Meet the Artist: Laura Craig

I'd like to introduce you to an incredibly talented woman and a person I feel lucky to call my friend. Laura Craig is a painter of every day life, but there is nothing ordinary about her work. Laura captures the familiar and transforms it into the inspired. It's the beauty of her realism that draws you into the images she creates. Laura's instagram feed is the journal I always hoped of keeping- snapshots of her daily routine, expressed as a dreamy vignette cast in ink and colored in paint.  A watercolor of her daughter's tea party captures the imaginative nature of children at play more than a photograph could ever convey. Her self-taught talent lies in making the every day picturesque and delightful.

 
 

I asked Laura if she would be willing to collaborate on a series that focused on sheep and was delighted when she said yes. Laura's portraits of various sheep breeds capture the unique beauty of the animal painted, while her pastoral painting of a spring field dotted with sheep transports you to the hills of Yorkshire on a sunny day. Fanciful and beautifully rendered, Laura's sheep crowned with the flowers of each season are a celebration of nature. I'm happy to share that Laura's watercolors are available as cards or prints.

To help you get to know Laura Craig a little better she graciously allowed me to interview her. Be sure to check out Laura's other work, including her children's book Pea Soup and the Seafood Feast, at www.lauracraigfineart.com. Laura is currently taking commissions, including hand-lettered invitations. 


Sheep Portrait Note Cards
12.95
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Summer Sheep Print- 8" x 10"
32.50
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Suffolk Sheep Print - 8" x 10"
32.50
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Spring Pastoral Sheep Print- 8" x 10"
32.50
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Sheep Seasons Note Cards
10.95
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Autumn Sheep Print- 8" x 10"
32.50
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Herdwick Sheep Print - 8" x 10"
32.50
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Winter Pastoral Sheep Print- 8" x 10"
32.50
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Spring Pastoral Sheep Note Cards
12.95
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Winter Sheep Print- 8" x 10"
32.50
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Cotswold Sheep Print - 8" x 10"
32.50
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Spring Sheep Print- 8" x 10"
32.50
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Romney Sheep Print- 8" x 10"
32.50
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Black Welsh Mountain Sheep Print- 8" x 10"
32.50
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A Year Ago Today...

I'm happy to be celebrating my first wedding anniversary with my husband and bff, Alex. It's been a great year with lots of ups, a few downs, and plenty of adventures. I wanted to reprint the story behind my dress on my new blog. If you haven't read it before (and if you have), I hope you find it inspiring. 

Soundtrack of a Sweater: My Wedding Dress

As always, the soundtrack to my design as I was writing the pattern and knitting the sample. I walked down the aisle to "Perpetuum Mobile" and finished the ceremony with "The Winner Is." Enjoy!


My wedding dress was knit with love and made from treasures carefully collected on our shared adventures. It’s a celebration of memories past, as well as a meditation on hope for our future. It’s a dress that I designed to commemorate my decision to become a professional knitwear designer, to relive trips taken and muse on those yet to come, and to honor my husband’s Austrian ancestry.

AlexSquared: How Knitting Led Me to Alex

Knitting is my life, so it’s fitting that knitting led me to my husband. In 2009, I attended my first knit night. It was such a wonderful experience that I wrote a blog post about it. Rachel, another young woman saw the post and was inspired to join the group. Our friendship grew, as did our knitting skills. It was Rachel who would introduce me to Alex (mostly because I think she found it humorous that we shared the same name, but also because she knew we shared a love of travel and adventure).

Although Alex doesn’t knit, he is very good about visiting yarn shops. He’s patiently waited as I’ve fondled yarn across the US and the world. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was on a trip to Peru in 2012 that I found the yarn that would become my wedding dress, a luscious alpaca-cashmere so heavenly soft that you want to swaddle yourself in it (more on the yarn below).

Finding the Luxury Alpaca-Cashmere at the Michell Fiber Factory in Peru.

Finding the Luxury Alpaca-Cashmere at the Michell Fiber Factory in Peru.

Designing a Wedding Dress

In August of 2013 I began sketching. I knew the silhouette I wanted: a fitted bodice with a full skirt and I knew that I wanted an Austrian stitch motif to honor Alex’s family (his father is Austrian, as is his mother’s mother). I found my motifs in Maria Erlbacher’s Twisted-Stitch Knitting. For the center-front panel I selected “#91 Large Chain with Twisted Bands” flanked by two braided cables, and for the remaining dress “#166 Double Chain”. I originally designed the dress with a high round neck and a large shawl collar, but later changed to an elegant fold over boatneck. 

Sketching the dress.

Sketching the dress.

Choosing the Yarn 

Once my ideas were transferred to paper, I shifted my focus to the ideal materials with which to bring the design to life. The yarn decision came easily when I remembered the 20 skeins of Michell Luxury Edition Alpaca-Cashmere in an ecru colorway that I had purchased in Peru the year before. Who knew I’d be able to stash bust for my wedding dress?! While the alpaca-cashmere would become the body of the dress, I wanted something more delicate and ethereal for the lace at the hem and collar. Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze Glamour, a mohair silk blend studded with delicate glass-like sequins, fit the bill perfectly. 

Casting on for my dress October 22, 2013

Casting on for my dress October 22, 2013

Creating the Pattern

All patterns begin with swatching. I started by working my desired motifs in the DK weight yarn using US 6 needles. I was pleased with the even tension and stitch definition, so decided to proceed on the 6s. The key measurement for this design was the waist; it would be here that all of the double chains would converge. After subtracting out the center-front motif, I learned how many of the double chains would make up the remaining circumference at the waist. 

Next, I needed to make a decision about the hem. To keep the visual line of the chains from being broken, I decided to enlarge the chains from 6 sts across at the waist to 12 sts across at the hem. This solution allowed me to avoid having to add more horizontal repeats of the chains, which would have thrown off the continuity of the pattern.

The continuous line of the double chain motif from the hem to the neck.

The continuous line of the double chain motif from the hem to the neck.

The skirt with front detail.

The skirt with front detail.

Finally, I had to negotiate the waist-to-bust increase, keeping the visual line of the chains unbroken. Unfortunately, increasing the size of the stitch motif wasn’t an option, as I wanted the bodice fabric to look delicate. I decided to eliminate two of the chain motifs at each side of the dress and instead worked a seed stitch motif across these stitches. All of my increases were invisibly worked into the seed stitch section, solving the problem of broken lines.

The transition from double chains to seed stitch on the bodice.

The transition from double chains to seed stitch on the bodice.

The top of the sleeves mirror the body of the dress with a single chain, surrounded by smaller versions of the braided cables. The seam line of the underarm features a seed stitch motif that transitions seamlessly into that of the bodice when I lift my arms.

Construction

The dress is worked in the round from the hem up so that it is seamless to the underarms. I began with a simple mesh lace at the hem, worked only in the Kidsilk Haze Glamour (KHG). The asymmetrical shape of the lace (it’s longer in the back than in the front to mirror the chapel length train of the underskirt) was achieved by working short rows. I didn’t want the lace to transition immediately into a solid fabric so the 12-stitch chain motif at the hem uses a combination of yos and k2togs to create lacework within each chain. 

Initially, I held one strand of the KHG together with the alpaca-cashmere to blend the two yarns. As the chains became smaller and smaller, I transitioned from lacework to seed stitch and dropped the strand of KHG as I worked the smallest chains in reverse stockinette. I separated the front and back at the underarms and worked each piece flat. The sleeves were worked flat and set in, giving the dress a very stable fabric at the shoulders (this is important because this is the area that is holding the weight of the dress).

The body of the dress was finished on November 20.

The body of the dress was finished on November 20.

Embellishing the Design

I opted for a crocheted lace edging to save on time. I chose "Romanesque Arches" from Interweave’s Crochet Edgings & Trims (The Harmony Guides).The lace edging had an art deco feel reminiscent of my vintage engagement ring and looked beautiful with the dress.

Crocheting the lace border.

Crocheting the lace border.

The finished lace.

The finished lace.

The final step was to sew on the pearls. When I was in Guatemala in 2010 I found strands of organically-shaped freshwater pearls. The subtle ivories, champagnes, rosy pinks, and dusty silvers were too beautiful not to include on this dress. There are 459 individually sewn on pearls. After using a beading needle to sew the pearl, I knotted each one, cut the thread, and used fray check to glue the knot. Unfortunately, after hugs at the wedding, I heard the tiny ping of a few of the pearls hitting the floor. My mom thought my small "trail of pearls" was like something out of a fairy tale. I’m going reinforce the pearls with a second dot of fray check now that the wedding is over and replace the ones that fell off.

Sewing on the pearls.

Sewing on the pearls.

The Big Day

The night before the wedding my petticoat still hadn't arrived. UPS finally delivered it at 6pm. The petticoat was vital to the design because it served not only to fluff up my dress, but more importantly to hold the weight of the knitted fabric (the dress weighs 2.5 pounds). I tried all of the pieces on together for the first time that night.

Our wedding day had arrived. My husband met me at the alter in a wool-cashmere suit we had made while in China, and not to be outdone, a handknit tie I made for him using a vibrant shade of green ToshMerino Light. I walked down the aisle feeling like I was floating on air. We were married in my friend Rebecca’s restaurant, Kybecca. The venue was draped in hundreds of colorful pompom garlands, crafted by Alex. The ceremony was beautiful and it was followed by a brunch celebration with friends and family. A bride and a knitwear designer couldn’t ask for a better day.

Alex showing off his handknit tie.

Alex showing off his handknit tie.

You may recognize my little brother on the left. He's my knitwear model.

You may recognize my little brother on the left. He's my knitwear model.

 
 

Question and Answer

I’ve tried to answer possible questions below. If you think of others please leave them in the comment section. You can also communicate with me on Facebook and Twitter.

Is a pattern available for this dress?

I’ve decided not to publish this pattern. While I love designing for others, I’d like to keep this as my own. If you like this dress you will also like Bryn Mawr, a dress I designed for Interweave Knits Fall 2013. It’s a heavily cabled dress that transitions from an A-line skirt to a fitted bodice.

How long did it take you to knit the dress?

The dress took about 7-8 weeks to complete, with one false start in the first week. I began knitting it at the end of October and had the body of it completed in 4 weeks. After catching the flu on a trip to China over Thanksgiving, my work slowed down a bit. I finished the sleeves, crocheted lace edging, collar and beading in the remaining 3-4 weeks. Hour-wise, I’d estimate the dress took somewhere around 275-300 hours.

Where did you purchase the skirt underneath your wedding dress?

I made the skirt underneath using Buttericks pattern #B4131 and a satin fabric and lined it using china silk lining fabric.

Where can I find the yarn?

You can find the color card for Rowan Kidsilk Haze Glamour here and Tosh Merino Light here, but be sure to support your local yarn shop when you purchase the yarn. I bought mine at Old Town Yarnery in Fredericksburg, VA. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Michell Luxury Alpaca-Cashmere is available outside of Peru (if you know of a source let me know).

Where did you have your wedding?

We had our wedding at Kybecca Wine Restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg, VA. They serve dinner 7 nights a week and have an amazing chef and beautiful bar. 

Where will you take your honeymoon...and will you bring your knitting?

For our honeymoon, we will be visiting the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, with plans to visit each of the other six islands on our 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 year wedding anniversaries. We're excited because we'll be there for carnival. The theme this year is Cartoons; we plan to dress up like Where's Waldo and Wenda, who of course will be spotted in the crowd with her yarn and needles.

What will you do with the dress?

After the dress is removed from display, it will be carefully packaged and put away. I plan to eventually donate the dress to a museum.

Happy Holidays (free pattern)

As the weather turns cold and rainy here in Virginia, I love retreating into the warmth of my house. The air is filled with powdered sugar, the smell of balsam fir and holiday music throughout the month of December as I knock out the gazillion holiday cookies I make for friends, family and my husband's coworkers. By the time Christmas rolls around though, I'm ready to trade in the kitchen aide mixer exclusively for my knitting needles and think I'll scream if I hear "Baby It's Cold Outside" one more time. One Christmas song that never gets old, however, was introduced to me by my knitting friend Rachel R. If you haven't heard Donde Esta Santa Claus you're missing out. It's kitchy and catchy and if Wes Anderson ever did a Christmas movie, it would definitely be part of the soundtrack. 

As I write this, by the twinkling lights of my tree, I hope that all of you are sharing in the holiday magic, whatever it may be for you, with those that you love (in our house it's festivus). Happy holidays and please enjoy my gift to you...

Bobble Sheep Ornament

Finished Measurements approximately 4½”/11.5cm long x 3”/7.5cm tall

Yarn approximately 35yds [32m] of Bulky weight wool or wool blend yarn for sheep body (MC); approximately 20yds [18m] of worsted weight wool or wool blend yarn for head and legs (CC).

Needles US Size 7 (4.5 mm): straight or circular needle; US Size 7 (4.5 mm) dpns; Size G (4.0mm) crochet hook.

Notions tapestry needle, a handful of fiberfill. 

Gauge 14 sts = 4"/10cm in bobble pattern using MC. Please note that achieving the correct gauge is unnecessary for this project, as it changes once your sheep is stuffed.

Stitch Guide Make Bobble: Knit into the front, back, and front of the next stitch—3 sts; turn and P3, turn and K3; lift the 2nd and 3rd sts over the first st and off RH needle—1 st.

Body

With MC and straight or circular needles, CO 8 sts.

Row 1 (WS) Knit.

Row 2 and every RS row *K1, make bobble (see stitch guide); rep from * to last 2 sts, k2.

Row 3 *Kfb; rep from * to end—16 sts.

Row 5 *K1, Kfb; rep from * to end—24 sts.

Row 7 Knit.

Row 9 Knit.

Row 11 Knit.

Row 13 Knit.

Row 15 *K1, K2tog; rep from * to end—16 sts rem.

Shape head: Change to CC and beg with a RS row, work in St st for 6 rows. Next row (RS) *K2tog; rep from * to end—8 sts rem. Break yarn, thread through remaining sts, pull to gather, and secure with a knot.

LEGS (make 4) 

With 2 dpns and CC, CO 3 sts. Work an i-cord for 1”/2.5cm. BO all sts. Cut, leaving a long enough tail to use to sew legs to body.

EARS (make 2) 

With CC, CO 4 sts. Next row (RS) Knit. Next row (WS) P2tog twice—2 sts rem. Next row (RS) K2tog. Break yarn, thread through remaining stitch, and secure with a knot

TAIL (make 1) 

With MC, CO 4 sts. Next row (RS) Knit. Next row (WS) P2tog twice—2 sts rem. Next row (RS) K2tog. Break yarn, thread through remaining stitch, and secure with a knot.

FINISHING

Weave in ends. Seam body and head, stuffing sheep before closing the body. Sew ears to head. Sew legs and tail to body. With crochet hook and MC, chain 4”/10cm, break yarn, thread through stitch, and secure with a knot (alternately you can work a 4”/10cm i-cord). Sew each end of the chain to the top of the body, creating a loop with which to hang on the tree.