A decade ago I took my son to Rome, Italy during his spring break. I wanted to have a purse that would hold everything I needed yet would be unobtrusive since we would be walking everywhere. I decided to create this messenger bag. It’s big enough for a passport, phone, credit card, keys, yet small enough to not get in the way as it can be worn over your shoulder or across your chest. It has a zippered pocket on the inside and one on the back to keep valuables secure.
For these, I used thrift store skirts – woolens for the body and leather for the base and the closure strap. And because I love to mix color and pattern, I included plaids and checks with florals. Of course the lining was also an opportunity to put in a pop of color.
Funny story about that trip. The whole reason we went was my son’s Art History class had a trip to Italy. I figured I go as a chaperone but once I looked into the cost, I was less than thrilled. I did some research and found out I could plan a trip to Rome for both of us for half of what it would cost if we went with my son’s class (this includes the unanticipated $400 hotel room in Heathrow because I couldn’t get a flight out till the next day). I asked him how important it was that he go with his class and he said it wasn’t. So I booked our holiday, getting us an apartment right in the heart of Rome. It was perfect as we were literally within walking distance of everything – the Vatican, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, etc. On our last evening we had finished our meal and was strolling around a piazza when I asked my son “I wonder where your classmates are?” To which he replied, “They’re over in that souvenir shop!” It was a lovely way to end our trip.
It feels sooo satisfying to finally complete a project. I present to you the Patchwork Blanket (pattern link down below) which I’ll be donating.
As you can see from the photo above, I had about 15 skeins and a bunch of random balls of acrylic worsted weight yarn. This yarn, in my opinion, is not suitable for any garments and it was hard on my hands because it’s stiff. But it is great for blankets. I added one to my bed last week as we had sub-freezing temperatures and with my quilt, I was toasty warm. I’m not sure where the yarn came from, but some is leftover from the latch hook rugs I did in December.
My goal was to get 20 squares (each roughly measuring 13 inches) out of what I had to make a 4×5 blanket. I knit it on size 8 double pointed needles (it is knit from the center out) and as more stitches were added, I switched to circular needles. I can’t say it’s the most beautiful color scheme but it works. To finish it, I crocheted the squares together and then did 3 rows of a single crochet border in black. I then gave the blanket a good steam, basically killing the yarn. This isn’t something I’d normally recommend, but I think this cheap acrylic benefits – it just makes the stitches nicer and the blanket softer. I still have some leftovers to contend with. I will either send them to my mother, who makes needlepoint coasters and glass cases, or I will use them to decorate and wrap gifts, This is the fourth blanket I’ve made using this pattern.
I can’t tell you how many blankets I’ve made in my lifetime, though it’s been a lot. Blankets are a great way to use up scraps and don’t require a lot of concentration (keeps your hands busy while watching T.V.).The sheer amount of yarn I’ve gone through is mind boggling. And am I the only one who names their blankets? I have one called the Drywall blanket. My mother made it and it is worked in an afghan stitch embroidered with cross stitch. It’s a beautiful blanket but the acrylic yarn in combination with the stitch does make it quite stiff. I inherited a lot of yarn from my grandmother. Again, it was worsted weight acrylic. She probably got it from KMart since that was her favorite store. I knit all that yarn up on my bulky knitting machine (I’ve since sold all my machines as I prefer to hand knit) and made a huge blanket for our bed (I was married at the time). Most blankets are too small and when one person rolls over the other tends to get shorted. Not with this blanket, which we named The Ugly Blanket (sorry Grandma, those color choices were just bad), as it had three huge panels which hung to the floor on each side of the bed. One year, in another attempt to make a dent in my stash, I made nine blankets. Below are just a few examples.
While a pattern really isn’t necessary (all you need is a stitch dictionary) there are some fun ones out there. Here are a few of my favorites:
A new video is up. One day when we are allowed back out into the world to do more than just get gas and groceries, I want to go to more theatrical and artsy events but I haven’t got a thing to wear. So I decided to design something and wouldn’t you know, I’ve got just what I need in my stash.
I have found the wonderful world of Andy J. Pizza. As he would say, not that’s not his real name, but who cares? I first found him on Skillshare (a lovely Christmas gift from my son) and then found his podcast, Creative Pep Talk. I’m a huge fan of Skillshare and Andy, so please check them both out.
Taking all of his classes and listening to a couple of podcasts got me motivated but it also brought up a lot of baggage. Can I really call myself creative when I’m just making other people’s design? Why do I keep avoiding doing the work? A familiar feeling of fraud crept in and my negative inner voice leapt at the chance to push my buttons. “I’m not good enough. I don’t have what it takes.” Blah, blah, blah.
On the one hand, it’s demoralizing and makes me want to say “who am I fooling?” and give up. On the other, Andy believes it’s not talent, skills or putting in 10,000 hours of practice that makes someone successful. What sets us all apart is “good taste” or our creative intuition. For example, a good musician isn’t necessarily the person who is technically skilled, it’s the person with a good ear, which is why after 5 years of piano lessons, I still sucked. In Episode 294 he talks about our essence vs. persona. He defines essence as our automatic behaviors (I think this is where our “good taste” resides) and persona as trying to be someone your not. It’s who you think you need to be in order to be worthy of love. That line hit me like a ton of bricks.
My problem isn’t that I lack talent or skill. It’s not that I’m not good enough or don’t have what it takes. At the heart of the matter is this belief that my persona – the person I thought I was supposed to be – is “right” and my essence – my authentic self – is “wrong”. This lead to a plethora of problems including waiting for other people’s permission to do the things I love. How screwed up is that?
I was already conscious of this, though Andy’s explanation gave it a different spin. You don’t spend decades of living with these beliefs (and stupid made-up rules) only to be free once you become aware of them. They’re ingrained into our subconscious and operate on automatic pilot. It’s not an easy habit of thought to change. It requires diligent effort to recognize them and challenge their validity when they pop up. And just when you think you made progress, you discover you’ve only scratched the surface. It’s like an onion – there are many layers and it shows up in ways/situations you never imagined.
Another stumbling block has been my perfectionism. Perfectionism is a product of a fixed (versus growth) mindset. It traps people into thinking they’re only as good as their results, where a growth mindset praises people for effort. As a result, people who have done well, say in school, tend to stay within their wheelhouse instead of trying something new for fear of looking foolish/stupid/incompetent, etc. Perfectionists identify with results so if something doesn’t go well, they see it as a personal flaw (I am a failure). A person with a growth mindset doesn’t identify with the outcome (that was a failure), they see it as a learning opportunity (what can I do differently?). A fixed mindset tends to make people freeze because their ego is so wrapped up in the results. A growth mindset keeps the person detached, allowing them to explore options. It may be a one step forward, two steps back progression but at least there’s a progression. You can see how this could affect creativity, which by it’s very nature means experimentation, mistakes and failure.
I’m still trying to untangle myself from these self-limiting beliefs and can see how I am playing it safe with many of my projects, skating on the surface of my creativity instead of doing a deep dive. This is where having a creative practice comes in – things like artist dates (introduced by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way). It’s not so much about what you do (though it should be fun). It’s just showing up and doing the work.
This lead me down the rabbit hole and in my queue was the class The Perfect 100 Day Project: Your Guide to Explosive Creative Growth by Rich Armstrong. The 100 Day Project has an official website (it started January 31) if you want to be a part of a larger group but it’s not necessary. It struck me as a good place to start as it encompassed many of the things I hope my creative practice will achieve:
Dive deeper into my creativity by showing up and doing the work everyday .
Shift into a growth mindset – it’s not about results, it’s about doing.
Desensitize myself from having to do things perfectly by sharing my work – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Clear out my “persona” to make room for my essence – those beautiful, unique, quirky, weird qualities that make me who I am and bring me joy.
Work intuitively rather than overthinking things by keeping it between 5-15 minutes a day.
Define my personal visual language.
I’ve chosen to draw a sweater a day for my first 100 Day Project and I’ll be sharing it on my Facebook page as well as creating a separate page here (probably on a weekly basis).
I truly believe we all have unique gifts – our distinct take or perspective on life and things we are passionate about – that is different from everyone else. It’s the things that make us tick and come alive. Too often we dismiss or bury them instead of letting them shine because we feel we have to be like everyone else. As Judy Garland said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else.”
And whatever that gift or “good taste” is or relates to – parenting, teaching, coding, math, sports, fashion, cars, video games, animals, etc – it’s all a creative calling. If you’ve been fortunate, you’ve had people support you in it. If like most of us, you haven’t, I hope sharing my journey helps others let go of judgement, comparison and question their beliefs (do they help or hinder you?) to reconnect to their essence.
As Andy said “When you are playing into your essence, you don’t need feedback. Our internal joy tells us it’s good”.
I was a productivity Ninja in December. I was making all the things but it came to a screeching halt mid-January.
What the hell happened?
I go in cycles – bursts of incredible activity followed by frustrating periods of creative angst. Right now I’m in the creative angst phase. I have plenty of no-brainer projects to keep my hands busy. And while great for binging on Netflix, they aren’t satisfying my creative spirit and she is getting antsy.
In this YouTube video, I talked about using my odd skeins of yarn to make a freeform garment but said I was still in the preliminary stages. Honestly, I’m just stuck. It’s the feeling I get after I’ve finished a project but having nothing in the queue. It’s like when you start a jigsaw puzzle and just dumped all the pieces onto the table. It’s a big mess and you have to turn up all the pieces and find the edges (that’s how you do it, right?) I have all sorts of bits and pieces of ideas floating around in my head but nothing is coming together yet.
When I have an idea, I’m laser focused and motivated. I’m excited to work on it to see how it turns out. But when I’m done, I feel lost. I built up this momentum and invested so much energy in that project only to find myself with no place to direct it when it’s done. I have to start all over at square one and it’s mentally exhausting. Having a reservoir of ideas on hand is what Julia Cameron calls “filling the well” in her book The Artist’s Way. How do I make sure my “well” is always stocked?
I took a step back to see what I’ve done in the past. My loose process goes something like this:
Find a starting point. This could be anything from a yarn I want to use, a particular garment I want to make or a technique I want to try. I might be inspired by a color scheme or a theme such as flowers. If I am drawing a blank, I might go look at my journals, Pinterest or Google to see if something catches my attention. There are unlimited possibilities and at this point I need to find something to focus on.
Play – I initially called this the “question/research” phase but all I’m doing is playing around as I try to narrow down my project further. Besides, “question/research” phase sounds soooo boring and uninspiring. I ask myself questions. If I want to make a cardigan I may ask: What silhouette do I want? What about other details such as collar, cuffs, button band (or do I want it zippered?) How long should it be? What stitch pattern do I want to use? What yarn? How do I want to construct it? To answer these questions may require further research such as going through my stitch dictionaries. It’s also a time to play “what if…?” What if I added this or changed that?
Refine – Based on the decisions I’ve made, I start planning out the project. It’s at this stage I’ll figure out my gauge, needles size, etc. and write out my pattern.
Execute – I’ve got an idea and a plan, now all I have to do is make it.
The weak link in this process, disappointingly, is “play” and where I want to direct my attention. It’s the heart of my creative process. If I up my “play game”, it would spill over into “finding a starting point” and keep my reservoir filled.
I’ve been holding back though, following stupid, made-up “rules” about how I’m “suppose” to play (I’ve been uncovering a lot of these internalized “rules” lately), which has resulted in mediocre and stale design. There’s a huge disconnect between the design I love (collage, embellishment, color, texture) and what I produce. It’s time to believe in magic again – to reconnect with my inner child, let loose, not give a shit about results or outcomes (or other people’s opinions), challenge assumptions and rules like a petulant child, be ridiculous, make a big, glittery mess and reclaim my sense of awe and wonder.
Excuse my while I look for my tutu and fairy wings – it’s time to visit Never Never Land.
My book collection has changed and evolved over the years. When I first started, I had a lot of pattern books. My skills have advanced far enough that I can make a design just from a picture so most of those are gone. Today my shelves contain books that focus more on techniques than sweater patterns. Many of them will come in handy for The Great Destash of 2021 and I’d like to share those with you. Unfortunately many of these have been in my collection for decades but you might be able to find them at your library or secondhand
Stitch Dictionaries – Whether you knit or crochet (I do both) a good stitch dictionary (or 10…or is that just me?) are a great source of inspiration. Barbara Walker’s Treasuries, Nicky Epstein’s “Edge” series and The Harmony Guides are my favorites. My crochet stitch dictionaries include ones for stitches, edgings, Irish crochet and motifs. I mean, the granny square was practically invented to use up stash!
Modular knitting books – I was lucky enough to take a workshop from Horst Schulz when I was in Dallas and have been enthralled with modular knitting ever since. It’s a wonderful way to incorporate a lot of different colors and fibers with relatively little work. I think the technique also lends itself beautifully to using up small bits or single balls of yarn. In addition to both of Horst Schulz’ books (3 actually, 2 in German and the English translation of Fashion for Children), I have Knit in New Directions by Myra Wood, Modular Magic by Ginger Luters, Wooly Thoughts and No- Pattern Knits by Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer, Knitting for Anarchists ( see “The All-Purpose Strip-Knit Anarchist Sweater”) by Anna Zilboorg and Number Knitting by Virginia Woods Bellamy (printed in 1952! and featured on this episode of Fruity Knitting). I also highly recommend The Progressive Knitter by Maggie Whiting. This book is no longer in print and it wasn’t available on Amazon at the time I wrote this, but it is a wonderful book. It isn’t about modular knitting but she does include it. It looks at knitting “outside the box”, so to speak as it explores different silhouettes and yarn combinations – a must for the destasher, if you can find it
The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques by Margaret Radcliffe. If you are starting your book collection from scratch and have limited funds, this should be first on your list. It has color theory, stitch patterns, modular knitting and a whole host of other color techniques at your disposal in one compact book.
Hand-Knitting Techniques from Threads Magazine – Gawd, I REALLY miss the old Threads magazine, before they sold out focused on just sewing. I’m sure the decision was a financial one, but I loved the old format. It was creative, quirky and well-done. There wasn’t anything like it. Sigh. This book is a collection of reprints from those good old days. The articles particularly useful for destashing are “The Oddball Sweater” and “Knit Landscapes from Leftovers”. It also has lots of other great techniques for knitting socks, gloves and top down sweaters.
Toe-Up Socks for Every Body by Wendy D. Johnson – I like knitting socks and have some leftover sock yarn in my stash. The problem is I’m not sure if I have enough to knit two socks. While I haven’t tried this technique yet, knitting the leg and cuff last, instead of first, and being able to adjust the length depending on how much yarn I have, will be more efficient and effective. Keeping my fingers crossed it works.
The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design by Carmen Michelson and Mary-Ann Davis – Released in 1989, this was the book that demystified pattern making for me. I have more recent books but this is the one I always return to. It’s straightforward and gave me a reason to use the Pythagorean Theorem. I would have enjoyed geometry a lot more if my teacher had related what we learned to knitting design, just saying.
Afghans and Throws by Luise Roberts -An afghan is a great way to use up scrap yarn and what I love about this book is how it caters to working with leftovers (though I’ don’t think that was her intent). Luise covers working with different yarns, stripes, appliques, modular knitting, choosing colors, edgings and methods to join motifs. It also has plenty of stitch patterns.
Ruth B.McDowell’s Piecing Workshop and Design Workshop – If you want to explore art quilts, IMO, these are the books to start with. She does a great job of breaking down the process into easy steps. Working strictly from scraps (as I will be doing) is one way to stretch your design skills. Art quilts are the yin to a scrap quilts yang (or is it the other way around?) Scrap quilts are a nice diversion – they give you something to do but you can let your mind wander while art quilts are perfect when you are looking for a creative challenge and have the mental energy to do so.
Adventures in Design by Joen Wolfrom – Another quilt book but it does a nice job of breaking down different design elements so you can achieve a great versus a ho-hum design. I think it’s a nice companion to Ruth’s technique books.
If you are more interested in making clothes than quilts, The Art of Fabric Collage by Rosemary Eichorn and Koos Couture Collage by Linda Chang Teufel might be more up your alley. Both books feature techniques and inspiration for combining fabrics and creating wearable art.
Decorative Dressmaking by Sue Thompson – While the clothes featured are a bit outdated (it was printed in the 80’s, need I say more?), this book looks at common (and some not-so-common) techniques such as flounces, stipes, piping, applique, bands and binding (to name a few) with a “what if” mindset. I love it’s playful vibe to experiment and explore as well as offer up some projects to practice what you just learned. You’ll be looking at design in a whole new way.
If knits are your thing, I would suggest any book by Natalie Chanin. My favorite though is Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. As I’ve mentioned before, if I ever got married, I would make my dress using this technique. Actually, I’m going to make a dress using this technique whether I get married again or not.
If you do make clothes, I think a good pattern drafting or draping book should be in your library. I have Dorothy Moore’s Pattern Drafting and Dressmakingwhich I’ve used for skirts and Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong, which is a college staple and more comprehensive. I’ve used it to make a hi-low skirt which I loved (but sadly got too big on me). A good book for beginners is How Patterns Work by Assembil Books (I have the kindle version). Even if you don’t draft your own patterns, it helps you understand the logic behind patterns, making it easier to work with commercial patterns. But you don’t need to get all fancy, you can create great clothes with no patterns. The Woman’s Day Book of No-Pattern Sewing by Lorraine Ruggieri (1981) uses just simple shapes. The designs are basic but you could use them as a jumping off point to play around with fabrics and embellishments.
Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing – This is a good reference manual for different sewing techniques that commercial patterns don’t give you.
The Fabric Design Book by Karin Jerstorp and Eva Kohlmark – What is it about the Swedish and design? I mean, they just get it. This book is like a textbook, offering the adventurous creative permission to play and explore color, pattern, line and texture. It’s such a yummy book – pick it up whenever you feel blocked.
Design Basics by David A Lauer and Stephen Pentak – Another college staple for design majors. Everything you wanted to know about design elements and principles.
How to be Creative in Textile Art by Julia Triston and Rachel Lombard – This book is about keeping a sketchbook to capture inspiration and research as well as a tool to play around and experiment with your ideas before you commit to the final project. It’s a one-stop shop for your creativity.
This is by no means my whole library, just the titles I think are relevant for using up a stash – especially those smaller bits and pieces. I’d love to hear what books you find helpful/inspirational.