdair’s Quintuple-Cherry Chocolate Bundt Cake! We’ll report on flavor in the comments. Anyone else ever done any interesting Bundt shapes?

MusicBlox: Garmarna

Welcome to the first post of the Fallingblog’s new section for offbeat and esoteric musical recommendations. If you listen to mainstream radio and yearn for more flavor in your auditory environment, let me help. I’ve been off the Top40 teat for so long that I can’t even tell you who’s playing what on the radio unless there’s been some kind of scandal. The musical world I live in just doesn’t have a word for the likes of Miley and Britney. Or, if it does, it can’t be mentioned on a family-friendly blog. Which isn’t to say that the music I listen to isn’t accessible — just less frequently accessed. I’d like to change that, and I hope you’ll enjoy at least some of what I post here.

Oh, and if you want a different experience, just use that little floating menu thing to the right and click on “All Knitting Posts” or another option.

Featured Artist: Garmarna

I can’t remember exactly when I got into these Swedes. I do know that the first song I connected with was “Gamen” but on researching more of their work, I found they had done an absolutely fantastic series of tracks based on Hildegard von Bingen hymns, including the iconic “O Euchari In Leta Via” which I had discovered via Richard Souther some time previous.

They haven’t released anything in over a decade and their website and blog seem to be almost as dated — but I’m sure if you buy their music, they’re still getting a cut and I’d like to see them experience a surge in popularity.

Find out more about Garmarna on Wikipedia

Buy Garmarna albums and MP3s through their Amazon page

Buy Garmarna MP3s through their Google Play store

MusicBlox caveat: I don’t use iTunes because I don’t want to be roped into a specific method of music management. I manage my music collection my own way and iTunes doesn’t jive with it. There’s very little available in iTunes that I can’t find elsewhere. But if iTunes is your bag, you can feel free to search there too.

A little Boston love among my perambulations

Many of my local peeps have been watching me bounce all over North America to teach double-knitting workshops and wondering, “When is he going to come back and teach us?” Well, Boston-area folks, wonder no more.

When I get back from my long visit to the West Coast to teach at Northcoast Knittery and Makers’ Mercantile, the next 3 workshops I teach will ALL be in the Boston area. OK, they’re all intro workshops, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? (And if you want more advanced workshops, have your LYS get in touch!) They’re mostly clustered around the same time, but they’re far enough apart (geographically and market-wise) that it’s unlikely they’ll step on each other’s feet. Sorry — that’s just how it worked out for some reason.

First, on Thursday, Feb 20th, I’m presenting to the Greater Boston Knitting Guild, and then teaching an intro workshop. To get into this, you’ll have to be free during the day on a weekday, but like I said — different markets in different areas. This is Boston’s ┬ámajor TKGA-affiliated guild and it’s a great honor to be asked to present to them.

Second, on Saturday, Feb 22nd, I’ll be teaching an intro workshop from 1-4pm at the Wayland Winter Farmers’ Market and Fiber Day — so for those in the Boston Metro West area, this is your time! It’s also quite a deal, and you can book ahead online (or you can show up and pay at the door if there’s still room)

Third, for those who live in my actual neighborhood, I’m teaching at Mind’s Eye Yarns on Monday, Feb 24th in the evening (from 6-9pm).

Fourth, I’m going to be at FiberCamp Boston the weekend of March 15 and 16. The workshop I teach there will be more of a tasting — but for less than the price of your average single workshop, you can try out a whole bunch of new skills or even teach your own. It’s all about skill-sharing at FiberCamp!

Finally, for those of you further out but still in the Northeast, I’m teaching at WEBS on the weekend of April 12 and 13, and at Interweave Knitting Lab from May 15-18.

Parallax eBook Released!

Three years to the month from its inception, the Parallax project is finally finished. Other things got in the way here and there, but I persevered and last week I bound off Parallax v3.0 and Parallax v1.0. On Friday and Saturday I blocked v1.0 and v2.0 and on Sunday, in the bitter cold, I froze my fingers taking photos of them on the Parkman Plaza statues in Boston.

Last night at 12:30 I finally went to bed, having finished creating patterns, projects and uploading the eBook on Ravelry — and this morning, it’s ready for purchase.

Parallax_Cover

Thank you for your patience and I am sorry for the long delay. I hope you’ll find the wait was worth it. And now, with the release of these long-awaited patterns, I am finally free of (almost) all obligations and can begin to focus on new ventures. In a little over a week, I’ll be at Cat Bordhi’s Visionary Retreat again and beginning to think about a new book project, continuing the vision I had for the first one.

For those eagerly awaiting Parallax v3.5 and v4.0, they’ll be released as standalone patterns once I have the time to work on them. Or, who knows — they could end up in the new book!

Happy Holidays from Fallingblox Designs

As I begin what is likely to be my last post of 2013, I wanted to thank you for making it a great year for Fallingblox Designs. While I haven’t been able to take time to design exactly what I wanted, I’ve been designing lots of new stuff for the Willow Yarns Colorwork club, the KnitCompanion kClub, the My Mountain competition, and an extra for my Craftsy class (which has just passed 5000 students)! With the help of Craftsy, my book sales have been up this year as well.

All this is well and good, but I hear the rumbling now and then: “When is he going to release something new for mere mortals?” It’s true — most of these designs have been exclusive in some way: you’ve had to buy in to something else to get access to them. But never fear — time heals all wounds and I’m happy to say I have some news.

Rustle Of Leaves

Photo copyright 2013 Craftsy Inc

First, I’ve got a new pattern just released on Craftsy. It’s called “Rustle Of Leaves” and is a fascinating keyhole scarf pattern with bold ruffles and a double-knit panel of falling leaves down the center. Craftsy is selling it as a standalone pattern as well as in kit form (with all the lovely Miss Babs yarn). It’s a fairly quick knit, for a double-knit item.

Second, SMC finally released the Moosalamoo pattern as a free download on their site. This is the hat that I had in their My Mountain Hat Contest for which there was much drama a few months back.

The patterns for Willow Yarns and the kClub will also eventually be available and I’ll post about those as soon as I can.

Finally, I’d like to announce that I have added a few more dates to my Spring workshop schedule:

Tues, Feb 4 (evening workshop): Kent, WA (Makers’ Mercantile)

Thurs, Feb 20 (daytime event): Boston, MA (Greater Boston Knitting Guild)

Sat, Feb 22: Wayland, MA (Wayland Winter Farmers’ Market Farm Fiber Day)

Mon, Feb 24 (evening workshop): Cambridge, MA (Mind’s Eye Yarns)

Sat/Sun, Apr 26/27 (tentative): Fairport, NY (Yarn Culture)

Thu-Sun, May 15-18: Manchester, NH (Interweave Knitting Lab)

 

Thanks again for a great year and I hope yours has been as good or better. I’m looking forward to 2014! So whatever holiday you celebrate, or even if you don’t, have a happy one and I’ll see you again soon!