Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Epiphany

Several nights ago I had a rather disastrous visit from the insomnia monster. Long, boring story short - I only managed two hours of sleep that night. Consequently, I've been a bit off since then.

The nice thing about being tired, though, is that sometimes I have random little epiphanies which can be quite enlightening. My theory is that my brain is only quiet enough to let these little gems through when I am that tired. (Ask brain is normally on hyper drive.)

So yesterday I was browsing through some websites, looking mostly at Shetland lace and Fair Isle work. I've always been keenly attracted to both, marveling at the technical details and the skill that goes into such traditional work. The lace in particular is just so beautiful!

At any rate, as I was browsing I had a lazy question meander into my head. I wondered, "Why is it that I like Shetland knitting so very, very much?"

Just like that, the answer popped into my head. Ask and you shall receive!

Shetland knitting is my favorite because I had a Shetland pony when I was a child.

Doesn't have to make sense to be true.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Taking Back the Knit

Last Thursday night I rather tearfully told my friend Jenn that I thought I could be done with knitting. I had barely touched the needles in almost two weeks, and none of my current projects or planned projects held any interest for me. I just didn't want to knit, and I felt as if it could be permanent.

I've been knitting since I was about eight years old. I'm not sure who taught me - mother or grandmother - but I do remember that it came easily to me as with most handwork. Years later my mother would become my knitting teacher through 4-H, and I would master the basics. Throughout high school and college I knit periodic blankets in Gram's feather and fan pattern, although knitting was far from my only - or even my primary - craft at that time. (I was a tatter and a spinner, but those are stories for another day.)

All of that changed shortly after the Princess was born. I walked into my office one day and took a serious look at the closet full of craft stuff. I knew that there was just no way that I was going to be able to do it all, and so I decided to get rid of anything that I didn't truly love. The time had come to focus.

And so I ditched everything except for my knitting, and for the last five years it has been my passion and my obsession. In a very short amount of time I had a stash and a shelf full of knitting books, I had joined the local guild and had discovered the joys of yarn shopping. I was in heaven. Knitting fit perfectly into my new lifestyle and it gave me something to focus my OCD tendencies on in a positive way.

Which leads me back to Thursday night and my conversation with Jenn. She and I slogged through the whole mess, trying to figure out what was really behind it. I came to see that I had been fighting my funk since I broke that finger in January. Most of it was fueled by the mommy burnout that I had been fighting for months, but recognized too that I had been soured by some painful drama in the local knitting community. I also realized that I am just not a person who knits when stressed, and the last week had been particularly stressful.

Jenn told me that she just couldn't imagine me setting aside the needles forever, and she came up with a bunch of great ideas to help me move on. I went home in a very pensive mood, weighing some of her suggestions carefully.

With that in mind, I pulled my yarn bins and baskets out the next morning to give them a good toss. Everything was dumped out on the bed so that I could begin from scratch. I pulled all of the leftovers (of which I have a ridiculously large amount) and then set to work. All current projects and their yarn went into my lined Lantern Moon basket. Sweater yarn and handspun went into one bin and sock and lace yarns went into the other. I was determined that everything would fit under the bed into those two bins, and although it is tight it now fits. I immediately felt a huge sense of relief that the yarn for all of my planned projects was no longer sitting in the corner of my room, reminding me of what I "needed" to do.

Then I threw away my Knitting Inventory List. I've been keeping that list for at least the last four years. Comprised of both KIPs and Planned Projects, it could have kept me busy for several years, and I've been doing my best to stick to it. Sometimes that meant slogging through projects I had lost interest in just because I had committed to them, sometimes it meant doing presents that I really didn't want to do, and sometimes it meant setting aside new patterns because I felt like I needed to finish the stuff on the list first. Jenn had pointed out that I had trapped myself by planning out too much and leaving no room for fun, and she was right.

When I woke up Saturday morning, I knew that the burden was gone and that I was ready to start over. Undeterred by my cat's interference, I have been working on the Pixie's sweater since then and have really enjoyed it. When I got tired of it Saturday night, I started the Rona Lace Shawl - which is not a pattern I had intended to use anytime soon, but is rather what struck me as being fun for right now.

In two simple steps, knitting is suddenly fun again. Instead of having a list and an overly organized stash, I now have a simple goal to knit what I feel like knitting without thinking too much about it.

The Green Woman is very, very pleased.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Well That's New...

My Saturday began innocently enough. I woke up around 9 to the peaceful sound of a gentle thunderstorm. After fixing a cup of coffee and checking in with my husband and the girls - all happily enjoying cartoons in the basement - I settled back in bed with my knitting. After months of an odd knitting malaise, I had finally figured out a way to get back my knitting mojo, and with that solution in mind I pulled out Fiona Ellis's Inspired Cable Knits and my KnitPicks Gloss and set to work on a Ripples In Time sweater for the Pixie. An hour quickly slipped by in knitting bliss.

My peace was disturbed by the phone, and as I needed a coffee refill I went to answer it. After a brief chat with my mother in law, I returned to the bedroom. When I walked in, I immediately noticed that my cat had quite naturally moved into my spot on the bed. He does this all of the time, so it was hardly surprising. What was so odd was that he held a strand of my yarn in his mouth.

Now I have never, EVER seen this cat chew on yarn. I have had friends with yarn-munching pets, but for some reason that particular problem had never cropped up in our house. In fact, it actually took a minute for the scene before me to process. I just couldn't believe what I saw because it was just so out of character. I shrugged, disentangled the cat and crawled back into bed, figuring it for a rare display of frisky behavior. I gave the old rascal a bit of love and then I dumped him on the far side of the bed so that I could get back to work.

And then...

Then I picked up my knitting to find this: Dratted beast. Let's hope this doesn't become habit.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Proof of Creativity

These are the Mother's Day gifts that the Princess made for two of her grandmothers and her grammie-great. There is actually a fourth, but we didn't manage a picture! I tried very hard to influence her choice of beads, but my Princess is a very opinionated girl who makes up her mind and then stands by it. My mother says I deserve that.

I absolutely love these simple strands of wooden beads. They were my first beading project, made to go with my Zulu Grass.
When I went bead shopping for the first time, I fell head over heels in love with the display full of wooden beads and shells. Funny, I've never really been attracted to either before, and now I can't get enough!
The Princess and I designed the necklace and bracelet on the left. A few days later I convinced her to make a matching necklace for the Pixie as she wanted to give her sister a birthday gift, and the result was the necklace on the far right. I decided that I wanted in on the fun, and made myself the last one. Right now they are just strung on a simple stretchy band, but I may restring them on something more durable this weekend.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why I Believe In God

Today did not start off so well.

I don't really want my blog to be a place where I complain about life, and so suffice it to say that I haven't slept for several days, and have been dealing with a larger than normal amount of stress - some caused by happy things and some not. On top of that, my mother shared with me this morning some very bad news about true evil coming into the life of a good friend of ours. It was enough to make me feel ill, and I spent much of the morning struggling with tears.

And then, just a little while ago I looked out my bedroom window to see this:

Isn't she pretty? Isn't she peaceful? To many of you she may just be a deer, but to me she is a miracle.

You see, back in 1993 my world began to crash in around me. I had been fighting depression for several years, and for some reason it all came to a head that summer. Home from my freshman year in college, it should have been a happy summer. I was back working at Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site - a job that I truly loved - and my freshman year had been a magical time for me. Instead, I was miserable. The constant rain that summer and the fact that I was so cut off from my friends certainly didn't help.

At some point, I began to notice the deer.

It began very simply. I would walk out onto the Watkin's back porch, and I would see a deer or two quietly grazing in the field behind the house. Half way through a tour on a rough day I would glance out the window of the Mill and see several of them in the sheep pen. I would catch glimpses of them out the car window as I drove to work in the morning. It went on and on and on.

The amazing thing was that each and every time I saw them I was left with an incredible sense of peace. At some point it occurred to me that all of those deer were the answer to my prayers. They were being sent to remind me that everything would be ok.

And eventually, it was.

I might have dismissed all of this as coincidence had it not kept happening. It's been 15 years, and I've lost track of exactly how many times I've seen a deer during times of need. They don't always happen, but they do seem to be there when I need them the most. Just last summer God sent me a deer the one and only time I've ever asked. My father had been hurt badly trying to treat a horse and had become very ill. I was scared, and I asked God to send one because I needed to know that Dad was going to be fine. That night a deer wandered right up to the front of my parents house, right in front of my entire family.

I don't need large miracles to prove that God exists. He has given me a very small and very quiet miracle because that's exactly what I need. And so I know that this particular deer was sent for a reason, and I do feel better. For the first time in days I am calm, and at peace.

Everything is going to be ok.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Violin Lessons

Did you know that I once took violin lessons?

It's true. I studied the violin for about six months during my senior year in college. My grandmother gave me the money to rent a violin, and I found an excellent violinist through the university who was willing to teach me. Why? Well, I had always loved the violin and imagined that it could be something that I would enjoy doing.

Unfortunately, I was really, really bad at it. My fingers are short, and I couldn't get them to relax enough to ever become comfortable in the correct positions. I didn't really have enough time to devote to practicing, being very busy with work, school and boyfriend. Besides, I just don't have a whole lot of natural talent for making music! The stars were against me, and after my six months I returned the violin and moved on.

I have never once regretted those lessons. It would be so easy to look at the time and money spent as a waste, but they weren't. I had always wanted to try the violin, and while the dream in my head was a far cry from my reality, I think it was worth the effort to at least try. In fact, I look back at that rented violin as one of the smartest things I ever did.

I guess sometimes you just have to let go and live a little. I think way too often we have hopes and dreams that never are realized because we don't truly understand how important it is to at least try. Who knows? It could be that one little dream could become a lifelong passion or could lead to a dramatically different life. It could also turn out that it's just not something you're good at, but was really fun to learn about.

You just never know!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Frogging We Will Go

This is Elsebeth Lavold's beautiful Martha from her sixth designer's choice book, The Take Five Collection. I purchased the book and yarn the day I announced my second pregnancy at the yarn shop - the one and only time I've EVER spontaneously bought a shop owner's recommendation. (You're pregnant?! That's wonderful! We just got a new Lavold book in with a maternity pattern...)

The irony is that I had once stated that I would never, ever knit a maternity sweater because that was a waste of time. (Never say never, the Green Woman says with a laugh.)
Now, I had not lost any of the weight from my first pregnancy, and was expecting the same type of growth in the second that I had experienced in the first - especially in my problematic chest. SO, after great debate I selected a rather large size and set to work. I wanted this thing to fit during the entire pregnancy!
I believe I finished in about six weeks, discovering along the way that Elsebeth Lavold is a very generous designer who will happily help knitters with her patterns. Seriously. She responded to a question in less than four hours. I was impressed.
True, Martha did turn out to be too big. My chest - thankfully - didn't repeat it's expansion, and so in the end I could have knit the thing a size or even two smaller. No matter, I loved it and wore it proudly, receiving many compliments from friends and family. When the Pixie was born, the sweater was folded up and tucked away.

On May 5th I had a merry frogging party. Two of my favorite knitting friends came over that Sunday afternoon to provide moral support as I began the process of reclaiming 13 skeins of Silky Wool from Martha. I had, in fact, been planning to frog it for well over a year, but sometimes we need a little push to follow through. A party was just the thing I needed. We had treats as we gathered around my kitchen table to work on various projects while our kids played in the next room. It was a magical afternoon.

I was not sad to see the sweater go. It would never have been worn again, and it had made me sad to see it tucked away as it had been. However, Martha held a lot of love and memories, and I admit that it wasn't as easy as I had expected. Martha had been something nice I had done for myself after knitting for everyone else for years. She had made me feel beautiful when I was hugely pregnant during a difficult pregnancy. Besides, the whole thing had been oddly prescient as the Pixie's hair proved to be almost the same shade as the yarn. Martha had been truly special.

I now have this beautiful pile of reclaimed yarn waiting to be knit into two sweaters - one for me, and one for the Pixie. Once again I will be using Elsebeth Lavold patterns, and this time the sweater will be sized to last for years. Spring is the time for renewal, and I can't think of a better way to honor my Martha.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Notes About This Week

It's been a really, really busy week. Our schedule was full, and my husband was out of town for several days because of a business trip. Here are a few things that were important enough to comment on.
  1. The Pixie turned 2 on Monday. We had a fantastic birthday party that evening, and I'm happy to say that she had a great time. We had four of the grandparents, tacos, balloons and a Tigger cake - everything a little girl could want!
  2. If you should ever order a largish toy online, be sure to check out the dimensions. The playhut I ordered for the Pixie turned out rather larger than I expected, and takes up most of my living room.
  3. Good friends are those who call you out when you are being silly. Wed. AM I went for a walk with two of my best friends, and when I told them how unhappy I was with how the Tigger cake had turned out (Yep, I'm a perfectionist.), I received a lecture from both about how ridiculous I was being. They were right. Thank you!
  4. Tuesday night the girls and I went to the Princess's school picnic. The children chose the Johnny Appleseed blessing, which is a favorite of mine and one that we sing at home often. As the song began, I had to step back into the classroom to cry. It was just so beautiful to hear so many voices singing it together.
  5. Having a school picnic in the school is actually a wonderful thing - especially when having to chase two children by yourself.
  6. Speaking of the school, we are really lucky to have found this preschool. After running headlong into a neighborhood clique last weekend, I am especially grateful for the friendliness of all of the other parents there. I made it a point this week to tell several of the other moms how much I appreciated them.
  7. The Pixie participated in a study with the Emotional Development Lab at a local university this week. It was pretty funny. I could have told them exactly how she would react to each of the six tests. Suffice it to say that she's a very normal child with very normal reactions to new situations and people. Oh, and giant spiders rigged to remote control cars are very, very scary.
  8. There is nothing funnier than listening to two 5 year olds visiting during a playdate.
  9. The Princess and I made bracelets for her grandmothers for Mother's Day. I tried very hard to guide her in selecting more 'grown up' beads, but she is very strong in her opinions. Nevertheless, the grandmothers were all delighted.
  10. My mother-in-law is a very sweet woman. She invited the girls over last week, supposedly just to spend time together. I had a wonderful two hours to myself and a quiet lunch with my husband. Little did I know, my MIL had a plan. She helped the girls put together a scrapbook for me for Mother's Day. It was perfect, and is probably the best gift I've ever been given. Later she even gave me pictures of the girls working on it.
  11. I haven't done much in the way of creative anything this week. Instead, I read a book and let my batteries recharge a bit. In a way I feel a bit lazy because of it, but I also know I need to do this from time to time.
  12. Today I am knitting again.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

When Good Knits Go Bad

Remember This?

This is the Princess's* "Tweed Jacket with Cable Beret" from Great Knits for Kids by Debbie Bliss. I pulled it out this week, hoping to finish it quickly. After all, I just had a wee bit of the shoulders and collar to finish off before doing the sleeves and hat. It couldn't take that long!

However, when I placed it on my bed this morning, I realized that maybe I needed to reconsider the whole project.

The yarn itself is lovely. It's Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool in Cherry. In real life the color is deeper, almost scarlet, and is perfect for my blue-eyed blond Princess. It's a fantastic, basic wool that is well-made, versatile, and easy to knit. I purchased it three years ago, and as I am a careful knitter I bought everything the store had - almost two full bags.

Originally I was to knit a gorgeous smock for the Princess, based upon another Debbie Bliss design. This dress would be for my daughter's first preschool Christmas program, and was therefore destined to be an heirloom. I did my swatch, made my pattern notes, and away I went, happily knitting. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens with Bliss patterns, the thing turned out to be huge. (Yes, of course my gauge was spot on. The error here was in the pattern.) My poor child just looked lost in it, so I tucked it away to finish for the following year.

Then I found out I was having a second girl. Naturally, I ordered another bag of yarn and decided that the following year I would have matching dresses for my two girls! The Pixie, however, had other ideas. She was born with red hair and looked TERRIBLE when held next to my beautiful Jo Sharp yarn. I subsequently sold the third bag.

By this time I was sick of the original design, so the dress was frogged. I washed and reskeined the yarn, and went back to the drawing board.

When it came time to make another sweater for the Princess, I knew I was going to have to make a cardigan. The child, who complains of being too warm all of the time, barely wore her last handknit pullover because it was just too hot. Besides, I had just made a cardigan for her sister. I had in mind a very classic cabled sweater with a shawl collar, and pulled out the Debbie Bliss pattern because it was the closest thing that I had to the picture in my mind.

I should have known that it was destined for problems, starting with the pattern. I love Bliss's aesthetic, but I hate the way her patterns are written, so I rewrote the whole thing. Normally this isn't a big deal. This time, though, the changes were extensive. The cables had be be respaced, the welts and the collar redesigned, the whole sweater regauged and the sizing figured out. I felt like I was spending more time with reference books, paper and pen than with the actual knitting.

The biggest problem, though, was that my Princess had by now developed her own sense of style, and red was definitely NOT a color she wanted to wear. When asked her opinion, she once famously told me that it was ok, but that it would look better if I added pink and purple. My friends at the guild howled over that one.

Then I broke my finger in January, and the whole project was put on hold. Even when I started knitting again, I knew that I was going to have to wait until I regained strength in my hand so that my gauge wouldn't be wonky. It's been sitting in a basket since.

As I sat staring at the sweater this morning, I realized that I just have to face the fact that this sweater wasn't meant to be. At the very least, it will probably not fit the Princess this fall since it fits her now. It will never look good on the Pixie. Sweaters that are finished just to be finished are kind of sad. They need to be used, and loved to have been worth it. Beyond that, I just don't want to finish it. It's been too much work, and too much effort. Clearly, I pushed this one too far, determined to make that yarn into something...anything.

I will sit down this week and frog the sweater. Most likely, I will feel relief and a sense of freedom. There are other things that I want to knit for my daughters, and really this isn't one of them anymore.

As a friend from the guild says, knitting is supposed to be fun.

*The children will now be known as the Princess (5) and the Pixie (2).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I Learned My Lesson

When you ignore the Green Woman, things tend to happen.

I've been working really hard over the last several months to keep the number of WIPs down. Instead of heeding the siren song of startitis, I've steadily worked on projects even when I haven't been interested in them. Productive? Usually. Fun? Not always. Why? Who knows.

The Green Woman, of course, thought this was all very ridiculous. She kept shoving different yarns under my nose to encourage me to move on to new things, and I just kept ignoring her.

SO, last night she dumped a mocha....on my Forest Path Stole. That's right, she dumped a mocha on white Suri Alpaca, managing to hit both the completed two tiers and the attached ball of yarn. Clearly, she was not impressed by the my day of slogging away at the thing just because it needed to be done.

Today I started a new pair of socks and a sweater.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

She's Tempting Me....

Ah, the Green Woman has been very, very busy lately. She's come up with all sorts of crazy ideas, and she seems to think that I need to try new things. Every time I turn around, I find her standing behind me with an excited - and oddly pensive - look on her face.

Why don't you try? It would be fun! She tells me, and I have to admit that I am tempted.

Some of the things she wants me to try are:

  1. Beading. She watched a friend put together some jewelry at my house this last weekend and just KNOWS we should do that too.
  2. Embroidery. God knows I've never been that good at needlework, and she should know it too. So far that's not deterring her. She went to work on my 5-year-old, and now the Princess wants to do this too.
  3. Felt, with either sheets of wool felt or recycled sweaters. She's shoved several books off of the shelf at the book store to show me how wonderful this could be.
  4. Sewing. OK, so I did let her tempt me into purchasing some material for a few new skirts.
  5. Crochet. She recruited my husband with this one. They both think I could do really cool things if I could crochet.
  6. Toy making, as a subset of several other types of handwork. She thinks I need more fun in my life.
  7. Glass beads. As in using a torch and molten hot glass to make beads. I know, this one is just plain nuts.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sundays Are For Showing Off!

Frolicking Shamrock Socks
by Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer of Heartstrings Fiber Arts
Claudia Hand Painted Yarns
Fingering, 100% merino - 2 skeins "Jungle"

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Honey, Why Is There Yarn All Over Our Bed?

This is my entire stash. Clockwise from the top right corner you can see my fiber in three containers, the leftover bin, the yarn without projects, a couple of sweaters to be frogged (one made by my Mom), current WIPs stored in baggies, my cat, a small basket of yarn for gift projects next to a bowl that hold the handspun laceweight and some silk fiber and the yarn for projects for myself. Oh, and that green basket in the middle has more WIPs. The bookshelf to the left holds all of my knitting books. It's completely full.

I will fess up to doing this at least once a month. Why? Bunch of reasons.
  1. I like to be able to see it all in one place.
  2. It allows me to organize my projects by prioritizing the projects I already have in mind, assigning yarn for future projects and sometimes by dumping projects when I've lost interest.
  3. Having it all in the open reminds me that I don't need to buy anything else.
  4. Along with #3, I can dream up new ideas for old yarn.
  5. Occasionally I decide to destash some of it, and by doing this type of organization fairly often I learn what's important to me and what isn't.
  6. When I'm feeling generous, I let my eldest pick out yarn and a pattern for Mommy to make.
  7. I'm a tad OCD.
  8. I took a nap with my stash last month, and it was fun. (The fiber stayed in the closet.)