Is Starshower the new Honey Cowl? Only time will tell (but it looks good).

Miss Alice St*rmore

Dear Kay,
In your absence, I have been very busy.
I’ve driven 323 miles taking darlings to hi kwalidy activities. Average miles per gallon still at a level that would infuriate the Sierra Club.
Been to the grocery store three times, once with a calamitous denial of Pop-Tarts which resulted in the four year old flat on the ground, face down wailing.
Watched the same four year old cheerfully learn the backstroke at swimming lessons.
Managed to claim a Harris-Teeter frequent customer bonus by presenting twelve cash register receipts. Felt like I should have received a medal for keeping track of them instead of a $40 gas card (see miles per gallon problem above).
Hid two plastic pumpkins full of tooth rotters in the back of the pantry, only to be rediscovered by their owners the next day.
Attended one giant wedding. Glad about my new party shoes, which remind me of Doris Day. Wished I had found a better outfit. But vindicated to see December Harper’s Bazaar which explores little black dresses in detail.
Watched a house down the street be torn down. Dump trucks filled with what used to be the house continue to drive by my window. Disconcerting to see this.
Listened to half of John Adams while driving the 323 miles. Now there was a stand-up guy.
Had a nice postmortem meeting about last week’s smart growth regional summit that I worked on this fall. Saving my comprehensive, links-rich exploration of new urbanism for that moment when we have finished knitting our entire stashes and need another topic.
Watched over an eighth-grade study hall for an hour, knitting and not exactly paying attention to who was studying and who was playing Snood. Felt old after this.
And finally (my point and I do have one): I sat down with some newfound Alice Starmore books and got to thinking about what knitting is really all about. Is it something we do for relaxation, for comfort? Or is it for this?
starmoreswatch.jpg
A half-finished Alice Starmore swatch, representing two and a half hours of my life. This is the busy Keava pattern from In the Hebrides. It’s like building a ship in a bottle, only slower.
For all you dudes and non-knitters out there, Alice Starmore is the Phil Spector of knitting: brilliant, eccentric, volatile. Her Fair Isle patterns are every bit as layered as “Be My Baby.” Alice (Miss Starmore to you) has a taste for litigation, and is fiercely protective of her copyright. (Here’s a smackerel.) She chases down naughty eBayers selling her patterns without authorization, fights a lot (see The Alice Chronicles which Emma pointed out), and has disagreed with yarnmakers enough that she has her own company Virtual Yarns to sell her yarns and patterns. Whatever. Van Gogh had his problems, too.
I figured it was high time I sit down with eight shades of four-ply, some size 2 needles, and try to get inside Miss Starmore’s world. Oh, it’s a tangled place: following her chart is like reading a Japanese guide book using a Japanese-English dictionary. It can be done, however, and the long-anticipated rhythm of Fair Isle that I have enjoyed on other, simpler, wimpier Fair Isles did eventually arrive. Kind of.
The good news is that when I finish the 36-row repeat, I will have my very own Alice Starmore potholder. And that may just be enough.
Does anyone out there (other than the otherworldly Wendy, whose ease with Starmores is stunning) have Starmore experience? Advice? Reminders that life is way too short to be doing stuff like this?
Love,
Ann

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32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Oh, sweet jeez, Ann. I bow to you and your Alice Starmore (god, I hope I don’t get smacked with a lawsuit for uttering her name….). I live to reach the stage of knitting nirvana, or knitting mania, when I will feel at peace enough to try one of those babies. So hat’s off to you! And until the Sierra Club can do that swatch in 2 hours, I say they leave you and your gas guzzler alone! ;)

  2. O.K., maybe it’s just me, but how unimaginative do you have to be to say to yourself, “I am going to make one of these fabulous Alice Starmore fair isle (what Clif used to think of as “ferrile,” i.e., iron-based) designs, but I CAN ONLY DO IT IN THE SAME YARN SHE USED!
    What is that about? Get a life! Use different colors. Use different weights. Swatch it, fer cryin’ out loud. Chart it out yourself!
    I hate the idea of slavishly following the instructions. That’s not what knitting is for.
    But that’s just me. Sorry for the rant.

  3. I saw your comment about Wistera—there’s a great basket pictured of a woman toting around a wee doggie in it (remember that one?)
    Makes a great knitting basket…..

  4. I just realized that I didn’t want anyone to think that this was aimed at you, Ann. It’s aimed at the people who buy yarn from what, having read some of the Alice Chronicles, must be a seriously disturbed woman. Why buy from her?
    That was all I wanted to say.
    And even Clif, college professor from a blue state, likes your new car.

  5. Well yes,Mary,but… she who cannot be named has an astounding sense of colour & an ability to balance a design that just keeps getting better.
    I have happily subbed colours – don’t ‘do’ brown ,so look for colours of equal tone,heathering & intensity – ,but most knitters can’t.Well,feel that they can’t ,which is a different thing.A lot of knitters become crippled with fear if the word ;substitute’ is uttered .
    Fair isle is like painting on many ways ,and becomes addictive.Each colour change becomes addictive.For easier achievement of fair isle zen : enlarge charts,lots,and put a 3” snip of each colour next to approproate symbol.Knit in the round.Relax …your mind and your tension.
    I need more knitting time as I desperately want to knit another very complex fair isle and a Poetry in Stitches cardigan.Much more fun than intarsia.
    And Ms.A.S. is,in my humble opinion,crackers !

  6. I enjoy STtrmore designs cables and stranded both.
    On the stranded, I love the subtlety of the color changes. Lots of fun.
    And I do find that even the WORST of the charts — oh, let’s say, “Golden Gate,” for example, where you twist stiches every row, not just the front, where you can see them — do eventually find their rhythm.
    Well worth it, as far as I’m concerned. Though it’s true, there’s lots of fun stuff out there.

  7. Sorry Ann,I should proof read.Feel free to edit !

  8. I’ve done one… Inishmore, although I will do a fair isle one maybe next year. It takes forever and a day, but her designs are really lovely. I find that I savoured that project more, eventhough I subbed the yarn using a DK weight one instead of an aran. It didn’t come out perfect, but I still love the jumper. Intarsia vs fair isle… harder to find a rhythm with intarsia, but I think equally satisfying. Just my opinion though.

  9. Mary Neal–No offense taken. I agree, actually.
    I should point out that I substituted (obviously) all the colors in my swatch. I was just trying out eight-color Fair Isle to see how tangled and difficult it would be. If I were to get down and serious about doing a Starmore sweater, I would spend a lot of time (huge fun, I have discovered) working out color, shade, texture, intensity. One color change affects it all, as you know. And it’s not easy to work out an alternate colorway unless you have access to a LOT of colors. My LYS doesn’t stock all that much four-ply, so I’d have to order it from Jamieson’s, which was one of Starmore’s yarnmakers for a while. I do have a Starmore shade card from Jamieson’s, custody to which Kay and I share (it’s like a child), so I have a sense of what her original color intentions were. I’d like to think I could cook up something decent, but it is really tempting to use her original colorway for this, which includes candy cotton pink, mauve, gold, chartreuse, and dark blue. Insane. I’d show a picture but I don’t feel like hiring a lawyer to defend me.
    See? That’s the bummer of Alice Starmore: I don’t feel like sharing a photo because her whole vibe is so negative. It is unknitterly, and crummy. Knitting is all about community, about wackos writing about their knitting, about sitting in a circle and being friendly.
    What I love about knitting is the open-endedness of it. With thousands of yarns, thousands of patterns, and your own imagination, knitting can be whatever you want it to be. I have been knitting seriously for about three years now, and I have used this time to understand the basics of building a garment, finishing it, and getting to know how various yarns behave. I still have so much to learn that I’m content to follow patterns, but my Starmore experiment has shown me that messing around with color is totally absorbing.

  10. Message for yikesadude :
    Come up and see me,make me smile…
    Meant to tell you Steve Harley now has a late night radio show ,on radio 2 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Sorry about that Ann.Please carry on fair-isleing and messing with colour. x

  11. And yikesadude, please let us know your thoughts about Alice Starmore.

  12. Kristine–I know you have a Starmore in your future. At the very least you should do a swatch like mine, so you can feel the weird Celtic vibe.
    Leigh–I love that basket. Wisteria has so many great ones, that don’t look like Pier 1, not that there’s anything wrong with that except ubiquity.
    Polly–Would you show us Inishmore on your blog? I’d love to see it and wallow in the reflected glory of your achievement.

  13. Well, I have to confess to being something of a Starmore groupie. I’m sorry, I know she’s at the other end of Knitterly Cameraderie, but man, can she (and Jade) design. And having knit one Starmore I am hooked forever. Yes! I did! O.k., so it was a size 2-3 (for my son), but I was a woman on a mission, and mastered two-handed fair isle to do it (fortunately that Shetland wool is very kind to stitch tension vagaries), as well as knitting on two circs for the sleeves. If I knew how, I would send you a picture as I am so proud of this sweater I am ready to frame it. (He wore it twice, maybe three times, before he grew out of it.) And I did order a package from the new Virtual Yarns site and despite having lovingly hoarded two sweaters’ worth in the old Starmore yarns (both sweaters now available in the new yarns on the website — so much for thinking of them as my e-bay-able 401(k) fallback) do have to say that the new yarns she is using are really lovely. Soft wool, great colors. Itching to get back to my size 3 addis…
    Well. I’m sure I go crazy on a regular basis, but don’t know that I have as much to show for it as Alice does.
    On the other end of the spectrum, am just back from New Orleans where I scooped up armfuls of anonymously handpainted goodies (what? no label?)from the Quarter Stitch, converting one of my travelling companions to knitting in the process. So lovely and so silky velvety rayon chenille scarf now on the needles for my sister-in-law…maybe this year…maybe next…

  14. Oh, heck, Evelyn, if I’d known you were going to New Orleans, I would have made you get me a second skein of the (also unlabeled) allegedly-made-from-soy yarn my dad got for me last month. Rats. I reckon I’ll have to (ugh) CALL THE STORE and order more. Man, do I hate ordering yarn. The scarfette I have started is exactly long enough to wrap around my neck and hold with my index finger.
    As for STARMORE, get me a photo, will ya? I am in a Fair Isle fever and would love to see your success. Do not fear: we won’t bust on you for aiding and abetting a grumpy knitwear designer. Maybe your purchase gave her a happy moment, and she deleted that litigious memo she was working on. See? Peace through yarn purchases! I knew it was possible.

  15. Ann:
    Can’t speak for the other civillians (i.e. non-knitters) who visit M-D-K, but the explanation of who Alice Starmore was very helpful — keeps us involved. Excellent analogy, by the way. I like to think I’m the Phil Spector of bad jokes.
    See you at Thanksgiving!
    Love,
    Bro-in-Law
    PS: To any Miami Dolphins fans here (and I can’t imagine there are any): HA!

  16. I’ve done 2 of Ms Starmore’s designs form her Celtic Collection – neither of which was fairisle though – One very cable-y (Cromarty?? – I really don’t remember the names) which was knitted in dishcloth cotton (oh yes!) in my student days, for an ex boyfriend – the sweater curse got him good! (Yes I had to adapt the pattern for it to be a bit more blokey).
    and in my wardrobe, brought out on cold, wintry days is another from the same book – an intarsia random spirals design which I can’t remember the name of – tunic shape – and I love it but it’s sooooo hot as it used 2 strands of yarn throughout so that the colour changes are more interesting. To be honest, I thought she’d taken lessons from Kaffe on how many colours of yarn had to be included in one sweater. I knitted that in my student days too, the grant/overdraft couldn’t really cope with the purchase of all that yarn, but I *had* to have it, so I lived on blue-stripe baked beans & pasta for several weeks as a consequence!
    I’ll probably do another of the spirally type designs from that book sometime soon, but do have to say that the celtic key designs, although lovely, just aren’t my thing. This celt’s a spiral type!
    Jo
    xxx

  17. Bro-in-law–The only difference between Alice Starmore and Phil Spector is that she hasn’t been accused of murder, at least that I’ve heard.
    And yes, the Titans were awesomely awesome yesterday. Hubbo and I went to the game, and my ears are still ringing. All the way to the Super Bowl . . .

  18. Revelation! A***** S******* is from Lewis! All is clear now. Lewis is where they chain up the swingsets on Sunday. Also where someone I know was in an automobile accident on a Sunday and broke her leg. Ambulance attendant told her, “If you’d been in kirk like you should have, this wouldn’t have happened” (!)
    It’s not a spiritually generous place.

  19. ann —
    i feel like we have slipped into the harry potter realm, not daring to mention A**** S*******, you know similar to that whole Voldemort thing. (ooppsss). a few things…thanks for posting the bit on the alice chronicles…clears a lot up for me. i had read something a few months back somewhere, but it was only about the ebay cease and desist letters and the article did not really paint the full picture.
    now, my hats off to you for your swatch and your bold attempts at not only substituting the yarn, but swatching it in general. i am big believer in substituting yarn, even if it has not been discontinued or caught up in litigation. rules are rules, but hey, some rules are meant to be broken. carry on sister, and if you get a cease and desist order letter for either mentioning the unmentionable one or for daring to substitute yarn, well, either kay or myself with handle your case. we can talk about the legal fees later.
    and one more thing…i just bought “tudor roses” on ebay thank you v. much and am v. excited. i see the “elizabeth I” sweater in mhy near future. i have a bit of a fascination with her lately.
    xo
    e

  20. oh, and btw….a yarn store here in nyc has the soy yarn your dad bought back for you from the big easy. and if you want more, just give me a hollar….dye lot may not be the same, but if you are making a scarf that is easy to get around.
    xo
    w

  21. last post for today…what/who/where is harris-teeter? being the yankee that i am i am almost afraid to ask

  22. Ann, Starmore designs are divine, and colourways aren’t hard to re-work.
    Go for it, I will present you with technicolor Erin if you desire.

  23. elisabeth – I’ve no idea who the original Harris Teeter is or was or whether there even is or was one but it’s the name of a chain of grocery stores in the south. Think Piggly Wiggly meets Pottery Barn!
    sheila

  24. Ann, I can’t wait for stash elimination to get the scoop on the smart-growth summit, what with just having put on our big annual conference featuring such issues. Will you email me some details if you’ve a moment?
    And, I must say I do miss the Teeter since moving to VA, although we’ve an incomparable local grocer. . .
    Finally, I applaud your foray into fair isle of the AS variety. I may venture aranward, but not quite yet.

  25. Mary Neal–Chaining up the the swingsets? Stern. Very stern. Explains a LOT.
    Sheila–I was going to tell Lis that Harris Teeter was a Civil War general who retired to a career as a grocer, or that he was a country music singer who bought up all the Piggly Wigglys and renamed them, or that he was a whiskey distiller, or . . . stop me . . .
    Angela–Please send along technicolor Erin: I see a Parade of Starmores forming. Anybody who wants to show n tell their fabulous Starmores, please email them to me at ann@masondixonknitting.com, and do tell how long it took, how many letters from Miss S******* you received, and if you got sued.

  26. Oh, Maggi! Tell me you’re not a smart growth geek, too. I’ll email you separately, but for all you other Alice Starmore fan/new urbanists out there, the organization I’m involved with is http://www.cumberlandregiontomorrow.org. Trying to get ten counties to think as one region is Not So Easy.
    x0x0 Sprawl-bustin’ Soccer Mom

  27. How about pictures of unfinished Star****s? :o) I have an enormous St. Kilda that’s missing sleeves (can you tell I hate doing sleeves?) Maybe that would inspire me to drag this one out again.

  28. Wowza. That swatch is impressive! I wish I had some fairisle knowledge to share, but I haven’t gone past one or two easy hat projects.
    P.S. I believe you’ve been quite an influence on me…I just blocked the brim of a Bucket-o-Chic hat and thought of you as I placed a gazillion pins on it.

  29. AS patterns in FI are great rhythmic experiences when you are really clicking. You get to the point at which you hope that you’ll never reach the armhole steeks.
    After a very long day, the last thing I want to do is chart a pattern or change anything. I just want to have someone else to the hard design digging and leave me to just “sink” into the pattern go off into that “other” knitting dimension for awhile. At bedtime, let me admire the genius of others that flows from the needles.

  30. My FI experience so far has been limited to a few hats and baby blankets… but seeing what everybody else has done with it has made me anxious to get on it. Amphora that Wendy is working on right now looks so beautiful, and while complex, has only 4 (I think) colors. Good starting place, yes? It’s by Jade St*more. Wonder what she thinks about her mom’s brouhaha? Anyway, I’ve set my phasers on “cable” after I finish “shiny”, so colorwork might have to wait a bit, but I’ll get there eventually.
    And I think Harris Teeter was a one legged expatriate Irish whiskey distiller on the run from revenooers who kept his still cunningly disguised as a grocers’ shop… ;)

  31. Years ago – we are talking about 20 or so here – I went to an A.S weekend at the Rowan Mill – she was a lovely, kind, friendly lady (obviously before the iron had entered her soul) who took us through selecting colours, steeking and what to do afterwards (like having a stiff drink). We did swatches by the score, but we had to do them always with the knit side towards us on dp. needles- at the end of the row, you cut the yarn, and went back to the other end of the needle and joined on the yarn again. She would have no truck with purling fair isle with the wrong side towards you.
    I don’t know how you did your most beautiful swatch – I don’t do fairisle unless it is in the round, although I am no Wendy. If it in the round you do develop a sort of rhythm, and if you can carry one colour in each hand it’s a doddle. (English slang = very easy)

  32. Jill–Thank you for your perspective on Miss Starmore. I’ve been thinking about what would prompt her to be so aggressive in protecting her work. Maybe it’s simply that it’s important to her–anyone who has created something wants to preserve its integrity. But jinkies, most knitters are a benign group. Somebody along the way must have really taken advantage of her?
    As for el swatcho, you bet your bippy I did it per Miss Starmore’s recipe, though I did mine on circulars because I lacked the right size dpns. There is a thick fringe at each side of my Starmore potholder, which makes it look kind of festive. And incredibly enough, my size 2 needles have made the tension way too tight: 39 stitches instead of 30/10 cm! I NEVER knit too tightly, so this is a relief that I can use size 3s, or maybe even 4s?
    Stay tuned to this tension drama.