Seattle

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My favorite picture take from the inside of the Dale Chihuly Museum.

I took my first trip since I was in Paris (2017?) last month. My son moved to Seattle right before we went into lockdown and I hadn’t seen him in since February 2020. Not only did I miss him, but I’ve never been to Seattle.

Seattle greeted me with her usual fanfare. A rainstorm pummelled the roads as we made our way out of the airport but it was nice to see my son and have a change of scenery (not that I could see much of it at that moment).

There were some sights I wanted to see but I put very little pressure or expectations on this trip. Work has been total chaos and I had a week to sleep in, take naps, wander around the city and eat some of the most delicious food – all with my son.

Other than the first two days, the weather was gorgeous. Austin was having 90 degree heat and Seattle was a cool 60 degrees and sunny. We went to the Space Needle, Pikes Market, Museum of Pop Culture and the Seattle Art Museum. We both agreed that the Seattle Art Museum did a wonderful job of curating it’s exhibits and telling a story about the art and artists. The Museum of Pop Culture could learn a thing or two from them as they missed an opportunity to really engage the viewer with the exhibits. The only exception to that was the Disney costume exhibit. It told a story, but then again, we are dealing with a master storyteller here, aren’t we?

My favorite museum, without a doubt, was the Dale Chihuly Museum. I love art glass and he is the master. I was inspired by the colors, patterns and organic shapes.

My son had to work during the day so I did a lot of wondering around, trolling bookstores and journaling in coffee shops. Being in this alternative environment, relaxed and free from worries about work and life in general, I gave a lot of thought about what was important to me and what I hoped to do once I got back.

I spent a morning on my own in Pike’s Market. My son had gifted me a hank of hand-dyed yarn from a local dyer but I wanted to go back and check out the artisan’s market. I’ve made it a tradition on my travels to buy jewelry as my “souvenir”. My collection is growing nicely and when I wear a piece, it always brings up memories. I look for handmade pieces not only because I want something original, but I want to support local businesses. I came home with some wonderful reminders of my trip with a ring and 2 pairs of earrings.

The main thing we did in Seattle was eat. It’s a city with wonderful cuisine. A huge part of its restaurant scene is devoted to local, sustainably sourced products. I didn’t see a whole lot of fast or chain food restaurants, which I though was nice. My son and I both love to cook and we talked a lot about food. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie but I do want to eat delicious and nutritious foods. But being single I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut, eating the same things. The trip has sent me down a road of exploration – not just of new flavors but of our whole relationship to food – growing, harvesting, preserving, cooking it (I would have made a good farmer’s wife) but also how it is so important to community. We are so removed from the source of our food, corporations have bastardized the whole food production system (factory farming) to the detriment of our land, animals, its employees, the consumer and the food itself in the name of profit and we are all paying the price. I’m not going to preach. I’m going to do what I feel is right and let others make a, hopefully informed, decision for themselves.

In fact, the whole trip not only inspired me to spend a lot of money on books about food and cooking (The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flynn for example), but it also reaffirmed my desire to support small businesses, buy used (the Seattle Goodwill had a cool vibe) and avoid giving any more of my money to selfish, asshole billionaires. I didn’t give them a lot to begin with and buying elsewhere isn’t going to make a dent in their pocketbook. However, when I support local entrepreneurs, my business does make a difference. Like that intrepid beachcomber who tossed stranded starfish back into the water one at a time, I can’t change the whole world, but I can make a difference in my little corner of the world. And if we all tried to do that, what a better world this would be.

That is the effect Seattle had on me.

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Balance

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I have been humbled.

I like to imagine myself impervious – to illness, ailments and injury. My body actually isn’t, as I have experienced all three, but certainly my attitude has always been of that opinion.

And yet, I find myself laid up for who-knows-how-many weeks because of a misstep – my knee being the unfortunate victim. And by “laid up”, I mean I won’t be able to run for a couple of weeks, best case scenario. This distresses me because a lot of my identity is wrapped up in being a Runner and in the discipline of doing it regularly – for the last ten or more years. Running is not only something I do, it’s who I am, or so I tell myself.

But as with my last encounter with a health issue (which was life-threatening, yet I find this one much more bothersome), I accept the reality of the situation and ask “what can I learn from this?”

Am I being to hard on myself – driving my body and depriving myself? Am I slave to this discipline? Frankly, I don’t think so. I wasn’t even running when it happened. I think bodies are meant to move, it reduces stress and keeps muscles powerful. Science is now saying our bodies aren’t designed to decay – we can stay strong and healthy well into our “twilight” years. And whatever life I have left, I prefer quality. I saw my grandmother waste away in a nursing home, letting arthritis wrack her body until she was wound up tight, her muscles unyielding from years of disuse. Nope, not for me.

This wasn’t a message from The Universe either. It was just an accident. Even so, I can be intentional with this down time, use it as a chance to reflect. And the word that came up was well-being. Yes, this is a time I can use to reflect on what well-being means to me.

Well-being entails the four facets of our self – body, mind, heart and soul/spirit (I’m undecided about which term I prefer so I’ll just use them interchangeably). Body obviously entails movement, nourishment (food) and rest. Mind is intellectual pursuits. Heart is our relationships. And soul, or spirit, is the uniquely personal mix of thoughts, feelings, emotions and character that makes us who we are.

Balance is a big part of well-being. When we are not in balance (like me right now) we can’t achieve optimal well-being.

Long story short, my injury has made me inactive. The best way for me to heal right now is to do nothing, literally put my feet up and be a couch potato. Not my preferred state but that’s what I need to do. I can still knit and have been working on some socks but I am also giving a lot of thought to my well-being. I see it’s not just my body that’s out of balance. Work has consumed me lately, leaving me little mental energy for creative pursuits. Being on vacation last week only emphasized that. This leaves me with a lot to think about. What do I need to do to bring my whole life back into balance, into a state of well-being? I don’t expect to figure it out overnight but I’ll keep asking the question. The answers will come.

5 Sustainable Designers Who Make Cool Sh*t

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I was travelling last week and the change of scenery and the company were perfection. I’ll write about it more in an upcoming post. My favorite way to memorialize a vacation is jewelry. I seek out independent artisans who are from the area. I want to support people and their creativity, not billionaires. I’ve curated my jewelry collection so most of what I wear brings me back to that place.

I’ve also been thinking about my design aesthetic and while it’s more of a value than an aesthetic, I am into sustainability. The idea of repurposing, repairing and extending the life of the things we own appeals to me. There is a creative challenge in turning one thing into something else, which is probably why I prefer thrift stores over big box craft stores. Here are a bunch of people who are doing their part to help reduce our waste while making stuff worthy to be called art.

Zero Waste Daniel

Daniel makes clothes from every bit of scrap that he has, mostly working with knits but I’ve seen him do wedding gowns also.

Suay Sew Shop

Suay works with post-consumer waste, deadstock and organically grown natural fibers. I thought they also did jean repairs but I’m not seeing it on their website. They have a lovely selection of home goods and comfy clothes so check them out.

Ana Luisa

I’m particular about my jewelry and have stopped buying cheap, “costume” pieces. As I’ve said, my collection is built mostly from my travels. However, I did received some Ana Luisa jewelry for Christmas and I love it. They use recycled materials whenever possible, are 100% carbon and water neutral, reasonably priced and pay fairly and produce ethically. This is a good place to get some quality, classic designs that will last you a lifetime.

Katwise

Katwise is a colorful creative who takes thrift stores sweaters, chops them up and then patches them back together in the most whimsical, wonderful coats and fingerless mitts. She also offers tutorials if you’d rather make your own. She been part of the upcycle scene for awhile and it looks like her business launched in 2006. Her house has also gotten a lot of notoriety.

Recycled, upcycled and sustainable design isn’t cheap. As a culture, we’ve come to expect a t-shirt to cost $5 and balk at the higher prices of independent and eco-conscious designers. But someone had to pay for those materials. And someone had to spend their time to make it. It’s time we prioritized quality (renewable) materials, fair, living wages (someone’s getting the short stick on that $5 t-shirt) and protecting our limited resources. How much money have we thrown away, considering those fast fashion purchases rarely last a couple of weeks. I bet if you added it all up you could afford a well-made, classic items that flatter your figure, fit well and will last you for years if properly cared for.

Creative Play

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I’ve always been interested in the origins of creativity so I’ve done a lot of research on the subject. Most recently, I took Brent Eviston’s Becoming Creative – An Artistic Guide to Creativity on Skillshare. It was the last lesson when I had my epiphany.

Research shows that children are naturally creative but we tend to bury it as we get older. I could go on about divergent vs. convergent thinking, connotation, left vs. right brain and a bunch of other high falutin terms. But let me ask you this – what is the one thing that usually sets children apart from adults?

Play.

Play at it’s best, captured in Dublin, Ireland.

Creativity is nothing more than tapping into our powers of play. This was so obvious to me after the last video in Eviston’s class. He called it “divergent exploration”. I loved his class but when he described “divergent exploration” I thought the term was ridiculous. Why not just call it what it was – play? I mean, which sounds more fun? “Hey kids, today were going to do some divergent explorations!” or “Hey everybody, let’s play!”

Granted, it’s a more structured, intentional type of play than most kids do, but it’s still play, nonetheless.

I had another epiphany while doing a journal exercise for his class. I design and make a lot of fashion and home decorating related items but in reality, after taking both fashion and interior design classes, neither fashion nor interior design is my passion. I’m not drawn to these fields because I’m interested in them, I’m interested in the creative process inherently used in these fields.

It’s the creative process that is my passion, probably because it is play. I have fun doing it. Making things with fabric and fiber (like sweaters, hooked rugs or quilts) is just my preferred method of expressing it. And after taking Eviston’s class, even though I didn’t know the science or fancy words of what makes the creative process, I realize my creativity hasn’t been buried like most adults. I’ve been intuitively using it all along.

In a video I talked about one of my favorite tools to generate ideas – the stencil. Check out it out here if you want to learn more about it. This got me thinking about other fun ways to spark your imagination. These are not all specific to fashion, they can be used to brainstorm ideas no matter what your medium.

Mr Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head, in case you don’t remember, is a plastic potato with interchangeable parts. You could change the lips, eyes, ears, nose, etc to create a bunch of expressions or unique characters. What if you applied this concept to your design? For instance with a sweater, you could get a picture of a basic sweater and then try different types of necklines, collars, cuffs, ribbings, etc.

Cut Outs

Hooked rug with flower motifs. Paper cut outs of the different flowers helped me determine where to place them.

There are a lot of ways you can play with these. First, I used cut outs to figure out the designs for both of my hooked rugs. I knew one would be circles and the other flowers. I cut actual sizes of the motifs and moved them around on the canvas until I came up with a pattern I liked.

Second, you can cut out words and throw them in a pile and randomly pick some and write something (poem, paragraph, short story) using just those words.

Third, you can cut out pictures from a magazine. You can follow a theme (flowers) or just go with whatever catches your fancy. Once you have 5-10 pictures, play around with them. What combinations can you come up with?

Interior designers use this technique when playing around with furniture placement on a floor plan.

Roll of the Die

Take a pair of dice and assign something different to each number. If you were knitting it might look like this: roll 1 – make a bobble, roll 2 – bind off 5 stitches, roll 3 – change colors, etc. For drawing it could be 1=hash marks, 2=organic shape, 3=body part, 4=thick lines. You get the idea. Part of the fun is thinking up what each roll will be. And every time you play, you’ll create something different.

Bibliomancy

My friend Jean did a whole video on this idea. This is a fun journaling exercise but if you’re a writer you could use your notebooks and create a mismash of characters, plots, etc. If you’re an artist use your sketchbooks and see what zany combinations – whether it be color, shape or form – that you come up. News stories could create an interesting murder plot or conversation. Use a dictionary to write a poem. Use an atlas to come up with the place to set your story. Your high school yearbook could give you some interesting traits based on personalities of classmates or teachers. It would probably be the most you ever used it.

100 Day Project

The way to come up with a good idea is to have as many ideas as possible. A lot of times the first 10-20 are the mediocre, run-of-the-mill ideas. In other words, pure crap. So the challenge of creating a new idea a day (for instance, a new sweater design a day via a quick sketch) is a great way to push yourself beyond the hum-drum into the interesting.

Many of these ideas are variation on a theme and their sole purpose is to just play, the outcome isn’t important. You’re not trying to create a masterpiece. You’re looking for interesting sparks of ideas, unusual pairings and combinations and ways to disrupt your habitual thoughts.

So bust loose, have fun, connect with that inner child and just play.

6 Lessons about Creativity

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Creativity is self-expression and I’ve expressed a lot over a lifetime of knitting, sewing and generally making stuff. What lessons can I draw from all of my efforts?

Creativity works better if you make it a habit

Creativity isn’t some magical gift bestowed upon us by divine intervention. It’s a skill and like any other skill, practice makes perfect. It’s not passive, you have to take action. You learn by doing. If you want to be (more) creative, then make it a regular habit. Ask questions – “What if…?” is a good place to start.

Creativity is like a bank account

What happens if you make more withdrawals than deposits in your bank account? Eventually, you can’t take out any more money because you don’t have it. It’s the same with creativity. Burnout comes when you take too much without giving back (or replenishing it). I am SO guilty of this (I’ve done a lot of whining about this in recent posts).

You need to feed your inspiration. This means stimulating your imagination. For me it’s a two prong approach. First it’s self-care – making sure I get enough sleep, exercise, down time and proper nutrition. Second, it’s exposing myself to different things including culture, nature, people, perspectives and ideas (books, documentaries, etc).

Creativity needs constraints

A blank canvas or page is intimidating. To move past it we need to define what we want to achieve and be as specific as possible. It sounds counterintuitive but creativity works best within well-defined parameters. Designers rarely have free reign to do whatever they want.They are given a brief with specifications of the job. Unlimited options throw us into overwhelm which only creates a sudden urge to clean out the fridge and alphabetize its contents.

Comparison, judgement, and assumptions kill creativity

I didn’t do a lot of things because I wasn’t good at them. Thing is, when I first started sewing, knitting and crocheting, I wasn’t good at those either. I’m good at them now because I practiced – a lot.

Don’t compare yourself to others, especially people who have been at it longer. Talent will only get you so far. Practice can take you further.

Don’t judge your work, your only job is to do it. And if you enjoy doing it, if it gives you any measure of enjoyment, peace, relaxation, joy – whatever – who cares about the outcome? If it’s crap, chalk it up as practice. (The great thing about knitting is you can unravel your failures and no one is ever the wiser).

Don’t assume something is hard/not possible until you actually try it. Don’t assume there is only one way to do it. Don’t assume their’s a “right” or “wrong” way.

You don’t need anyone’s permission or approval

This isn’t rocket science. No one’s life is on the line. If you want to be a painter, a baker, an artist or designer you don’t need a fancy degree, permission or approval. If you paint, you’re a painter, if you write, you’re a writer, if you bake, you’re a baker, if you design, you’re a designer. You get to decide.

Creativity isn’t just for those in arts and design

As human beings, creativity is our birthright, not just for the chosen few. We express our creativity everyday by how we parent, dress ourselves, decorate our homes, cook a meal, solve a myriad of everyday problems, deal with customers, show our love or organize a spreadsheet (though “creative” accounting is frowned upon…), just to name a few. Creativity enriches our lives and you don’t have to be an “artist” to be creative.

The Wonderful World of Socks

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Last post was all about things decorating projects but I’m dog sitting this week so to have something to do, I shoved some yarn, needles and pattern in a bag. I’m knitting socks, inspired by my recent deep dive into hygge. Warm, cozy socks are an integral part of hygge. Also, my feet are always cold. Even in summer.

I wasn’t enamoured with sock knitting at first. I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about and thoughts of socks turned to – as Kansas sings – dust in the wind.

I’m not quite sure what changed my mind. Or maybe my skills got better and they were no longer a fussy knit. They don’t take as much time as a sweater and I found a pattern that I really like – Monkey by Cookie A. It’s an easy repeat and a nice lace design.

Round and Round I go…

The first couple of rows knitting on double pointed needles is always a bit fiddly. But once you get past that and have a rhythmn going, they’re fun. And a good way to use up those small balls of yarn. I’ve made socks out of worsted weight (they were more like slippers but the technique was the same. Look through my archives for the pattern) as well as sock weight yarn.

I decided to go down the rabbit hole of the sock history. Turns out socks are the oldest piece of clothing still worn today. In fact, they go all the way back to cave man times when they were probably made out of animal skins. Knit stockings were a status symbol by the year 1000 and by the 15th century Italian and French men of nobility wore finely hand-knit silk stockings because they were easier to move around in than woven ones and, as vain as they were, showed off a “shapely leg”.

In the 16th century we see “sock police”, as hosiery was highly regulated. Guards were positioned outside the gates of London to make sure people weren’t wearing improper hosiery. Just what constituted “improper”, they don’t say. Holey socks? A stretched out ribbing? We may never know. Perhaps the more interesting question is why did stockings need to be regulated?

At the end of the century William Lee created the first sock knitting machine. Queen Elizabeth l wouldn’t grant him a patent though because she thought they were scratchy (God save the Queen from itchy wool) and would take jobs away from her people. France, on the other hand, jumped all over this new invention and the machine soon spread through out Europe – wool for the commoners, fine silks for the upper classes. And prices drastically dropped as they were easier and cheaper to make. William Lee’s invention and the principles used are still found in modern textile production.

As pants grew longer, stockings became shorter and it is around that time the term “socks” started being used. Today socks have exploded into a whole subcategory of knitting with different methods (magic loop, toe up), fibers to help esxtend the wear and dyeing methods that create stripes without having to change yarn.

I can’t help but wonder though, did our ancestors also struggle with losing a sock or is it just modern day phenomenon? Is there some sort of secret patented design on washers and/or dryers that suck socks into a third dimension? Is dryer lint just the leftovers of disintegrated socks? I’d love to hear your theories.

Future Projects

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Work is busy. I’m buried in emails and constantly juggling resources so by the time I clock out I have little energy for anything else. But over the weekend I did manage to FINALLY get some clarity and I feel my creative mojo coming back. With my job being what I can only describe as organized chaos, it’s nice to come home to my projects, even if I’m not burning through them as quickly as I was a year or even 6 months ago.

Last winter I concentrated on home decorating projects – specifically dressing up my bedroom with a new quilt, pillows and art work. There are still a few projects I have planned for that room that I haven’t gotten around to – more pillows, a new lamp shade and possibly some sort of valance. I’m on the fence about the valance but it would be nice to have something a bit prettier than the generic window blind header. I haven’t found the right thing yet so it might just stay as is.

The lampshade is definitely on my project bucket list though. I found several pretty embroidered shades that I liked. I also inherited a bunch of old 35mm slides from my mother. I mean, what do you do with these things except look for the one that supposedly has the ghost in it. I don’t want to throw them out because that’s an environmental hazard. So do I let them sit around in its box, taking up space in my apartment? To resolve this dilemma I want to the Holy Grail of ideas – Pinterest. Turns out slides make excellent lamp shades. I really liked this idea and found this. I’ll need a different lamp base but Goodwill has plenty.

How cool would it be to modernize this with a funky shade made from 35mm slides? Imagine how the slides would be illuminated on the walls!

The real project I want to tackle is my living/dining room. This is basically one big rectangle and is more of a book nook/sewing room at the moment. I have a huge leather chair/ottoman, a couple of dressers and my sewing machine. I want it a bit more inviting to guests as I want to entertain – a lot. Since it’s not safe to do it now, this is the perfect time to prepare for it. I have the layout in my head and know how to delineate the space.

A dining room table and chairs is a necessity. I would call my decorating style eclectic. I like a mix of metal and wood, color and pattern. My ideal table would have a rough wooden, farmhouse vibe with a steel base/legs. These tables are expensive and I don’t have the budget right now to buy new/custom made furniture. Money aside, second hand is just better. Cheap Ikea and Ikea rip-offs aside, you can find better quality. It’s better for the environment AND, for the most part, it’s already off-gassed the dangerous chemicals.

Another issue is size. I have room for a table but not a lot. It needs to be rectangular – specifically about 67-68″ long by 30-32″ wide. Custom tables do not come cheap, unless you make it yourself. I have two basic wooden bar stools that I found (i.e. free). The beauty of living in an apartment complex is coming across perfectly good stuff that people throw away (I didn’t dumpster dive, they were sitting next to the dumpster).

I rarely use them as stools, they mostly act as plant stands or hold my laptop when I watch YouTube or Netflix (I don’t own a TV). As I was looking at Pinterest for ideas on making a sofa, I eyed my barstools and it occurred to me they could be the base for a dining room table. All I’d need to do would be make a table top and if I could make it so the barstools could be easily detached, it would not only make it easier to transport but I could break the table down if I needed the space for something else. Now all I have to do is barter with a friend who has the space and power tools to help me make it.

Chairs will be a bit easier. I don’t want them to match and thrift stores or FB marketplace has a lot of odd ones I can pick up cheap, paint and reupholster.

While I am working on gathering the furniture, there are a lot of things I can work on now – table decorations such as napkins and tablecloths and sourceing dessert plates, pasta and salad bowls and serving pieces at thrift stores. Napkins are an oddly satisfying thing to sew as it’s just a big square with mitered corners. There’s more ironing than sewing. I want mine in a mix of colors and patterns with a lacy, crochet border.

Also, I will need a large scale art piece to anchor the space and define it as the “dining” room – I’m thinking a quilt. I love Victoria Findlay Wolfe‘s graphic style but I’m not opposed something a bit more realistic – something with flowers – in the style of Ruth B. McDowell. Figuring out a design that I can use the fabrics I have will be the biggest challenge but it will be a fun quilt to make.

Living room furniture will be pretty straightfoward – a loveseat, coffee table (with storage) two side chairs and a small table to put between them. One of my dressers, which is used as fabric storage right now, I will either donate or stick in my closet. The other will remain. Again, I’m hoping to find all of this secondhand. It needs to to be on a smaller scale also as the room is not that big.

This is the layout I’m going for (imagine your are sitting on the couch facing the fireplace, except I don’t have a fireplace). I want something that invites conversation.

I am toying with the idea of turning my big leather chair into a couch. I think all I would have to do is remove the upholstery and cut the frame in half and extend it. I’d also narrow the arms. I’m sure it can be done but I wouldn’t know exactly what I was getting into until I ripped it apart. I’m trying to find YouTube videos on sofa frames so I can see what this project would entail but I’m not having much luck – they show reupholstery but I want to see more of what the frame looks like. Another issue is where would I do all of this? In my living room? It would probably be more work than it was worth and buying something secondhand would save me time and money in the long run. But I’m still thinking about it.

The big question is where will I put my sewing machine. I think I can keep it in the room. It’s in a cabinet so I can close everything up and it looks like a piece of furniture though a dated piece. It has white melamine cabinet doors that I’d love to paint.

Or I can stick it in my bedroom where my makeshift desk currently is. If the sewing cabinet is all closed up and the machine tucked away, I could use it as a desk and kill two birds with one stone. The dining room table could also serve as a desk. I have options.

I don’t see work easing up anytime soon and after moving tons of boxes in 90 degree heat, I fell asleep about 8 pm last night. It was a hard, I’m-totally-spent, dead-to-the-world kind of sleep, too. I woke up disoriented, not sure where I was, or what time it was. I am productive at work, no doubt, but it’s requiring intense mental and sometimes, physical energy, leaving me little for when I’m home. Having a plan in place, a big project in mind, is feeding my motivation. I have an assortment of tasks so depending on how much energy I have, I can take on a no-brainer (napkings) or charge forward with building a table or designing an art piece.

I needed a vision with it’s related projects like this to help ease the stress of everything else that is going on in my world.

What do you do to recharge?

Crafting a Legacy

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A friend posted an article to Facebook about Oya (I’ve seen it spelled Oya and Oyah), which is an umbrella term for Turkish Lace. It’s a needlecraft lace edging that was used to decorate a variety of garments starting all the way back in the 8th century B.C. The lace was made using a variety of techniques: crochet, needle and shuttle (I’m assuming similar to tatting) just to name a few. I looked in my Encyclopedia of Victorian Needlework by S.F.A. Caulfeild to see if there was any mention of Oya. Here’s what it says:

A lace made in the harems in Turkey, Smyrna and the Rhodes and sometimes called Point de Turque. It is formed with a crochet hook and with coloured silks, and is a description of Guipure Lace; but, as it is made by ladies for their own use, it rarely becomes an article of commerce.

There is no entry for “Point de Turque” but there is one for Turkish lace but it’s just a regurjitation of the previous entry. Following the links I came across and interesting website for the Turkish Cultural Federation which shares Turkey’s rich, cultural history, not just in the needlearts but culinary, music, literature, military etc. Of course, my interest lay in the arts and crafts.

I don’t know if the Anatolian women invented these techniques. Needlework edgings have been used by multiple cultures to decorate clothes and household goods. What I found interesting about Oya was the meaning behind these laces. In a time when woman didn’t have much of a voice, they used their craft to voice their feelings. The choice of flowers and colors conveyed their mood, their love and their displeasure. Gifts would convey the makers feelings about the recipient as brides-to-be in one region made an oya cloth that was sent to her prospective mother-in-law. If the relationship was cordial a “meadows and grass” design might be chosen. If the relationship was a bit rocky, she might send a ‘gravestone” or “hairy wolf” oya. Of course, the groom’s family also presented the bride with a “bridal” oya of which 2 or 3 flowers were used so they could express their own pleasure/displeasure of their prospective daughter-in-law.

I am fascinated not only with the care that went into making utilitarian objects decorative and therefore beautiful, but also the meaning infused in them. It sparked some interesting ideas for research projects.

But the question that came up that really intrigued and inspired me was:

What does my work add to the legacy of crafting traditions?

History is a huge hole in my life. I don’t know much about my parents and there are very few people left on either side to ask. My mother has been selective about what she tells me but I have enough information to know her life had few moments of happiness in an otherwise ocean of hurt and frustration. She refuses to give me the details and I respect that. Plus, maybe she doesn’t want to relive those memories.

We weren’t a communicative family. I didn’t hear stories about my parents or my grandparent’s childhoods. And I didn’t think to ask. Or maybe I did and got brushed off so I quit asking. I don’t remember. The point is I don’t feel a bond to my ancestors, there is no connective thread.

Connective thread is an interesting choice of words given that knitting, crochet and sewing are nothing more than linking threads. I don’t know if there is some deep significance other than I just love making things but it is food for thought.

I wasn’t curious about my family history when I was younger, it’s only been in the past decade or so that I’ve given it much thought. What are my Polish roots? Where did my ancestors come from? What were the traditions, foods, costume, etc? I don’t know. I was told family records were destroyed in WWII. One day I’d like to go to Poland see if that’s true. Go on a quest for my heritage.

My family history may be lost to me, but what am I leaving behind for future generations? What am I contributing to the craft? Is anything I’m doing adding value, something new, something different? Do the things I make just have a utilitarian value? What could I do to add to the larger story?

Then again,what if I wasn’t supposed to bring something new to the table, but something old? This is a bit more intriguing given my desire for, but lack of, personal history. What if I was the one to preserve the history of these traditions, to tell the untold stories of crafters – current and of yore? The decorative needlearts have been mostly the jurisdication of women. How many stories have we lost because these pursuits were deemed frivolous. Yet, the things that were so lovingly made – a quilt, a wedding gown, a brides trousseau, a christening gown, an Easter dress – don’t they tell a story? Of course there is the story of skill and design, but what about the story behind the object? The intention, inspiration, struggles, feelings and emotions of the maker?

Maybe the question isn’t “what does my work add to the legacy of crafting tradition?”, maybe it’s “what’s my story?” Not everything I make has a story behind it. Some things are just an excuse to keep my hands busy. But there’s a reason why I make all these things. I think about the struggles I had to create the floral crochet sweater, how I had to work the design out in my head, finding the mistake and having to unravel it and fix it. What does this say about me as a person, about my craft?

I don’t know if I’ve given much thought to the intention behind my makes and spending some time contemplating it may enrichen my experience. I’d like to learn the stories of other needleworkers as well. We may be nameless in a sea of makers but don’t we each contribute something, even if it’s just keeping the craft alive?

I enjoy writing about what I make but is it enough? I don’t think so anymore. I take my skill for granted because I’ve practiced it for so long it is effortless (most of the time). It’s time I appreciated the work I put into it and the lessons I’ve learned and see my work in a larger context.

It’s no longer about making something, it’s about crafting my legacy.

Journal Hacks – Playing with Words

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Working in a journal is an act of self-care. When you combine pictures with words you engage both sides of your brain – the left, analytical side and the right, intuitive side. It’s a place to play and explore. I work in my journal when something is bothering me or I can’t figure something out.

While a visual person, I also love words. I love looking up meanings and origin. I like to find synonyms and antonyms. Whenever I do a vision board, I always have more words than pictures. One of my favorite journal hacks is to create what I call Ransom Notes. Now ransom might not be the best word but I think it does a good job of conveying what I mean.

Ransom Notes is nothing more than cutting out words you like from a magazine and then arranging them in a way that speaks to you. Maybe Ransom Poetry is a better description but that might put too much pressure on you.

Before the pandemic, I had a little group of creatives that would meet once a month. I thought Ransom Notes would be a fun project. I asked everyone to bring some magazines and once we settled down, I told them the plan. They should go through the magazine and pick out words that spoke to them and we would write a poem with those words. Everyone got busy chopping up the pages to find the right words.

Then I threw a curve ball.

I told them to put them all in the middle of the table and then I proceeded to mix them all up. Responses to my little surprise varied. One participant later confessed at that moment she was really pissed at me. No one expected that and their carefully curated words were gone. It was now the luck of the draw as I told them to pick up a pile. Those were the words they had to work with.

In the end, everyone created some remarkable, meaningful prose. My angered friend admitted that the poem she ended up creating was more meaningful than the one she intended.

For myself, I recently watched Hanif Abdurraqib’s Skillshare class Writing for Expression: How to make your words more artful and lyrical. While I love words, normally what I write is what I would describe as utilitarian – it helps me work through the mental stuff. I rarely look back at it as once I’ve purged it from my system the lesson tends to stick. There’s nothing elegant or lyrical about it. I wouldn’t even know where to begin writing poetry except maybe to make it rhyme. However, creating within the parameters of a set of words and playing with them took away a lot of the “shoulds” and “supposed to’s” and I was able to tap into something deeper.

All I can say is there is magic in this little game.

My Journey to Designing Knits

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I learned to knit when I was around 10 or 11 years old. Both my grandmothers knew how to crochet so I was already fascinated with the idea of taking a ball of yarn and making it into something. My mother wanted to learn how to knit and of course, I went along for the ride.

I remember going to the yarn store in Deerbrook Mall. It was actually outside the mall but it was a shop filled with basic wool and acrylic yarns for knitting, crochet and needlepoint. Back then there were no indie hand-dyers or spinners. Variety only pertained to fiber, color and thickness of yarn. I remember the first sweater my mother made – a peachy, sleeveless top with a ribbed type stitch. I came across it decades later on one of my Half Price Books visits and it gave me a little smile.

My first sweater, however, was a white worsted weight acrylic top with a shawl-like collar that I used a green ombre yarn for contrast (also on the cuffs too). I’m sure it took me forever and I’m not even sure how long I had been knitting before I tackled such a huge project. I think I got the yarn from my grandmother (who mostly crocheted afghans) and it was probably from K-mart. Directions were concise in those days, they told you what to do but not how to do it. There were some basic guides but for the most part, they assumed you knew how to do it or would go to your local yarn store to learn. This was before Ravelry or Youtube. There were barely even any books on the subject, I would have bought them if there were. I’m sure my finishing skills were lacking, piecing things together based on my sewing skills.

I didn’t understand gauge at the time and that sweater was actually too small for me. I gave it to my neighbor whose kids I babysat for, thinking it would fit one of the girls.

Let me tell you something about myself before I go on. I’m a rule follower. Oh how I wish I was a rebel but that is just not me. I like order, I like rules. But, I’ve also learned that just because I like rules, doesn’t mean I can’t be the person who makes up the rules! That was a HUGE game changer for me, but I’m getting off track. That can be a story for another day.

I mention this because I saw a knitting pattern as The Rules I’m Supposed to Follow. A pattern was a mysterious thing to me and though I would have loved to design my own stuff I didn’t think I was capable of it. I collected a lot of patterns (and yarn) but my output was scarce.

I don’t remember the chronological order but there were a couple of things that started my shift away from relying on patterns to making my own designs. One defining moment was a weekend trip I took to Pennsylvania for The Knitting Guild of America’s knitting conference. I signed up for a class on making mood boards taught by Susan Lazear. It was the first time I even heard of such a thing and I was enamoured with the idea. Of course, anything related to the creative process fascinates me. But it was actually the bus ride to the airport that got me thinking. I was talking to another participant and she showed me a kit she bought. She talked about how she was drawn to the colors but the pattern wasn’t exactly to her liking and she was going to change it. In my mind that wasn’t ever a possibility until the moment she said it. So a pattern isn’t written in stone. Huh.

Knitting was becoming a bigger business and more books were being published. There was the grand-daddy (or should I say grand-mammy?) of them all – June Hemmons Hiatt’s The Principles of Knitting – which is still in print. This encyclopedic volume tells you just about everything you want to know about knitting technique. But it isn’t the book that had the most impact on me. Carmen Michelson and Mary-Ann Davis’ book The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design holds that spot. I still refer to it today. It breaks down the process in such easy to understand terms, basically demystifying the process. I saw how it really is just a case of basic math with some geometry thrown in (if I had known you could chart a sleeve with the pythagorean theorem, I would have been way more interested in the subject).

The best money I’ve ever spend on a knitting book.

Another milestone in my development was getting into knitting machines. At one point I owned three. A Passap, which was an older model I bought off of a widower. HIs wife took great care of it but I never really warmed up to it. I also had a Brother with a ribber and a Big Phil, which you could use hand knitting yarns on. I sold all of them a long time ago as I prefer to hand knit.

Knitting machines have their own language and since most of the patterns (at least then) came from Japan, charts were always included (even if you didn’t understand Japanese, you could always knit one of their designs by following the chart). Pictures were part of the missing link to my design education. As a visual person, schematics opened the door to design. Even though they are standard for patterns today, look at any of the older knitting magazines and there are none. Words couldn’t bring a pattern to life, but a simple line drawing leapt off the page and into my imagination. It is also from knitting machine patterns that I developed my shorthand for writing a knitting pattern.

Having knitting machines also got me a job for a machine knitting magazine. I was the technical editor in charge of articles so I worked with a lot of talent. It was an amazing education on so many levels. It helped me leaps and bounds in my own design work. And while I did have some of my designs published in the magazine, the one that I am most proud of is a handknit design I submitted to Knitting Digest (now defunct, see picture above). I did it on a whim and it ended up on the cover. I also have a design in Not Your Mama’s Knitting by Heather Dixon.

Seeing my name in print and having one of my sweaters on a cover is intoxicating but being a commercial designer is not the path for me. Coming up with my own patterns is fun, but having to grade it for different sizes, find pattern checkers, write it up, etc, isn’t. I’d rather just stick to doing it for myself and writing about it.

I believe everyone should learn how to design their own patterns because of the freedom it gives you. Most commercial patterns are written by yarn companies for their yarn. My stash, however, is full of discontinued brands that I bought years (decades!?) ago, thrifted or were given to me. Also, I like to use repurposed yarn (from unravelled thrift store sweaters). Trying to find patterns for these yarns is hard if not impossible. It’s just easier to make up my own.

Another advantage to designing your own sweaters is you will get the fit you want (as long as you got the gauge right). I still use commercial patterns as last year’s knitting can attest to, but almost every single one of them I made some sort of adjustment to achieve the fit most flattering for my body. (There are no wrong bodies, only wrong clothes).

I’ve significantly culled my collection of reference materials over the years. I’ve let go of most of my pattern books. At this point I can pretty much make any sweater I want just by looking at a picture. I’m more interesed in books that talk about technique, knitting traditions and the design process. Lately I’ve been thinking it’s time to quit buying books and write one instead. Just goes to show the journey never ends, it just evolves.