Sunday, May 31, 2009

Getting Back on the Needles

So I'd been suffering a little bit of knitter's block, which sort of stunned me. In over a decade of knitting, I can't think of any other time when I was stumped re: What next? I have a great stash, piles of knitting books and mags, and also a fondness for knitting by the seat of my pants, inventing projects as I go.

I realize now I was trying too hard to make myself use some linen yarn that I'm actually not very fond of. Oh, it's pretty enough-- but I got bored fast with the first project I tried using it for, got realistic about the second project (wrongly thinking that if I knitted a particular item and put it on, I, too, would look like the 100 pound 20 year old woman modeling it in the mag), and got disillusioned with the third project (Did I really want to spend 600 hours on a tunic I might maybe wear once?).

I confess other things were eating at me, keeping me from settling on a project. Namely, my oldest dog was dying. I was distracted to the point of... well, to the point of distraction. To the point of a therein lies the rub state of mind where I knew from plenty of past experience that knitting would soothe me, at least some, but that I just couldn't focus long enough to figure out what soothing knitting project to start in on.

Then I was over at Hill Country Weavers, my personal dealer as I like to say, and I saw some yarn that was the same as that I first learned to make socks with. And so, like reaching for good old familiar macaroni and cheese or other comfort food in time of crisis, despite the towering stash I had at home, I grabbed a couple of skeins and I started in pretty quick on Sock One.

I got through most of it pretty quickly but as I watched the calendar, knowing soon the vet would come to the house to put Satch down, I got distracted again. Then the dreaded day arrived, and then the dreaded hour, and it seemed all at once that the vet might never get there and that she would get there all too soon. So I sat outside with Satch while friends threw his favorite toy for him and I just worked that sock and worked it, right down to the toe. Which is when I realized I'd messed it up. Me, a pretty dedicated sock knitter, making some mistake that seemed like it should be simple and clear to spot, and only slightly harder to fix, but I just could not figure it out. Not at all.

Tomorrow, over at my other knitting blog, I'm going to talk about how I went straight from holding my dog and loving on him til he breathed his last to a Yarn Harlot book reading. There, I found out something pretty cool about knitting and how it can help with dealing with trauma. It's no coincidence, apparently, that we pick up the needles when we are agitated. And, on the off chance you haven't tried this as a tool for soothing, I highly recommend it.

Sure, I had to go back and re-knit quite a bit of that sock. But that was okay. It was there for me when I needed it most. And I was so grateful to be back on the needles.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Is It About Monhegan Island?

It's no secret that we would love for you to join us on Monhegan Island in September for a week of knitting and yoga. For those of you who have not yet been-- either to the island or even on a retreat-- I've been trying to figure out the best way to capture that Why You Really Should Go message. I know it might sound kooky to say that the answer might lie in SEVENTEEN magazine and quilts, but bear with me if you will, and see if what I have to say about those things makes sense.

I spent summers of my youth at the Jersey Shore, which fostered a lifelong love of the Atlantic Ocean that remains with me today, though I don't often get over to that coast. When I think of days "down the shore" as we East coasters refer to it, one memory that pops up often enough is me, covered in baby oil (I know, I know-- but we didn't know then what we know now about SPF), reading SEVENTEEN. I was particularly fond of the super-fat issue that came out probably in late July-- the Back to School issue with hundreds of pages of ads and hints on how to turn just five articles of clothing into a year's worth of snappy ensembles. (Ha!) Long after I was too old to be reading that mag, I still sometimes picked up that one annual issue, feeling nostalgia not so much for school or teenagerhood, but more feeding a longing for days long past when I actually had the time to loll about seaside, not a worry in the world. (Oh, sure, I worried anyway, but looking back and comparing real life, adult worries-- mortgage, parenting, job security-- to teenage troubles like pimples and evasive crushes, I see that I really didn't have a major worry.)

Now let me jump to quilts. Even though I am a lousy seamstress, somehow over the past seven years, I tumbled down the quilt hole and have come to make much of my living through writing about quilts. My second book on the topic comes out this fall and my third, which I'm researching now, comes out in late 2010. Sometimes I get bogged down in my studies, and weary of reading about the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the textile industry in Europe. (Did you know that importing chintz for home use was outlawed in both England and France? I didn't think so.) But one thing I never grow weary of is actual quilts. And while I've become a quasi-expert on quilts-as-art-- to be hung in museums, not spread across beds-- in my mind the mere thought of lying on a quilt on the lawn, or being wrapped in one at night, fills me with delicious comfort. And even though I did not grow up among quilters, nor did I ever have a quilt in childhood, for me the notion of quilts can evoke a purposefully false and joyful memory. Wrapped in a quilt I can pretend I spent my formative years surrounded by them, hunkered down beneath them drinking hot cocoa by the fire.

So okay, what could these ideas have to do with Monhegan Island? Well, when I got there, even though I did not grow up summering in a rustic setting (the Jersey shore is the opposite of rustic), and even though I also did not grow up hiking trails through carefully preserved wilderness areas, something about being on the island immediately allows me to inhabit the mind and attitude of someone who did have these opportunities. The possibilities for the imagination are endless on the island. I can stroll up to the little lighthouse and fancy myself a lighthouse pilot, alone but not lonely, reading and writing poetry, keeping ships safe from the rocky shores. Or I can trek up to the Fairy Houses left in the woods and pretend I spent my youth building these structures. And-- perhaps this is the best thing-- when I am on the island, I can, if only for a week, imagine that I do not have a care or concern in the world, other than honing my knitting skills, stretching my body, and making a batch of best-friends-for-the-week. We come together, not knowing one another's baggage or hurdles or secrets. We confide what we wish, present our best selves, and laugh for hours by the fire.

We are all stars in the movie Relaxation and the benefits of this brief but happy time together reverberate for me long after I've taken the ferry back to the mainland. This is not to suggest that life back in reality is harsh or unpleasant-- I actually have a life heavy with blessings and hilarity. But the escapism I feel-- much like imagining I am a carefree model in a teen magazine, or a quilt enrobed child on a snowy night-- might be the thing I love best of all. It's something I can only get by showing up, knitting in good company, staring out at my beloved Atlantic.

Monday, May 18, 2009

It's Here! Rowan May 2009 Newsletter

Today was one of those days when I was feeling less than enthusiastic about my real life (bills, parenting a teenager, pile of work). Fortunately, while out running my like-it-or-not real life errands, I found in my PO box a manila envelope with the return address for Rowan on it. I still remember my "first" Rowan Magazine, shown to me when I was a beginner. The photo spreads were so gorgeous they really did take my breath away. That was an outdated issue and I spent quite a bit of time at eBay (which I typically avoid lest I get in big trouble) tracking down and successfully bidding on a copy.

Ever since, I've been a dedicated subscriber, eagerly renewing my subscription every year. For this, I receive two stunning oversized knit magazines a free project, and regular newsletters which also feature stunning photography. This is a true deal not just for the tangibles I receive, but for the inspiration these things bring me. So it was nice to see that this current newsletter-- yes, that was the little pick-me-up inside the manila envelope-- is called The Inspiration Issue. For what is rather an itty-bitty publication (particularly compared to the magazines), this newsletter really packs in a surprising number of helpful and interesting articles, including a free pattern and a profile of designer Kaffe Fasset.

To get the newsletter, you need to sign up for a Rowan membership, which in addition to the Rowan goodies I named (this year's free gift kit is pictured above), also entitles you to a nice discount on the Knitting and Yoga Adventures Retreat at Monhegan Island this fall.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What A Feeling!

A lot of us who came of age in the ‘80’s, know intellectually that the fashions were bad. Still, we hold certain articles of clothing from that era dear. Which is why legwarmers excite me. You know, I’m a maniac, maniac on the floor! And I’m dancing like I never did before!

Okay, so I was never much of a dancer. But for some reason, I have this thing for legwarmers. A few years back, someone gifted me the book Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. I instantly fell for the mouthwatering periwinkle legwarmers on the back jacket, made from Cascade and mohair ribbed k1,p1 in the round. Instead of making a pair for myself, though, I got it in my head that it would be funny to make a pair for my at-the-time man.

I even scored these really short circular needles so I didn’t have to use DPs. Oh these circulars are SO CUTE. If they’d been a hair shorter, working with them would have meant instant carpal tunnel. But it turned out they were perfect for the job.

People asked, "What are you working on?”

“Legwarmers,” I’d say, then add, “for my man.” And if he were nearby, I’d gesture toward him so folks could clearly see that he was not then, nor probably ever, a dancer with legs in need of warming.

And still, the response I’d get was always the same. “Aren’t they going to be too small?” No one ever questioned that I was knitting him legwarmers—as if that part were perfectly normal—they only wondered if I’d measured right.

When we broke up, he got the legwarmers. Still, I never forgot the pattern and vowed to make myself a pair one day. Finally, I did. They are at once utterly ridiculous and stunningly beautiful. Ever so obviously not a dancer, I look like a fool when I wear them. A very warm, very self-satisfied fool. And I cannot WAIT to go hiking in Monhegan with my usually always-chilly gams snugly ensconced.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Delicious Design

Confession: this is not my only knit blog! Scandalous, I know. Actually, as a practicing poly-blogamist, I also post my knit thoughts at the Hill Country Weavers blog. (HCW is my local beloved knitting store in Austin, TX.) As I mentioned over there in a post earlier this week, I am thrilled to have an article in the new Intervweave KNITS mag. It's a profile of renowned designer Deborah Newton. It was both an honor and a hoot talking to Deb, who is so inspiring and so encouraging and who, at least as we were talking, led me to fantasize that I, too, could be a knit designer.

Well, okay, in a sense I already am. I design very goofy, no pattern, 3-D sculptural stuff, like a hat that looks like a roasted chicken, another that looks like a menorah, and yes, even a pair of handcuffs. These sill projects are usually the result of a challenge by my boyfriend, Warren, who knows I can't resist when he throws a kooky knitting idea my way. It is fun to try to figure out how to make these things into actual finished items, even if they aren't terribly practical.

But seriously, folks, there is a wistful part of me that loves the idea of being so thoroughly fluent in knit that I can go from the visualizing stage to the completion stage in no time at all. I probably starting wishing for this ability maybe seven years into knitting (my first four years I would only ever make garter-stitch rectangles, so afraid was I of learning to purl since I knew this would lead me to want to learn complicated patterns). Hanging out on Monhegan Island with Lisa and Susan just fed the beast. Here I was, spending an entire week living and breathing in the presence of great designers. When I saw the pattern for Lisa's Fair Isle bag, I was blown away. How did she design it? How could I ever learn to knit it, let alone come up with something similar on my own?

I say that knitting with Lisa and Susan was like jumping out of a plane with an instructor strapped to your back, someone who understands when to pull the parachute cord. With their patience, I figured out that Fair Isle bag and also how to knit lace. I was stunned that I could get a grasp on these things. And when I came home, I used my newfound skills-- the main one being confidence-- to actually start playing around with design. Nothing I'm ready to show off or anything. But still, I was psyched to get the nudge I needed to take another baby step forward on the design path.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dreaming of Monhegan…

It's really really rare for me to suffer from knitter's block, but I have a little of that going on. I just finished a pair of purple socks, right on the heel (pardon the pun) of a sweater that was fairly tricky as far as I'm concerned. Now I'm wondering what to do next, and I started a linen tunic that I may or may not follow through on. I'm thinking it might be time for some comfort knitting-- this involves fat yarn, big needles, mindless garter stitching-- until inspiration strikes, which I'm sure it will soon enough. Thing is, I don't like to just pick a pattern and use it. Sometimes I like to add in a little of my own personal touch which, of course, means taking the time to revamp the pattern. I derive great satisfaction from this, but it also takes time. And so...

In the meanwhile, I'm doing partaking in some pre-project appetizers. What I mean by that is, I've dug out all my knitting books and my stack of Rowan magazines (which just make me drool every time-- I never tire of them). And I'm flipping through, fantasizing that I'm a better knitter than I am, and also imagining I'm one of the young, carefree, perfectly-figured models they put all that knitted stuff upon, and then, to make it more daydream-worthy, they stick them on a beautiful beach or in a soft, mossy forest. I imagine that all I need to do is knit whatever the model is wearing, put it on, and I will be twenty years younger, thirty pounds lighter, and not have a worry in the world. Oh I LOVE knit-lit for this very reason.

Another knit sideline I like is all the toys and gadgets I collect, some of it utterly unnecessary but all of it fun to look at and touch, like I'm a little kid with a new box of Legos. Of course, we need something to put this stuff in which means, oh yes, we get to collect bags. I like to joke that the real reason I got into knitting was to become a bag collector. I have different bags for different projects. And when I am in far-off knit shops-- like Halcyon Yarn, which we visited post-Monhegan Island on the way back to the airport in Portland-- I love getting logo bags, knowing that some other knitter will spot me and breathlessly ask about this foreign-to-them knit shop. I also bought a bag on Monhegan Island at the Black Duck Emporium, a stone's throw from Monhegan House, where we were staying. (Okay, so everything is about a stone's throw from everything else on the island.) The logo from that bag, pictured at the top of this post, cracks me up. It's not exactly true of my garden, but I like to think it is.

So there you go, that's where I'm at: drooling over Rowan, remembering Monhegan Island, and waiting for my next big knit idea to arrive. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 4, 2009

We're Back!

Hello Everyone,

Well, we're back after a bit of a blog break. I'm your co-host, Spike Gillespie. If you read earlier posts, you'll see that I was lucky enough to have attended last September's Monhegan Island Knitting and Yoga Retreat with Knitting and Yoga Adventures and I kept a daily online journal of all the fun we had. That was the trip of a lifetime and I can't wait to go again next September. We're heading out on September 20, 2009 and will knit and stretch to our hearts' content for a week. You really, really ought to join us. The yarn, the food, the company, and the view are all exquisite.

Lisa has already cooked up some excellent plans for us. And the cool thing is, you can do as much or as little as you like. I still think one of my favorite moments was, during our get acquainted session, when Lisa reminded us that we do NOT have to make our beds or clean our rooms. Not that I had any plans to do that, but still, it was nice to be officially  let off the hook. And that's the cool thing about the retreat-- you can, if you choose to, pack your days with hiking and knitting and yoga and massage. Or you can just sit on the big porch and stare out at the water. There's no pressure, just a lovely time where you can indulge in your knitting passion without having to stop and explain yourself. Everyone's on the same page. Boy did we make some beautiful stuff last year.

Here's some of what's in store for this year's retreat:

Susan will teach… two classes in textured and lace knitting featuring yarns from her Nashua Handknits line of yarns. Her classes take basic techniques and teach how to use them in new and an infinite variety of combinations to create your own unique project.

Lisa will lead… a workshop on Intarsia color knitting. She will lead you through this seemingly difficult technique step-by-step with a simple project.

Melora will lead… two daily yoga sessions, suitable for all levels of students. The morning class will flow with a theme woven through the postures, helping us understand movement and alignment, enjoying the freedom and radiance generated by an active practice.  Afternoon class will include therapeutic yoga to help those with injuries, stretches to relieve fatigue from hiking or knitting, and deeply restorative poses to relax and de-stress.

Mary Alice will… treat every one of us to an hour long full body massage. As only a truly experienced and intuitive body worker can, she will relieve you of tension, aches and pains with sensitivity and care.

Patty will… lead our daily island walks guided by the experience, abilities, and desires of those joining her. Her enthusiasm, humor, and smile are contagious!

Sure hope you can make it. Registration information is right here. And remember-- Early Bird registrants and members of Rowan International get a discount.